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Title: Carry On! - A Story of the Fight for Bagdad
Author: Strang, Herbert
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: Cover art]



[Frontispiece: A DASH FOR LIBERTY]



CARRY ON!

_A STORY OF THE FIGHT FOR BAGDAD_


BY

HERBERT STRANG



ILLUSTRATED BY H. K. ELCOCK
  AND H. EVISON



HUMPHREY MILFORD

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS

LONDON, EDINBURGH, GLASGOW

TORONTO, MELBOURNE, CAPE TOWN, BOMBAY



PRINTED 1917 IN GREAT BRITAIN BY R. CLAY AND SONS, LTD.

BRUNSWICK STREET, STAMFORD STREET, S.E. 1, AND BUNGAY, SUFFOLK.



CONTENTS


CHAP.

     I  A TELL NEAR BABYLON
    II  THE GAPING JAWS
   III  THE BARBER'S APPRENTICE
    IV  THE SHAVING OF BURCKHARDT
     V  SECRET SERVICE
    VI  THE DERVISH HEZAR
   VII  A MAD RACE
  VIII  ACROSS THE EUPHRATES
    IX  FRIENDS OR FOES?
     X  THE TRYST
    XI  THE TRAP
   XII  A REARGUARD ACTION
  XIII  IN THE BRITISH LINES
   XIV  THE ENEMY'S GUNS
    XV  A RAID
   XVI  CLOSING IN
  XVII  RAISING THE SIEGE
 XVIII  THE TIMELY BOMB



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


COLOUR FRONTISPIECE BY H. K. ELCOCK.

A DASH FOR LIBERTY (see p. 102),


DRAWINGS IN LINE BY H. EVISON.


THE STRUGGLE ON THE TELL

A MOUTHFUL OF SOAP

THE PRISONER

THE LAST SHOT

A CAPTIVE IN BONDS

STRANDED

MAJOR BURCKHARDT IS DISTURBED

THE DASH FOR THE MACHINE-GUN

THE BARBER IS MOBBED



CHAPTER I

A TELL NEAR BABYLON

Mesopotamia, "the land between the rivers," has been brought by Time's
revolution once more into the foreground of the history of the world.
The plains where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob tended their flocks and
herds; where the hosts of Sennacherib, Shalmaneser and Alexander
contended for "world-power" in their day; where the Arabs, heirs of
ancient civilisations, reared a civilisation of their own until it fell
under the blight of Turkish dominion: have become once more the
battle-ground of opposing armies, the representatives of conflicting
spirits and ideals.

This fertile land, whose history dates back many thousands of years,
has long lain desolate.  Swamps and marshes and the floods of the
Tigris and the Euphrates cover immense tracts that were once the
granary of the middle East.  The old canals and irrigation works
constructed by Babylonians and Assyrians are now obliterated by sand.
Where once large populations throve and cultivated literature and the
arts, now roam only a few tribes of Arabs, degenerate descendants of
the race that at one time led the world in the things of the mind.
Mesopotamia is the "abomination of desolation."

Here and there a mound--known to archæologists as a _tell_--marks the
site of a buried city, and excavation has brought to light the remains
of palaces and monumental tombs, and temples where "pale-eyed priests"
chanted incantations to Assur and Ishtar and Merodach--the Baalim and
Ashtoreth of the Bible.  It was at one such _tell_ that the story to be
unfolded in the following pages had its beginning.


Early one morning in the autumn of 1916, any one who had chanced to be
standing on this _tell_ would have noticed, far in the eastern sky, a
moving speck.  It might have been a gigantic bird, but that, as it
approached, its flight was swifter, more direct, more noisy.  As it
came nearer, it swept round in an immense circle, then descended in a
spiral course, skimmed the surface of the _tell_, and finally alighted
on a clear and level stretch of ground on the western side.

Through all its ages of solitude the _tell_ had never known so strange
a visitant.  The shades of ancient priests and soothsayers might be
imagined to shrink away from this intruder upon their haunts.  What had
remotest antiquity to do with this symbol of modernity, the last word
in scientific invention in a world of scientific marvels?

Some such thoughts as these seemed to grip one of the two young men who
disengaged themselves from the aeroplane.

"So this is your _tell_!" cried the elder of the two, in the loud tones
that bespeak a cheerful soul.  He looked with an air of mockery at the
rugged contours of the mound.

"Hush, Ellingford!" said the other, in a stage whisper.  "We are
trespassers--on a spot where Assyrians worshipped when Rome was still a
village."

"Well, _they_ can't hear us.  What's more to the point, the Arabs can,
if they're about; so hurry up."

"Hopelessly matter-of-fact; everlastingly practical!  Here are we, in
the very nursery and cradle of mankind; yet you can't spare half a
thought for the past!  You live altogether in the present----"

"Look here, Burnet," said the other, cutting him short; "if you don't
stop gassing we shall neither of us live in the future.  Before you can
say Jack Robinson--or Beelzebub, if you prefer it--we may have a swarm
of Arabs round us with Mauser rifles and explosive bullets.  I'm
responsible for this machine.  So buck up.  You can commune with the
spirits of the past when I am gone."

Captain Ellingford spoke good-humouredly, but with an undertone of
seriousness.  Roger Burnet laughed.

"Righto," he said.  "I'll not keep you."

He glanced keenly around, as if looking for some landmark; then, having
found what he sought, set off with quick step towards a group of ruins
near the centre of the _tell_, about a hundred and fifty yards from
where the aeroplane had landed.  Captain Ellingford, first looking in
all directions to assure himself that no one was near, followed his
companion, ever and anon throwing a glance backward: he was loth to
leave his machine.

The surface of the _tell_ was irregular.  At one part you would find a
smooth expanse of sand; at another, drifted heaps, fragments of rubble,
brick and stone; at a third, larger blocks of stone, broken columns,
chips of cornice and frieze.  Only at one spot was there any
substantial relic of the ancient buildings.  The lower portion of what
had once been a magnificent gateway or porch, together with the remains
of the adjacent walls, rose above the surrounding litter.  Each side of
the portal was formed of what appeared to be a massive solid block,
carved to the image of some strange colossal animal, its mouth gaping
in a hideous grimace, like the gargoyles on a medieval church.  Through
this gateway Burnet passed; then he turned to the right, stooped, and
with a piece of broken sherd began to scrape away the sand from an area
several feet square.  Presently there was revealed a flat slab of
stone, which, when he had cleared its edges of sand, he lifted,
revealing a shallow flight of steps.

"Here we are," he said, turning to his companion.  "We discovered it
when we were digging here a few years ago, my poor old father and I,
and covered it up, meaning to return.  There was a German grubbing
about in the neighbourhood, and my father didn't want any poaching on
what he considered his preserves.  But he never had a chance to come
back.  Come down and have a look."

He led the way down into a small subterranean room or cellar, and
flashing his electric torch, pointed out strange markings on the walls.

"Queer hobby," remarked Ellingford.  "Well, I must get back to the bus.
Don't like leaving it so long."

They returned to the aeroplane.  Burnet took a bundle from it.
Ellingford got into his seat, saying:

"A month from now, then.  I'll be here unless I'm pipped.  Take care of
yourself.  Good luck!"

He started the engine.  Burnet helped him to shove off; the machine
jolted over the rough ground, rose into the air, and in five minutes
was out of sight.



CHAPTER II

THE GAPING JAWS

Burnet ascended to the highest point of the _tell_, and, unstrapping a
pair of field glasses, made a careful survey of his surroundings.  The
country between himself and the river consisted mainly of swamp and
marsh, dotted with islands of various sizes.  There were no dwellings
within view, but Burnet knew that the region was inhabited, though
sparsely, and the flight of the aeroplane, its descent near the _tell_,
its subsequent departure, must have been noticed by a certain number of
Arabs.  Curiosity, if no other motive, would impel any who were near to
hasten to the spot; but he saw no movement on all the wide expanse
around except among the birds of the marsh; and reflecting that those
Arabs who had witnessed the return flight of the aeroplane would not
guess that it had left a passenger behind, he restored the glasses to
their case, and prepared to complete the errand that had brought him to
the spot.

Descending to the foot of the _tell_, he made his way to a wady that
bordered it on one side.  A sluggish current of muddy water flowed
through the channel, whose banks were thickly overgrown with reeds.  A
number of these he cut with his pocket-knife, binding the stalks with
tendrils of a trailing plant.  With this faggot of reeds in one hand
and the bundle he had taken from the aeroplane in the other, he
returned to the ruins on the tell.  There he stuck the former in the
grinning mouth of one of the grotesque animals at the porch; then he
passed inside, and once more descended into the underground room, this
time, however, letting the stone slab drop into its place above.

A few seconds later the bundle of reeds hanging out of the monster's
mouth disappeared.  The animal, so far from being a solid block, as it
appeared, was hollow, and Burnet had climbed into it by means of
notches in the wall at one corner of the cellar.  He withdrew the
reeds: next moment they reappeared at a similar orifice on the other
side of the figure, which, like Janus, was double-faced, and with this
roughly extemporised broom he swept a quantity of sand over the slab,
until it was hidden sufficiently to pass unnoticed except by a careful
observer acquainted with its position.  This done, he drew the broom
back and took it down with him to the dark and airless chamber below.

If any watching Arab had seen the young British officer disappear into
the earth, he would have been somewhat startled, some twenty minutes
later, when the slab was lifted again and an Arab lad cautiously
emerged.  His head was swathed in a strip of parti-coloured cloth held
in position by two thick rings of camel's hair; a dirty, shapeless,
yellowish robe descended to his knees; his legs, remarkably brown, were
bare; his feet were encased in leather-thonged sandals.  He carried a
small bundle; across his shoulder was slung a British regulation
water-bottle--the only article by which he could have been
distinguished from the boatmen who might be seen any day on the Tigris.
He lowered the slab, swept sand over it, obliterated the footprints
around, and having thrust his reed-broom into the mouth of the stone
animal, picked his way through the ruins to the north-west corner of
the _tell_, where an uninterrupted view of the country could be
obtained.

He was just turning the corner of a rugged wall when, beneath him at a
distance of barely twenty yards, he saw a young Arab rushing up the
slope, stumbling, recovering himself, his eyes directed always to his
feet.  Burnet edged backwards round the corner, and was out of sight
when the Arab gained the top.  But there was now only a few yards
between them; in a second or two the Arab would himself turn the
corner, and Burnet saw that if he made a dash for the nearest cover in
his rear he must inevitably be observed by the stranger before he could
reach it.  Whipping out a pistol as a precaution--for he knew not
whether the Arab was friend or foe--he stood back.  The Arab darted
round the corner at racing speed, saw the pistol pointed at him, and
swerving slightly grabbed at Burnet's wrist.  The sudden wrench jerked
the pistol out of his hands and at the same time caused both men to
lose their balance.  Burnet, the first to recover himself, freed his
arm with a dexterous twist, and the two men closed, stumbling and
swaying over the broken surface of the _tell_.

[Illustration: THE STRUGGLE ON THE TELL]

As soon, however, as Burnet got a firm hold the issue was not long in
doubt.  The Arab wriggled like an eel, but he was no match for the
Englishman either in physical strength or in athletic skill.  Moreover
he was already winded by his impetuous rush over the heavy ground.
Burnet freed himself without much difficulty from his opponent's grip:
then, getting his hand behind the Arab's neck in the position known to
the wrestler as the "half-nelson," he forced him downwards and finally
threw him helpless into a pocket of sand.  In a few seconds he had
secured the man's weapons--a clumsy pistol and a crooked dagger called
_shabriyeh_--and regained his own pistol.  Then he stood above the
Arab, who now lay on his back, staring up at the supposed fellow-Arab
who had thrown him so easily and in a manner so unfamiliar.

The stranger was no older than Burnet himself.  He was an Arab of the
best type, with handsome features and intelligent and fearless eyes.

"Rise, I pray you, brother," said Burnet in Arabic.  "We have somewhat
to say one to the other."

The Arab got up quickly.  Puzzled as he had been by the wrestling
trick, he was still more puzzled by the friendly manner of the man who
had vanquished him, and especially by the slight smile that accompanied
his words.  He fixed his keen eyes on Burnet's face, but said nothing.

"I am alone here, as you see," Burnet went on, "and in these times,
when it is hard to know friends from foes, a man must needs take care.
We are strangers, yet it may be that we are also friends."

The Arab assented merely with a word, but did not relax his attitude of
watchfulness.  This man who spoke to him used good Arabic, but was more
direct and less given to expletives than the average Arab.

"You are my captive," Burnet continued.  "Tell me who you are, whence
you come, and why you ran hither in such headlong haste."

"My lips are dry; give me drink," said the Arab.

"By the grace of Allah I have fresh water--not like the foul water of
the swamp," said Burnet, unscrewing the stopper of his water-bottle.
"Drink, brother."

The young man took a deep draught, returned the bottle with a word of
thanks, and said:

"My tongue will speak true things, and Allah judge between us."

Burnet threw a keen glance around the horizon, then sat down on a
broken block of stone, inviting the Arab to sit opposite him.  And then
the young man began his story.

His name was Rejeb, and he was the chief of a clan of the Anazeh whose
territory lay on the far side of the Euphrates.  His father, now some
years dead, had been a lifelong rebel against the Turkish rule, and in
his last year had suffered a disastrous defeat through the defection
and treachery of another chief who had been his ally.  In this final
battle he had lost his life; his people had escaped extermination only
by fleeing into the desert.  Since the outbreak of the Great War they
had gradually reoccupied their old districts, the Turks having enough
to do without taking measures to suppress so unimportant an enemy.  It
was otherwise, however, with the treacherous tribe which had been his
father's ruin.  For some time its chief, Halil, had made no sign: his
fighting strength was greatly reduced through the fact that many of his
men were with the Turks.  But after the British failure to relieve Kut
he had collected a considerable force, and taking advantage of Rejeb's
absence at Kerbela he had first cut off the young man's tribe and then
attacked it.  The tribe, after a stout resistance, had made good its
retreat across the Euphrates, to a fastness in the swamps.  Rejeb, on
his way back from Kerbela, had been met by a messenger with news of the
reverse, and, changing his route in order to rejoin his people, had
been chased by a party of Halil's horsemen.  In eluding them he had
lost touch with the messenger who had hitherto accompanied him; his
horse had foundered, and the only course then open to him was to swim
the Euphrates on a skin.  This he had done, and thought himself safe,
when the reappearance of his pursuers revived his anxieties.
Fortunately their horses were useless in the swamps, and on foot he had
reasonable hope of escaping them.  An hour or so, however, before his
arrival at the _tell_, he had only just succeeded in giving their main
party the slip.  The direction of his flight had been seen by three or
four of their number who had separated from the rest, and he did not
doubt that these three or four, if not the whole body, had tracked him
and before long would reach the _tell_.

Rejeb's story was told rapidly, and with an air of sincerity that would
have disarmed suspicion even in one far more sceptical by nature than
Roger Burnet.  The news that men of a hostile tribe in Turkish pay were
hastening to this spot was very disturbing.  Burnet knew that he was in
fully as much danger from his captive's pursuers as the captive
himself.  His disguise might pass muster; the story he had invented to
account for the presence of a solitary boatman so far from the river,
if he were challenged, was sufficiently plausible; but if he was found
in the company of the young chief whom Halil's men were hounding down
he would certainly be seized and carried to Halil for examination at
least.  He had very little time in which to secure himself.

The obvious course was to release Rejeb, who would no doubt continue in
the direction he had been going, and as soon as he was out of sight, to
take refuge in the subterranean room until the chase was past.  But the
young chief was jaded, worn out by his hurried flight and the
subsequent struggle on the tell.  It was almost certain that he would
be run down.  Burnet had taken an instinctive liking to him; he could
not give him up to his enemies, who were at the same time enemies of
the British.  After a few moments' reflection he turned suddenly to the
Arab and said:

"If I save you from the hands of Halil, will you swear by the beard of
the Prophet not to play me false?"

Rejeb was apparently staggered by this strange offer from a man with
whom, a few minutes before, he had been locked in fierce struggle--a
man, moreover, who had given no account of himself and about whom there
was something mysterious.  He flashed a keen questioning glance at
Burnet, as if fearful of a trap.

"You are no boatman?" he said slowly.

"And if I am not?  What is that to you if I am a friend?"

The Arab hesitated for a brief moment.  Then perhaps it occurred to him
that his situation could scarcely be worse than it was; perhaps he was
mutually attracted to this young man of his own age.  At any rate,
after the slightest pause, he said, raising his hand:

"By the beard of the Prophet I swear it."

During this conversation the two men had remained behind the wall,
Burnet every now and then peering through a gap in the masonry in the
direction from which the Arab had come.  He now suggested that Rejeb
should go to the corner and keep watch for the pursuers.  Having left
his field glasses with the rest of his equipment in the underground
room, he was less able than the keener-sighted Arab to view the distant
country.

Rejeb went to the corner and flattened himself against the wall with
the instinct for cover natural to a dweller in the wilds.  In a few
moments he beckoned to Burnet with one hand, the rest of his body
remaining motionless.  When Burnet joined him, he asked him to look at
a large bed of rushes some distance to the north-west.  Shading his
eyes with his hand, and careful not to expose himself, Burnet gazed
towards the spot indicated, and was soon able to make out five or six
figures moving among the reeds and advancing straight towards the tell.
Burnet led the Arab to the central ruins and through the porch to the
entrance of the underground room.  Raising the slab they descended;
then Burnet mounted into the interior of the colossal animal in which
he had left his broom, and swept sand over the slab and the nearest
footprints as before.  He had hardly withdrawn the broom when he heard
shuffling footsteps on the rough ground beyond the wall, and looked out
through the wide mouth of the image.  It was almost completely dark
within, and in the unlikely event of any enquirer thinking to peer into
the jaws of the colossus he could escape discovery by stooping.

In a few minutes a tall Arab appeared round the corner of the wall.  He
was followed at short intervals by four others.  All were stalwart
sinewy warriors of the desert, bristling with arms.  They hunted
through the ruins like a pack of dogs that have lost the scent.  Here
one would point to the impressions of sandals, and the rest followed
him as he traced them along the wall and up to the portico.  Burnet
watched them without much anxiety, for he had taken care that no
tell-tale footmarks remained around the slab; and knowing that the
tracks that were visible led both towards and away from the ruins, he
guessed that the Arabs would suppose that their quarry had come and
returned.  Their actions justified him.  They traced the marks back to
the wall, then back again to the portico, beneath which they stood to
consult together.  From the few words that Burnet caught it was clear
that they had seen Rejeb mount the tell, and they supposed that he had
crossed it and pursued his journey on the other side.  Presently one of
them climbed a pile of rubbish from which he could scan the surrounding
country.  The fugitive could not have gone any great distance, and he
must become visible on one or other of the open spaces between the beds
of rushes.  The scout's four companions meanwhile threw themselves down
in the shade of the portico to rest.

Secure in his hiding-place, Burnet felt some amusement at the
situation.  He went down to the chamber beneath, and, warning Rejeb
against making any sound, took him up to his peep-hole and showed him
the figure of his enemy looking for him.  It was some time before the
Arab gave up his vain task and returned to his companions.  They came
to the conclusion that the fugitive must be lying hidden among the
rushes near the _tell_, and separating, started to scour the vicinity
thoroughly.  They went methodically through clump after clump until
Burnet grew tired of watching them.  Not until it was getting late in
the afternoon did their perseverance give out.  Baffled, weary, and
angry at their failure, they rested awhile on the _tell_ and ate some
of the food they had brought with them; then they set off to return the
way they had come.

Burnet was glad enough to win release at last from his stuffy quarters.
Emerging with Rejeb, he made all secure, and prepared to resume the
mission which the day's events had interrupted.  In the underground
chamber he had already returned the young Arab's arms, and discussed
with him his subsequent movements.  Rejeb would continue his journey to
his people, who were a march away to the south-east.  He was full of
gratitude to his rescuer, and begged to know how he might serve him.

"Surely it is right that I should serve the saviour of my life," he
said; "and my people also: they shall know that in serving him they
serve me."

"We will not talk of service now," replied Burnet.  "Who can tell the
future?"

"At least let me know the name of my preserver: how else can I speak of
him rightly to my people, and bid them watch for opportunities of
serving him?"

"Call me Yusuf the boatman," said Burnet, after a slight hesitation.
"By that name I am known to some in Bagdad and elsewhere.  It may be
that some day we shall meet again."

As soon as darkness made it safe to leave the _tell_ they parted.
Rejeb took his way to the south-east; Burnet set off north-west through
the swamps, in the direction followed by Rejeb's pursuers.



CHAPTER III

THE BARBER'S APPRENTICE

Firouz Ali, the barber of Bagdad, had just opened his shop near the
south gate.  There were many other barbers in the city, but none of
them was so popular as Firouz Ali.  Arabs, Turks, Greeks, Persians,
Germans, and the hundred and one nondescripts of the population
resorted to the well-known shop, not merely because Firouz Ali was
dexterous in his craft, but because he was a chatty agreeable fellow
and a fathomless well of information.  Every customer of his who went
to be shaved, or shampooed, or to have his nails trimmed or his ears
cleaned (a very necessary toilet operation in a land of dust), came
away feeling that he had spent a very pleasant quarter of an hour and
gained knowledge at a trifling cost.  He was not often aware that he
had given more than he had received.  The barber had just opened his
shop, and, early as it was--the sun had risen no more than half an hour
before--a customer had already presented himself in the person of a
Turkish non-commissioned officer, come for a shampoo to brace him for
the work of the day.  Firouz Ali had spread his towels, and was shaking
up his mixture.

"A most elegant preparation, by the Beard," he said, holding the bottle
to his customer's nose.  "You smell the oil of lavender?  When you
leave me your hair will diffuse a sweet savour, and perfume the street."

"Wallahi!  I hope it will not attract the insects," said the Turk.

"Make your mind easy about that.  There is here an essence that is
bitter as death; insects shun it as you would the plague.  You keep
your hair well, O noble warrior; the wear and tear of war has not
diminished your locks, Allah be praised!  My own head, man of peace
though I am, has a bald spot that is only prevented from spreading by
the daily use of my own famous lotion.  It is marvellous to me that you
men of war, considering the strain upon your intelligence and the
hardships you undergo, can preserve such bountiful locks without the
aid of my unguents."

"Hardships!  You speak truth, barber," grunted the soldier.  "You men
of peace know nothing about it.  Bad food, hard work, pay always in
arrears----"

"A dog's life, indeed," said the barber sympathetically.  "And, if I am
not deceived, the hard work is done by such as you, while the credit
goes to the officers."

"You are not deceived, barber.  If all goes well, how accomplished are
the officers!  If things go ill, where is the misbegotten dog of a
non-commissioned officer who is to blame?"

"Wallahi!  That is the very echo of my own thought.  What labours are
laid upon you!  What responsibility is yours!  Well for me that my
years forbid my bearing arms, for without doubt the strain would wear
me to a shadow and I should sink into my grave.  Now bend your head,
and let your nostrils inhale the delicate odour of this matchless
preparation."

He was in the act of pouring lotion on the man's head when a young Arab
in the dress of a boatman entered.  Firouz Ali threw him a quick
glance; an observer might have detected a mutual look of recognition
between them; but the Turk's eyes were fixed on the basin.

"Enter, O kelakji, and wait your turn," said the barber.  "A month ago,
before my worthless dog of an apprentice left me, you might have been
attended to by the boy while I myself was occupied with customers of
importance; but now you must have patience until the demands of the
officer of the Padishah are satisfied."

The newcomer sat himself down on a stool, and the barber went on:

"Said I not truly?  Is not the aroma fragrant as the gardens of the
Prophet?  And the lather is white as the bloom of the tobacco plant.
Wallahi! we were speaking of your toils and sorrows, noble warrior,
when this young boatman entered.  Truly your life is no bed of roses."

"Truth is on your tongue, O barber," said the Turk.  "This week I have
been able to snatch scarce an hour's sleep at a time.  From morning
till night, from night till morning, stores to be checked, a
never-ending task.  What with the railway and the river there is no
rest.  If it is not a barge-load of grain, it is a train-load of
ammunition."

"And it falls upon you to count all these things?  Surely it is like
counting the ripples on a stream."

"A labour beyond any man.  The ammunition comes in boxes--we number the
boxes.  I passed in 100,000 rounds yesterday, as many the day before;
and to-day there are machine-guns."

"No wonder you come to be refreshed with a shampoo!  You have charge of
the guns too!  A heavy charge--all those thousands."

"Ahi!  I said not thousands--would there were!  But in truth we have
not so many machine-guns as could be wished.  The Alemans have not sent
us so many of late.  But now they are beginning to come in again.
There are twenty, so word came to me, now waiting to be unpacked."

"Verily it passes my understanding how you find room for all these
engines of war, even in so great a city as Bagdad.  Moreover, is there
not great danger in the handling of them?  I speak as a man of peace."

"We are in truth sometimes hard put to it for store room, and when the
godowns are full, we have to keep our stores in the barges upon the
river hard by.  But they do not remain there long, so great is the
demand for them from our brothers down the river.  And as to danger----"

At this point the Turk found himself under the necessity of keeping his
mouth shut.  He was in the middle stage of the shampoo.  To take part
in the conversation was impossible when the barber was pouring floods
of water over his head, or even later, when his head was smothered in a
towel, and the barber was kneading it with his hands.  Firouz Ali
himself said, little during the final perfuming of his customer's hair,
and the sound of a bugle reminded the Turk that he must hasten back to
his duties.

When he was gone, the barber turned to the young Arab.

"Your father's son must always be welcome," he said, "but what of
prudence?  Is it not a necessary virtue?  The Turk is stupid, Allah
knows: witness the ass-head I have just anointed; but a watch is set
upon all the approaches to the city, and you may tempt fortune too far.
The house of Ionides was but lately occupied by a picket----"

The young Arab started.

"How did you know?" he asked.

"Peace, peace!" replied the barber, with a significant gesture.  "The
walls have ears; the dust carries tidings.  Is it not my business to
know?"

It was barely two hours since Burnet, slipping through the garden of a
deserted house on the bank of the Tigris south of the city, found
refuge in the building itself and watched for an opportunity, when, as
he thought, no observer was near, to make an unobtrusive entrance into
the streets.  He knew of old how perfect was the barber's knowledge of
what went on in Bagdad, and indeed throughout Mesopotamia; but this new
illustration, this proof that his temporary shelter in the deserted
house of the Greek merchant Ionides was already known to Firouz Ali,
came upon him with something of a shock.

Roger Burnet, as some may remember, was the son of a Cambridge scholar
who had devoted the latter years of his life to archæological research
in Mesopotamia.  There Roger had spent the greater part of his boyhood,
learning to speak Arabic almost as well as a native.  Just before the
outbreak of war he had been recalled from school in England by a
peremptory telegram from his father, whom he found very ill.  Mr.
Burnet lingered for more than eighteen months in the hill village of an
Arab chief, and it was not until June 1916 that Roger, after his
father's death, was able to set off with the intention of joining the
British army.  Disguised as an Arab, he had travelled to Bagdad with a
party of the chief's men, and taken counsel with Firouz Ali, an old
friend of his father, a man of quick wit, and an important member of an
organisation that was working for the release of the Arabs from the
Turkish yoke.

At that time the British attempt to relieve General Townshend in Kut
had disastrously failed, and the cause of freedom lay under a heavy
cloud.  Burnet learnt that the Turks were organising an expedition to
punish the chief whose hospitality he had enjoyed, for his refusal to
furnish levies to the Sultan's army.  It subsequently came to light
that the expedition had been instigated by the Germans, its real object
being the capture of a stronghold that commanded an important road of
communication.  Burnet decided to throw in his lot with the chief,
escaped from Bagdad by the aid of Firouz Ali and of a mysterious
dervish who turned out to be a British secret service agent, after many
adventures assisted in the defence of the stronghold against a large
force of German-led Turks, and ultimately reached the British lines
below Kut.  He wished to return to England by way of Bombay for the
purpose of training for a commission; but a man with his knowledge of
the native dialects was too valuable to be spared.  The
commander-in-chief made direct application to the War Office on his
behalf, and he had in fact been gazetted a second lieutenant on the
General List a few weeks before he set off with Captain Ellingford on
his present mission to Bagdad.

Firouz Ali was too polite to make any direct enquiries of Burnet as to
the object of his visit.  The latter explained.

"You spoke of prudence, my friend," he said.  "Well, I grant there are
risks, but I have run risks before--for good cause.  Of late we have
had no news either from you or from the dervish Hezar."

"That is true, Aga," replied the barber, "and therefore is my heart
heavy.  But who can strive against Fate?  Twice within the past month
have I sent messengers.  The first came back with a shattered arm: the
Turkish dogs shot him as he tried to pass through their lines, and he
was hard put to it to escape with his life.  The second was drowned
swimming the river to avoid them.  And as for the dervish Hezar, did he
not quit the city secretly some ten days ago, having reason to believe
that some were looking upon him with suspicion?"

"I guessed there was a simple explanation: that there were
difficulties.  That is why I am here.  We _must_ know what the Turks
are doing--whether they are receiving reinforcements and supplies, and
where these are stored."

"By the Beard, you heard something from that addle-pate who has but now
left us.  But that is little.  I can tell you more.  There is at this
time in the city a German, a very cunning fellow, who has gathered
about him spies in number as the ants in an ant-hill.  Ahi! but there
is no buckle to his shoe; by which parable understand that he speaks
not the tongue of those that he employs, and needs an interpreter.
With him there is an Arab who has sold himself to the Turks, and
moreover a German who speaks my tongue readily, though with a gurgling
throat--a man who has lived many years in this land, digging for the
treasures of old time.  Is not his name Bukkad Bey?"

"Burckhardt!  I know him.  I met him with my father years ago."  He
smiled at some recollection.  "So he's here, organising secret police!
Well now, my friend----"

Firouz Ali interrupted him by a gesture.  The barber's eyes were fixed
on a water-seller who was passing the shop, going down the street.
Burnet saw no glance exchanged, heard no word; but the man had no
sooner gone by than Firouz Ali said in a hurried undertone--

"One of the German's spies approaches.  It is not wise that you remain
here.  Leave me now: go up the street, and after the sun is gone down
seek the caravanserai of our friend Yakoub: there will I meet you."

Burnet had barely risen from his stool when a carpet-mender passed, in
the opposite direction to the water-seller.

"Wallahi!" muttered the barber, who had gazed at him with the same
fixity.  "Another spy approaches, from the other end.  If you go now,
verily you must meet one or the other.  They would mark you as a
stranger.  Is it a time for questions?  Haste now: that former day you
became for a while my apprentice, and beguiled the Turkish dogs.  So it
shall be again."

He was already stripping off Burnet's travel-stained outer clothes and
clumsy shoes.  These he cast under his bench, and then with amazing
quickness replaced them with a long white djellab and light sandals.

"Mark you, Aga," he said, "you are my nephew and new apprentice, in
place of that misshapen Mahmoud who has left me.  You have even now
arrived from Bebejak."  He named a village near the Persian frontier
northward which was not likely to be well known to these agents of the
secret service.

Burnet had just taken up a razor and was feeling its edge when a man in
the dress of a city merchant passed the open shop, throwing a glance
into the interior.  Half a minute afterwards a second man appeared from
the opposite direction.  He stopped, mounted the two steps that led to
the shop, and greeting the barber sat down on the chair.

"Comb my beard, barber," he said.

"In truth it needs the comb, effendi," said Firouz Ali.  "A fine beard,
of the fineness of silk, though its beauty is hidden by the
thrice-accursed dust that defiles it.  Yusuf, lay my whitest napkin
about the effendi's throat."

"A new apprentice, barber?" said the customer, eyeing Burnet.  "More
agreeable to look at than that hunchback of yours."

"He has a straight back, Allah be praised," said the barber, "but what
is that?  A fair form may go with a foolish mind.  Ahi!  The
ingratitude of man!  Behold, Mahmoud left me without a moment's
warning, enticed away by some flattering tongue.  And here am I in a
pitiful plight, for all likely youths are snapped up for the army, and
I have had to summon my nephew from his mean village in the north, a
mere country lout----"

"A lout, say you?  Methinks his frame deserves a fairer word."

"A lout, I say again: clumsy as an untamed colt.  Did he not break my
best basin into a thousand and one fragments?"

"And why is he too not in the army?"

"In the army!  By the tomb of my father, what should he do in the army?
Where are his wits?  Bid him go to the right, straightway he goes to
the left.  Ahi! it broke my poor brother's heart to find a witless mind
in a body that, as you truly say, has some elements of graciousness.
Will he repay me for all my pains in training him to my honourable
craft?  Who can tell?  He has but just arrived; and I have yet to
learn----"

Here the barber was interrupted by the hurried entrance of a young man
in military uniform.

"Salaam, barber," he cried.  "The barber of Bukkad Bey has fallen sick,
and the Bey requires a cunning hand to smooth his cheeks.  Whose hand
is more cunning than Firouz Ali's?  Haste, then, for time presses."

Firouz Ali briefly acknowledged the command, and apologised to his
customer for spending less time on his silky beard than its beauty
deserved.  The secret service man, apparently satisfied with the
barber's explanations about his new apprentice, left the shop.

"Woe is me!" exclaimed the barber.  "What is to become of you, Aga?  I
dare not leave you here, and I fear some harm will befall you if you go
alone through the streets."

"Take me with you, of course!  I can carry your things."

"Mashallah!  But Bukkad Bey may know you again."

"Not he!  I was hardly more than a child when he saw me, just that
once; and he was too busy with my father to notice me."

"Truly you are bold with an exceeding great boldness.  But so it shall
be.  Gather up the basin, and soap, and the brush, and two razors, and
the strop.  I will bid my neighbour have an eye to the shop, and we
will go together."



CHAPTER IV

THE SHAVING OF BURCKHARDT

Major Cornelius Burckhardt was quartered in an old house not far from
Firouz Ali's shop.  He occupied two rooms on the ground floor, the
bedroom opening from the sitting-room.  It was into the latter that the
barber and Yusuf his apprentice, having been admitted to the outer
courtyard by the doorkeeper, were ushered by the major's servant, who
bade them wait there, and disappeared into the room beyond.

Burnet looked around with curiosity and amusement.  The appointments of
the room bespoke a blend of archæologist and military officer.  In the
centre stood a roll-top desk, open, and strewn with maps and papers:
Major Burckhardt, although unshaved, had already been at work.
Military accoutrements, hanging from pegs on the wall, dangled above a
table strewn with potsherds, fragments of tiles, tablets, and other
objects unearthed from Babylonian ruins.  Images, large and small, all
very much damaged, were ranged on the floor around the walls.  Across
one corner was a stone screen nearly six feet high, strangely carved,
and chipped at the edges.

The servant having left the bedroom door half open, his announcement of
the barber's arrival was clearly heard in the outer room.  A husky
voice, speaking Arabic with a strong guttural accent, bade him show the
man in.  Firouz Ali, closely followed by Burnet carrying his utensils,
entered, bowing low, and giving the customary salutation, "Salaam
aleikam!" to which the German suitably responded.

"My barber is sick," he went on.  "I sent for you, knowing you to be
skilful with the razor."

"May your excellency----" began Firouz Ali.

"Yes, yes; but no man lives for ever," said the German, cutting short
the formula.  "I was about to say that I cannot shave myself.  I have
worn a beard for twenty years, but naturally I had to discard it on
resuming my career in our German army.  I explain this, because it is
foreign to my nature to be dependent.  I prefer to do everything
myself.  Also my beard grows strong: therefore is it necessary that
your razor should be particularly keen.  And now proceed."

Burnet had some difficulty in repressing a smile.  Major Burckhardt was
a tubby little man, with an immense dome-like head, rather bald, and
spectacled.  His brown moustache was brushed up at the ends.  He wore a
long camel's-hair dressing-gown that accentuated his rotundity.  Burnet
vividly remembered his last sight of the little man, then heavily
bearded.  He was being rushed down the slope of a _tell_ by Burnet's
father, who had seized him by the scruff of the neck, the German
frantically calling upon his Arab followers to assist him against the
English interloper.  Prudently, the Arabs had stood by, gravely
watching the scene.

"Yusuf, spread the napkin," said the barber.  "Your excellency will
have no cause to regret the misfortune that has befallen your barber.
In all Bagdad, nay, in all the realm of the Padishah there is no razor
equal to this, whether for keenness or for the velvet softness of its
touch.  Your excellency will be soothed and----"

"Yes, yes," the major interrupted; "get to work.  I want my breakfast,
and I am already later than my usual hour."

Firouz Ali, like all loquacious people--even though his loquacity was
designed--disliked the spoiling of his sentences.  He pressed his lips
together, and vigorously stropped his razor, signing to Burnet to
lather the officer.

While Burnet was preparing the lather, Major Burckhardt, his thick neck
swathed with a snowy napkin, looked up at the ceiling, and discoursed
of many things.

"There are great days coming for this city of yours, barber.  When our
Kaiser establishes a protectorate over the country, Bagdad will regain
something of its old renown--nay, it will become even more illustrious
than it was in its palmiest days.  And we have not long to wait."  Here
Burnet began to lather; but the major, having started on the pleasant
pastime of hearing himself speak, continued, in spite of the brush that
was travelling over his cheeks and chin.  "The English are beating
their heads vainly against the impregnable fortresses down the river,
erected by German genius.  Soon they will be swept away into the sea
they claim as their own; that race of boastful braggarts, robbers,
hypocrites, scoundrels, scum----"

How far the major's vocabulary of abuse would have extended will not be
known, for at this moment Burnet dabbed the shaving-brush, thick with
the whitest and creamiest of lathers, into the German's half-open
mouth.  The little man jumped up, spluttering with froth and fury.
Firouz Ali instantly feigned an explosion of rage.  Seizing the brush,
he flung Burnet aside and shouted:

"Away with you, you clumsy fool, last of a generation of apes!  Woe is
me that I should call you kin!  Would you shame me before the very face
of his excellency?  Would you take away my good name, and cause it to
be spread abroad throughout the world that Firouz Ali is the uncle of
an ass?  I pray your excellency to pardon me, the least of his
servants, and not to turn away the light of his countenance from me
because of the iniquities of this poor fool, who is but lately come
from a mean village that I may sharpen his wits and better his manners.
Stand here, poor witless lout, and hold me the basin: 'tis all you are
fit for."

[Illustration: A MOUTHFUL OF SOAP]

The German allowed himself to be appeased; he wanted his breakfast.
Firouz Ali, alternately abusing his apprentice and flattering the
officer, finished his task, and coaxed out an admission that, barring
the awkwardness of the young man, it had been a very comfortable shave.
The major then dismissed him, telling him to wait in the next room and
the servant would bring his fee.

The barber bowed himself out, and harshly bade Burnet follow him, and
close the door.  They heard the major ring for his servant, who gained
the bedroom by another entrance.  There was some delay, and Burnet
catching sight of a marked map spread out on the desk, and remembering
his mission, moved across the room to examine it.  Before he had taken
more than a cursory glance, however, there was a sound of persons
approaching the outer door.  Instinctively he slipped behind the stone
screen at his elbow, next moment feeling annoyed with himself, for
there might have been time to rejoin Firouz Ali.  The door opened, and
there entered a tall man in the uniform of a German general, with a
Turkish aide-de-camp at his heels, Major Burckhardt's servant
following.  The latter crossed at once to the door of the bedroom, half
opened it, and announced that General Eisenstein had called on
important business.  Major Burckhardt, still in his dressing-gown, came
out hurriedly, with proper apologies for his appearance.  He signed to
Firouz Ali to go, and the barber was followed out by the servant, who
handed him his fee, receiving a portion of it as commission, in
accordance with oriental custom.

"Where is your apprentice?" he asked.

"Where is that ass-head, that worker of iniquity!" cried the barber.
"By the Beard, it were fitting he should drown himself.  Did you not
see him pass out, rubbing his pumpkin pate?"

"He did not pass me."

"Then peradventure he slunk out at the back while you were admitting
your master's high-born visitor.  Truly he would shrink from showing
his foolish face even to you, friend."

He spoke in a very loud tone of voice, in order to be heard both by the
doorkeeper across the courtyard, and by Burnet within the house.  When
the servant had closed the door, Firouz Ali stood for a moment or two
debating with himself what he had better do.  He was seriously
perturbed.  For years past he had lived on the edge of circumstance, a
secret revolutionary, owing his safety solely to his quickness,
resource, and address.  He had never felt so helpless as in the present
predicament, due to Burnet's impulsive action.  Deciding that to loiter
in the neighbourhood could do no good, and might do harm, he returned
to his shop, convinced that he would see his benefactor's son no more.

Meanwhile Burnet, crouching back in the corner behind the screen, and
feeling that he deserved all the abuse lately showered upon him by his
friend, had perforce listened to the conversation between the German
officers.  The opening sentences, spoken in German, he did not
understand.  General Eisenstein had in fact begun by apologising for
disturbing Major Burckhardt at what was clearly an unseasonable hour.

"As you know," he remarked, "I am myself up and about before dawn."

Burckhardt caught the implied reproach, and answered in something of a
fluster.

"I have already been at work, Herr General," he said, "but my barber
fell sick, and----"

"Quite so, but speak in Arabic, if you please.  Major Rustum Bey does
not understand German.  I have come to you for information about a part
of the country with which I understand you are familiar.  Major Rustum
Bey has had some difficulty in getting exact particulars."

Burnet pricked up his cars.  From this point on the conversation was
conducted in Arabic.

"The chief Halil," General Eisenstein went on, "who has hitherto shown
himself friendly and proved to be of some use (although one can trust
these Arabs no farther than one can see them), has come in to ask for
assistance.  It appears that a certain tribe with which he has been
long at war (they call it war!) has crossed the Euphrates and
established itself in a fastness among the swamps.  The tribe is known
to be disaffected towards his Ottoman Majesty: if it is not rooted out
it will become a nucleus of hostile activity, attracting other rebel
Arabs, and may seriously threaten our communications on the river.  The
situation of the fastness is described as a long march south of the
_tell_ of--what is the name, major?"

"The _tell_ of Tukulti-Ninip, Excellenz," said the Turkish officer.

"Now, Major Burckhardt, in the first place do you know this _tell_
of--ach!----"

"Tukulti-Ninip," said Burckhardt.  "Certainly: I know it well.  Only a
few years ago it was the scene of a brisk little action between myself
and a brutal Englishman who was poaching on my ground.  The Englishman
had cause to repent his insolence."

"Good, Major Burckhardt.  You will soon have further opportunities, no
doubt, of action of a still more stirring character.  Now, as to this
fastness--you have a map?  Yes, I see you have.  Point out to me the
locality of this _tell_ of----"

"Tukulti-Ninip.  Here it is, Herr General."  He laid a fat forefinger
on the spot.  "It is covered with the ruins of a temple erected by
Samsi-Addu to the god Anu, and was----"

"We are discussing military matters, not antiquities, my dear major.
Let us proceed.  The fastness in question is described as an island in
the marshes, and has ruins of some kind, giving good cover.  It is
approached by a causeway nearly a thousand metres long.  Do you know
such a place?"

"That, too, Herr General, I know as well as I know my own native
village of Obervogelgesang: better, indeed, for I once spent six months
digging in the ruins you mention, and the museums of Dresden and Munich
count my finds among their choicest treasures.  I had the good fortune
to discover a tablet commemorating the expedition of Tukulti-Ninip to
the Sebbeneh-Su----"

"My good major, confine yourself to our present business, if you
please.  You know the place well.  Then we shall not be dependent on
the Arabs for our information.  Where would you locate it on the map?"

Burckhardt took a pencil, and after some consideration marked the spot,
saying:

"It is here, as nearly as possible.  The wady, once a canal (dating
from the time of Assur-Uballit) that irrigated the whole surrounding
country, is now the cause of the marshes.  It carries the flood water
of the Euphrates over a hundred square kilometres, and is now a scourge
where it was once a source of prosperity.  I discovered in my
researches that Pudi-ilu----"

"Enough!" cried the general, his patience giving out.  He turned to the
Turk.  "A company of infantry with a machine-gun, assisted by Halil's
horde, will no doubt suffice?"

Though in form a question, there was so little real enquiry in the
remark that Major Rustum Bey hastily agreed.

"Certainly, Excellenz.  It will be quite sufficient."

"Then I will arrange that you undertake the little expedition,
associated with Major Burckhardt, whose peculiar local knowledge should
be of much value.  Shall we say a month from to-day?  Halil will have
to return to his tribe and make his arrangements, and procrastination
is such a vice with the Arabs that we must give him plenty of time.
Tell him to be ready in a fortnight, and we may be reasonably certain
that he will be ready in a month.  That is all, then, Major Burckhardt.
Ah! it occurs to me to remind you that this is a military expedition,
not a hunt for old stones."

The visitors took their leave, Burckhardt accompanying them to the door.



CHAPTER V

SECRET SERVICE

Behind the screen, Burnet had listened to the three officers'
conversation with mixed feelings.  On the one hand he had gained a
piece of information which might be of importance and well worth his
risky visit to Bagdad.  On the other, he had placed himself in a
position which made it very doubtful whether he would be able to use
the information, or even to escape with his life.  There was short
shrift for any spy.

What could he do?  Burckhardt, on the departure of his visitors, rang
for his servant, ordered him to prepare breakfast, and retired into his
bedroom to finish his interrupted toilet.  The servant set the table.
In a few minutes the German would be engaged with his meal, after which
he would no doubt resume work at his desk.  Burnet felt that if he did
not escape at once he would probably have no opportunity later.  The
only possible chance seemed to be to follow the servant as quietly as
possible when he should leave the room to fetch his master's food.
What course would then be open to him he could not guess.  He was
ignorant of the plan of the house.  All that he knew of it was that
small portion which he had passed through with Firouz Ali.  The front
door opened into a small courtyard about which the house was built,
with a verandah along the front of the house.  Near the outer door, on
a small square of carpet within the shade of the verandah, sat the
doorkeeper, cross-legged.  To gain freedom Burnet would have to reach
the front undetected, cross or skirt the courtyard, and pass the
doorkeeper.  It was so far fortunate that Burckhardt had followed the
oriental custom in employing a native porter, instead of being guarded
by a sentry as might have been expected.  There was, it was clear, a
back door, giving access no doubt to one of the narrow evil-smelling
lanes which Bagdad, like every oriental city, has in plenty; but to go
exploring in search of that was out of the question.

The doorkeeper was the difficulty.  Burnet wished that Firouz Ali had
not been so ready with his explanation of his being unaccompanied by
the apprentice.  The man would almost certainly be suspicious if the
apprentice who, he supposed, had already left the house should come out
of the front door so long after his master.  Even if not suspicious, he
might detain Burnet for a chat on things in general, or to enquire the
reason of the barber's anger, and during their talk the servant might
come into the courtyard and see him.  Burnet was taxing his wits for
some means of eluding the doorkeeper when the servant, having set the
table, went off to fetch the meal.  For the moment there was but one
thing to be done: to escape from the room before either the man or the
master re-entered it.

No sooner had the servant gone out, leaving the door open, than Burnet
slipped from his hiding-place and followed him on tiptoe into the
passage.  The servant had turned to the right, no doubt towards the
kitchen.  Burnet, waiting at the doorway until he had disappeared,
hurried to the left towards the front door, paused until he had made
sure that the doorkeeper on the far side of the courtyard had not seen
him, then slipped under the shade of the verandah behind a tall plant
growing in a pot.  He had noticed, under the verandah on the opposite
side, not far from the doorkeeper, a pile of packing-cases, in which he
guessed that Burckhardt's antiquities had been transported.  This pile
would form a securer shelter than the plant, which was in full view of
any one who might enter the courtyard from the street.  Stealing round
the verandah close to the wall, he got behind the cases; and breathing
a little more freely, waited to consider his next move.

He looked across the courtyard, and through the window of Burckhardt's
room saw that officer, now in his military uniform, come from his
bedroom and seat himself at the table.  The servant brought in a tray,
poured out his master's coffee, then disappeared.  Burckhardt propped a
book against the water-jug, and divided his attention between that and
his breakfast.  There was little to be feared from him.

The doorkeeper remained on his mat.  He was not even drowsy.  Burnet
tried to think of something that would account for his presence, but
found nothing that would not involve such lengthy explanations as he
was anxious to avoid.  If only something would take the doorkeeper away
for a minute or so!--the wish had no sooner formed itself than an idea
occurred to him.  The cases and crates among which he was sheltering
were very insecurely stacked.  A slight push would displace one of the
topmost.  Its fall would probably bring the doorkeeper to the spot, not
to replace it--that would not be his job, and an oriental servant is
the last man in the world to do more than he must--but to satisfy his
curiosity and find a subject for conversation.  Burnet might then dodge
behind the other cases towards the doorway, and with luck slip out.

The plan was no sooner formed than acted on.  A heavy crate, which a
European would have put at the base of the pile instead of at the
summit, toppled over on to the paving-stones with a crash and flying
splinters.  But the stolid doorkeeper only turned his head for an
instant.  A crate had fallen: what was that to him?  The noise,
however, had an effect which Burnet had not reckoned on.  Burckhardt,
with his napkin round his neck and the coffee-pot in his hand, came to
the window.  His servant appeared at the door.

"What is that?" the latter called.

"Have you no eyes, foolish one?" answered the doorkeeper without
rising.  "The crate lies where it fell."

Here Burckhardt threw open the window and roared, with his mouth half
full:

"Get up, you son of idleness, and set the crate back in its place, and
take care that it is secure.  Shall I speak twice?"

Burnet, keeping out of view, saw the doorkeeper rise slowly and move
towards the crate.  The servant returned into the house, no doubt
fearing that he might be called upon to lend a hand.  But Burckhardt
remained at the window to see that his command was carried out.  Burnet
was in despair.  He could dodge the doorkeeper, but it was impossible
to reach the door unnoticed while Burckhardt stood looking on.  But the
German, seeing that the man was stirring, went back, presumably to fill
his cup, or to replace the coffee-pot on the table.  Burnet seized the
lucky moment.  He slipped along behind the pile, threw a hasty glance
towards the house, and knowing that the doorkeeper's back was now
turned to him, darted through the open doorway into the street.

Firouz Ali uttered a fervent "Mashallah!" when Burnet, a few minutes
later, walked into his shop, then empty.

"Verily a leaden weight is lifted from my heart, Aga," he said.  "It
was bowed down with the fear that you were in the hands of the enemy.
Tell me by what device you escaped out of the net."

Burnet explained.

"It was well done," said the barber, "and surely good fortune attends
you.  But give heed to the words of one who has learnt wisdom.  Let two
thoughts go before one action.  What need to hide in the very chamber
of the foe?  Am I a child?  Could you not trust me to bring us both
safely away?  Such foolishness leads you into dangers that might be
avoided: moreover, it might have brought my own head into peril, for
has not a sword hung over it by a hair these many years?  Nay, more: my
life must end some day: such is the fate of all; but I would not that
it should end before my eyes have seen the glory for which I have
striven since I was a beardless youth."

"What you say is quite right, my old friend," said Burnet.  "I was
rash, and I am sorry for it.  But after all, if I had not hidden I
should not have learned what I did."

"What was that?" asked the barber eagerly.

"The Germans are joining hands with that rogue Halil to attack Rejeb
son of Hussein.  I have not told you yet--I have not had time--that I
met Rejeb on my way here, and was able to do him a trifling service.
Halil's men were even then hunting him."

"Mashallah!  What you did for him was well done, for Rejeb is as a
pillar in the temple of our freedom.  If any harm befalls him, not only
will a heavy blow be dealt against the faithful who would throw off the
Turkish yoke, but the safety of your own countrymen between the rivers
yonder will be put in jeopardy.  There are tribes in the desert, now
friendly to you, or at least wavering, which would turn to the enemy
from very fear if Rejeb fell; and then your people would be harassed by
constant raids, and their task, heavy enough, would be doubly hard.
And I may tell you now that the dervish Hezar, when he left the city of
late, set forth to learn how stand the minds of the tribes bordering
the Euphrates towards you.  Of him I have heard nothing: he is in the
hands of Allah!"

The conversation was here interrupted by the entrance of a customer;
indeed, it was not resumed until the time of the midday siesta checked
the stream of customers who came to Firouz Ali for his professional
attentions and almost as much for the flow of chat which he poured out.
Burnet admired the unfailing tact with which the barber suited his talk
to the tastes and interests of his various patrons.  He remarked, too,
how cleverly his friend, knowing that his stay in Bagdad must be brief,
prepared his customers for another change of assistants.

"Wallahi!  Mahmoud was a hunchback," he said to one, "but he was
learning his craft: whereas this poor thing, my nephew, fresh from his
benighted village, will never make a barber, even though he live to the
age of the patriarchs.  His tongue is slow, an ill thing in barbers;
moreover, he is clumsy as a camel: did he not this very morning fill
the mouth of a German effendi with soap, to my everlasting shame?  No,
he must find other work for his unruly hands."

Burnet listened to all this with secret amusement, and laughed heartily
when, in a leisure moment, Firouz Ali apologised for his
uncomplimentary remarks.

"My friend, I enjoyed them," he said.  "Besides, you are quite right.
I am conscious that I never should make a satisfactory barber."

It was not until the end of the day that they were thoroughly at
leisure to discuss the course of action which Burnet ought to follow as
the result of what he had learnt.  Firouz Ali decided to send a
messenger to warn Rejeb of his impending danger: the same man would
also try to penetrate to the British lines with a message from Burnet
giving the same information.  Meanwhile Burnet himself, in pursuance of
the object that had brought him to Bagdad, would remain at any rate for
a few days to pick up any information he could regarding the enemy's
movements and plans.  With this purpose it would be necessary to find
opportunities of visiting different parts of the city.  The barber
pointed out that it was no longer easy, as in the past, to perambulate
the city without exciting suspicion.  The old laxity had disappeared
when the Germans assumed control.  Discipline was now rigorous in the
army, and the civil administration had been militarised.  Burnet was
not likely to learn more about the Turkish arrangements than Firouz Ali
could tell him.  His reply to this was that he wanted not only to know
the numbers and constitution of the military forces, the extent of
their supplies and so on; in addition, for the purpose he had in view,
he must learn by personal observation exactly where the storehouses
were situated.

During the next few days the two men spent a good many hours in going
about the city and its neighbourhood.  For these excursions they chose
the middle part of the day, when people in authority were resting, and
the shop could be left most safely.  They were always prepared with a
story.

While talking matters over with Firouz Ali, and combating the
objections he raised on the score of prudence, Burnet had a happy
thought.  Why should not the barber make capital of his summons to
Burckhardt?  Let him announce through his agents that during the middle
part of the day, when people of consideration were resting, and few or
no customers came to the shop, the barber who had had the honour of
attending upon Bukkad Bey would visit at their own lodgings any who
were at leisure to be refreshed with a shampoo, to have their nails
trimmed, or their hair improved by the application of his famous lotion.

"But what will it profit?" asked Firouz Ali, not seeing the drift of
the suggestion.  "If I am thus employed, how can I accompany you in
your goings to and fro, and accompany you I must, for your own safety?"

"My friend, we may thus account for our presence in any part of the
city at unusual hours, armed with our brushes and bottles.  And as for
those who would avail themselves of your services, what easier than to
explain to a man in one quarter that when he wanted you, you were busy
in another?"

The plan, as further explained, was one after Firouz Ali's own heart,
and next morning it was put in operation.  It succeeded admirably.  For
a day or two the barber, always accompanied by his apprentice, spent
the early afternoon in practising his craft here and there in the city;
then, having taken care that his new activities should be talked about,
he dropped them, and led Burnet to the quarters he was anxious to see.
He was sometimes stopped and questioned, but his explanation was always
ready, with his apparatus for credentials.

After each excursion Burnet, on his return to the barber's house, took
from its place of concealment between the soles of one of his shoes a
plan of Bagdad, placed over it a sheet of semi-transparent paper such
as is commonly used in the country, and marked upon it a small dot over
the spot at which some military establishment was situated.  In the
course of a few days this paper, which would have appeared to the
uninitiated merely a blank sheet with a number of scattered and
apparently meaningless dots, was in reality a compendium of important
discoveries.

One day, when they were out on their usual errand, Burnet's wish to
discover the exact position of certain ammunition barges that lay in
the river led them to venture farther than was prudent.  They were
stopped and questioned by a sentry more than usually alert.  Firouz
Ali's glib explanations for once did not satisfy the man, perhaps eager
for promotion, and they were marched to the guard-room.  At the moment
none but private soldiers were there, one or two of whom knew the
barber, and were quick to inform their comrade that he had made a
mistake.  While they were discussing the point, there entered the
non-commissioned officer whom Firouz Ali had been shampooing at the
time of Burnet's arrival at the shop some days before.

"Ahi!  What is this?" he cried, in surprise.

"Mashallah!  Here is one who knows the truth of things," exclaimed the
barber, before the sentry could begin.  "This excellent servant of the
Padishah did but his duty, beyond doubt, but you, being a man in
authority, will be able to content him.  Who can bear witness better
than you that I am Firouz Ali, the barber of Bagdad, the maker of sweet
scents and famous lotions?  Is it not known far and wide that the
illustrious Bukkad Bey has entrusted to me his noble chin?  And was I
not honoured in bedewing your own matchless locks with my
sweet-savoured essences?  And lo, chancing to pass this way, and
remembering your witty sayings and all that you told me, I did but
think to pay my respects, and perchance to behold with my own eyes your
manifold labours in the service of our father the Padishah.  And now,
wallahi! we are taken, myself and my poor nephew--we are taken, I say,
as common malefactors.  Woe is me!  Shall it be said that Firouz Ali, a
man of no little renown----"

"Stay," interrupted the sergeant, clearly flattered at being coupled
with Bukkad Bey; "this is very true.  That you are Firouz Ali the
barber I know, and that you have shaved Bukkad Bey and shampooed me;
but who is this?  Surely it is the kelakji who came into your shop that
morning.  Wherefore then is he in your company, his raiment changed?"

"Wallahi!  Do not I ask myself that question twenty times a day?  This
youth, effendi, that came to me that unlucky day--woe is me that I
should call him nephew!  Behold him, the poor witless loon who ran away
from his village and sought fortune vainly in many crafts, and having
failed in them all for want of wit, he came to me for help, and I could
not believe he was my own brother's son, so much had he grown.  Ahi!
As his stature increases, so does his mind decrease; he will never be a
barber, for all my instruction; and he is fit for nothing better than
to carry my pots and perchance to stir a lather.  Wallahi!  My poor
brother!"

"By the Beard, it is a sore affliction for your family," said the
sergeant, looking pityingly at Burnet, who stood with half-open mouth
and as silly an expression as he could assume.  Quite unsuspicious, he
rated the sentry for his stupidity in arresting a citizen so
well-reputed as Firouz Ali, and ordered the prisoners to be released,
at the same time warning the barber against indiscretions in the future.

"Verily it is a lesson," said Firouz Ali, after profusely thanking the
man.  "I will offend no more.  And here, effendi, is a bottle of my
famous lotion--a small token of my gratitude, but in truth what can a
man give better than his best?"

When they had been escorted beyond the military quarters Firouz Ali
uttered a heart-felt invocation of the Prophet.

"It is time for you to go, Aga," he added earnestly.  "That sentry has
more wits than the ass-head who commands him.  Did you not perceive his
sulkiness, and the sparkle of some thought in his eye?  Of a truth he
was not satisfied, and he may even yet bring harm upon you."

"I am inclined to agree with you, my friend," said Burnet, "and the
more readily because I doubt whether it is worth while my staying any
longer.  And I must keep my appointment with my countryman at the
_tell_; there may be delays; I had better start at once."

"We will talk of it this night when the shop is closed.  You must not
go as you came: ahi! it needs that I work my wits once more for your
behoof.  What would I not do for the son of my protector and friend!"



CHAPTER VI

THE DERVISH HEZAR

Before Burnet laid himself down that night on his humble couch in
Firouz Ali's house the plan for his departure had been thoroughly
discussed.  Among the barber's friends and agents was one Ibrahim, once
a prosperous owner of camels, which he hired out to merchants or
pilgrims.  Since the war, however, all his camels but two had been
commandeered by the Turks; his business was ruined; and he now employed
himself in picking up camels from the remoter tribes in the Arabian
desert, and selling them to the army authorities at a miserable profit.
He had adopted this occupation to cover his real business, which was to
keep in touch with the revolted chiefs at Mecca and Medina and to act
as a travelling link between them and Firouz Ali, the centre of the
secret revolutionary movement in Bagdad.

Firouz Ali arranged that Burnet should become Ibrahim's temporary
assistant.  Having lost no opportunity of belittling the intelligence
of his new apprentice, the barber would find it easy to explain to any
one who was curious enough to enquire, that the lad had shown himself
hopelessly inefficient, and gone to try his luck as a camel-driver.
Burnet would accompany Ibrahim to Kerbela and Meshed Ali, and thence
make the best of his way to the _tell_ of Tukulti-Ninip, in good time,
he hoped, for his appointment with Captain Ellingford.

Next day he did not leave the barber's house, but employed himself in
writing a letter.  Curiously enough, it was addressed to himself, and
in Arabic; and though of no great length, its composition occupied
several hours.  The paper on which it was written was that thin sheet
which he had several times laid over his map of Bagdad and the
neighbourhood and marked with small dots, which formed a haphazard
pattern like the stars in the firmament.  Written Arabic, as every one
knows, is a series of strokes and curves and dots, like a compacter
sort of shorthand; and the reason why this simple letter was a work of
long labour was that the dots already marked on the paper had to be
incorporated, in the most natural way possible, with the invented
message.  When the letter was finished, only a very observant eye would
have noticed that some of the dots were slightly heavier than the rest.
No one would have suspected that only these dots were of the least
importance: the letter existed for them.

It read somewhat as follows:

"To my dear son Yusuf, greeting.  My heart is sore, yearning for you,
my sweet son, for a sight of your face, round as the moon, and your
eyes, like raisins in a cake.  I hope that you have not shed your
bright blood by careless handling of your uncle's razors, and I pray
that you may become rich enough to give your sister a good dower, and
that you will attain as high a renown as my famous brother himself.
Blessing and peace be with you.  Written by the hand of the mullah for
your father and mother."

"That'll do, if I'm collared," thought Burnet, as he tucked the letter
into his girdle.

He then tore up the map which gave the key to this letter: there were
plenty more at headquarters.

In the evening, when the shop was shut, Ibrahim the camel-driver came
to the house and was introduced by Firouz Ali to his new assistant.
Ibrahim had brought with him a few essential articles of clothing, and
it was settled that Burnet should join him next morning at dawn.

Soon after daylight the two camel-drivers, each mounted on a rather
poor specimen of the kind, rode southwards out of the city.  Ibrahim
had a pass, which franked them through the sentries, to whom, indeed,
he was pretty well known through previous journeys in and out.  Like
all travellers in those desert lands he carried a rifle: Burnet,
apparently unarmed, had his revolver securely tucked away.

Burnet had lived long enough in Mesopotamia to have more than a passing
acquaintance with the camel, its moods and vagaries; but during the
next few days he learnt more about that useful "ship of the desert"
than he had known in all his previous experience.  His steed tramped on
hour after hour at the same steady pace, with a jolting movement that
he found unpleasant and tedious.  He longed for the lithe, springy,
varied gait of a horse, and once ventured to express his preference to
his companion.  Ibrahim was up in arms at once, and lectured him so
roundly that he wished he had held his tongue.

"You speak out of your little knowledge, effendi," said this champion
of the camel.  "The horse, indeed, starts with his heels in the air,
and will curvet and gallop and perform as many tricks as a tumbler.
But how is it at the end of the day?  The beast shambles and stumbles,
and, ill-tempered from hunger, he will bite and fight, scatter his corn
like a prodigal, and even paw it with his hoofs into the mire.  But the
camel--behold how patiently he marches, as well at sunset as at dawn;
how gently he kneels down at his journey's end, and thankfully receives
his beans, and chews the cud peacefully until the morning.  He has more
wits than a horse, and if he roars, it is but to say that his saddle
galls him, and to plead that it may be restuffed.  Better one camel
than twenty horses."

There was something to be said on the other side, but Burnet had tact,
an excellent thing in a travelling companion.

The sixty-mile journey to Kerbela was almost uneventful.  As Burnet
knew, the place was seething with disaffection towards the Turks, and
he was not surprised when, a few miles from the town, a small party of
rebels suddenly sprang out from behind a palm grove and commanded the
travellers to dismount.  The sequel caused him to realise that the
movement controlled by Firouz Ali was very widespread.  At a few words
from Ibrahim, and the display of a small token that he carried in the
folds of his turban, the hostile attitude of the rebels changed as by
magic to the frankest friendliness.  They readily answered Ibrahim's
questions as to affairs in the town, and took a cordial farewell.

The travellers stayed in Kerbela only long enough to rest their camels,
then pushed on towards their destination, Meshed Ali, fifty miles to
the south.  Leaving the palm gardens behind them at early morning, they
were soon in the barren desert.  Towards sunset, when they had almost
reached Birs Nimrud, half-way to their goal, they came upon a camping
party of five men, squatting on mats and eating dates, in the shade of
a small pile of ruins.  Four horses were tethered close by, and Burnet
saw that one of the men, a wild, dirty, long-bearded figure clad in the
deerskin of a dervish, had his hands tied together with a piece of rope.

"What did I say, Aga?" remarked Ibrahim, as they came abreast of the
party.  "The horses are far spent; they can go no further; otherwise
those men would not have paused here to rest when the town lies but a
few miles beyond."

The men, each of whom had a rifle laid across his knees, looked up
somewhat suspiciously at the two travellers.  Ibrahim pulled up and
gave them a greeting.

"I perceive you have a prisoner," he added.  "Verily he has the look of
a vile creature and a worker of iniquity.  What is his offence, I pray
you?"

"Wallahi!  He is indeed an evil-doer," answered the leader; "a runaway
thief, and we have ridden hard to catch him."

"He shall be beaten with stripes, and repent with mourning," said
Ibrahim.  "Upon you be blessing and peace."

[Illustration: THE PRISONER]

The camels jogged on again.  As they passed, the prisoner looked up and
flashed one quick glance at Burnet, instantly lowering his eyes.
Burnet involuntarily started, but recollected himself in a moment, and
refrained from turning his head.  Those keen grey eyes, however, were
unmistakeable.  The prisoner was the man who passed among the natives
as the Dervish Hezar, but was known to the British headquarters staff
as Alfred Sanderson, the most daring and skilful of secret service
agents.

When they were out of earshot, Burnet said to his companion: "The
prisoner, no thief, is a friend of Firouz Ali's.  We must rescue him."

"Say you so?  Firouz Ali's friends are mine, and if that man be the
Dervish Hezar----"

"He is."

"Ahi!  But what can we do?  They are four, well armed: we are but two."

"Yet it must be done, and though they are more than we, peradventure
with two there will be more wisdom and cunning than with four."

This implied compliment to his intelligence pleased Ibrahim, and as
soon as they had ridden out of sight he turned aside from the beaten
track, rounded a slight eminence, and causing the camels to kneel down,
asked Burnet to dismount with him and talk over the problem.

"Those poor beasts," he remarked, "are jaded; they will not be fit to
travel for some hours to come; therefore the men will remain where they
are until the morning.  Perchance in the darkness we could steal up to
their camp and bring the dervish away."

"We had better return to it while there is still light in the sky,"
said Burnet.  "It will be dark in half an hour, and we might then find
it difficult to discover them.  The ruins will cover us from them if we
approach from the east."

"It is well said, Aga.  I will give the camels a handful of beans which
they will chew peacefully, and so refrain from disturbing the night
with their roaring; then we will make a circuit and come to the ruins
even as the sun sets."

Less than half an hour later the two men, having made their way back to
the ruins, crept stealthily to the southern corner, where they could
see the spot on which the five men had camped.  It was growing dark,
but in the slight glow from the western sky they perceived at once that
the men were no longer there.  There was no sign of them in what was
visible of the open desert to the west; it was indeed scarcely likely
that they had decided to pursue their journey on horses so patently
fatigued.  Ibrahim suggested in a whisper that they had withdrawn
farther into the ruins to avoid observation by passengers along the
direct route from Kerbela to Meshed Ali.

This was disappointing.  The ruins were extensive; to explore them in
the dark would be as hazardous as difficult.  Their footsteps would be
inaudible in the sand; but they might stumble against one of the
innumerable fragments of masonry that lay scattered all about, and the
Arab's ears are so quick that the slightest sound might utterly defeat
their purpose.  The night would be moonless; even if it had been
otherwise, moonlight would have been little less dangerous than
darkness, for though they could have seen their way, a flickering
shadow might have betrayed them.

In whispers they discussed their safest course.  Burnet agreed to
remain on the outskirts of the ruins while Ibrahim searched.  When the
Arab started on his quest darkness had descended, and there was only a
slight glimmer from the stars.  It seemed hours before he returned.  He
explained that he had almost despaired of finding the men, and
concluded that they had after all ridden away to the north, when he
suddenly heard voices, and creeping towards the sound had almost
stumbled upon the party, encamped in the midst of a group of broken
columns hidden by a slight fold in the ground.  Their horses were
tethered some little distance away, and from the appearance of things
it seemed clear that the men had no intention of leaving the spot until
daybreak.

During Ibrahim's absence Burnet had turned over in his mind, not merely
the problem of getting the dervish away, but the further problem of
successfully eluding pursuit.  Tired as the horses were, they had
probably had rest enough to make them more than equal to the camels in
pace.  Should he stampede them?  It would be easy enough, but the
attempt might lead to disaster, for they would almost certainly scent a
stranger long before he reached them, and a startled whinny would bring
the Arabs in haste upon the scene.  The safer plan would be to depend
on releasing the prisoner while his captors were asleep, and then on
following a roundabout course through the desert.

The two men consulted in whispers and soon came to a determination.
Burnet, as the more active of the two, and also as being well known to
the prisoner, undertook the task of releasing him.  Ibrahim meanwhile
would ensconce himself at a convenient spot near at hand, and remain on
the watch, ready to defend the others with his rifle if need arose.

The Arab has an almost unerring sense of locality and direction, and in
spite of the darkness Ibrahim was able to lead Burnet without fault
through the maze of ruins to the slight hollow where the men were
encamped.  Looking down upon it from his higher point a few yards away,
Burnet was just able to discern, by the glimmer of the stars, five
figures on the ground.  Four of them were squatting; every now and then
a word was spoken; the fifth lay at full stretch, a little apart from
the others.

Burnet watched and listened impatiently.  Surely the men would not
remain thus the whole night through.  What if they slept in turn,
leaving one always on guard?  After a while the conversation became
still more spasmodic and drowsy: presently it ceased altogether, and
all four men sank into a recumbent posture.  Secure in their retreat
far within the ruins, they had seen no need of keeping guard.

All was now silent.  Not even a snore broke the stillness.  Only a
slight clink came occasionally from the spot where the horses were
tethered.  Burnet still waited, though he knew that the Arab, like all
creatures of the wild, falls asleep instantly.  But he knew also that
the sleep was light.  The least unusual sound, inaudible to a European
ear, would cause these men to spring up, as wide awake and alert as a
house-dog.

At last he moved, stealing along a few feet away from the rim of the
hollow until he came opposite the spot where the fifth man lay.  Then,
after a momentary pause, he wriggled down the slope as noiselessly as a
slug, breathing fast, drawing nearer only inch by inch to his friend.
He touched him lightly; the prisoner started, but relapsed immediately
into immobility.  Feeling along the inert body, Burnet discovered that
now both hands and feet were bound.  With silent cuts of his knife he
severed the cords, lay for a moment listening, then crawled backwards
up the slope.  Why was not the prisoner following him?  He had gained
the top before the dervish gave any sign of movement.  Then, however,
he began slowly to follow, and Burnet guessed that his limbs were stiff
from his bonds.  Watching with eager impatience, he saw the greyish
figure, scarcely distinguishable from the earth, draw nearer to the
top.  The Arabs slept on undisturbed.  And at last the dervish rose to
his feet, clasped Burnet's hand, and followed him silently to the spot
where Ibrahim was awaiting them.  Without a word spoken they hastened
with all speed to the camels.  The dervish mounted behind Burnet, and
within twenty minutes of his rescue all three were heading southwards.
At the moment of starting they had a slight alarm.  Ibrahim's camel,
annoyed, no doubt, at the early disturbance of his rest, uttered a
hoarse grunt.  His master instantly pressed a couple of dates into his
mouth, and the beast was appeased.

Safety lay in their making the best speed they could.  Should any of
the Arabs wake, he would almost certainly discover the absence of the
prisoner, but it would be impossible to track him in the dark.  With
the dawn, however, the tracks would be easily picked up, and then their
horses, refreshed, would regain the start if the pursuit was carried
far enough.  The dervish suggested that pursuit was unlikely.  His
captors belonged to a tribe that was in Turkish pay, and the
neighbourhood of Meshed Ali, where the revolutionaries were strong, was
by no means safe for supporters of the Padishah.  But Ibrahim,
unwilling to run risks, struck off from the highway into a stony
district with which he had become familiar in the course of his
business journeys.  Here, even if they were pursued, it would be
difficult to track them.

"I owe you my life," said the dervish to Burnet as they rode on, "and I
thank you."

"I am only too glad.  You helped me out of a hobble not so long ago; I
never imagined I should have a chance of doing anything in return.  But
surely your life was not in danger?"

"There can't be much doubt of it.  I heard that that old ruffian the
chief Halil had gone to Bagdad, and knowing that there was some
difference of opinion among his tribesmen as to his wisdom in siding
with the Turks, I took advantage of his absence to visit them, in order
to learn the strength of the opposition party and to do what I could to
increase it--to foment treason, in fact.  Some of Halil's people
suspected me: they were quite right: and they only waited the return of
their chief to denounce me.  He came back unexpectedly.  I had warning
only just in time, and decamped.  I had begun to think myself safe when
those four fellows rode me down.  No doubt there are scores more of the
tribesmen hunting me in all directions.  Halil has an old grudge
against me: I crossed him once before."

"Then I am doubly lucky.  Halil's business in Bagdad was to arrange an
attack on Rejeb's people.  He is back sooner than I thought possible,
and I am glad to know it, as I should not have done but for meeting
you.  It is one more item in my budget of news for headquarters."

The conversation was conducted in Arabic.  The identity of the dervish
was known only to the headquarters staff and to Firouz Ali, and he
always took particular care not to let fall the slightest hint that he
was other than an Arab, even to fellow-workers in the same cause.

Ibrahim allowed his animals to finish their interrupted rest during the
small hours, and the travellers started again at dawn.  When they were
still a mile or two distant from Meshed Ali, within sight of the
glittering dome of its mosque towering high above the walls, the
dervish dismounted.

"It will be better for us all if I enter the city alone," he said.  "I
shall not be long after you.  But if we meet within the walls, let it
be as strangers."

"You are a wise man, O dervish," said Ibrahim, "and I perceive that the
spirit of Firouz Ali is in you.  Allah will bring us all together
openly in his good time."

Burnet and Ibrahim reached the city about an hour before noon, and
passing through the one gate in its high brick walls, and along the
crowded bazar, came to the khan or inn where Ibrahim had decided that
they should part.  After the Arab had attended to his beasts, he
returned to the chief room, where traders, camel-drivers and others
were squatting around the walls, ordered a meal, and then carried out
the instructions of Firouz Ali.

"By the Beard, you are a lazy good-for-nothing," he cried in a loud
tone, addressing Burnet.  "What evil destiny brought you before my
eyes?  Why in the softness of my heart did I have pity on you, poor
fool, and hire you to be my helper?  Truly my heart got the better of
my head, for you know no more of camels than a week-old babe.  I take
you all to witness," he went on, looking round the room, "that I pay
this worthless loon the hire agreed on, and I bid him go back to his
paltry village and feed goats, for he is fit for nothing better.
Begone, I say, and let me see your face no more."

Burnet took the few coins offered him, and assumed the shamefaced air
of a servant dismissed in disgrace.  The little scene had been arranged
between him and Firouz Ali in order to protect Ibrahim in case he
should ever have to defend himself against the charge of consorting
with a spy.  The public dismissal would provide the camel-driver with
witnesses.

As Burnet slunk out of the room, he saw the dervish leaning against the
post: he had entered while the scene was in progress.  There was a
twinkle in the Englishman's eyes as Burnet passed him; but neither gave
the other any sign of recognition, and Burnet went his way to the gate,
as a discarded servant about to return to his hill village on the
Persian frontier.

He spent his money in the purchase of a waterskin and a quantity of
dates sufficient for a few days' supply.  Captain Ellingford was due at
the _tell_ in three days.  Barring accidents, Burnet should have plenty
of time to keep his appointment.



CHAPTER VII

A MAD RACE

Burnet was too well experienced in eastern travel to commence his
journey in the heat of the day.  He found a fairly quiet khan where he
rested until the late afternoon, not forgetting to complain bitterly of
his summary dismissal by a camel-driver whom it was impossible to
please.

When at last he started, he struck across a line of low hills to the
north-east, towards a wide bend in the Euphrates just below the
latitude of Kut el Amara.  Between the hills and the river the country
was marshy and desolate, and he felt pretty secure against encounters
with inquisitive wanderers.  His idea was to swim the Euphrates at the
northern extremity of the bend, from which the _tell_ of Tukulti-Ninip
was about a march distant.

Night overtook him before he reached the river, and since he did not
know this part of the country well enough to proceed in darkness, he
found himself obliged to seek a resting-place, and passed the night
hours somewhat uneasily in a sandy hollow.  At dawn he was up again,
and had arrived at the edge of the marshy district when the midday heat
again compelled a halt.  Hitherto he had met no one; in the distance he
had seen one or two bird catchers moving upon the marsh.  He slept
through the afternoon, and had just started again when a squadron of
Turkish irregular cavalry emerged from behind a mound sparsely covered
with ruins, where the troopers had probably off-saddled during the heat
of the day.

Of all men these were such as he least desired to meet.  The Turks were
so eager to snap up recruits that no explanations or excuses, no
feigning of half-wittedness, were likely to avail him if he were
caught.  Unluckily the country was devoid of cover until he could gain
the marsh reeds nearly half a mile away; the cavalry were, when he
caught sight of them, a little farther distant in the opposite
direction.  If he could once plunge among the reeds he had a reasonable
chance of escaping, for the horses would be at a disadvantage on the
boggy ground.  But at a second glance he abandoned hope; the men must
have seen him; they would reach the reeds first, and it was so small a
patch that they could encircle it and soon beat him out.  Flight was
evidently useless; he must put the best face on it and trust to mother
wit.

Even as he made up his mind to this, three men detached themselves from
the squadron, which appeared to be about a hundred strong, and galloped
towards him.  Their comrades pursued their course upstream at a walk.
When the men rode up to him, one of them ordered him to follow them: he
must come before their officer.  He assumed as silly a look as he
could, and without replying, walked on at the same sauntering gait that
he had adopted as soon as he saw the soldiers.

"Now, ass-head, bestir yourself," cried the man who had addressed him.
"The captain is a hasty man."

"Ahi!  Ass-head I am, but my legs--are not they the legs of a man?  How
should they keep pace with the legs of these mules?"

"Mules!  What a foolish fellow is this!  Take hold of my stirrup, and
run."

Burnet clutched at the horse's tail, then shrank back.

"Woe is me!  Shall I have more dealings with a shaving-brush?"

"By the Beard, he has not the wits of a calf," said another of the men.
"Take him up behind you, Hassan."

The trooper, a brawny Kurd, stooped, took Burnet by the middle, and
hoisted him with apparent ease to the horse's crupper.

"Put your arms round me," he said, and galloped off.

On their catching up with the squadron the captain gave the order to
halt, the trooper let Burnet down, and led him to his officer,
explaining that he seemed to be an idiot, not knowing a horse from a
mule nor a tail from a stirrup iron.

"Your name?" demanded the captain.

"Yusuf, may you live for ever," replied Burnet.

"What are you?  Why are you wandering here alone?"

"Ahi!  I am an ass-head; that giant there says so, and so did my
master, Firouz Ali."

"The barber of Bagdad!"

"Truly he is a barber, and of Bagdad; and he has brushes and sharp
knives and soap, and he pours water on the soap----"

"This must be that witless apprentice of the barber's," the captain
interrupted, "of whom they tell that he filled the mouth of Bukkad Bey
with soap."

"Mashallah! was it not well done?" cried Burnet, with a foolish smile.
"It was like cream in a cup of raspberries."

"The boy is a fool," said the captain.  "You left Firouz Ali: what are
you doing here?"

"Truly I am gazing at the sun, noble effendi," said Burnet innocently,
fixing his eyes on the officer's round fat face.  "My father says my
face is the moon, and he wants to see it."  He took out the Arabic
note, unfolded it, and offered it to the captain, who however pushed it
away impatiently.

"Answer my question: what have you done since you left the barber?"

"Eaten and drunk and slept, and suffered many stripes at the hands of
one Ibrahim, a driver of camels.  It is true I am an ass-head, for he
too called me so, and having brought me to the town yonder, he sent me
away; and I am even now going to my home in the Beni Lam country to
feed the goats.  It is all I am fit for."

The captain looked him up and down.

"He is a fool, but his limbs are sound," he said.  "He is good enough
for the infantry.  Take him up behind you again, Hassan.  We will see
what they make of him in Bagdad."

The squadron moved off at an easy trot.  Burnet was alarmed at the turn
things had taken.  He had little doubt that Firouz Ali would find some
means of preventing his enlistment in the army; but the delay would
prevent his meeting with Captain Ellingford at the _tell_ and render it
impossible for him to convey his information to headquarters, at any
rate for some time to come.  Meanwhile the young chief Rejeb's tribe
was in danger of annihilation.  However, there was no help for it.
Bagdad was a long way off, and before they got there he might find a
means of escaping.

As they rode along, Burnet listened to the troopers' conversation.
They appeared to be a mixed lot, and spoke in a variety of dialects
which he found very puzzling.  But from words he made out here and
there he gathered that the squadron had been on a reconnaissance down
the right bank of the Euphrates.  The mention of Halil's name now and
again seemed to indicate that the expedition had been in some way
connected with the impending attack on Rejeb.  Whether it had been made
in anticipation of that attack, to collect information, or whether the
squadron was a part of the force detailed for the actual operations,
Burnet was unable to determine.  If the raid on Rejeb's people had
actually occurred, his chances of finding an open route, should he
succeed in crossing the Euphrates, were small indeed.  The enemy would
almost certainly hold the country through which he must travel, and
probably in some strength.  But from what he knew of the Turk it seemed
unlikely that the expedition had even started yet.  General Eisenstein
had mentioned a month; there were still some days to spare, and not
even the driving force of the German would have the effect of keeping
either Turks or Arabs up to time.  The month would probably extend to
five or six weeks before the organisation of the expedition was
sufficiently complete to satisfy Eisenstein, who, like all the German
high command, would not move until he felt assured that every possible
contingency had been foreseen and provided for.

Burnet cast many a longing glance at the fine Arab ridden by the
captain.  It trod the sand with the high step and graceful movement of
the thoroughbred, and a gallop on its back would have been a sheer joy.

The squadron continued their march for some time after sunset,
intending to bivouac at a spot which they had used for the purpose on
the way down.  It was a mound rising slightly above the marsh which had
extended along their right flank the whole of the day.  When they
halted, the captain gave orders that Burnet should be tied up during
the night.  He was allowed first to eat a meal of his own dates, washed
down with tepid, musty water from the skin he carried.  It was an
unpleasant night.  His feet were hobbled, and his hands being bound, he
suffered a good deal from the depredations of mosquitoes which he was
unable to brush away.  The birds and animals of the marsh kept up a
strident chorus.  Occasionally a wild boar with his family could be
heard crashing through the reeds.  It was impossible to sleep except in
fitful snatches, and Burnet beguiled the wearisome hours by trying to
form some plan of escape.  He made several attempts to release his
hands, but the trooper who had tied the cords had done his work
thoroughly.  Until his hands were free the most ingenious scheme for
eluding his captors was a mere beating of the air; and he had to
confess to himself that even then the chances of getting away from so
many well-mounted men were not worth reckoning.

Overcome by weariness, Burnet was at last in a deep sleep when, at the
first sign of dawn, the camp was astir.  He was wakened, his bonds were
loosed, and he was permitted to make a frugal meal again while the
troopers saddled up in preparation for starting.  Burnet noticed that
the squadron had diminished in numbers, and learnt by and by that two
or three parties of half a dozen men each had ridden off very early to
scout in various directions.

Looking around him, he observed a wide glittering expanse some three
miles or more to the east--no doubt the Euphrates shining in the
morning sunlight.  Rush-grown pools in the middle distance suggested
that the intervening country was marshy.

Burnet's limbs were a good deal cramped by the uneasy postures he had
had to adopt during the night, and he thought it well to assume a
greater degree of stiffness than he actually felt.  Uttering many
doleful lamentations on his unhappy lot, he sat down and rocked himself
to and fro until one of the troopers told him (with a scornful gibe on
his lack of wit) to walk about if he wished to ease his aching.  The
majority of the men were squatting or lying on the ground beside their
horses.  The captain, in the centre of the mound some twenty yards away
from Burnet, was examining the surrounding country through his field
glasses.  His horse was being walked up and down by his orderly, who
eyed the benumbed prisoner with a certain amusement as he passed him.
Burnet ignored the man and looked only at the horse, admiring the
graceful high-mettled creature.

Suddenly a wild idea set his blood leaping.  He rose, as if in response
to the trooper's suggestion, and began to walk up and down, slowly and
stiffly.  Every moment he drew nearer to the short stretch on which the
orderly was giving his master's horse gentle exercise.  He allowed the
man to pass him once, but as he returned from the end of his beat,
Burnet gathered himself together, threw himself upon the Turk, and with
a straight right-hander, shot out with all his strength, sent him
staggering back.  Half dazed as he was, the man still clutched the
bridle.  There was no time to loosen his grip.  The plunging of the
horse had already attracted the officer's attention, and Burnet was
partly hidden from him by the animal's body.  While the orderly was
still staggering, Burnet vaulted into the saddle, and the scared animal
wrenched himself from the man's relaxed grip and dashed across the
mound towards the open country.

The officer had rushed forward, and with a furious imprecation sent
three bullets in quick succession after the runaway.  Burnet
instinctively ducked; he discovered afterwards that one of the shots
had perforated his water skin.  The camp was in uproar.  The troopers
had sprung up, and in obedience to their captain's frenzied commands
leapt into their saddles.  Then began the maddest gallop that the
plains of Babylonia had ever seen.  Burnet felt that at every stride
his mount must come to grief.  At the start he had clung to the horse's
mane, at the same time pressing his knees into its flanks with a
muscular energy of which he felt the resulting strain for several days.
The reins hung loose, the stirrups danced, and it was only by sheer
horsemanship that Burnet was able to retain his seat until he recovered
the former, which he had feared might trip the horse up.  To slip his
feet into the stirrups was impossible while the mad pace was maintained.

It was some moments before he realised that his steed was carrying him
towards the south-west, away from his goal.  With a firm grip now on
the reins he managed to edge the horse gradually to the left, and,
still at the same furious gallop, made straight towards the river.
Lying low on the horse's neck, he glanced round, and saw, as he had
expected, that the troopers were strung out in an irregular line behind
him.  Some, divining his intentions, were already heading to cut him
off.  And now his familiarity with the Arab horse served him well.  By
degrees he brought the frightened animal under control, and checked its
pace, realising that its panic would soon exhaust its strength.  He had
little fear that the trooper's heavier horses would overtake him; but
there was a risk of meeting one of the scouting parties which had
ridden off an hour or two before, and he might need all his mount's
reserve of speed to avoid being cut off.

Having mastered the horse, he was able to give his mind to a rapid
calculation of his course of action.  It was of the first importance
that he should keep off the marsh, for if the animal were mired, within
a few minutes he would find himself the target for fifty odd rifles.
Even a convenient bed of reeds would hardly save him, for as one
against fifty he would stand no chance.  Before he attempted to cross
the river his object must be to ride the pursuers out of sight, a
difficult matter on the flat plain, which was almost devoid of cover.
It was a case of trusting to the horse's stamina.  Keeping therefore
within touch of the edge of the marsh, he settled to a fast steady
trot, every now and then looking over his shoulder for a sight of his
pursuers.

For some time Burnet's resolution to spare his horse prevented him from
increasing his lead appreciably.  Indeed, the pursuers began to gain
upon him.  But he was so confident in his mount's superiority that this
fact did not disturb him.  Barring accidents, he could outstrip the
more heavily mounted troopers at his pleasure.

Now that this plan of action was clearly outlined, he began to feel the
exhilaration of the race.  The horse had lost his fright, and already
seemed to have entered into that mutual understanding which is
established between a thoroughbred animal and a skilled rider.  The air
of early morning was crisp and still; there was no wind to sweep dust
into his eyes, and the sand that flew up under the horse's hoofs hung
in a cloud behind him.

His only anxiety was concerned with the scouting parties, and he looked
more frequently ahead, and to his right, than towards the pursuers
behind.  There was little or no danger to be feared from the marsh on
his left, but at any moment one of the detachments might appear on the
plain to the south or west.

This apprehension proved to be well-founded.  He presently caught sight
of what appeared to be a low cloud far away to the south-west, and a
few minutes later he was able to distinguish a number of specks in the
midst of it.  These grew rapidly larger as they approached, and he at
length counted seven horsemen riding close together, and almost
certainly troopers of the squadron.  He had just time, perhaps, to
avoid them; but whether he struck off to the right or left he would
arouse their suspicion, especially as they must already have seen the
string of pursuers in his rear.  They could hardly fail also to
recognise their captain's horse, and would probably guess that a
horse-stealer had been at work and ride to cut him off, or, what would
be worse, dismount and fire.  It seemed best to take the bold course:
to ride straight towards them, leaving them in doubt as to the meaning
of the chase until he was close upon them.

Bending low upon the horse's neck to avoid recognition as long as
possible, he groped for his revolver and held on his way.  As he
approached the party, their actions showed that they were puzzled.
They halted, gesticulated, gathered in a group to debate the matter.
No doubt they thought that a fugitive would hardly ride straight into
their midst.  But before Burnet had ridden another hundred yards he saw
that the critical moment was at hand.  The men suddenly broke apart; it
appeared that they had at last recognised him, for they unslung their
rifles.  And now for the first time Burnet made the supreme call upon
his horse.  The gallant beast shot forward instantly, closing in upon
the group with amazing speed.  With the instinct of leaderless men, the
Turks, evidently disconcerted, bunched themselves together again, and
lost a few precious moments in fumbling with their rifles.  Before they
had aligned themselves and got their weapons ready Burnet was upon
them.  When some twenty yards distant, a touch on the rein caused his
horse to swerve slightly to the left, and the nearest Turk, dropping
his rifle, drew his tulwar and aimed a sweeping cut at Burnet as he
flashed by.  Burnet felt the air of the stroke as it missed him by
inches.  Turning on his saddle, he fired his revolver, rather with the
object of inspiring caution and respect than with the expectation of
hitting any of the enemy.  At such a headlong speed to take aim was
impossible.  His shot, in truth, missed.  He heard four scattered
cracks: the rifle bullets whistled past; but he was already many yards
beyond the stationary group, and when the thunder of pursuit reached
his ears, he was confident that, with a clear course now before him, he
could shake off the new pursuers if his horse could stand the pace.

When next he glanced back, one man was hard on his heels, but the rest
were strung out at various intervals behind him, and the original
pursuers were rapidly losing ground.  There was nothing to fear except
from the one man who was evidently better mounted than his comrades.
He carried his rifle still unslung, and though an Arab of the desert
might have found it a useful weapon even at the breakneck speed at
which they were riding, it was not likely that a Turkish trooper would
possess the dexterity of his wilder brother.  But it was clearly
necessary to dispose of this man.  Burnet slightly checked his horse,
and trusting it with its own course he looked back continually over his
shoulder and watched the Turk foot by foot reducing the gap between
them.  From forty yards it became thirty--twenty--and then Burnet
turned suddenly in the saddle and took a snap shot at the pursuer.  It
went wide.  The Turk gave a shout of triumph, flourished his tulwar,
and came galloping on.  At fifteen yards Burnet tried another shot, and
before he could see the effect of it, had to turn hastily to control
the horse, whom the repeated shots had apparently disturbed.  But he
was conscious that the sounds of pursuit had died away, and glancing
round a few moments later he saw that the Turk had reined up and was
dismounting.  That he was not seriously hurt was soon proved.  Burnet
had only just faced forward again when a bullet sang past his ear.  "A
good shot," he thought, and bent low to avoid a second.  But no other
came, and glancing back, he saw that the man's comrades had galloped
past him, and were now between him and the quarry.  There was no fear
of further rifle practice.

[Illustration: THE LAST SHOT]

Burnet was surprised that the troopers had not by this time
relinquished the chase, for they were hopelessly outpaced, and must be
losing a yard in every twenty.  Probably they had unpleasant
anticipations of their captain's wrath if they returned unsuccessful,
and were hoping against hope that accident would give the fugitive into
their hands.  It was only after they had continued the pursuit for
another mile or so that they at last recognised its futility.
Dismounting, they tried to snipe Burnet's fast-lessening figure.  In
another five minutes he was beyond effective range, and with a sigh of
contentment drew rein.

"Well done, old fellow," he said, patting the steaming neck of the
quivering horse.  "You have earned a rest."



CHAPTER VIII

ACROSS THE EUPHRATES

The chase had extended over several miles, and it appeared to Burnet
that he was not far from the spot where he had been captured on the
previous day, when he was considering how best to cross the Euphrates.
He had lost a day; it was now doubtful whether he could reach the
_tell_ by the appointed time, even with the aid of the horse.  Captain
Ellingford could not be expected to wait long for him at such a remote
and desolate place, and since it would be a long and hazardous
undertaking to cross the Turkish lines except in an aeroplane the
prospect was not at all cheering.

The first necessity was to give his horse rest after the long gallop.
He reined up at a shallow pool, and while the animal drank he carefully
scanned the surrounding country.  It was a flat and almost bare plain,
a few straggling bushes here and there making a struggle for existence.
The river was not in sight, and he knew that between it and him
stretched miles of swamp, through which it would be difficult for one
unfamiliar with the locality to find a way.  It seemed that his best
course would be to ride on, as soon as the horse was sufficiently
rested, until he came to one of the mounds that rose slightly above the
general level: this would give him a wider outlook.  As he waited he
reflected on the almost entire absence of signs of war.  In Meshed Ali
he had heard scarcely any mention of the great conflict in which more
than half the world was engaged; yet on the other side of the
Euphrates, comparatively few miles away, a great Turkish army under
German taskmasters was holding far-flung entrenchments which not all
the valour of seasoned British troops and their gallant Indian comrades
had availed to pierce after months of effort.  The chances that Bagdad
would fall to British arms appeared small indeed.

After half an hour's rest he put his horse to a smart trot, riding
southward with a slight eastward trend in order to make gradual
approach to the swampy region.  In some twenty minutes he espied, some
distance away to the left, a mound that would give him the look-out he
desired.  Riding towards it, and beyond, he dismounted, retraced his
steps, and leading the horse, left it at the foot of the mound,
screened from the north, and cautiously made his way on foot to the
summit, where he found good cover behind a pile of ruins.  And then he
had a shock.  To the north, probably two miles away, a small party of
horsemen in extended order was riding towards him.  They were too far
away for him to distinguish their costume, but he had no doubt that
they were some of the men who had pursued him from the bivouac.  He had
hoped and believed that the Turks, finding that he had the heels of
them, had abandoned the idea of chasing him farther; but he was now
forced to conclude that a few of the better-mounted men had been sent
to follow him up, trusting perhaps to accident to deliver him into
their hands.  The order in which they rode seemed to show that they
were following his trail on the sandy soil, with precautions against
its possible disappearance in stony patches.

Burnet had no fear of their catching him if it came to another race
over the plain, but he had already come so far out of his true
direction that the prospect of further loss of time was annoying.  He
threw a hasty glance eastwards.  Far off he descried the irregular line
of reeds that marked the course of the Euphrates.  The middle distance
was almost unbroken swamp, except in one quarter, the north-east,
towards that bend to which he had been proceeding when he was captured.
A rapid calculation determined him to make a dash in that direction.
It would mean doubling on his tracks, and if the enemy caught sight of
him as he rode off at an acute angle with their own course they would
certainly strike off to their left and try to intercept him before he
reached the river.  But he could not afford further delay.  He had no
fodder for the horse; for himself he had only a few dates left, and no
water, for his waterskin was leaky and useless; and the farther south
he went, the worse would be his chances of making a safe passage of the
river.

Some distance to the south-east of the mound was an extensive area of
marsh grass.  Remounting, and keeping the mound between himself and the
pursuers, he started in this direction, gained the shelter of the
grass, which rose nearly to the horse's shoulders, and rode through it
as rapidly as he could on the soft ground due eastward.  He guessed
that the pursuers would use the mound as he had done, as a post of
observation, and when he judged that they must be approaching it, he
plunged into the tallest patch of grass he could find, and dismounted.
Through the grass he could still see the top of the mound, but he felt
confident that neither himself nor the horse would be visible to the
enemy when they arrived there.  His hope was that, failing to discover
him, they would continue their ride southward, leaving him to make off
in the opposite direction without further danger.

Time passed.  There was no sign of the Turks, and Burnet was beginning
to surmise that they had either given up the chase or passed the mound
when he saw figures appear above the summit.  Four horsemen halted
there.  Where were the others?  Surely he had counted six before?  The
absence of two made him uneasy.  Had he been seen in spite of all his
caution?

The four men remained motionless on the mound for several minutes.
Then there was a faint shout in the distance.  Instantly the four Turks
dashed down the side of the mound, and galloped towards the patch of
grass in which Burnet was concealed.  It was only too clear that the
missing men, whose movements he had been unable to see, had sought and
found his trail at the base of the mound: the hunt was up.

It was no time for further finessing.  He vaulted into the saddle, and
rode off at full speed, as nearly as he could judge towards the narrow
stretch of dry land through the swamp which he had previously marked.
He was no longer in danger of being cut off, for he was between his
pursuers and the river.  Would they be able to ride him down?

Disappointment awaited him.  The irregular space of open ground that
had seemed to him, on his distant view from the mound, dry and firm,
turned out to have many soft patches which it was impossible to avoid.
There was no time to pick his way: he could only plunge into the swampy
places as they occurred, chancing his luck.  He soon found, however,
that his horse had extraordinary judgment, bred, no doubt, of former
experience in the marshes.  It seemed to distinguish by instinct the
firm ground from the soft, and being given its head, sprang from one
hard patch to another unerringly.

As Burnet drew nearer to the river, the grasses and reed-like plants of
the marsh grew taller and thicker.  Immense white lilies and other
flowering plants showed their blossoms here and there; water-birds of
all kinds, disturbed by the passage of the horse, flew out in all
directions, among them a stately pelican or two, indignant at being
molested in their solitary retreats.  Encompassed by these dense masses
of vegetation, Burnet was effectually hidden from his pursuers, who
could only follow his trail; and he felt a joyous confidence that their
horses were not likely to be so clever as his own.

At last, the river came suddenly into view--or rather, the remains of
an ancient embankment a few feet above the surface of the marsh,
covered thick with creeping plants.  A touch on the horse's flank sent
the animal bounding up the embankment, and then Burnet reined up and
looked back over the waving sea of grass and reeds.  He was just able
to descry the heads of the pursuers, at least a mile away.

Burnet looked to right and left, seeking a convenient place for
crossing the river, here about two hundred yards wide.  There was the
risk that if he descended the embankment too hastily, he might find
himself embogged in the thick mud that bordered the stream.  Riding
along southward, he came at length to a deep wady or channel running
into the marsh, where the descent seemed fairly easy.  He gave the
horse a minute or two to recover breath, then rode into the river at
the spot where the wady left it.  The animal took the water readily
enough, but showed a disinclination to go beyond its depth, until
Burnet slipped from the saddle and swam along with his hand on the
bridle.

He struck out obliquely, hoping to gain the spot on the opposite bank
which he had marked as offering an easy landing.  Progress was slow,
but he was three-fourths of the way across when shouts behind apprised
him that the pursuers had reached the embankment.  By this time the
current had carried him fully two hundred yards below the place where
he had entered the water, and some little distance below his chosen
landing-place.  The pursuers rode along the embankment in the same
direction, with the idea, no doubt, of gaining on him by shortening
their swim.  But the wady brought them to an unexpected check.  His
horse's tracks showed that it was there he had entered the river; they
must either enter it at the same spot, or lose time by crossing the
wady first.  Two of them chose the former course, and dashed down the
bank into the water.  The rest dismounted and opened fire on their
quarry, now within a few yards of the further bank.  The range was five
or six hundred yards; the Turks were weary, Turkish irregular cavalry
are at no time very good shots, and only the heads of man and horse
were above water.  Burnet heard the bullets singing past him on either
side.  The landing-place he had chosen was far to his left.  There was
no time to seek another convenient spot.  With encouraging words to his
gallant horse, he led it straight towards the bank, which looked like
an impenetrable green wall.  The horse found his feet, but at first
refused to drive his head at the apparently solid vegetation.  Burnet,
still holding the bridle, scrambled first into the midst of the plants,
and drew the animal slowly up after him.  In another half minute both
he and the horse had disappeared from the sight of the Turks on the
opposite bank.

Burnet hitched the bridle to a bamboo-like stalk, and returned to the
edge of the bank, where he could watch the pursuers through the dense
mass of reeds.  The two swimmers had already turned their horses'
heads; the men on the bank were evidently debating the question of
their next move.  They were presently rejoined by their comrades; the
discussion was continued for a little; then they all turned their backs
upon the river and disappeared behind the embankment.



CHAPTER IX

FRIENDS OR FOES?

Feeling that he was now reasonably safe, Burnet led the horse through
the stretch of marsh land that bordered the river until he reached a
dry spot, screened by tall grasses, where he could rest and think out
his course.

To begin with, he had lost a whole day.  With the utmost expedition,
and no accidents, he could hardly reach the _tell_ at the time
appointed with Captain Ellingford.  Moreover, the horse, to which he
owed his escape, was now an encumbrance and an embarrassment.  The
remainder of his journey lay over a parched and barren plain, that
provided sustenance for neither man nor beast.  The small stock of
dates which he had purchased in Meshed Ali would suffice for himself,
but not for the horse as well.  True, the Arab horse was accustomed to
go long distances with little or no food, but it would be two days at
the best before he reached the _tell_, and two days' fast was beyond
even the Arab's endurance.  Further if by good luck he should meet
Captain Ellingford--and that was now doubtful--what could he do with
the horse then?  He could not return to the British lines except by
aeroplane: yet it went much against the grain to abandon the noble
animal that had served him so well.  If turned adrift and left to
forage for himself, the horse would probably pick up a subsistence
until he found a new master.  A new master!  In these regions that
could hardly be any one than an enemy.  Turkish troops were constantly
on the move in the plains between the Euphrates and the Tigris.  Burnet
was loth to let his prize fall again into Turkish hands.  The problem
how to save the horse and yet not fail in his appointment with Captain
Ellingford was a very hard nut to crack.

When Burnet had pondered the question for some time, a light suddenly
dawned upon him.  The stronghold of the young chief Rejeb, which he had
heard described in the course of the interview between General
Eisenstein and Major Burckhardt, was about one march distant from the
_tell_, in a south-easterly direction.  As nearly as he could judge,
the spot where he had crossed the river was almost due south of the
_tell_.  In all probability, then, the stronghold was not less than
fifteen nor more than twenty-five miles to the east.  Could he discover
the stronghold, leave the horse in Rejeb's care, and yet keep his
appointment with Captain Ellingford?

There were several circumstances to take into consideration.  In the
first place, it was clear from what the Germans had said that the
stronghold was not easy to discover.  Its locality was not well known
to the authorities in Bagdad; they had had recourse to Major
Burckhardt; it was certain that Rejeb had chosen a place far from the
tracks of the desert travellers, and by its very nature hard of access.
Then, too, the expedition organised against it might already be on
foot; the stronghold might, indeed, have already fallen.  To approach
it might be to jump into the lion's jaws.  On the other hand, General
Eisenstein had anticipated delay.  The month he had allowed for the
organisation of the expedition was barely up, and there might be time
to gain the stronghold before operations began, and, indeed, to give
Rejeb warning of what was to come.

On the whole Burnet decided that it was worth attempting.  If he failed
to find the stronghold, he could make up for lost time by riding
instead of walking to the _tell_, and the horse must then, after all,
be turned adrift.

Having made up his mind, he shared a few dates with the horse, ventured
to drink a little water from a pool, then mounted and set off eastward.
He had expected that in proportion as he increased his distance from
the river the country would grow less swampy; on the contrary, the
farther he went, the worse it became.  Again he found it necessary to
trust largely to his horse.  The necessity of making detours was
annoying, because they involved loss of time.  But as the animal picked
its way unerringly through the marshy patches, Burnet began to realise
the defensive possibilities of this water-logged region.  If this was
the country chosen by Rejeb's tribe as their refuge, the stronghold
should give its assailants a vast amount of trouble.  Unhealthy it
might be; it was certainly secure.

As the day wore on, Burnet wondered whether he had decided rightly.
Progress was terribly slow.  The zigzag course necessitated by the
nature of the ground, made it difficult even to maintain his general
direction.  Without a compass, without definite knowledge of the
position of the stronghold, it seemed that he might wander for days in
this desolate region without gaining a single clue.  At nightfall he
was almost in despair.  Fatigue, the reaction from the strain of the
escape and the pursuit, told heavily upon his spirits, and when he
sought a secluded spot where he might rest during the night, he was a
prey to that heart-sickness and despondency which assails at times even
the bravest.

He found a clear and fairly dry space, with a background of shrubs,
which seemed to promise security for the night.  Tethering his horse to
a stout bush, he fastened his revolver to his wrist, and lay down, with
his back to the wall of vegetation, his face to the open.  Weary though
he was, he intended to keep awake, but he dozed more than once, shook
himself, got up and walked about, lay down again when he thought
himself fully roused, only to fall at once into a profound sleep.

In the dead of night he was suddenly startled into consciousness by a
shrill whinny from his horse.  He was in the act of springing to his
feet when a number of forms closed in upon him silently out of the
darkness.  Before he could use his revolver he was seized, thrown
violently back upon the ground, and in spite of his struggles securely
held.  It was so dark that he could not count his captors; but while he
lay in their grasp there was the sound of others approaching; he heard
no voices; the men who held him had said nothing, and one had pressed a
hand upon his mouth.  Presently a light was struck: Burnet remembered
as an incongruous detail in such a spot that it was a safety match; and
a small lantern was lit.  By its feeble light he saw himself surrounded
by a score of well-armed Arabs.  He tried to speak, but the pressure
upon his mouth did not relax.  Two of the men swiftly tied his hands;
another gagged him with a strip of dirty cloth cut from his garment;
then he was lifted up, his horse was released, and the whole party,
preceded by the man carrying the lantern, quitted the open space and
started to march through the tall grasses below.

[Illustration: A CAPTIVE IN BONDS]

The silence of his captors, their rapid yet stealthy movements,
suggested the caution of men travelling in an enemy's country, or at
any rate in the neighbourhood of a hostile force.  They followed their
leader, who held the lantern, in single file, each keeping closely in
touch with the man before him.  Burnet had been placed about half-way
down the line, and immediately behind him came the man leading his
horse.

Glancing at the sky, he knew by the position of the stars that the
general direction of their march was eastward, and he wondered with a
certain hopefulness whether their destination was the stronghold which
he had set out to find.  Their muteness had prevented him from picking
up clues from conversation, and they might, for all he could tell, be a
part of the force of Rejeb's enemy the chief Halil.  But it seemed much
more probable that they were Rejeb's men, and Burnet was vexed that
their over-caution in gagging him prevented him from explaining that he
was a friend of their chief.

The march continued without pause through the rest of the night.  The
leader made so many turns in seeking practicable paths through the
swamp that the distance covered must have been three times the distance
as the crow flies.  Burnet, tired when he started, was ready to drop
with fatigue; but he was resolved to "stick it out," and to show no
sign of his condition.  It was not until the darkness began to break
that the embargo of silence was lifted.  The leader appeared to consult
with some of the men at the head of the line.  Their tones were so low
that Burnet could not hear what was said, and after a few minutes they
again fell silent.  When, however, it was quite light they halted.  Two
or three of the men went ahead in different directions, evidently to
scout, and when they returned after a brief interval, the leader gave a
grunt of satisfaction, and the whole party, at his signal, opened their
wallets and prepared to take a meal.  At another signal the man who had
marched behind Burnet removed the gag, and placed him before the leader.

This man, a swarthy hook-nosed Arab of about thirty-five years, looked
keenly at his prisoner.

"That is a fine horse," were his first words.  "Where did you steal it?"

Burnet could not help smiling.  The man had shrewdly hit the mark.
What should he reply?  He thought it best for the present to temporise.

"Truly he that borrows meaning not to pay back is a thief," he said:
"yet it is not theft if it is done openly."

"Wallah!" grunted the man.  "What is your name, whence do you come, and
on what errand?"

These questions came after a slight pause, during which Burnet had
thought rapidly.  His captors must have recognised the military
trappings of the horse; they must know that it had belonged to some one
in the Turkish service, and their suspicion that he had stolen it,
together with the absence of any note of indignation in the leader's
question, seemed to argue that they were at any rate no great friends
of the Turk, and to confirm his surmise that they were Rejeb's men.  He
resolved on a bold stroke.

"Is it for servants to know their master's business?" he said.  "My
errand shall be told to your chief.  Send word to Rejeb your master
that Yusuf the boatman would have speech with him."

He had spoken in loud tones so that all might hear, and the start of
surprise which he noticed in a rapid glance around the company at the
name Rejeb convinced him that he was right.

"We have heard of Yusuf the boatman," said the leader, with a marked
change of tone.  "Are you indeed the man who saved Rejeb out of the
hand of Halil's creatures?--the man whom our chief bade us hold in
honour?"

"I am he.  And that there be no delay, send a man upon this horse to
your chief, telling him that Yusuf the boatman is here."

The leader ordered one of his men to ride off with the message, and the
rest to resume their march.

"May not my hands now be unbound?" Burnet asked, as he set off with the
rest.

"Nay, that is for our chief to order," replied the man.  "What if you
are some paltry horse-thief that has taken the name of Yusuf the
boatman with some evil design?  Your dress is rather that of a
camel-driver than of a boatman."

"Truly your chief has faithful servants.  So be it, then, until his
eyes fall upon me."

Something less than an hour later, a small party of horsemen was seen
in the distance, approaching at speed.  One of them had a led horse.
In a few minutes Rejeb rode up at the head of his men.

"Peace be with you!" he cried, springing from his horse, and coming
towards Burnet with an eager light in his eyes.  "This is a day of
rejoicing.  But what is this?  Your hands are bound!"

"Your servant here kept me faithfully bound until assured that I am
what I said I was."

"Mashallah!  Loose him at once," he cried to the man.  "Know that this
is the brother of whom I told you, saying that he had saved my life,
and that I and my people are bounden to him for ever.  And now, my
brother, mount this horse that I have brought for you: that horse the
messenger rode was weary and famished and is being well cared for."

He put no questions to Burnet, treating him as a guest who had been
expected.  The horsemen rode off, Rejeb commanding the unmounted party
to follow as rapidly as they could.  During the ride there was little
conversation between Rejeb and Burnet, though the latter guessed from
the young chief's manner that he either had important news to give, or
expected to hear something of importance.

After about half an hour's easy trot they came in sight of extensive
ruins on a mound surrounded by swamp, and as they drew nearer to them,
Burnet wondered how the stronghold, if this it was, could be
approached, for it appeared to be completely encircled by wide expanses
of water, broken here and there by areas of mud or reeds.  Presently,
however, they came to a broad wady that must in ancient times have been
one of the major irrigation works of the district.  Here the party fell
into single file, and Rejeb, apologising for riding in front of his
guest, led the way along the narrow embankment of the channel.  At
intervals the embankment was intersected by smaller wadys: these the
horsemen waded through.

When they at length arrived opposite the mound, Rejeb turned abruptly
to the right and pushed through a clump of reeds on to a narrow stone
causeway, fringed on both sides with tall rushes which completely hid
it from view.  It led directly to the mound, almost half a mile ahead
in a straight line.  Burnet learnt, later on, that the causeway was
believed to date from the Babylonian age; it was supposed to have been
built, not for the passage of the swamp--for in those days the
surrounding country was probably dry land, carefully irrigated from the
wadys--but as a means of access to the temple which then crowned the
mound, in times of flood due to abnormal rainfall.  Centuries of
neglect had turned the land once well drained into permanent swamp, but
the solid masonry of the causeway had withstood the ravages of time,
though when Rejeb's people first discovered it it had been much
overgrown with rampant vegetation.  They had at once perceived the
advantages of the mound as a natural fortress and of the causeway as
the only means of access.  They cleared away the overgrowth except at
the edges, where the vegetation that was allowed to remain made the
causeway a sort of secret lane.

On riding up the mound, Burnet saw that the ruins were even more
extensive than they had appeared at a distance.  They covered a space
nearly half a mile long and a third of a mile wide.  He conjectured
that the place had been the site of a temple and the dwellings of a
community of priests.  The lower part of what had once been a large
tower was in a fair state of preservation, and dominated the rest of
the ruins.  It was here that Rejeb and his family were lodged; for,
young as he was, he had already a wife and children.  No other
buildings had been habitable when the mound was chosen as a harbour of
refuge; but the young men of the tribe had made for themselves fairly
serviceable shelters out of the fragments of masonry with which the
site abounded.

These details were explained by Rejeb as he led the way to his tower.
He explained also that only part of his tribe had found refuge here.
The rest were dispersed.  Many of them, especially the old men, women,
and children, had been received by friendly tribes in the southern
desert.  With the exception of Rejeb's own family, the occupants of the
_tell_ were nearly all fighting men.  They had with them all their most
valuable horses, and were armed with rifles of various patterns.  Their
great difficulty was the supply of food and fodder.  They had brought
with them a considerable stock of dates, meal, and dried goat's flesh,
which they kept in underground cellars excavated for the purpose; and
this they supplemented by periodical forays upon the plantations and
flocks of the weaker tribes of the marshes.  But it was becoming
increasingly difficult to keep up the supply, especially of fodder for
the horses.  A great part of the surplus produce of the neighbouring
tribes was sold to the Turkish army, and the sympathies of these people
was naturally on the side of their customers.  They would just as
readily sell food to the British, but the British were still barred by
the entrenchments at Kut el Amara.  The smaller communities of Arabs,
moreover, were dominated by the large and powerful tribe of Halil; and
Rejeb's people, obliged to retreat into their fastness, were not in a
position to exchange and barter commodities.  Their only means of
supplying themselves was to swoop suddenly, most often by night, upon
the settlements of their less warlike neighbours, and of late they had
only too often returned from these forays unsuccessful.

It was not until Rejeb had conducted Burnet to his tower that the
important matters each had at heart were entered upon.  In a bare stone
room, as comfortless as a hermit's cell, the two young men, seated on
blocks of stone, exchanged confidences.

"You know me as Yusuf the boatman," Burnet began.  "I owe it to you to
tell you that I am really an Englishman--the son of Burnet Aga of whom
you may have heard."

The Arab gave no sign of surprise.

"Did not my heart tell me you were not as you seemed?" he said.

"I would tell you all my adventures but that I have little time to
spare," Burnet went on.  "I promised to join a British officer to-day
at the _tell_ where you and I met.  Let it suffice that I have been to
Bagdad on a secret errand, that I fell into the hands of Turks as I
came to seek you, and escaped on the horse of their officer.  The rest
of my story must be told at leisure on some future day.  Now, my
friend, Firouz Ali, the barber of Bagdad, sent a messenger to inform
you that the Turks have joined hands with Halil to root out you and
your tribe.  Did the man reach you?"

"He came but a few days ago, and departed immediately to carry his
tidings to your general below Kut, for it is a matter that concerns
your army weightily.  The talk of the country is that Kut is a locked
door which your countrymen will never open.  Yet there must be some
among the Turks who fear that the lock will one day be burst: if it
were not so, why should they help Halil to destroy a small tribe like
mine?  Is it not because they know that my people hate the Turks, and
will lend assistance to all who are the Turk's enemies?  When the
barriers at Kut are burst, and your army pours through the open doorway
to attack Bagdad, my people will help to protect them on the side of
the Euphrates.  This the Turks well know, and therefore it is that they
go about to destroy me, as it were to pluck a thorn from a foot.  I
bade the messenger tell these things to your general, but I cannot hope
that he will send me help, for he is a great way off, and moreover he
will not move a part of his army so far from his main body.  There is
no help for me until Kut has fallen.  Wallahi!  I must guard my own
skin.  In my father's days his tribe withstood more than once the power
of the pashas of Bagdad; they will do so again, though in truth the
odds are heavy against them now, when the Germans have furnished the
Turks with new and terrible engines of war such as my father never
knew.  But we will make a stout defence in this our stronghold, and
Allah is merciful to those who fight in a good cause."

Burnet admired the young chief's courage, though he doubted whether,
even in a position so strong by nature, all the valour of the Arabs
would prevail against the superior arms of the enemy.  Rejeb informed
him that the parties of scouts whom he sent out daily had as yet learnt
nothing of the expedition, and his great hope was that the British
would have broken through at Kut before the menace became pressing.

It was necessary that Burnet should depart betimes if he was to reach
his rendezvous with Captain Ellingford while daylight lasted.  After
consultation with Rejeb it was arranged that he should ride out under
the escort of a few picked mounted men, who would conduct him by the
shortest route to the _tell_.  They would not actually approach the
_tell_, lest the sight of Arabs near the spot should deter Captain
Ellingford from alighting.  Having brought Burnet within two or three
miles of it, they would return, taking his horse with them, and leaving
him to perform the remainder of the journey on foot.  They would
furnish him with food and water enough for two or three days.  If by
ill luck the captain should not keep the appointment, Burnet would
return on foot to Rejeb's stronghold, and endeavour to reach the
British lines by a long detour.

Rejeb summoned six of his men, explained that they were to serve Burnet
as they would serve himself, and gave them the orders that had been
agreed upon.  A little more than an hour after his arrival at the
stronghold Burnet quitted it, riding the Turk's horse, and accompanied
by the six Arabs, on mounts little inferior to his own.



CHAPTER X

THE TRYST

It was nearly noon when Burnet and his escort reached the spot, between
two and three miles from the _tell_, where they were to part company.
Autumn was merging into winter, and the midday heat was not so great as
to necessitate a long halt.  Burnet took leave of the Arabs, confided
his horse to their care, and went alone on foot across the plain.  The
route chosen for him by his guides was not direct, and the journey took
him twice as long as it would have done had he followed his own
judgment; but it was safe; he met no one; and he arrived at the _tell_
a little after two o'clock.

There was no sign of Captain Ellingford.  Burnet went down to the
underground chamber, exchanged his Arab dress for his own uniform, then
returned to his former look-out post on the mound, field-glasses in
hand.  It was a case for the cultivation of oriental patience.  Two or
three hours passed.  He had frequently scanned the horizon, without
catching a glimpse either of the expected aeroplane or of figures on
the plain.  At last, however, almost at the same moment, he noticed,
away to the north-west, a dust cloud moving on the ground, which
speedily resolved itself into a strong body of horsemen, and some
distance to the east of them a speck in the sky which grew larger
moment by moment and was undoubtedly an aeroplane, flying at a height
of about two thousand feet.  Burnet had just focussed it through his
field-glasses when it dropped swiftly earthwards, and vanished from his
sight.  He had not had time to distinguish its make; but it was
unlikely that an enemy machine was flying in this direction on the very
day when Captain Ellingford had promised to return to the _tell_.  On
the other hand, if the machine was piloted by the captain, why had he
alighted so far from his destination?  Was he the victim suddenly of
the airman's chief foe, engine trouble?

Burnet turned his glasses towards the body of horsemen.  They had
changed their course, and were now galloping eastward, in the direction
in which the aeroplane had come down.  Smitten with misgiving, Burnet
slipped the glasses back into their case, hurried down the slope, and
set off at his best pace towards the spot where he feared his friend
was in peril.  It was hard going.  When he had left the sandy
neighbourhood of the _tell_, he had to skirt swamps, cross wadys, and
sometimes to force his way through thick masses of reeds.  To make
matters worse, his view was circumscribed by the rushes and tall grass,
so that he could only gauge his general direction by the sun.

After half an hour's exhausting progress he began to wonder whether he
had not overshot the mark.  He had seen no sign of the horsemen, nor of
the aeroplane, which must stand higher than they.  In this trackless
and desolate region he might wander as in a maze.  But just when the
difficulties of the situation were weighing his spirits down to the
point of despair, he was suddenly startled by the rattle of a
machine-gun not far ahead, the crackle of musketry, and loud cries.

At this moment he was on the edge of a reedy swamp, like those which he
had skirted more than once since he left the _tell_.  He felt that it
was no time for caution, and plunged into the yielding surface, sinking
in first up to his ankles, and soon finding himself in deep water where
it was necessary to swim.  Wading toilsomely through the slime beyond,
he scrambled ashore, coated with mud and green scum, and dashed through
the reeds, guided always by the continuous sounds of conflict.  A
quarter-mile of stumbling, wading, dragging his mud-caked boots brought
him to the edge of a belt of rushes that separated the morass from a
broad clear space beyond, and as he plunged through the tall flags he
dreaded what he might see on the other side.

By this time the firing had ceased.  When he parted the screen of
rushes and peered through he saw the aeroplane not far from the centre
of the open space.  Near it Captain Ellingford lay on the ground,
guarded by two Turkish troopers.  Forty or fifty other Turks were
intently examining the machine.  A little beyond it were several prone
forms, and farther away the horses of the troop were bunched together
in the charge of half a dozen men.

The Turks were too much occupied and interested to observe the face
peering at them through the rushes.  After a rapid glance that took in
all the details of the scene Burnet stepped silently back under cover.
There came to his ears the sounds of an animated conversation between
the officer in command and his subordinates.  He could not understand
what they said, but guessed that they were discussing in perplexity the
question what to do with their prize.  Presently the officer gave a
series of sharp orders, and parting the rushes to make for himself a
peep-hole, Burnet saw the greater number of the men cross the space and
mount their horses.  A few of them then rode off in different
directions, no doubt to act as vedettes and give warning if an enemy
approached.  The remainder lined up and awaited further orders.

Meanwhile the officer resumed his conversation with the men he had
retained.  It was clear from their puzzled looks that they could come
to no conclusion about the disposal of the aeroplane.  Burnet guessed
that they were unwilling to destroy a machine which would be useful to
their own army; but the problem how to convey it to their lines,
probably a good many miles away, over country that was one long
succession of swamps, was evidently beyond them.

After a time, however, it appeared that light had dawned.  Burnet heard
the word wady several times repeated, and though his ignorance of
Turkish prevented him from understanding in what connection it was
used, it gave him a clue to their next step.  The officer sent one of
the men to convey an order to the mounted group.  A dozen of the
troopers rode away westward, in the direction of the Euphrates.  The
rest dismounted again.  While some of them brought picketing ropes and
attached them to the aeroplane, others began to beat down the rushes
that edged the northern boundary of the open space.  Then two of the
horses were yoked to the ropes, and dragged the machine slowly towards
the track which the troopers were hastily making.  Burnet came to the
conclusion that they intended to draw the aeroplane to a wady somewhere
to the north, float it there, perhaps on an extemporised raft, and so
convey it to the river.

As soon as the aeroplane began to move, the officer gave an order to
the two men standing sentry over Captain Ellingford, and then Burnet
saw for the first time that his friend was wounded.  The Turks helped
him to his feet, with a care that showed a certain chivalrousness, and
supported between them he limped after his machine.

Burnet felt utterly helpless.  Alone against forty or fifty men, he
could do nothing, either to rescue his friend or to save the aeroplane.
True, night was approaching: the Turks could not complete their
preparations for floating the machine that day; he might follow them up
on the chance of finding an opportunity in the darkness of getting the
captain away, if not of destroying the engine.  But on second thoughts
he recognised the almost certain futility of such a course.  Ellingford
was wounded, probably unable either to endure the fatigue of walking or
to sit a horse.  It was scarcely likely that circumstances would again
favour such audacious but hazardous schemes as had already twice won
success.  Burnet felt that an attempt to make off with a couple of
horses would be to strain good fortune too heavily.  Yet it went
utterly against the grain to allow a British officer to remain a
prisoner with the Turks, or a British aeroplane to take place in a
Turkish flight.

One resource remained, but Burnet's heart sank as he thought of it.
Rejeb might help him, but Rejeb was twenty odd miles away.  Was it
possible, tired as he was, to tramp all those weary miles back to the
stronghold, with only an hour's daylight left, and after that no guide
but the stars?  How he wished that he had retained his mounted escort
until he had actually met Captain Ellingford!  But regrets were vain.
The attempt must be made, and without loss of time, for he had to
reckon with the chances of going astray, consequent delay, arriving at
the stronghold too late for Rejeb to render any effective assistance,
the possibility that troopers had already been despatched northward to
acquaint the Turkish authorities with the capture of the aeroplane, and
that by the morning the small body of cavalry would have been augmented.

"Carry on!" Burnet said to himself.  "There's nothing else for it.
Carry on!"

He scraped some of the mire from his clothes, wrung out the water, and
set off while daylight lasted to find a way around the swamp: to swim
again through that foul expanse was more than he could face.  Keeping a
wary look-out for the troopers who had been sent scouting, he worked
his way back to the drier ground and regained the _tell_ as the sun was
sinking below the horizon.  There he stayed just long enough to swallow
a little food; then he started on his lonely march.

The next five hours, when he tried to remember them later, were almost
a blank to him.  It seemed to him that he had trodden as in a dream the
plain over which he had ridden earlier in the day.  He must have kept
his course by the stars, though he had no recollection of calculating
from their positions.  Settling into a steady pace, he tramped on and
on, over sand and swamp, scarcely conscious of his movements, but
feeling vaguely that he was racing against time.  If he had paused to
think, he might well have yielded to despair, for he had travelled the
route but once, and the odds were all against his keeping a straight
course in the starlight, and discovering the causeway by which alone he
could reach Rejeb's stronghold.  A cold wind swept over the plain, but
he gave no thought to its possible effect, striking through his damp
clothes.  He was deaf to the sounds of animals and birds in the
marshes, heedless of possible pitfalls in the way; and thought only of
Captain Ellingford a prisoner behind him, and of Rejeb somewhere ahead,
on whom all his hopes rested.

It is doubtful whether he would have reached his goal had not Fortune
bestowed her favour upon the brave.  He was several miles westward of
the stronghold, on a course that would have brought him to the
Euphrates, when, in crossing a stretch of open country, he saw a line
of horsemen pass a little ahead of him, riding slowly from right to
left.  The sight roused him.  Rejeb's men were accustomed to go forth
on their forays by night: was this a foraging party from the
stronghold, or a hostile band?  Apparently the men had not seen him,
for they neither interrupted their march nor broke their line.  They
were proceeding at a walking pace, as if heavily laden: he could follow
them, and join them if he could assure himself that they were friends.

Changing his course, he struck off to the left, keeping the horsemen in
sight, and gradually drawing closer to them.  He could now see that
every horse had a large bundle on each side of its rider, and he had no
longer any doubt that, in this neighbourhood and at this hour, the men
were of Rejeb's tribe, returning home from a successful foray.  Just as
he had come to this conclusion, the horsemen quickened their pace, and
fearful of losing them, he almost unconsciously uttered a cry.
Instantly the men sprang from their saddles, formed up their horses in
a crescent-shaped line, and took post behind them, resting their rifles
on the animal's backs.  Burnet called to them again, staggered towards
them, and fell upon his face.

Five minutes later he was perched on the saddle behind the leading man,
clasping him tightly, though half asleep.  And he awoke to full
consciousness only when he was lifted down and carried into Rejeb's
tower.

"What harm has befallen you?" cried the young chief.

"None has befallen me, but the British officer who was to meet me is in
the hands of the Turks.  His aeroplane fell; Turkish cavalry surrounded
him; he fought and was wounded.  The Turks are conveying him and the
aeroplane to the Euphrates.  I come to seek your help."

"It is yours, even to the last of my people.  And you have come alone,
on foot, and in the night!  Surely Allah must have directed your steps."

"Time is precious," said Burnet.  "What can you do?"

"Tell me where this mischance befell your friend."

"A little beyond the _tell_ The Turks spoke of a wady running into the
river----"

"Well I know it.  How many are these Turks?"

"Forty or fifty."

"Mashallah!  They are delivered into our hands.  I will take fifty of
my best men, and we will fall upon these Turks before they come to the
river.  Doubt not that we will save your friend and also his machine,
though that we cannot carry away: we can but destroy it."

"Will you not take a larger force?"

"What need?  Shall it be told that an Arab of Rejeb's tribe is not
equal to a dog of a Turk?  I will go now and choose my best warriors
and most skilful riders.  You are very weary.  When you have eaten, a
couch shall be laid for you, and before you awake from sleep we shall
have accomplished our work and returned."

"But I must go with you."

"Ahi! were it not better to take repose and refresh yourself for what
the morrow may bring forth?"

"Believe me, I could not rest.  I must join your party."

"So be it.  But there is yet time for rest.  It is scarcely the middle
of the night.  The journey that has taken you since sunset on foot will
take us but half the time.  If we start in the third watch we shall
still come upon the Turks some while before daylight.  Sleep, then; I
will awake you at the seasonable hour, and your horse, who has been
well tended, will carry you nobly."

Burnet needed no further persuasion.  He was, in fact, dead beat, and
fell asleep before the food which Rejeb ordered to be prepared for him
was brought.  Rejeb had him carried to his own couch, laid rugs over
him with his own hands, and placed the food by his side, in readiness
for his awakening.



CHAPTER XI

THE TRAP

A little more than two hours later, when Burnet, refreshed by his brief
sleep, but acknowledging inwardly that he was still very weary, issued
from Rejeb's tower to the clear space outside, the light of a single
shaded torch fell on a brave array.  If Rejeb was like Saladin of old
in his chivalrous determination to meet his foe on equal terms, he also
had not a little of that famous warrior's practical good sense.  The
young chief was content to lead forth no more than fifty men, but he
had taken care that those fifty were his best.  All in the vigour of
early manhood, lean, straight, stalwart, they had been selected by
Rejeb himself, not without pangs of jealousy and disappointment among
the rest of the tribesmen.  Ranged in line, they sat immovable on
magnificent horses, holding their rifles slantwise across their saddles.

There was a glow of conscious pride on Rejeb's handsome face as he led
Burnet towards the spot, a few feet in advance of the line, where their
horses awaited them.  They mounted.

"I would have your counsel, brother," said Rejeb courteously, but in a
tone that implied a sense of perfect equality.  "The wady of which the
Turks spoke bends north-westward to the river.  At half a march's
distance from the river the wady runs through ruins, neither so
widespread nor so well preserved as those here around us."  (At this
Burnet felt slightly amused, for with the exception of the stump of
tower the stronghold could not boast of four upright walls.)  "These
ruins the Turks must pass on their way; shall we not then ride directly
thither, and there lie in wait?"

"You flatter me by asking my counsel--you who know the country, whereas
I am a stranger," said Burnet, adopting the chief's manner of formal
courtesy.  "What is good in your eyes is good also in mine."

"What you say is the truth: I know the country.  I know that the Turks
have an outpost on the river northward of the place where the wady
joins it; southward they have none, their forces being encamped here
and there on the banks of the Tigris.  If then we leave the _tell_ on
our right, and ride straight as a bird flies to the ruins I spoke of,
not only shall we avoid any meeting with the enemy, but we shall gain
our post of ambush long before they arrive there, since it will be a
work of no light labour to drag the aeroplane along the uneven
embankment of the wady."

"Might they not construct a raft on which to convey it on the stream
itself?"

"Where in the swamps would they find wood?  There is no timber nearer
than the outpost of which I spoke, where kelaks laden with palms
sometimes lie in the river.  It is true, they may have sent men to
bring one of these kelaks to the wady, but the kelakjis are too fearful
of shoals to come down the river by night, and we shall arrive at our
ambush long before the dawn."

"It shall be done as seems good to you," said Burnet.  "Who am I that I
should offer counsel?"

He saw, in fact, that Rejeb had consulted him out of politeness merely,
and felt great confidence in this plan that had evidently been well
thought out.

Thereupon Rejeb gave an order; the Arabs tightened their reins; and
Rejeb rode towards the head of the causeway, with Burnet immediately
behind, the rest following in single file.

Keeping well to westward of the _tell_ the party rode at a steady trot
over the plain.  Long experiences in night forays enabled them to avoid
the difficulties and dangers of the swamps, even though they had no
light but the star-shine; and the man whom Rejeb sent to the front as
guide when they had left the immediate neighbourhood of the stronghold
could not have led them more confidently in broad daylight.  Burnet
thought privately that a British commander would have detailed an
advance guard and flanking parties to give warning of possible enemies;
but these precautions seemed unnecessary to Rejeb until three-fourths
of the journey was accomplished.  Even then he contented himself with
sending two men ahead and two more to the right; from the left he
anticipated no danger.  The party, indeed, arrived at the ruins, of
which Rejeb had spoken, without incident.  Burnet's wrist watch had
stopped, no doubt through immersion in the swamp; but Rejeb without
hesitation, after a glance at the sky, declared that there were still
two hours till dawn, and ordered his men to off saddle, to hobble the
horses among the rampant vegetation bordering the ruins, and to post
themselves as best they could on the broken ground until daybreak.

Burnet, however, was not content to wait thus in complete ignorance of
the enemy's position and movements.  During the ten hours which had
passed since he had last seen them, anything might have happened.  Some
of the troopers who had ridden away from the spot where the aeroplane
lay might have been despatched to the Turkish outpost twenty or thirty
miles up the Euphrates, and an enterprising officer there might have
taken instant measures to retrieve so valuable a capture as an
aeroplane.  He put this point to Rejeb, who had so low an opinion of
the Turk's initiative and intelligence that he scouted the suggestion.
It was only when Burnet hinted that there might possibly be a German at
the outpost that the chief wavered, and ultimately agreed that Burnet
with two men should ride round the swamp southward of the wady to the
spot where the aeroplane had come down, in order to follow its track at
the first glimmer of dawn, and ascertain beyond doubt what progress the
enemy had made, what their present position was, and what were their
probable intentions.

The two Arabs, having had the locality described to them, were able to
lead Burnet by a much easier route than that which he had followed with
so much toil and discomfort on the previous day.  Approaching the open
space with great caution in the dawning light they found it vacant:
only the wheel tracks of the aeroplane and footprints in the soft earth
remained as evidence of yesterday's events.  It was easy to follow the
course of the aeroplane, and the three men rode cautiously forward,
Burnet in the centre, an Arab at a little distance on either side.

They had ridden for nearly an hour at a slow walking pace before they
had any sign of the enemy.  Then one of the Arabs halted, snuffed the
air for a moment, and riding up to Burnet, said:

"There is fire, Aga."

Dismounting, they left their horses concealed among the tall grass, and
stole forward on foot a few yards south of the wheel tracks, taking
advantage of the cover provided by the rank vegetation.  Burnet soon
detected the acrid smell of smoke, and in about ten minutes caught
sight of the heads of horses just projecting above the swaying top of a
belt of reeds.  He heard also the dull murmur of voices.

"It is well that I go alone and spy out the land, Aga," said the man
who had first smelt the smoke.  "I will go and come to you here again."

He disappeared through the reeds in a southerly direction.  It was
nearly half an hour before he returned, with the news that the enemy
had bivouacked on dry ground near the bank of a small stream--not the
wady, but probably a tributary of it.  They had just finished their
morning meal: he had seen them stamp out the embers of their camp fire,
yoke two horses to the aeroplane, drag it across the shallow channel,
and set off northwards.  They were riding in loose formation, having
evidently no apprehension of meeting an enemy in this region, remote
from the military operations on the Tigris some fifty miles to the
east, and destitute of settled inhabitants.  There was no doubt that
their intention was to convey the aeroplane to the wady, which had an
embankment wide enough to allow the passage of the machine.

Burnet could only conclude that in default of any means of transport
they would follow the course of the wady until they reached the river.
Their progress must necessarily be slow, and there was plenty of time
to ride back to Rejeb by a circuitous route and lay plans for a
successful ambuscade.

The chief's eyes gleamed when Burnet, rejoining him an hour or two
later, told him the result of the reconnaissance.  It seemed that the
enemy must fall an easy prey.  The position was admirably suited to an
ambush.  The ruins extended some hundreds of yards on each bank of the
wady.  They were fringed on the south by a dense encircling belt of
reeds.  In this belt, at its south-western corner, Rejeb posted the
greater part of his force, mounted, the reeds being tall enough to
conceal them.  The remainder he ordered to dismount and place
themselves under cover at the northern extremity of the ruins, at
intervals of a few yards, so that they could command the southern bank
of the wady with their fire.  His plan was to throw the enemy into
disorder by rifle fire from the north, then to hurl himself upon them
with the mounted men from the south and complete their rout.

These dispositions had only just been made when a new element entered
into the problem.  Rejeb, sitting his horse beside Burnet in the belt
of reeds, suddenly turned his head sharply to the left.

"What is that sound, brother?" he said.  Burnet listened intently, but
it was the space of a minute before his ears caught a faint throbbing
murmur in the direction towards which Rejeb had turned.  He recognised
it instantly as the purring of a petrol-driven engine, and scanned the
sky, half expecting to see a British aeroplane: perhaps a pilot had
come to look for Ellingford, whose return had been expected in the
lines below Kut on the previous evening.  But the sky was one speckless
blue, and though the sound of the engine grew louder moment by moment,
there was nothing to be seen.

Presently Rejeb exclaimed:

"I hear horses!"

A few moments later Burnet also detected another sound mingling with
the drone--the unmistakable thud of hoofs.  The explanation flashed
upon him.  The troopers who had ridden from the scene of the previous
day's incident had been despatched to the Turkish outpost of which
Rejeb had told him, and were now returning, accompanied by a motor
launch on the wady, no doubt sent to transport the aeroplane by water.

He imparted his conclusion to Rejeb.

"Wallahi!" exclaimed the chief.  "An evil spirit is striving against
us."

One thought had flashed upon the young men at the same moment.  They
might rout the Turks, but lose the aeroplane.  The enemy would no doubt
place on the deck of the launch not only the machine, but their
prisoner, and the Arabs could not fire on the crew without the risk of
hitting the Englishman.  It was possible, of course, to hold up the
launch and prevent it from passing up the wady, but the sound of rifle
shots could not fail to be heard by the Turks conveying the aeroplane,
and the alarm would ruin the chances of a successful ambuscade.

While Rejeb and Burnet were discussing the matter in low tones, they
peered out through the reeds in the direction of the rapidly
approaching sounds.  Soon they caught sight of six horsemen riding in
couples along the bank of the wady, and as they drew abreast, the
launch became visible beneath their horses' bellies.  One of the
horsemen was an officer, whom no doubt the news brought him at the
outpost had induced to ride back with the messengers and see for
himself the captured aeroplane.

Launch and horsemen passed out of sight.  During the few moments' pause
in the conversation while the enemy went by, an idea had occurred to
Burnet.  It was probable that the aeroplane had barely arrived at the
bank of the wady, and, judging by the direction of its captors' march,
at a point at least five or six miles from the ruins.  The launch was
keeping pace with the horsemen on the bank; it might reach the
aeroplane in something under an hour.  Further time would be occupied
in explanation; no doubt the officer from the outpost would be curious
enough to examine the machine; then its safe bestowal on the deck of
the launch would be a long job.  Probably two or three hours would
elapse before the return journey commenced, and Burnet had conceived a
plan for utilising those hours.

He mentioned it to Rejeb, who received it with a torrent of joyous
ejaculations.  There was no time to be lost.  The chief told off a man
to go on foot half a mile along the bank of the wady, to give warning
of the enemy's approach.  The course of the channel was almost
perfectly straight, and horsemen riding along the embankment could be
seen from a great distance.  Then he selected twenty men, and placed
them at Burnet's orders.  Burnet took them down to the brink of the
wady, chose a spot favourable to his design about half-way through the
ruins, and instructed the men to build a dam with the material that lay
close to their hands.  The channel was shallow, and only about forty
feet wide.  The men formed two queues, and masses of brick and stone
were passed from hand to hand and dumped in the middle.

Working with interest and hearty good-will, within an hour the Arabs
had raised that obstacle almost to the surface, and in the muddy water
it was scarcely visible, even from the bank.  Much less was it likely
to be seen from the deck of the moving launch, the crew of which would
not suspect that the channel they had already navigated safely could
hold any danger for them.

Having completed the dam, the men returned to their former posts.  No
change in the general plan was necessitated: indeed, the sudden
stoppage of the launch would tend to further it, for it would add one
more element to the confusion.

It was now only a question of waiting.  The Arabs sat their horses in
stolid patience, scarcely moving or speaking.  Burnet was more
restless.  He would have liked to steal along the bank of the wady, and
watch the stages in the enemy's progress; but he contained himself, and
tried to emulate the stillness of his friend the chief.

Three hours passed: it was almost midday when the Arab scout came
running back with the news that the enemy were in sight.  Soon
afterwards the sound of the propeller was heard, and then, peeping
through the reeds, the watchers saw the horsemen riding two by two at a
walking pace along the embankment, and the aeroplane, its wings
extending over the banks on either side, as it were floating on the
stream.

There was now some order in the troopers' march.  Three couples rode
ahead as an advance guard: after an interval came the two officers
riding abreast, and behind them the remainder of the party.  Burnet
suggested that the advance guard should be allowed to pass, fire being
reserved until the main body was half-way through the ruins and unable
to escape without fighting.  It was impossible now to send a messenger
with orders to the men on the north bank, but this gave Rejeb no
concern:

"My warriors will know what to do," he said, with a firm air of
confidence.

The advance guard was some distance ahead of the launch, which had to
go slowly because of the unwieldiness of its burden, and the risk of
striking the overlapping wings of the aeroplane against some
irregularity in the surface of the bank.  There was thus no reason to
fear that the conflict would start prematurely through the obstruction
of the launch before the horsemen had arrived.  The men were riding
easily; the two officers were engaged in animated conversation; in this
wide no man's land between the rivers they had no cause for
apprehension.

Burnet, holding his revolver, tingled as the enemy drew slowly nearer.
It was not his first action, but a youth of twenty cannot know the
coolness and indifference of the veteran.  His one anxiety was for the
safety of Captain Ellingford.  Knowing that he was on board, the Arabs
would not fire at the launch; but in the confusion and hurly-burly of
the coming fight he might be struck by a chance shot; perhaps, indeed,
he might be deliberately murdered by the Turks in charge of him.
"Thank Heaven they are not Germans," Burnet thought.

The advance guard came to the edge of the ruins, riding along the
embankment, which was only a foot or two above the general level, with
a gentle slope on the southern side.  The troopers glanced to right and
left without particular care; and indeed it would have needed keener
eyes than theirs to discover the men ambushed in snug positions a few
hundred yards on the north side of the stream, or the horsemen securely
hidden in the tall rushes at a rather greater distance to the south.

They passed by without suspicion.  About a hundred yards behind them
the two officers came within the circle of the ruins, still chatting
together.  Their orderlies were a few paces in the rear; and the head
of the short column of troopers, in line with the launch, rode at an
equal interval behind them.

To Burnet, at least, their progress seemed painfully slow.  The advance
guard had reached the western extremity of the ruins before the
officers came level with the dam.  Burnet was just wondering whether
the dam would escape their notice when there was a sudden crackle of
musketry from the northern side.  The officer nearest the wady fell
from his horse; several saddles in the column behind were emptied; and
there ensued a scene of wild confusion.  The horses curvetted, and
drove against one another; the men shouted and gazed about them
irresolutely, seeking the unseen enemy and trying to control their
steeds.  Another volley struck down several more horses and men; then,
just as the launch, coming stern foremost, crashed into the obstacle,
Rejeb and Burnet, at the head of a compact body of horsemen with swords
held aloft, dashed from the shelter of the reeds and rode at a hot
gallop straight for the centre of the column.

By this time some of the Turks had flung themselves from their saddles,
and, bridle in hand, were running down the slope of the embankment to
gain shelter from the rifle fire.  The sight of the horsemen bearing
down upon them like a desert whirlwind from the opposite quarter caused
them to mount again in haste.  Some rallied about their officer, and
prepared to meet the shock, others spurred their horses forward with
the idea of avoiding it, only to find themselves checked by their more
stedfast comrades.  Others again swung their horses round, and galloped
madly in the direction from which they had come.

The officer's desperate efforts to dress his ranks at the foot of the
slope were rendered abortive by the confusion into which his more
resolute men had been thrown by their comrades' attempt to escape.
Rifle fire had ceased, and with a gallantry that won Burnet's
admiration the Turk, supported by less than a dozen troopers, rode
straight at the charging mass.  Burnet, whose matchless horse had
carried him slightly in advance of Rejeb, made a sudden swerve to avoid
a sweeping stroke of the officer's sword, and as he passed, fired his
revolver point blank at his opponent.  The trooper behind made a cut at
his head, and he discovered later that the peak of his helmet had been
sliced off.

Having no more of the enemy in front of him, he wheeled round and rode
back into the fray.  Several men and horses had fallen, and the
survivors, hopelessly outnumbered, almost surrounded by the Arabs, were
crying for quarter.

Meanwhile the advance guard, brought to a halt by the sudden outburst
of fire behind them, had stayed only long enough to see that their
comrades had no chance against such odds, and had then galloped off in
headlong flight towards the Euphrates.  It was a matter of the most
urgent importance that none of them should escape to carry news of the
ambush to their outpost on the river, and Rejeb himself, with ten of
his Arabs, rode along the embankment at breakneck pace to overtake
them.  It was equally important that the fugitives who had ridden in
the other direction should not be allowed to work their way round to
the north, and Rejeb's lieutenant, with the rest of the mounted men,
set off to ride them down.  Some of the Arabs swam the wady on their
horses in order to cut off their escape northward; the lieutenant
himself with another body galloped straight along the embankment; a
third section struck off into the swampy ground to the south.

The moment the fight was over, Burnet turned to see what had happened
to the launch.  When its course was checked by the dam, it appeared
that the crew had endeavoured to escape by driving it back along the
wady, for Burnet saw that it was now a hundred yards or so to the east.
But in their haste they had neglected the precautions necessitated by
the breadth of the aeroplane.  Attempting to run at too high a speed in
the narrow channel, they had failed to keep a course exactly in the
middle, with the result that one of the wings had jammed in a tangle of
vegetation, and the launch was unable to move.  Meanwhile the Arabs
posted in the ruins had left their stations and run down to the bank,
where they stood sentry over the vessel, rifle in hand.

[Illustration: STRANDED]



CHAPTER XII

A REARGUARD ACTION

Captain Ellington, lying on the deck of the launch, called a breezy
salutation to Burnet.  The two Turkish troopers who formed his guard
were smoking cigarettes; the crew of four were gathered aft, taking the
disaster that had befallen them with stolid unconcern.  The launch was
held fast in position, a few yards from the bank, by the wing of the
aeroplane which had become entangled, and Burnet, eager to learn the
nature of his friend's wound, and the causes of his plight, scrambled
along the wing and dropped to the deck.

"Congratulations, old man," said Ellingford, grasping his hand.  "It
was quite a brilliant little action.  Where did your Arab friends
spring from?"

"It's rather a long story; I'll tell you all as we go along.  I was
waiting for you on the _tell_ when I saw you come down, and finding you
in the enemy's hands, I managed to get a friendly tribe to come to the
rescue.  Are you badly hurt?"

"Not a bit; I got one through the shoulder and another through an
unsuspected roll of fat just above my thigh.  The Turks patched me up
with their own field dressings; they seem quite decent chaps; and I'll
do very well till we get back to our own M.O.  I can manage to fly
right enough."

"The machine's all right?"

"I think so--or will be with a little attention.  The engine wasn't
behaving very well; still, I hoped to get to the _tell_ and overhaul it
there; but it began to misfire badly, and I thought it safer to come
down at once, though I'd seen this mounted patrol.  Unluckily they
rushed me before I had well got to work.  I held them off in front, but
they attacked in the rear and pipped me."

"Jolly lucky it's no worse.  I'll get the men to clear the wing; then
we'll haul ashore, and start for home.  You might have a look at the
engine at once: it'll save time."

He returned to the bank and set some of the Arabs to cut away the
vegetation.  Meanwhile Ellingford opened up his engine.  "I say," he
called in a minute or two, "this is bad luck.  The petrol tank is
riddled.  I can't repair it here."

"You can't fly, then?"

"Absolutely impossible."

"That's a blow.  We shall have to haul it, then, as the Turks did."

"But where to?  We can't possibly get through the Turkish lines."

"How long would it take you to patch up sufficiently to get us back?"

"I doubt whether I can do it at all.  It's a job for our mechanics, and
a rather long one at best."

"Well, there's no hope for it, then.  There's a place something over
twenty miles from here--the settlement of these Arabs--where we can
find refuge.  I shall have to leave you there and get round to our
lines on foot somehow."

"But twenty miles!  It'll take us a whole day or more to haul the bus
there.  And there isn't time.  These Turks are a reconnoitring patrol
of a larger force----"

"What?"

"I saw them when I was about 3000 feet up--a cavalry force marching
along the left bank of the Euphrates a good many miles to the north.
There were a number of boats keeping pace with them on the river.  Some
of these beggars are sure to have escaped.  They'll make their way
back, and we shall have cavalry on our heels before we've covered half
your twenty miles."

"There's no time to be lost, then.  We must save the machine if we can:
if we can't, you have a choice of mounts among the Turks' horses, and
you'll have to ride as well as you can.  The chief of the tribe has
gone off in pursuit of fugitives; I'll leave word for him, and he'll
follow us up."

When he explained the situation to the Arabs, one of them suggested
that they should convey the aeroplane by launch for some distance up
the wady, which would not only save a few miles, but bring them to much
harder ground, where it would be easier to drag the machine.  Burnet
adopted the suggestion at once.  He left the Arabs to clear up the
scene of the fight and to await the return of Rejeb, who would no doubt
then ride straight back to his stronghold with his prisoners and the
captured horses.  Two of the Arabs he selected to accompany the launch
with led horses, these for hauling the aeroplane and to serve as mounts
for himself and Ellingford in case the machine had to be abandoned.

A few minutes later the launch started, and Burnet had leisure to give
Ellingford an outline of all that had happened since their parting at
the _tell_ a month before.

"I'm very much afraid that cavalry force you spoke of is the advance
guard of the expedition against my friend Rejeb," he said in
conclusion.  "The Turks and Arabs have for once succeeded in working to
a date, which implies a good deal of chevying on the part of the
Germans.  They evidently want to carry things through quickly."

"I don't wonder.  They're getting funky.  The loss of Bagdad will be a
tremendous blow to them.  Apart from its being a complete smash-up of
their railway schemes, it will immensely heighten our prestige all
through this country; in fact, through the whole Mohammedan world: it
will be the handwriting on the wall for them."

"We'll do it, then?"

"Of course we'll do it--this time.  You know what had been done when we
came away a month ago.  Well, during the past month the progress of our
organisation has been amazing.  We've no end of new boats; the light
railway through Amara has almost reached our advanced base; so that our
transport is as nearly perfect as it can be; and what with new guns,
aeroplanes, pontoons, Red Cross units and the rest, we're in a position
to give the Turk a very nasty jar.  In fact, I wouldn't mind giving
long odds that we're through Kut by the end of the year, and in Bagdad
before Easter.  What sort of reception shall we get there?"

"Oh, the people will lick our boots--just as they'd lick the boots of
the Germans if they entered in triumph.  With them, nothing succeeds
like success.  They don't love the Turk, but they don't love any one
but themselves.  The decent Arabs, especially Firouz Ali and his little
band of patriots--who've got a stronger following outside Bagdad than
within--will welcome us as deliverers; but it's a very mixed
population, and the most of them don't draw fine distinctions between
Europeans: they're all sheep to be fleeced.  Of course they don't
realise what a bad time they'd have if the city became
Germanised--morally, I mean, for there's no doubt that German
administration would effect great material improvements.  At present
they're slaves to a corrupt tyranny; German tyranny is rather brutal
than corrupt.  They'll find that we are neither corrupt nor brutal--and
take advantage of us.  I'm talking as if we were already there.  In the
meantime you and I will be lucky if we save our skins."

During the voyage Burnet inspected the launch, and found that it
contained a cargo of provisions and cases of rifles and ammunition.  He
concluded that it had been one of the fleet which Ellingford had seen
up the river, and it could hardly be doubted that the stores were
intended for the expedition against Rejeb.

When the launch had run some ten miles along the wady eastward, one of
the mounted Arabs on the bank announced that they had reached the spot
where it was necessary to land.  At a short distance from the wady the
ground was firmer than it had been farther west, and more suitable for
the haulage of the aeroplane.  The launch was run close into the
southern bank and set on fire; the aeroplane was lugged ashore; then
Burnet set the crew to unload the stores, while the Arabs yoked the two
led horses to the machine.  When this was done, he mounted one,
Ellingford the other.  Burnet marshalled the prisoners three on each
side, and ordered one of the Arabs to ride back rapidly to Rejeb, and
ask him to send or bring up enough horses to convey the stores to his
stronghold.  Then, under the guidance of the second Arab, the southward
march began.

Progress was very slow, though more rapid than it had been when the
aeroplane was hauled over the swampy ground by the Turks.  After they
had marched for about two hours, Rejeb with a small party of his men
came galloping up behind.  He related that five of the six Turks whom
he had chased had been killed or captured, the sixth had escaped.  The
prisoners, among whom was the officer whom Burnet had shot, were now
being conveyed by the direct route to the stronghold.  At the bank of
the wady he had left some of his men loading the stores on to the
horses captured from the Turks, and Rejeb intended to ride back to
them, and himself head the convoy to his stronghold.

By nightfall Burnet's party had accomplished about half the distance to
the causeway.  It was impossible to proceed in the dark with the
aeroplane, and they bivouacked in a convenient hollow.  Soon afterwards
Rejeb arrived, in advance of his men.  He explained that the convoy of
stores would march through the night; the rifles and ammunition were a
valuable prize which he wished to place securely in the stronghold as
soon as possible.  Further, he was anxious that, in case of pursuit and
attack, his fighting men should not be hampered by having to guard
their booty.  But he had left a number of his men a few miles to the
rear, to give warning of an enemy's approach.  Then he galloped away to
the south-east to meet the track along which the other Arabs were
escorting their prisoners.

Before dawn Burnet made preparations for starting, and the party moved
off as soon as it was light enough to see.  In about three hours they
converged upon the main route which Rejeb had followed overnight, and
had gone but little farther when they were met by Rejeb himself with
some two score men.  The young chief showed few signs of fatigue,
though he had been up all night.  He reported that the convoys of
stores and prisoners had safely reached the stronghold, and pointed
with glee to the new rifles with which he had armed his men.  Turning
his horse, he rode on beside Burnet, his men coming at a short interval
behind the aeroplane.

They were within two or three miles of the causeway when the scouts he
had left in the rear galloped up with the news that a large body of
cavalry was following up the trail of the parties which had passed
along the main route, and must overtake them before they reached the
causeway.  Rejeb held a rapid consultation with the two officers.  It
was evident that he wished the aeroplane to be abandoned, but when
Captain Ellingford, through Burnet, said that he would burn the machine
rather than let it fall into the enemy's hands, he instantly declared
that he would leave nothing undone to save it.

"My friend looks upon his aeroplane as you look upon your horse,"
Burnet had explained, and the comparison appealed to the Arab.

It was clear that the machine could be saved only by making a stand
where they were.  The enemy must be prevented from coming within range
of the causeway until it was safely across; otherwise they might
hopelessly cripple it, and also shoot down the men and horses who were
hauling it.  Rejeb ordered these men to push on with all haste; the
rest to dismount, send most of their horses forward to the cover of the
vegetation that concealed the causeway, and take up their positions on
a wide front covering the retreat.  He dispatched also a swift rider to
the stronghold, to send out fifty men to take over charge of the
aeroplane and the six prisoners.  Burnet had pressed Ellingford to
accompany the aeroplane, but this he flatly refused to do.

"If you think I'm going to leave you with a scrap on hand you've
mistaken your man," he said.  "I can still use my revolver."

The country around was flat and fairly dry, but broken up here and
there with patches of scrub and of marshland fringed with reeds and
rushes.

"I almost wish I had burnt the machine after all," said Captain
Ellingford, when Rejeb was placing his men.  "Your chief is very keen,
and a good chap; but he can't hold up a force of Turkish cavalry with
his few men, and I shall be sorry if things turn out badly."

"Don't worry, old man," said Burnet.  "He knows what he's about.  It's
ideal country for a small force fighting on the defensive, and we're
not likely to have artillery against us.  There's plenty of cover all
the way from here to the stronghold; we can fall back from one clump to
another if we are hard pressed.  On the other hand, it's bad country
for cavalry, especially if they don't know the ground.  They may find
themselves bogged; and anyway they'll offer a good target; we can see
them above the rushes.  Besides, Rejeb has more men in the stronghold,
and he'll send for them if necessary, though it'll be a point of pride
with him to lick the enemy with inferior forces if he can."

Rejeb had by this time posted his little force on a long arc extending
for some distance on both sides of the track.  The men were all
perfectly concealed by bushes, clumps of reeds, or tall grass, and had
been given definite instructions about the new positions to which they
were to fall back under the enemy's pressure.

The wings of the aeroplane could still be seen projecting above the
scrub about a mile away when the advance guard of the enemy emerged
into view on the north.  They evidently caught sight of the aeroplane,
for one of the troopers galloped back, the rest halting.  In a few
minutes the head of the main column appeared.  The officer in command
looked ahead through his field-glasses, then swept the country on each
side of the track, and apparently satisfied that the course was clear,
gave an order.  Riding in couples, the cavalry galloped forward, the
intention no doubt being to capture the aeroplane and its escort at a
rush.

Then, from the Arabs concealed a few hundred yards in their front,
there broke a sudden volley which emptied many saddles and took the
Turks aback.  The officer shouted an order, the men wheeled round,
suffering losses from a second volley, and dashed back to the shelter
of the belt of vegetation from which they had emerged, causing some
confusion in the rear part of the column.  Burnet estimated that the
number of those who had come in sight was about two hundred; how many
more there were it was impossible to guess.  But Rejeb perceived that
his little force was not strong enough to hold the position long when
the Turks should have taken its measure, and he instantly sent a rider
to the stronghold to bring back another hundred men on foot, and to
order a hundred and fifty horsemen to post themselves near the outer
end of the causeway.

Before the reinforcements arrived the enemy started a dropping fire
from their sheltered position, with the intention, no doubt, of drawing
the Arabs' fire and causing them to disclose their strength.  This
proving ineffectual, they made another attempt to carry the position
with a rush, losing even more heavily than before.  Again they fell
back, and for a while there was no further move.  Rejeb sent a scout
out on each flank to worm his way towards the enemy and discover what
he was about.  They returned with the not unexpected news that the
Turks, now dismounted, were deploying; it could only be with the object
of outflanking the defenders.  They reported also that behind the Turks
there was a large force of mounted Arabs.  Burnet's suspicion that this
was the expedition organised by the Turks and Halil's tribe jointly was
confirmed; he wondered where Major Burckhardt was.

By this time the reinforcements had come up stealthily from the rear.
Rejeb threw them out on the wings, so that the defending force, its
main strength in the centre, covered a rough semi-circle nearly half a
mile in extent.

Within a very few minutes the enemy's intentions were disclosed.
Advancing on a wide front, taking cover wherever it was possible, they
came on in short rushes.  It was seen now that the majority of them
were Arabs, and the total force could hardly have been less than a
thousand men.  Rejeb ordered his men to fall back slowly, holding on as
long as they could without the risk of being cut off, and inflicting as
much loss as possible on the enemy whenever they crossed stretches of
open ground.

It was clear to the chief, as to Burnet and Ellingford, that Major
Burckhardt's profession of knowledge of the stronghold's position had
not been vain.  Clearly they had to look forward to a siege.  They were
not strong enough to defeat the enemy in the open, and as soon as the
safety of the aeroplane was assured, they must retreat along the
causeway and make the best use of their natural advantages.

For nearly two hours Rejeb's Arabs fell back steadily.  More than once
the enemy sought a decision by attempting to rush the defenders, now in
the centre, now at one or other of the wings.  At one moment it seemed
that the left wing was in danger of being crushed, but Rejeb, who
throughout the day showed many of the best qualities of generalship,
sent a runner to the rear to bring up a portion of his mounted reserve,
now less than half a mile away.  In a few minutes a hundred superbly
mounted warriors galloped to the threatened point, swept like a
whirlwind upon the dismounted enemy, rode through them again and again,
heedless of losses, and not only defeated the flanking movement, but
caused a check in the whole line.

Then came word that the aeroplane had been conveyed across the causeway
to the centre of the stronghold.  From this moment the retreat became
more rapid, though still as methodical as before.  Late in the
afternoon the Turks, who formed the right and right centre of the
attacking force, and had fought more steadily and doggedly than their
Arab allies, gained a position from which, though at extreme range,
they began to command the end of the causeway.  Rejeb drew nearly all
his men together, posted them under cover, and concentrated his fire on
the assailants on his left, in the hope of holding them off until
darkness rendered it possible to slip away.  At sunset, before the
enemy knew what was happening, the chief withdrew his little force
swiftly across the causeway.  The day's work had cost him barely a
score of casualties, while the enemy's losses were probably five or six
times as great.

"That was a top-hole rearguard action," said Ellingford to Burnet as
they went together to Rejeb's tower.  "I'd no idea that Arabs could
ever behave so steadily."

"It's due to their chief," replied Burnet.  "He's got stuff in him, and
he's going to be very useful.  By George!  I'm dead tired."



CHAPTER XIII

IN THE BRITISH LINES

It was a week later.  In one of the tents of the Headquarters staff
behind the British lines Burnet, once more in Arab dress, was
conversing with Captain Mitchell, an officer high in the Intelligence
branch.  He had just come to the end of a rather long narrative--the
story of his adventures from the day when he had said good-bye to
Captain Mitchell more than a month before, down to the time of the
attack on Rejeb's stronghold.

"And how did you get out?" asked the captain.

"I slipped away to the south through the marshes, swimming the deep
places on a waterskin, and wading the rest.  When I was clear I steered
south-east till I struck the Tigris and got aboard a country boat that
was bringing up fodder."

"It sounds simple, though I daresay it wasn't all what the rags at home
call a joy-ride."

Burnet smiled: it was not necessary to tell all that had happened
during that week.

"I will place the situation before the Chief," the captain went on.
"You will hear from him."

"He will understand that Rejeb is waiting to hear whether he may expect
help?  He is greatly outnumbered."

"Quite so.  The Chief will realise what is at stake, and I think you
may depend on prompt instructions."

The interview was at an end.  Burnet went off to visit his particular
friends, including Scuddy Smith, captain in the Bengal Lancers.

"What ho!" cried Smith.  "Back again, then.  We were getting anxious
about you.  Where's Ellingford?"

"In an Arab camp, Scud."

"A prisoner?"

"No, an honoured guest.  Also an invalid: he was unlucky enough to get
hit--not seriously.  I say, I haven't had a decent meal for I don't
know how long.  Come and see me feed, and I'll tell you between the
mouthfuls as much as is good for you."

Smith and other friends heard Burnet's story rather enviously.  They
would willingly have shared his dangers for the sake of the variety and
movement, so different from their own stagnant existence.  But their
spirits were rising in proportion as the time drew nearer for the
opening of the great offensive.  They had much to tell Burnet of the
progress made during his absence.  Every one was confident that when
the moment came the Turkish fortifications at Kut would be pierced and
the misfortune of General Townshend repaired.  And then for Bagdad!

Next day Burnet was summoned to another interview with Captain Mitchell.

"The Chief is greatly pleased with your work," said the captain.  "Your
particulars of the state of Bagdad and your map showing the military
establishments are especially valuable.  For certain reasons he thinks
it best not to see you himself just yet, but he will thank you in
person at the proper time.  He made a note of your application to be
employed as observer on an aeroplane when we attack Bagdad from the
air.  Meanwhile he thoroughly agrees that it is of the first importance
that your chief's stronghold should be held.  It will protect our left
flank and render unnecessary the employment of a large cavalry force to
cover our advance on that side.  As a matter of fact, preparations are
being made for a movement in that region.  It won't be started until we
are ready for the main attack, and the forces employed will be smaller
than were contemplated, provided the stronghold can be held.  Can your
Arab friend stick it for a week or two without help?"

"It's largely a matter of food.  The stuff we captured in the Turks'
launch will help, but Rejeb's usual forays are of course out of the
question now, and I'm afraid he hasn't much food in reserve.  His
horses are the great difficulty.  I know he has next to no fodder, and
if the place is to be held, the horses must be evacuated.  To the Arabs
that'll be worse than drawing their teeth.  Their horses are their
chief wealth, and they won't easily part with them."

"What about non-combatants?"

"There are very few: the chief's family and a score of others."

"They must leave, of course, and you'll have to exercise your
persuasive powers with regard to the horses.  No doubt they can be got
away by the route you followed?"

"I think so; the Turks aren't numerous enough to surround the place."

"Well then, we'll arrange to receive them in our lines, and give a bond
for their delivery to the Arabs in due course.  Now, what about
ammunition?"

"So far as rifle ammunition is concerned I think they are all right:
they had a good deal of their own and collared a lot more on the
launch.  But when I left the Turks had a couple of machine-guns in
action.  They had formed a sort of bridgehead at their end of the
causeway, and the Arabs had cut the causeway in the middle to prevent
their getting across.  Ellingford's machine-gun is available, but we've
only two or three hundred rounds for that, and when I left we had
decided to keep that for emergencies.  If we had more ammunition, and
perhaps another machine-gun or two, I think we could carry on--unless
the Turks bring up field guns, which isn't likely, perhaps, in such
swampy country."

"Well, we can send you ammunition and perhaps a couple of machine-guns
and gunners if you think they can be got to the place.  That would save
dismantling Ellingford's gun."

"It's worth trying.  And while we're about it we might take a little
petrol.  Ellingford's tank can be patched up, and he might get away."

"That's important.  We need every aeroplane we can muster.  Is
Ellingford well enough to fly?"

"He was doing well, and by this time I daresay he could manage a short
flight.  But he won't want to leave us."

"He'll obey orders, of course.  Well, there's no time to be lost.  I'll
see about things at once.  Be ready to start back early to-morrow."

At dawn next day Burnet with a party of eight embarked on a boat bound
downstream.  There were two men of the machine-gun corps with their
weapons and ammunition, three native boatmen, and three men of the
Indian transport service in charge of three mules.  They disembarked
near the place where Burnet had boarded the country boat three days
before; the mules were loaded with the machine-guns, ammunition, petrol
and other stores, and the march across country was begun.

By noon on the following day they came to the edge of an extensive
marsh.  Here the mules were unloaded, and sent back.  Among the stores
there were materials for putting together a small kelak--a raft
supported by inflated skins.  This was quickly rigged up by the native
boatmen, and launched on a winding channel through the marsh.  The
trimming of the kelak took some time, and only two hours of daylight
were left when the party started on their journey to the stronghold.
The two machine-gunners found matter for jokes, as British soldiers
will, always and everywhere.

"Look out for submarines, Bill," said one of them, to his comrade on
the other side of the craft.

"Mermaids is more my line," replied the man.  "I say, Tom, what if
these balloons underneath us was to go pop!"

"And no parachutes neither!  Not even bathing drawers.  D'you know what
this here thing reminds me of?"

"What?"

"The bathing raft at Brighton.  Wish you was at Brighton, Bill?"

"Don't talk about it."

"Tea and shrimps, and Mary Angelina in the tea-shop, and the little gal
with the curls as played the fiddle so sweet.  Bill, you ought to
change your name."

"What for?"

"'Cos 'twas Big Bill as sent us to this here Messypotamia.  If it
hadn't 'a been for him we might have been in Brighton now."

"No we shouldn't.  We'd 'a been in the mines blasting coal.  Never
would have heard of Brighton.  But I tell you what: when old Bill's
done in----"

"He won't be done in."

"What I mean is, when old Haig catches him as he's bolting out of
Berlin.  What I say, send him to Messypotamia, and without a sun
helmet: lumme, he wants a place in the sun."

The boatmen paddled the kelak slowly through the marsh until sunset
compelled a halt.  They slept on board, and started again at dawn.
Soon they came into shallow water where it was necessary to jump
overboard and wade, pushing the kelak.  Sometimes they swam; more than
once they had to make a portage over comparatively dry land,
dismantling the kelak and carrying the stores.  It was afternoon before
they came to the neighbourhood of the island stronghold.  Burnet left
his party securely hidden in the reeds, and made his way alone, wading
and swimming until he reached the rising ground south of the mound.

"Is it good news, my brother?" said Rejeb, meeting him.

"There are guns and stores in the marsh yonder," replied Burnet.  "Will
you send out men to bring them in?"

While a party of Arabs went on this mission, Burnet enquired what had
happened during his absence.  He learnt that the situation was much
more serious than it had been on his departure.  Under cover of
machine-gun fire the Turks had advanced along the causeway and erected
a breastwork of stones at the northern edge of the gap which the Arabs
had cut.  Then they had set to work to fill up the gap, and had already
made great progress.  They had several times attempted to gain access
to the island from other directions, but the waterlogged condition of
the country had rendered their efforts fruitless against the fire of
the vigilant defenders.  When the causeway should be restored, Rejeb
despaired of holding his ground against a force so largely outnumbering
his own.  To make matters worse, a slight wound which he had received
had grown serious through lack of attention, and he felt incapable of
the energy necessary to the conduct of a strenuous defensive campaign.

His depression of spirit was somewhat lifted by Burnet's report that
measures would be undertaken for his relief.  He called a council of
some of his principal men to consider the propositions which Burnet
conveyed to him from headquarters.  There was no opposition to the
sending away of the non-combatants.  The Arabs, accustomed to a nomad
existence, saw little hardship in the people having to wander for
safety to other regions.  But the suggestion to part with their horses
was at first strongly opposed.  An Arab without a horse is like a
shipwrecked mariner.  Burnet found all his persuasiveness unavailing
until a diversion was caused by the appearance of the two gunners
bringing up their machine-guns, followed by the boatmen and the Arabs
loaded with stores.  The explanation that these were only an advance
party of a force that was by and by coming to their assistance, and
that this force would in all probability bring back their horses,
turned the tide.  Encouraged by the assurance of help, the men agreed
to the temporary sacrifice demanded of them; and the council broke up
with a yell of defiance which caused the enemy, expecting an attack, to
open fire.



CHAPTER XIV

THE ENEMY'S GUNS

Before he sought his couch Burnet had a talk with Ellingford.

"I'm jolly glad you are back," said the latter.  "Not one of these
Arabs knows a word of English, and to be over a week without any means
of communication but dumb show has been a horrid nuisance.  I managed
to make them understand that they had better rig up some sort of a
fortification at this end of the causeway as a defence against
machine-gun fire, and I was thinking of placing my gun there, for
things are getting warmer every day.  There's no need for that now,
perhaps: the two guns you've brought are enough on such a narrow front:
but we've all our work cut out to hold the enemy off until relief
comes."

"By the way, I've orders for you to return if you're fit," said Burnet.
"The Tommies I've brought will patch up your tank."

"That's rough luck.  I wanted to stay here and see it through.  I'm fit
enough, for a short flight at any rate, but I don't like running away."

"You can do a little useful scouting for us before you return to the
lines.  We'll talk about that later.  To-morrow you had better get your
tank repaired.  The men are handy fellows, and they'll do what's
required under your instruction.  We're evacuating the non-combatants
and the horses, and I hope our food will last out until we're relieved.
That's the only risk--unless the enemy bring up artillery and shell us.
Even then we may still have a chance, because there are underground
chambers here and there under the ruins--places excavated long ago for
shelter from the heat; and they ought to prove effective dug-outs.  The
greatest danger is that the Turks will repair or bridge the causeway
and overwhelm us with numbers.  I shall have a look round to-morrow and
see what can be done to prevent them."

Next day Burnet resumed his own uniform and went round the position
with Rejeb.  It appeared that when the non-combatants were gone, under
escort of a sufficient number of armed men, the effective strength of
the garrison would slightly exceed four hundred.  The enemy, at a rough
estimate, outnumbered them by three to one, and were on the whole
better armed; the rifles and ammunition captured on the launch were
sufficient to arm about a third of Rejeb's force.  The food supplies
might with care last for a week or two.  Plenty of drinking water was
to be got from an old well which the Arabs had cleared out at their
first occupation of the island.

The weakness of the defence was that a wide front--for it was not
merely a question of holding the end of the causeway--had to be held by
relatively small numbers.  The channel between the island and the
Turkish position was too deep to wade; but it was obvious that an
enterprising enemy with a large preponderance of numbers would not find
it an insuperable obstacle, and with half the causeway in their
possession they could harass the defenders until an attack in
overwhelming force was possible.

Burnet saw that his first concern must be to prevent the enemy from
pushing farther along the causeway.  That should be practicable.  It
was more doubtful whether he would be able to dislodge them from the
position they had already gained.

The sudden outburst of fire from the Turks on the previous evening had
soon died down when they found that the Arabs made no attack, and so
far the morning had been quiet.  Taking advantage of their inactivity,
Burnet went cautiously to the end of the causeway, examined the
breastwork which the Arabs had constructed with material from the
ruins, and cast about for an emplacement for one of his machine-guns.
His first idea was to instal it in a sort of blockhouse in the middle
of the breastwork, from which it could sweep the causeway from end to
end.  But there was always a chance that the Turks would ultimately
bring up field artillery; the blockhouse would then be their first
objective, and the gun would very likely be put out of action.  The
second gun, which he intended to keep in reserve, might suffer the same
fate.  What then could be done?

The breastwork hastily erected by the Arabs across the end of the
causeway was neither long enough nor strong enough.  But along the
shore of the island ran a low artificial embankment against floods.
Just behind it was an old, much dilapidated wall.  About a hundred and
fifty yards on the right of the causeway the embankment had broken
away.  It was only necessary to break an opening in the wall just
behind this gap, to form a sort of embrasure for the gun.  The position
was well screened from the enemy, for the surface of the island rose
slightly in the rear, and the horizon, from the Turks' point of view,
was cut by the chief's tower with the dwarf trees that flanked it.
Placed in this embrasure, the machine-gun would command the whole of
the causeway except the fifty yards nearest the island.

It was a question whether the necessary pioneer work could be done
during the hours of daylight, for much of it must be carried out in
full view of the enemy.  But at present none of the Turks was to be
seen.  They were not at work on the causeway, and a careful scanning of
their farther position through field-glasses failed to detect any sign
of movement or of preparations.  Taking advantage of this rather
surprising inactivity, which suggested that they were either awaiting
reinforcements or planning some dangerous stroke, Burnet set a large
number of the Arabs to the task of carrying out his scheme.  While some
cut the embrasure for the machine-gun, others dug a communication
trench from the blockhouse to a group of ruins about two hundred yards
in the rear.  Others again strengthened these ruins by piling up blocks
of masonry collected from the whole area, so as to form a shelter,
effectual against all but gun fire, for the larger part of the
garrison.  The underground chambers beneath the ruins were partially
cleared of accumulations of rubbish, and should serve as safe quarters
when the men were not in action.

While Burnet was setting all these operations in train, Rejeb had
superintended the departure of the non-combatants.  They were
transported in relays across the southern marshes on the kelak.  The
horses, too, under the charge of a score of well-armed men, left the
island by wading or swimming, Rejeb keeping half a dozen in a safe
place at the south of the island, in case he might find them useful for
scouting.  Among them were his own horse, and the one that Burnet had
captured.

It was the third day after his arrival before the defensive works were
completed.  Except for occasional sniping the enemy had not attempted
to molest them.  To Burnet this quiescence seemed ominous, for it
suggested that the Turkish commander--no doubt that Major Djaved Bey
who had visited Burckhardt with General Eisenstein--thought the Arabs'
operations of no importance, and that must mean that he was confident
of the success of whatever coup he might be planning.  Burnet felt the
necessity of learning what preparations the enemy was making, what
stroke he had to guard against, and the approaching departure of
Ellingford gave him an opportunity.

The two gunners, Bill Jackson and Tom Sturge, had repaired the petrol
tank.  Ellingford himself had regained the use of his limbs, and,
though not perfectly recovered, was clearly strong enough to pilot his
machine the thirty or forty miles between the island and the British
lines.

"I don't want you to run any unnecessary risks," said Burnet, "but if
you could do a little scouting----"

"My dear fellow, with all the pleasure in life.  A few extra miles are
neither here nor there.  And there are no Archies to worry me."

"Then will you fly a few miles northward, say as far as the _tell_, and
see what the beggars are up to?  Don't waste time by coming down again,
but drop me a message.  If I don't get anything from you, I shall know
that there's nothing to worry about."

"Right.  And the sooner I go, the better.  It's a perfect day.
Everything's as clear and sharp as you could wish, and I shall hardly
even need to use my glasses."

"But don't fly too low.  A bullet might drill another hole in your
tank."

"Never fear.  I shall be safe enough at two or three thousand feet.
Any messages for headquarters?"

"You might tell them what we're doing, and say that with luck we can
hold out ten days or a fortnight.  There's nothing else, I think."

The aeroplane had been placed at the extreme south of the island, where
the dipping of the ground kept it below the Turks' line of sight.  A
space was rapidly cleared in order to give room for rising, and after a
careful preliminary test of the engine the captain ran off and rose
smoothly into the air.  At first he headed south-east; then, when he
had gained an altitude of something over two thousand feet, he wheeled
round, recrossed the island, and, still rising, for some minutes
circled over the Turkish position, amid a fusillade of rifle fire.  At
one moment Burnet was alarmed, fearing from a sudden downward swerve
that the machine had been injured; but it was evidently an intentional
movement on Ellingford's part, for he at once skimmed away to the
north-west, and the shooting ceased.

An hour later Burnet heard the hum of the returning engine.

"He's flying perilously low," he thought, as the machine came into view
on the west.  Pursued again by rifle fire, it flew straight across the
island from west to east.  Burnet had informed the gunners and Rejeb
what to expect, and the eyes of all the garrison looked up for the
sight of an object falling from the aeroplane.  It was so small and
fell so swiftly that no one saw it until a fraction of a second before
it reached the ground.  One of the Arabs picked it up and ran with it
eagerly to Burnet.  It was a stone wrapped in a sheet of paper.  Burnet
read the message:

"Nothing doing opposite you: 2 f.g. bogged 10 m. N. of _tell_."

The aeroplane had circled round: Ellingford evidently wanted to know
whether the message had been received.  Burnet signalled in Morse with
his arms; the machine turned again, and heading south-east in a few
minutes was out of sight.

The inactivity of the enemy was explained, and the explanation was of
serious import for the garrison.  They were awaiting the arrival of
field-guns before resuming the attack.  The transport of the guns over
the marshes had naturally been difficult, and the fact that they were
actually now stuck in the swamp was welcome news.  But the respite
would only be temporary, and Burnet realised that he would soon have to
deal with the only situation that gave him real anxiety.  Would the
Arabs' resolution stand the test of gun fire?  At the best, the period
of possible resistance was shortened, for the Arabs, unaccustomed to
shelling, would probably be so much demoralised by it as to be
incapable of standing up against a sustained attack.

On reading the message Burnet had not allowed any sign of his anxiety
to escape him.  He could not conceal its purport from Rejeb: it would
not be fair to keep him in the dark; but he laid more stress on the
bogging than on the guns.  Later on, however, he went away by himself
to a quiet spot on the south of the island, to think things over.  So,
one of Britain's heroes, Robert Clive, had gone apart to decide in
solitude the momentous question to which the battle of Plassey was the
answer.

"Why wait for the guns?"

That was the question that filled Burnet's thoughts.  The enemy no
doubt thought they had the garrison well boxed up: they had only to
bring up their guns to compel surrender.  The escort of the guns must
have seen the aeroplane, and guessed that its occupant would have
carried news of them to his own lines.  But the British were far away,
much too far to send a force to capture two field-guns.  Nor would they
think it worth while to send airmen to bomb guns so remote from their
own position, and of no danger to themselves.  The Turks, then, would
not dream that they had any difficulties to contend with except those
due to the swampy nature of the country.  Such a feeling of security
gave the best possible promise that an attack would be successful.

But how could an attack be made?  Not in force, nor openly.  The escort
of the guns, though probably not a large body, would be strong enough
to withstand any assault by a small number of Arabs, and Burnet would
not feel justified in reducing the garrison of the stronghold by more
than a few men.  And between him and them was the Turkish main body;
his retreat would be cut off.  He felt that he could not ask the Arabs
to undertake so hazardous an expedition until he had himself
reconnoitred the ground, and discovered for himself what were the
chances of a surprise.

He returned to Rejeb's tower, and told the chief what he had in mind.

"It must not be," said Rejeb.  "I am weak, and my faintness increases.
Who is to lead my people if the Turkish dogs attack?"

"But it is for these guns they are waiting.  Until they come there will
be no serious attack, and when they come your position here will be
much worse.  Is it not wise to seize any chance of keeping them at a
distance?"

"Who knows whether there will be such a chance?"

"True; that is what I want to find out.  And if I discover that we can
do nothing, I will return at once.  My absence will be but for a night
and a day."

"You will not go alone?"

"No: I want you to lend me five of your most trusty and stout-hearted
men.  This is work for a few."

"It shall be done, and may Allah preserve you!"

While Rejeb was selecting the men, Burnet informed the machine-gunners
of his intentions, and ordered them, in case the Turks attacked, to use
the gun which had already been placed.

Late in the afternoon, he slipped away from the south of the island
with the five Arabs, leading their horses through the swamp.  Then they
swept round to the west, outside the probable range of the enemy's
scouts, and rode rapidly in the direction of the _tell_.  When they
came in sight of the ruins, lit up by the glow from the setting sun,
Burnet confided the horses to the care of two of his men, and with the
other three went forward on foot, taking advantage of what cover the
barren country afforded.  He hoped, before darkness closed upon the
scene, to be able to discover, from the summit of the mound, whether
the guns had been extricated from the bog; if there was no sign of
them, it would be necessary to go farther north.



CHAPTER XV

A RAID

Burnet had only just reached his former observation post on the _tell_
when, looking to the north, he saw two mounted men in khaki about two
miles away riding slowly in his direction.  A few minutes later there
came into view the horses of the gun teams and the muzzles of the guns.
Through the haze of dust cast up by the heavy vehicles it was
impossible to see the escort, which was no doubt following.

It was clear that he had arrived only just in time.  Half an hour later
he would certainly have found the _tell_ occupied.  The day was already
so far advanced that the Turks would probably camp on the _tell_ for
the night.  He instantly decided on his course of action.  The
underground chamber was unknown to Burckhardt, the only man among the
enemy who had previously visited the _tell_.  Burnet resolved to take
refuge there with his three Arabs, trusting to the chapter of accidents
to give him later the opportunity he was seeking.

The Arabs were surprised when he lifted the slab and disclosed the
cellar below, and their excitement was almost boyish as he climbed up
into the colossal figure with his brush of reeds.  Watching him smooth
the sand over the slab they yielded to a burst of amusement: Burnet had
never seen the customary gravity of the Arab so much impaired.

From his spy hole at the mouth of the animal Burnet kept watch for the
coming of the enemy.  Within ten minutes the two troopers came into
sight.  Immediately behind them now were two officers, in one of whom
he recognised Major Burckhardt.  And he could now see, not far in the
rear of the two guns, a half squadron of cavalry, together with a
number of men on foot, driving mules laden with boxes and large
bundles, which contained no doubt ammunition and the impedimenta of a
camp.

Burnet watched the approach of this force with some anxiety.  Would
they halt at the _tell_, or, late as the hour was, continue their march
to Rejeb's stronghold?  He had only a limited range of vision from
inside the colossus, and as the head of the column passed out of sight
he feared that there was no intention of bivouacking, and his only
chance of interfering with the guns would be lost.

Presently, however, he heard voices very near, and round the angle of
the wall came Major Burckhardt, toddling along on foot, accompanied by
a Turkish officer whom Burnet surmised to be the commander of the
gunners.  They came to a stand on the open space in front of the
colossus, and Burckhardt, lifting his hand with the gesture of a
showman, said:

"It was here that I had the adventure with the Englishman that I
described to you as we came along.  An ignorant fellow from Cambridge,
whose books are the laughing-stock of every good German scholar.  When
I arrived I found him----"

"But you said, I think, that you were here first."

"First in the neighbourhood.  The Englishman was constantly dogging me.
As I told you, I had made the world-shaking discovery that here
Tukulti-Ninip----"

"Yes, major, I remember; but it is getting late, and we have much to do
before dark.  I will have our tents pitched here.  The guns had better
remain at the foot of the _tell_, and the men must shift for themselves
in the ruins."

"At a reasonable distance from our tents."

"Certainly."

"And the wind is south.  We must not be disturbed by smoke from
camp-fires."

"Nothing shall disturb you, major.  General Eisenstein gave me
particular orders to pay you every consideration."

The Turkish colonel went away to give orders, and Burckhardt,
exchanging the spectacles he wore for another pair, entered between the
two figures and began to stroll about the ruins.

From below the mound came words of command, the rattle of
accoutrements, the clanging of chains, and other sounds indicating the
bustle of pitching camp.  Presently one of the mules climbed the slope
and was led through the porch.  From its back a group of Turkish
soldiers lifted the light shelter tents intended for their colonel and
Major Burckhardt, and proceeded to pitch them.  Watching these
operations from the rear mouth of the colossus, Burnet had a momentary
alarm when it seemed that Burckhardt's tent was to be placed exactly
over the slab that covered the underground chamber; but the major
himself came up as the men were spreading out the canvas, and ordered
them to carry it a little higher up the _tell_, where the air was
fresher and he could get a good view of the rising sun.

The tent pitching was completed.  Orderlies came up with the officers'
baggage.  As the sky darkened, the glow of camp-fires rose from the
lower ground on the northern side of the _tell_.  The colonel returned;
he was shortly followed by men carrying his evening meal, and he
invited Burckhardt to share it with him in his tent.  Burnet could see
them in the interior, illuminated by a couple of candles, sitting on
camp-stools at a small folding table, eating and drinking with the
heartiness of men who have had a long day in the open.  They lit
cigars, smoked them through in drowsy silence; then Burckhardt yawned,
stretched himself, and declaring that he was very sleepy, entered his
own tent a few yards away, and let down the flap.  Through the canvas
Burnet saw the kindling of a candle and the German's bulky figure
undressing.  Then the candle was extinguished: the colonel's tent was
already dark.  A sentry began to pace up and down between the two tents.

It had been a tedious period of waiting, especially for the Arabs in
the stuffy underground chamber.  Nothing could be attempted until the
camp had settled down.  Sounds still came from below the _tell_.  Even
when all should be silent, there was much risk to be run.  The surface
of the _tell_ was very dark; but the moon would rise in two or three
hours.  What was to be done must be done before then.  The sentry was
only about thirty yards from the slab; it must be removed in absolute
silence.  Other sentries, no doubt, were patrolling the camp.  Would it
be possible to elude them?

At last all was quiet, except for the slight sounds made by the horses.
Burnet had arranged his plan.  He would take one of the Arabs with him,
leaving the other two in hiding.  If he failed to return and release
them, they were to wait until the camp was broken up and then to make
the best of their way back to the island.

It was a nerve-trying moment when the slab was gently raised from
below, and Burnet, with his head just above the hole, looked towards
the officers' tents.  He could barely see the figure of the sentry
pacing slowly to and fro.  With the silence of moles Burnet and his
Arab companion crept out of the hole, and, crawling on all fours, stole
along a few yards to the shelter of the ruined wall.  Burnet had his
revolver, the Arab only a knife.

They peered over the wall.  Three campfires burned dully below the
mound, some distance apart.  Their light was insufficient to reveal the
disposition of the bivouac.  Moving stealthily round the corner of the
wall, and sinking to the ground again, they crawled a few yards down
the slope.  A little to the right, at the foot of the mound, was a pile
of objects which had certainly not been there before.  Burnet guessed
that it consisted of the stores which had been removed from the mules'
backs.  The two men threaded their way between boxes and bales, and
continuing in the same direction, towards one of the camp-fires,
discovered the guns close under the mound on the north-east side.  Just
above them, shadowing them from the little light that flickered from
the stars, was another stack of boxes.

Burnet had expected to find a special guard set over the guns.  The
camp, however, was so small--the total number of men seemed to be about
a hundred and fifty--that the two sentries whose figures could be dimly
descried moving up and down along the outer border of the bivouac had
been deemed sufficient.  There was a tent, however, near one of the
camp-fires about a hundred yards away: it was clear that this was being
used as a guard-house, for while Burnet, lying flat, was peering into
the darkness four men came from the tent and marched northward.  The
sentries were being relieved.  In a few minutes four men returned, and
marched up the slope within twenty yards of the two figures lying there
like logs.  The officers' sentry was relieved; the sergeant came back
with the three men released from duty, and re-entered the tent.

Near another camp-fire, farther away, was a larger tent, presumably
devoted to the subaltern officers.  The men lay here and there on the
open ground.  From the sounds that reached his ears Burnet guessed that
the horses and mules were hobbled near a patch of swamp still farther
to his right.

Burnet congratulated himself on his luck in having no special guard
over the guns to deal with.  He had the average Briton's dislike of
attacking a man in the dark and at a disadvantage, and the possible
necessity of disposing of an unsuspicious sentry had been disagreeable
to contemplate.  In the absence of such a guard, everything depended on
whether he could move about without attracting the attention of the men
in the guard-tent, of the distant sentries, or of any of the soldiers
who might chance to be wakeful.

Bidding the Arab remain where he was, Burnet crawled to the foot of the
slope, and in the deep shadow there stole along to the guns.  He
discovered just beyond them, and also beneath the limbers, various
packages which from their shape evidently did not contain ammunition.
This was disappointing.  But going on a little farther, he found the
ammunition boxes stacked close under the tell, about thirty yards from
the guns.

His aim was to destroy the guns, or at least render them useless.  How
was he to achieve it?  The shells were not of much use for the purpose
by themselves: he needed combustibles.  No doubt there was plenty of
combustible material among the stores; but it would not be easy to find
it in the darkness, while the removal of it, necessitating movement to
and fro, would increase the danger of detection.  The only course
possible was to make a rapid tour of all the stacks of stores, and
finally to choose such material as seemed most suitable and most easily
carried to the spot where it was needed.

He crept first to the stores placed above the guns: these latter would
screen him from observation from the camp.  A few moments'
investigation showed that there was nothing to hope for here: the boxes
evidently held nothing but food-stuffs.  From this point he skirted the
slope, passing his Arab companion on the way, until he reached a widely
spread pile which had escaped his notice before, owing to the fact that
it rose only a foot or two from the ground and was covered with a
tarpaulin.  Lying flat, and raising a corner of the cover, he was
instantly aware of a smell of petrol, and his groping hand touched a
can.  For what purpose did the Turks require petrol?  He groped still
farther, and felt a long curved sheet of metal, in which there were
holes at equal intervals apart.  Further search discovered more metal
sheets, a number of bolts, planks of wood, other objects whose nature
he could not determine, and finally a small engine.  The explanation
flashed upon him: the Turks had brought up the sections of a
motor-boat, no doubt intended for patrol work on the marshes about the
island.

This discovery gave him a thrill of delight.  No better combustibles
could be required: here he had all he needed--if the enemy gave him
time to use it.  Taking two of the cans of petrol, he crept back to his
companion under the shadow of the _tell_.  A whispered instruction sent
the Arab to the pile to bring two more cans.  They conveyed these with
the same stealth to the guns.  While the Arab returned for more petrol,
Burnet went on to the piles of ammunition, and brought back a shell in
its case.  By the time he had completed three such journeys the Arab,
who moved more quickly, had increased the number of petrol cans placed
beneath the guns to ten.

Returning to the tarpaulin-covered pile for wood, they were alarmed by
sounds of talking somewhere in the camp.  They flung themselves flat
and lay breathless, fearing that any further movement would be
detected.  The talking continued for some time, and Burnet grew more
and more anxious.  He could not tell how long the task had occupied him
hitherto; if it were not finished before the rising of the moon all was
over.  After a trying period of suspense, however, the voices ceased.
He stole on again with the Arab, removed some of the wooden sections of
the motor-boat, and carried them back to the guns without further
disturbance.

While the Arab laid the wood over and around the three shells under the
guns and in the space between them, Burnet set about opening one of the
petrol cans.  It was stopped with a waxed cork, and the necessity of
working quietly required that he should cut the cork out bit by bit
with his knife.  This being done at last, he emptied the contents of
the can upon the heap, and laid the other cans on the top.  At this
spot all was now ready.  Determined to do as much damage as possible,
he resolved to wreck the motor-boat also beyond repair, and sent the
Arab to open another can beneath the tarpaulin, giving him a few
matches out of the single box he had with him.  The Arab was to kindle
a fire as soon as he saw the glow of Burnet's match.  Then they would
both hurry along the base of the mound and conceal themselves among the
ruins until the officers had left their tents, as they would no doubt
do when the explosion was heard.  During their absence there would be
time to release the two Arabs from the underground chamber and escape
to the south.  There was a risk of being seen in the light of the
conflagration before they gained the shelter of the ruins, but Burnet
trusted that in the excitement and confusion they would not be noticed.

Tense with anticipation, Burnet waited for the Arab's signal that he
was ready.  It came at last: so perfect an imitation of a horse's
whinny that the Turks, if they heard it, would think it came from one
of their own beasts.  Burnet struck a match, flung it into the
petrol-soaked heap, and dashed away as he had arranged.  Seeing no
answering fire at the spot where the Arab was, he was about to risk
everything and swerve in that direction when a flame sprang up, and he
saw the Arab running half bent towards him.  He learnt afterwards that
the man's first match had gone out.  Together they sprinted up the
slope towards the shelter of the ruined wall.

The camp was already roused.  Wild cries were heard: in the brilliant
glare men were seen streaming from all parts towards the two fires.  If
any of them noticed the two figures rising up the mound they were too
much startled, bemused with sleep as they were, to draw any inferences.

Burnet and the Arab had just reached the wall when the air shook and
the earth trembled with a tremendous explosion.  A few moments later
the Turkish officer, bare-headed and without his tunic, came rushing
from his tent, and ran down the slope, closely followed by the sentry.
They passed the two lurking figures within a few feet.  Burckhardt had
not yet appeared, and a sudden idea flashed into Burnet's mind.  There
was no need of further hiding.  He went quickly forward, passed between
the two colossal figures, and in the lurid glare saw the burly major
hurrying down from his tent beyond.  He was without his spectacles, and
Burnet's figure, dark against the glowing sky, might well have been
mistaken for that of a Turkish officer.

[Illustration: MAJOR BURCKHARDT IS DISTURBED]

"What--what is happening?" panted the major, in Arabic.

Burnet felt that the enemy was delivered into his hands.

"You are my prisoner, Major Burckhardt," said Burnet in English.

Utterly bewildered, the German dropped his hands to his sides, and
stood speechless, staring with his short-sighted eyes at the young
officer before him.  He was incapable of resistance; started a little
when Burnet addressed his companion in Arabic, but accompanied the Arab
meekly when the man bade him march.  Burnet lifted the slab, called the
two Arabs from below, and with them in a few minutes overtook the
prisoner and his escort.  Hurrying Burckhardt along, they crossed the
_tell_, descended the slope on the south-west side, and almost ran into
a picket of Turks who were dashing towards the conflagration.  The
whole countryside was now lit up, and the non-commissioned officer in
the rear of the group, catching sight of Burnet's uniform, shouted to
his men.  They paid no heed to his cry, and seeing himself deserted,
the sergeant redoubled his pace and followed them up.

Burnet had no doubt that, as soon as the man made himself understood in
the confusion, a party of the enemy would be dispatched in pursuit, but
he trusted that the Turks would be for a time too busily occupied to
heed the incredible report.  Still, there was need for haste.  The rim
of the moon was just thrusting itself above the horizon.  If the horses
were not reached before the pursuit began there was great danger of
being run down.

Burckhardt had now recovered the use of his tongue, and was complaining
bitterly at being compelled to trot across damp ground in his slippers
and pyjamas.

"It is contrary to the usages of war," he declared.  "There shall be an
indemnity."

"All in good time, major," said Burnet consolingly.  "You shall be
fitted out in Arab dress before long: that will be no novelty to you."

"What?  You know me, and my work, and you treat me with such indignity!"

"Well, you know, you once bundled my father, according to your own
account, ignominiously from the _tell_ of Tukulti-Ninip.  This is only
a mild reprisal."

"Who then are you?"

"I am the son of Mr. Burnet."

The German was silent.  The pace caused him to breathe heavily; but it
was his secret thoughts that provoked the sigh which presently escaped
him.

It was only about a quarter of an hour after they had left the _tell_
that they heard the thudding of galloping horses behind them.  Burnet
plunged into the nearest clump of reeds, and held his pistol to
Burckhardt's head until the pursuers had ridden past.  Then, winding
their way under the guidance of one of the Arabs through the swamp,
they continued their march until they arrived at the spot where they
had left the horses.  Mounting Burckhardt behind him, Burnet ordered
his Arab guide to lead straight for home.  They rode on in the growing
moonlight, following the route by which they had come; and as dawn was
breaking, regained the island, tired out, but well satisfied with their
night's work.



CHAPTER XVI

CLOSING IN

The story of that night's achievement, told with the usual oriental
exaggeration by the Arabs who had accompanied Burnet, evoked an
extraordinary burst of enthusiasm among Rejeb's people.  The capture of
one of the terrible Germans filled them with a childish pleasure and
satisfaction.  Major Burckhardt, it is true, did not look very
terrible.  Without his uniform he was just a fat little man; without
his spectacles he looked out dreamily upon a disappointing world.
Clothed in Arab dress, his appearance drew many a smile from Jackson
and Sturge, the machine-gunners, who, however, with the Tommy's
accustomed kindliness, did what they could for his comfort.  They gave
him half the small supply of tobacco they had with them, and one of
their pipes, smoking the other in turn.

For three or four days the Turks left the garrison in peace, except for
occasional sniping.  The non-appearance of guns seemed pretty
conclusive proof that Burnet's work had been effectual.  He wondered
whether they would send for others before resuming their attack.  That
would give probably more than a week's respite.  Would the British
relief force arrive during that time?  If not, he foresaw a very
critical situation.  The defences could not long withstand a
bombardment; moreover, the food question was always an anxiety.  Still,
he must hope for the best, and employ the quiet period in doing what he
could to strengthen the defences.

In this task the machine-gunners did yeoman service.  Acting for the
time as foremen of the works, so to speak, they assisted him in
directing the building of small redoubts along the edge of the
embankment from which he could command the stretch of water between the
island and the firm land beyond.  That an attack by water, or at any
rate supported from the water, had been contemplated was clear from the
inclusion of a motor-boat among the enemy's impedimenta.  The
destruction of the boat had rendered that for the moment impossible,
and it was unlikely, perhaps, that the Turks would have another boat to
spare.

In addition to the redoubts, he erected a long, slightly curved
breastwork behind the embankment, at such a distance from the latter
that it was concealed from the view of the enemy.  Without experience
in this sort of work himself, he relied on Sturge and Jackson, who were
learned in all that pertained to parados, traverses, and so on, and
took a great pride in the fortification which the Arabs constructed to
their plans, and still more in the fact that, though they had picked up
only a word or two of Arabic, they were able to dispense with Burnet's
assistance as interpreter after the first day.

The Turks, meanwhile, though they refrained from attacking, were not
idle.  They strengthened their bridgehead half-way along the causeway,
fencing the latter on both sides with a mud wall just high enough to
cover their movements up and down.  The wall was no doubt easily
penetrable by rifle or machine-gun bullets, but, as the Turks must have
guessed, the garrison's supply of ammunition was not sufficient to
allow them to pepper the wall at random on the chance of hitting the
men behind it.  Burnet hindered their work as much as possible by
employing some of the best marksmen among the Arabs as snipers; the
vegetation, however, that fringed the causeway formed in itself a very
effective screen to the enemy, and he feared that a good proportion of
the snipers' bullets were wasted.

Remembering the old adage that it is lawful to learn from the enemy,
Burnet was inclined to raise similar walls on his own side of the
central gap.  But he saw on reflection that if the Turks succeeded in
bridging the gap--and that was always to be reckoned with--such walls
would give them invaluable cover right up to the shore of the island.
He therefore abandoned the idea.

It was Sturge who suggested the employment of listening patrols by
night, to discover any new movement on the part of the enemy.  His
crude idea was merely to send a few picked men along the causeway as
far as the gap.  Burnet improved on this.  With Rejeb's consent he
sent, nightly, a swimmer on an inflated skin from the kelak to worm his
way under cover of the reeds as near to the enemy's walls as possible.
For three nights the scout's report was of no great value, but on the
fourth, just before dawn, he came back with the news that there was
considerable movement at the bridgehead and along the causeway, and a
good deal of bustle on shore.

Not a little surprised that the enemy, after waiting so long for guns,
had apparently decided to attack without them, Burnet at once
reinforced the small body of picked men on duty at the outwork at his
end of the gap, and sent word to the garrisons of the redoubts to be on
the alert.  The two English gunners were eager to take a part at once,
but Burnet, with wise forethought, declined to let them use their guns
or even enter the firing-line.  The enemy's intentions were not yet
disclosed.

It turned out that the warning had reached him only just in time.  When
he joined the Arabs at the outwork he saw, in the grey light of dawn,
several dim shapes on the water on both sides of the causeway, slowly
approaching the island.  In a minute or two he made them out to be
small kelaks crowded with men.  Some of them were converging on the
gap, the others were keeping a straight course for the island.

Before he had time even to conjecture what the enemy's aims might be, a
hot fusillade, no doubt intended to cover the approach of the kelaks,
broke out from behind the breastwork on the further side of the gap.
One or two of the Arabs were hit before they had obeyed his order to
lie low and hold their fire until he gave the word.  At the same moment
he sent a man back to the shore with instructions to their comrades
there not to fire until they could be sure of hitting.

As soon as the individual forms of the men on the kelaks could be
distinguished Burnet gave the order to open fire.  The range where he
stood was almost point blank, and the first volley all but cleared two
or three of the kelaks of their crews, the vessels drifting idly for a
few moments and getting in the way of the rest.  But the others crowded
on, and in spite of their losses under the continuous fire of the Arabs
they pushed into the gap, where they were partly protected by the
broken edge of the causeway.

Now Burnet seized their intention.  The kelaks jostling each other in
the gap formed a sort of pontoon, not so much below the surface of the
causeway but that the enemy could easily reach it.  The enemy's fire
suddenly ceased; then a stream of men passed from the outwork at their
side of the gap, leapt from kelak to kelak, and tried to spring over
the parapet on the nearer side.  Many of them fell before they reached
it, but their places were instantly filled, and the fight became a
hand-to-hand grapple.

Dawn had increased to almost full daylight with the rapidity
characteristic of this latitude.  Meanwhile the Arabs on shore had
already been directing a hot fire upon the crews of the kelaks
approaching them.  And now, from behind the enemy's outwork, through
embrasures suddenly opened in the mud walls, two machine-guns, one on
each side, began to play upon the shore.  The Arabs' position there
being considerably higher than the level of the water, the Turks were
able to shoot without danger of hitting their own men.  The fire from
the machine-guns and a hurricane fusillade from the opposite shore of
the channel kept down the Arabs' fire, and the kelaks drew slowly
nearer to their goal.

When the fighting at the gap became close, Burnet seized the rifle of a
fallen Arab and did strenuous work in holding the enemy at bay.  Such
of them as succeeded in clambering upon the parapet were hurled back
upon their comrades in the kelaks beneath.  But the assailants were all
sturdy Turks and stern fighters.  Fresh men were continually pouring
across the gap, and the Arabs, fight as gallantly as they might, would
sooner or later yield to the enemy from sheer weariness.  The
breastwork could not be held much longer.  Indeed, the inevitable
moment came earlier than Burnet expected, for two kelaks, propelled by
stout polemen, pushed beyond the gap, and ran close in on the side of
the causeway, the Turks upon them opening fire upon the defenders from
the flank and rear.

Burnet's little band was thrown into momentary confusion by this
unexpected attack, and several Turks gained a footing on the
breastwork.  A final effort was necessary before the position could be
safely abandoned.  Telling off a number of the men to return the fire
from the kelaks, Burnet called on the rest to support him.  With a
shrill cry they rallied, and threw themselves upon the enemy with an
impetuosity that nothing could withstand.  The Turks were forced back,
some falling upon the kelaks in the gap, others into the water.  Once
more the breastwork was clear.

Then Burnet gave the order for retirement.  The flank attack had been
beaten off; the causeway was open.  One by one at intervals of a few
yards the Arabs dashed back towards the shore.  Burnet kept a few men
with him to act as rearguard, and waited until the wounded had almost
reached the end of the causeway before he followed them up.  It seemed
that the enemy was hardly aware of what was happening, for the
retirement was not harassed until the last few men had almost reached
the bridgehead.  Then, however, the fusillade broke out again, answered
by the Arabs on shore, and one or two men, including Burnet himself,
were hit before they had gained shelter.  Burnet had already seen that
the kelaks which had headed for the shore had been driven back, in
spite of the support of the machine-guns.  The Arabs at the bridgehead
and in the redoubts had suffered very little loss, and he felt that the
honours of this first encounter were with the defence.  The Turks,
seeing that their opponents had made good their retreat, ceased fire.
They had captured the gap, but it was clear that they had to master a
further line of defences before they gained access to the island.  What
would be their next move?  Their success at the gap might give them
sufficient encouragement to push on after a breathing space and finish
the job while their blood was up and the tide seemed to have turned in
their favour.  It might prove a somewhat desperate undertaking unless
they had more artillery at their disposal than the two machine-guns
which had already been in action; but they in their turn would not
suspect that they had to face machine-guns, and they would probably
conclude that the Arabs' retirement after a short action was an earnest
of further retreat as soon as they were hard pressed.

It seemed to Burnet that a serious attack in force along the causeway
was to be expected and provided against.  Like many another subaltern
in the heroic annals of British warfare, he found himself alone, at the
head of an alien force, badly provided, and, what was worse, totally
inexperienced.  But it is in such circumstances as these that British
valour has shone forth most brightly, and British ingenuity most
thoroughly proved itself, and Burnet was to show forth those sterling
qualities which hundreds before him had evinced.

If the defence was to have the least chance of success, the rough and
hastily contrived fort at the bridgehead must be held to the last
moment.  In spite of the limited quantity of ammunition, the time had
clearly come to bring the machine-guns into action.  Burnet sent for
the two gunners, who had been itching to take their part, and told them
frankly what he expected, and how he proposed to meet the attack.

"We'll give 'em what for, sir," exclaimed Sturge, rubbing his hands.
"With Bill on one side and me on the other we'll keep that Margate pier
clear of Turks for a hundred years."

"Well, you know how many rounds you have," said Burnet.  "But I don't
want both guns in action at first.  Both might be knocked out.  We'll
keep one in reserve, in case anything happens.  The one we have in the
fort is certainly pretty well protected against anything less than a
9-pounder, but we must provide against accidents.  You can help each
other in working it.  Open fire only if the enemy make a rush along the
causeway."

Something more than two hours passed.  The enemy were seen to be
framing a practicable floating bridge from the kelaks, and Burnet
ordered some of his best marksmen to snipe them.  But they were to some
extent covered by the captured outwork, and completed their task with
very little loss.

A few minutes afterwards, the kelaks which had not been required for
the bridge emerged from both sides of the gap and approached the
island, keeping close to the walls of the causeway.  At the same time a
column of Turks streamed across the bridge, sprang over the abandoned
outwork, and rushed without making any attempt at regular formation
straight for the bridgehead.  From the shelter of their walls on the
causeway itself, as well as from their main position at the further
end, the enemy opened a heavy covering fire, to which the Arabs replied
thinly, and chiefly for form's sake, Burnet desiring to mislead the
Turks while husbanding his ammunition.

The head of the enemy column had advanced a hundred yards along the
causeway before any attempt was made to check them.  Then, however,
while they were in full career, the machine-gun suddenly rapped out its
deadly message.  The effect was like that of a huge scythe sweeping
along the causeway.  Within less than a minute there was scarcely a man
left erect between the bridgehead and the gap.  The few who had escaped
the hail of bullets flung themselves frantically into the water, and
swam for safety, some of them falling victims to rifle fire from the
flanks of the Arabs strung out behind their breastwork near the shore.

As soon as the causeway was clear, the machine-gun ceased fire.  It was
evident that the enemy was disconcerted by the check.  Their plan of
operations had taken no account of the possession of a machine-gun by
the defenders.  Some time elapsed before they made any further
movement.  Then with their own machine-guns they directed a rain of
bullets upon the Arabs, raking their position from end to end.  At the
first sound of the guns Burnet ordered his men to throw themselves
down, and all the effect produced by the enemy was the carving of
innumerable dents in the stonework, and the infliction of slight wounds
on a few men.

Trusting probably rather in the moral than in the material effect of
this miniature bombardment, the Turks launched a second attack.  Their
machine-guns were now silent, for they could not fire on the Arabs
defending the bridgehead without hitting their own men.  Again a column
of brave and gallant men surged along the causeway, springing over the
bodies of their fallen comrades, and encouraging one another with
strident shouts.  But in face of the terrible machine of man's
invention the highest human valour availed nothing.  Confined to the
narrow causeway, the Turks had no means of escape.  Once more they were
mown down, and the frenzied survivors took to the water.  Burnet
contrived to signal to the enemy that they might remove the wounded
without molestation, and for a time men were engaged in the grim work
of clearing away the traces of their defeat.

While a fight is in progress, a man has no time to think of anything
but the deadly work in hand.  It is afterwards, in quiet moments, that
he cannot but reflect on the causes of warfare, the root ideas that
develop into so terrible a harvest of pain and misery.  Burnet, with
less than a year's soldiering behind him, had not become hardened.  He
was not content with knowing that killing was his duty: he felt bound
to go a step farther back, and ask himself, was his duty right?  Amid
much that was puzzling his thoughts all converged to the same
conclusion: force could only be overcome by force.  The Germans had
elected for military force as the efficient agent of civilisation.  All
that they had done since the war began showed that German civilisation
was rotten to the core.  It was a system in which lying, low cunning,
treachery and brutality were, not tolerated, but applauded.  The
nations that cherished different ideals, or, to put it on the lowest
ground, desired to live their own lives unmolested, had either to
submit to material loss, moral degradation, the cowed and hopeless
existence of slaves, or to stand up defiantly against this monstrous
tyranny and fight it with its own weapons.  Only thus could they save
their souls.



CHAPTER XVII

RAISING THE SIEGE

Burnet felt that the checks they had suffered were not likely to cause
such tenacious fighters as the Turks to abandon their object.  The fact
that the attacks had been made by Turks and not by Halil's Arabs was
clear proof that the enemy's high command attached importance to the
capture of the island.  With ample resources in their rear it could not
be doubted that artillery would be brought up, and then the inevitable
end was a matter of a day or two, perhaps only of hours, unless help
came.  Such help had been promised, but Burnet knew well enough that
the strategic plans of the coming campaign could not be disarranged for
his benefit, and though the possession of the island was of some
importance to the security of the British left flank, it might well be
that other considerations would prevent the dispatch of a relief force.
In any case relief might not arrive in time.

Whether Rejeb would allow his men to prolong their resistance when the
odds against them became overwhelming was a question that gave Burnet
some concern.  He thought it fair to put the situation frankly before
the young chief, who was mending but slowly, and was in no condition to
take an active part in the defence.  Rejeb replied with equal frankness.

"The burden is truly heavy upon us, my brother," he said, "but we will
not cast it from our backs until there is no more hope.  What if we
should steal away by night?  Without our horses we should fall a prey
to Halil's mounted legion.  Moreover, even if I escaped alive, my name
would be evermore a reproach.  Surely it is better to fight and die
than to run and live dishonoured."

"That is well said.  With your consent, then, we will resist the enemy
to the death."

He thought of sending a messenger into the British lines with a note
relating what had happened and explaining that he could scarcely hope
to carry on more than a few days longer.  But reflecting that it would
take the man several days to reach his destination, even with the best
of luck, and that unless the relieving force had already started by
then it could hardly arrive in time, he gave up the idea.  If he had
been able to overhear the counsels of the Turkish officers he would
have found his worst fears realised.  The destruction of the guns and
the capture of Major Burckhardt had infuriated General Eisenstein, who
had dispatched a German officer from his staff to conduct the
operations, with more field-guns.

For some days the enemy's activity was limited to sniping, and to
pushing forward the walls along the island section of the causeway.
The Arabs could do little to impede them.  The work was done at night,
with the assistance of kelaks, and always under cover of as many troops
as could be concentrated on the causeway and the kelaks on either side.
An attempt to attack the wall-builders must inevitably be outflanked.
Nor could another gap, nearer the island, be made in the causeway.  The
enemy was always on the alert, and working parties of Arabs would only
have been destroyed.

Day by day Burnet saw the walls approaching the bridgehead.
Provisions, in spite of the most careful rationing, were running low;
and another action like the last would exhaust his stock of ammunition.

The walls had been pushed to within fifty yards of the bridgehead when,
early one morning, the garrison was startled by the sound of an
exploding shell.  It had burst on the embankment a few yards below the
emplacement from which the machine-gun had repelled the last attack:
the enemy was clearly ranging on that spot.  The Arabs showed signs of
nervousness, but were reassured by the broad smiles upon the faces of
the two machine-gunners.  Burnet's first precaution after the late
action had been to change the position of the gun.  Two new
emplacements, well masked, had been prepared within a short distance of
each other and connected by a shallow trench.  Before a second shell
fell, Sturge and Jackson, assisted by a party of Arabs, had removed the
gun from the threatened position to another about twenty yards away.
But Burnet realised that bombardment was the beginning of the end.

To avoid useless loss of men, he withdrew the garrison from the
bridgehead.  The defences, consisting only of piles of loose stones and
rubble, while effective against bullets, must soon be knocked to pieces
by shells, even from field-guns, and would prove only a death-trap to
men congregated behind them.  He had reason to be thankful for the
precautions he had taken when the enemy, after sending shell after
shell into the vacant emplacement until it was thoroughly demolished,
got to work on the bridgehead.  Some twenty rounds reduced this, the
first line of defence, to a mere rubbish heap.

Fortunately the enemy did not suspect the existence of the main trench
which had been dug in the rear, and was masked by the embankment on the
shore of the island.  Having destroyed the bridgehead, the Turkish
gunners began to search the embankment methodically, dropping shells at
every few yards along the front.  The embankment, consisting of deep
and closely packed mud, could not be broken down by the light shells
from field-guns; but the bombardment would have played havoc with the
defenders if, as the Turks no doubt supposed, they were extended behind
it.

As soon as their intentions became clear, Burnet withdrew the
machine-gun from the second emplacement to the third, which was well
retired from the shore and beyond the enemy's immediate objective.
This precaution turned out to be unnecessary, or at least premature,
for the bombardment was limited to about two hundred yards on each side
of the bridgehead.  Seeing that the second emplacement was outside the
enemy's present zone of fire, Burnet had the machine-gun quickly
restored to its former position.

Hitherto the Arabs had not fired a single shot in answer to the
bombardment.  Not a man of the enemy was in sight, and the guns were
far away on the mainland, completely hidden.  The Arabs, at first
alarmed by the deafening explosions and the devastating effects of the
shells, had begun to recover tone when they saw that the damage was
mainly material.  A few of them had been hit by flying splinters of
stone, but their injuries were light, and none had been killed.

At last the bombardment of the embankment ceased.  A few moments later
shells began to fall on the ruined buildings in the centre of the
island.  Anticipating this, Burnet had told the small body of Arabs
whom he was holding there in reserve what to do, and they, with Rejeb,
had already taken refuge in the deep underground chambers.

Immediately after the enemy's fire was lifted, a strong force of Turks
rushed along the causeway, being protected by the walls until they came
to the open stretch of some fifty yards.  A few succeeded in reaching
the demolished bridgehead; the rest were caught by the fire of the
machine-gun from its new emplacement.  The attack was too costly to be
maintained; the survivors were recalled; and during the confusion and
disorganisation due to this unexpected check a party of Arabs crept
down to the ruins of the bridgehead, and after a short, sharp fight
killed or captured the handful of Turks who had penetrated so far.  Two
Arabs escorted the prisoners to the rear; the others, at Burnet's
orders, took cover behind the remains of the defences, to hold them if
possible against infantry attack, but to retreat if they were again
shelled.

As Burnet expected, the Turkish gunners again changed their objective,
directing their fire upon the neighbourhood of the second machine-gun
emplacement.  The British soldiers, however, had already withdrawn the
gun to its third position.  Burnet saw clearly enough that in this game
of hide-and-seek the opponent must ultimately win; but meantime it
seemed to him the most effectual means of holding up or disconcerting
the attack and playing for time.  Sturge assured him that the enemy had
no more than two field-guns in action, as he had judged by timing their
shots; and the area of the island was large enough to give them plenty
of work before they could be assured that they had searched every
likely place for the elusive machine-gun.

This cheerful forecast was rudely belied only a few minutes afterwards.
In altering their range, the Turkish gunners dropped several shells on
the open ground between the central ruins and the embankment.  One of
these burst within a few yards of the machine-gun, which was blown off
its stand and irreparably damaged.  Sturge himself was hit by flying
splinters and thrown to the ground.  It was seen that he was unable to
rise, and since he could not be carried to the rear without being
exposed to the view of the enemy, all that could be done was to place
him in the trench until darkness gave an opportunity of removing him.

Rejoicing that he had kept the second machine-gun in reserve, Burnet
sent Jackson to fetch it from its shelter behind a pile of stones at
the extreme left of the position.  The shell that had ruined the first
had found it by accident; another had exploded in the trench and killed
or wounded several of the Arabs; but the Turks had now shortened their
range and were dropping their shells many yards nearer the shore.  The
incident, however, was very disquieting.  Luck might favour the enemy
again, or the position of the second machine-gun might be more quickly
discovered when it came into action, and it was the last reserve.
Moreover, the casualties suffered in the trench, more serious than any
that the Arabs had hitherto experienced, had had a manifestly
depressing effect on the rest of the garrison.  Burnet felt a racking
anxiety as to their steadiness when the next attack should come.

He was standing beside Jackson, who had just set up the machine-gun,
when the man suddenly swung round, exclaiming:

"Hear that hum, sir?"

The bursting of a shell drowned all other sounds, but when the rumbling
echoes had ceased, Burnet caught a faint drone far away.  He scanned
the sky all around; for about a minute nothing was to be seen; but
between the shots the humming was clearly audible, growing louder
continually.  An aeroplane was approaching: was it friend or foe?

At last a speck appeared in the eastern sky, growing rapidly larger.
It had evidently been seen by the Turks, for the bombardment suddenly
ceased: they too, no doubt, were asking themselves the same question.
As it drew nearer to the island, the aeroplane rose higher, and
presently the prolonged crackle of rifle fire from the Turkish position
proclaimed that they had recognised it as a British machine.

Hope surged in Burnet's breast.  The eyes of all the garrison were
fixed on the aeroplane.  It flew high over the island, wheeled round,
passed directly over the trench, the disdainful target of innumerable
Turkish bullets, then soared away northward.  A few moments later two
deafening explosions in quick succession shook the air, and two columns
of smoke rose in the neighbourhood of the northern end of the causeway.
The machine again turned, swept away to the east, and was soon out of
sight.  Before it disappeared, an Arab ran up to Burnet, and handed him
an object which he declared had fallen from the sky as the aeroplane
passed over, and struck the ground near him.  Tearing off the canvas
cover of the missile, Burnet found a small shell case, within which was
a slip of paper.  With leaping heart he read the message.  "A flying
column of horse is advancing up the Euphrates, and should make contact
with you to-morrow morning.  We are opening the ball.  Carry on."

Burnet tingled from head to foot.  Without a word he handed the paper
to Jackson, who, less restrained, let out a wild cheer.  Burnet told
the Arab to convey the good news to his comrades, and the air was soon
filled with a chorus of discordant shouts.  Gloominess of spirit
vanished; help was at hand; every man glowed with new courage.

It was now past midday.  Burnet was under no illusion.  News of the
British advance must have reached the Turks opposing him: it probably
explained their eagerness to rush the island before the walls on the
causeway had been completed.  It could hardly be doubted that they
would now make a supreme effort to storm the position: the garrison's
sternest ordeal was yet to come.

To Burnet's surprise, though the bombardment was kept up intermittently
by the field-guns during the rest of the day, there was no infantry
assault.  He jumped to the conclusion that they intended to attack
during the night; perhaps to make a feint along the causeway, and try
to gain the shore of the island in their kelaks.  At nightfall one
part, at any rate, of their plan was disclosed.  From the causeway came
the sounds of many men hard at work: it was clear that the enemy were
toiling with fierce energy to finish the walls that would cover the
last fifty yards of their approach.  The task could easily be completed
before the dawn, for it could not be effectually hindered; the
machine-gun was now so placed that it could not fire directly along the
causeway, but only at an angle across it, and the builders, being
protected by the walls already raised, were not likely to suffer much
loss in pushing the additions forward.

The enemy's full purpose was patent.  Covered by the walls, they would
rush the ruins of the bridgehead, debouch behind the embankment, and
trust to their superior numbers to carry the inner defences by one
overwhelming assault.  Hampered by the darkness, the garrison would be
at a great disadvantage.  Neither rifles nor machine-guns could command
the whole front of attack.  If the enemy were contained in the centre,
they had sufficient men to sweep round on both flanks and take the
defenders in the rear.

Burnet saw that there was only one means of saving the situation--of
gaining time until, with the morning, relief came.  The enemy must be
forestalled.  It was important to choose the right moment for the
counter-move.  If made too early, and defeated, it might precipitate
disaster.  If too long deferred, it might be just too late.  Leaving
judgment or chance to decide the point, he quickly made preparations.
He sent for the small reserve which had hitherto occupied the
underground chambers in the centre of the island, posted them just
behind the advanced breastwork, and dividing the rest of the garrison,
some three hundred in all, into two parties, he ordered them to steal
quietly down to the embankment, and be ready to scale it at the word of
command.

In the early hours of the morning the lessening of sounds from the
causeway seemed to indicate that the work on the walls was nearly
completed.  It was pitch dark; not even a reflection of starlight could
be seen in the water.  Burnet gave the word; the men slipped
noiselessly across the embankment, half of them on each side of the
causeway; then, no longer preserving silence, dashed into the shallows,
which extended some fifteen or twenty paces from the shore, and began
to wade towards the working party.  The Turks had only a few moments'
warning; but they made fierce resistance with clubbed rifles and
pioneer tools to the Arabs who swarmed up on each side of the causeway.
There were some minutes of bitter hand-to-hand fighting; but the enemy
were for the nonce outnumbered; they received no support from the rear;
and presently they fled helter-skelter, suffering heavy losses in their
flight from the rifle fire of their assailants.

Burnet carried the pursuit along the causeway until progress was
blocked by a traverse.  The enemy were apparently not in sufficient
strength to attempt a counter-attack until reinforced.  Taking
advantage of their inaction, which he knew could not last long, he
ordered some of his men to demolish the newly constructed mud walls,
while the remainder kept up a dropping fire.  When the walls lining the
last thirty yards of the causeway had been destroyed, he led the men
back to their entrenchments, leaving a small detachment at the ruins of
the bridgehead.

The night work of the enemy had been frustrated, but Burnet did not
flatter himself that the danger was over.  Without doubt they were
determined to capture the island before the arrival of the relieving
force, of whose approach they must by this time be well aware.  How
would the Arabs, wearied by exertions unfamiliar to them, suffering
from scarcity of food, endure the shock and strain of the crisis?

With the first lifting of the sky at dawn the field-guns began a
systematic shelling of the embankment and of the area immediately
behind it, where it was now clear to them from previous events that the
garrison were entrenched.  The Arabs, lying close under their
breastwork, suffered few serious casualties, though many of them were
bruised and grazed by fragments of stone and shell, and some were
overcome by the nauseating fumes.  Presently the guns were turned on
the ruins of the bridgehead, and Burnet at once withdrew the detachment
from its precarious shelter there.

He had scarcely done so when the storm broke.  A dense column of Turks
came rushing along the causeway.  Kelaks, one of large size, carrying a
machine-gun protected with sand-bags, swept out from the gap.  From
loopholes in the walls on the causeway the enemy poured a hot fire upon
the flanks of the defenders' position.  Numbers of Halil's Arabs swam
in the wake of the kelaks, which were approaching the island on the
side of the causeway remote from Jackson's machine-gun.  Jackson
directed his fire across the causeway, and took a heavy toll of the
horde of Turks, but failed to check the determined rush.  Finding that
the machine-gun had not been disposed of, the Turkish gunners again
searched the right flank of Burnet's position, and though they did not
succeed in hitting the exact spot where Jackson, unperturbed, was
emptying his belts of ammunition one after another, he was struck more
than once by chips and slivers of metal and stone.

As soon as the field-guns changed the direction of their fire, Burnet
called on some of the Arabs to follow him to the embankment, from which
they poured a hail of bullets upon the enemy.  In spite of losses, the
Turks and their Arab allies pressed on and penetrated to the
bridgehead.  Meanwhile some of the kelaks had reached the shore
opposite Burnet's left, and parties of the enemy swarmed up to the
further side of the embankment and established themselves there.

The enemy found it impossible to maintain their position at the
bridgehead in the centre beneath the withering fire of the Arabs under
Burnet's immediate command.  Baffled but not beaten, they too sought
shelter under the embankment on either side, and some of them, at the
extreme horn of the arc, so placed themselves that they could enfilade
the defenders.  Burnet was compelled to withdraw his men hastily behind
their breastwork.  If that was carried the whole island was at the
enemy's mercy.

There was a brief lull.  Some hundreds of Turks and Arabs had now
gained a footing on the island, and were no doubt collecting their
energies for a final overwhelming rush.  Burnet employed the interval
in doing what was possible for his wounded, and in going from end to
end of the defences, speaking words of encouragement to the men.

It was nearly two hours before the rush came.  Across the gap at the
end of the causeway, or wading through the shallows, or on the kelaks,
which had returned for reinforcements, the enemy swarmed to the assault
with exultant cries.  They were now protected by the embankment except
where the machine-gun still enfiladed them, but Jackson's ammunition
was running short, and fired less rapidly than before.  They had landed
their own machine-gun on the extreme left, and were seen hastily
cutting an embrasure in the embankment.  If they were unmolested, the
defences would soon be swept from end to end, and all would be over.

Burnet hurriedly collected fifty men, and led them straight for the
gun.  A few fell to rifle fire; Burnet himself had his rifle struck
from his hand; but they flung themselves upon the machine-gun team with
the swiftness of a tornado.  A crowded minute of fierce hand-to-hand
fighting gave them possession of the gun, and they dashed back with it,
the retreat involving more losses but not one-tenth of those that the
gun would have inflicted in a few seconds Burnet's only regret was that
he could not employ the gun against the enemy.

[Illustration: THE DASH FOR THE MACHINE-GUN]

By this time they had scrambled over the embankment and were swarming
towards breastwork.  Burnet rushed to the centre, and succeeded in
maintaining a certain fire discipline among the Arabs within sound of
his voice.  Again and again the enemy recoiled before the defenders'
fire, at point-blank range.  But reinforcements were continually
streaming up; one of the field-guns was now concentrating its fire on
the centre of the position; and the sight of comrades falling around
them severely strained the resolution of the Arabs.  Their valour,
proof against infantry attack, could scarcely be expected to endure
shelling to which no reply could be made.  If the risk of hitting their
own men had not constrained the Turkish gunners to plant their shells
well beyond them, Burnet felt that his force might soon have become
utterly demoralised.

Hurrying from point to point, now to give a heartening word to the
survivors of a shell-burst, now to direct the rifle fire where especial
danger threatened, he lost count of time and all sense of personal
risk.  His sole thought was to hold on as long as possible.  Now and
again he found himself asking, "Why don't they come?" and listening for
the shots that would announce the proximity of the relieving force.

It was nearly midday.  Burnet, on the left, was suddenly conscious that
the machine-gun had ceased firing, and saw Jackson hurrying towards him
with a rifle.

"Played out, sir," said the man.  "Fired my last round."

He had scarcely finished speaking when a bomb exploded near the angle
of the breastwork.  Immediately afterwards a strong party of Turks
swept round, dashed through the smoke, and began to bomb their way
along the trench.  The Arabs crowded back in panic.  Some swarmed out
of the trench and rushed frantically towards the centre of the island.
Burnet and Jackson, together with a few of the more stout-hearted
Arabs, fired into the advancing mass of Turks; but there was no
adequate defence against bombs, no possibility of stemming the rout.

Step by step they fell back, towards the men who, as yet unaware of the
new weapon in use against their left, were still holding the defences
with grim valour.  The Turkish bombers advanced slowly, respecting the
rifles which so steadily sped their bullets through the increasing
volume of smoke.  And now Burnet saw that another party of the enemy,
passing the end of the breastwork, was striking up across the island.
At this moment a shell burst a few yards away; he was struck below the
knee, and sank to the ground.  Jackson, smothered with earth, rushed to
his side.

"Carry on!" gasped Burnet.  "We won't give in till the last gasp."

Jackson turned about, and fired again into the advancing bombers.  The
field-guns ceased to play; only rifle fire and bomb explosions could be
heard.  Then, after a minute or two, came reports of guns again, but no
shells fell.  The blare of bugles was heard, and a few seconds
afterwards Jackson, still facing the enemy, shouted:

"By Jupiter, they're bolting, sir."

It was true.  The men who had penetrated the island were running back.
At the breastwork the Turks had suddenly dropped away, and were now
streaming along the causeway, scrambling on board the kelaks, plunging
into the water, in desperate anxiety to save themselves from the new
danger that threatened them.  The ever-increasing boom of guns away to
the west told them clearly enough what that danger was; and Jackson,
running a little way up the rising ground behind the scene of the long
struggle, soon declared that he saw the glint of sunlight on lances
above the patches of vegetation.

Rejeb's Arabs, weary though they were, sprang over the breastwork and
the embankment and dashed along the causeway in pursuit of their
retreating foe.  Many of them suffered from their own temerity, for the
Turk in defeat is still a dangerous man, and some of the fugitives
halted and turned upon their pursuers with grim ferocity.

Some hours later, Burnet, lying on a couch in Rejeb's tower, was
embarrassed by the congratulations of the colonel commanding the
relieving force.

"Thanks to you," said that officer, "we've made a bag of some five or
six hundred Turks who are now on their way to enjoy the luxuries of
imprisonment, for by all accounts they'll fare better with us than
they've been doing with their own people lately."

"Did they put up a fight, sir?" asked Burnet.

"They made a little noise until our main body came up.  Unluckily that
old rascal Halil's men got away on their horses, most of them: after
our long march our horses were too fagged to round them up.  But Halil
won't give any more trouble in these parts."

"And what of our big push, sir?"

"We've started, and one may say that Bagdad will be our next stop.
You'll be out of it, I'm afraid, young man; you'll be under treatment
for synovitis or something of the sort when we march in."

"I hope to goodness not, sir," said Burnet, pulling a long face.

The colonel smiled.

"That's the right spirit," he said.  "Well, I'll take care that the
Chief knows all about your doings here.  If the enemy had got this
position they might have worried us a good deal on our left flank.  But
I'm not sure that your friend the chief here doesn't owe you more than
we do, for it seems to me that he stood an uncommonly good chance of
being wiped out."

And later, when Rejeb and Burnet were alone together, the Arab thanked
the Englishman with all the fervour of a generous nature.

"I kiss your eyes, my brother," he said in conclusion, and Burnet knew
that no Eastern phrase more expressive of gratitude could have been
used.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE TIMELY BOMB

This is not the place, even if it were now possible, to describe in
detail the brilliant campaign in which General Maude retrieved previous
errors and disasters, and struck a blow at German aggression in the
east from which, it is to be hoped, it will never recover.  A bare
outline will suffice to bridge the gap between Burnet's last day on the
island, and the day, three months later, when, fully recovered from his
wound, he made another solitary entry into Bagdad.

On the night of December 13 the great advance, the climax of months of
the most careful preparation, began.  General Maude, by a surprise
attack, seized a point on the Hai stream some seven miles south of Kut,
and threw his mixed force of cavalry and infantry northward towards the
enemy's formidable entrenched position round that town.  About a week
later, his airmen, who had done invaluable work in scouting and in
raiding the enemy's camps, heavily bombed his ammunition dumps higher
up the river.  While one of his corps, under General Cobbe, was making
deceptive demonstrations against the fortifications at Sanna-i-Yat, on
the north bank of the Tigris, another, under General Marshall, steadily
pressed the Turks back towards the south bank; and parties of cavalry
harassed their communications between the Tigris and the Euphrates.

For three weeks more the enemy maintained an obstinate resistance to
General Marshall's pressure; then they were compelled to abandon all
their positions south of the river, and fell back beyond Kut.  It was
not until February 22 that General Cobbe's force captured the first two
lines of trenches at Sanna-i-Yat.  On that night also British and
Indian troops, after heroic efforts, forced the passage of the river at
Shumran, some ten miles upstream, and next day the fortifications which
had defied all the attacks of the troops who attempted to relieve
General Townshend were in British hands.  The immediate result was the
fall of the town which had been the scene of almost the greatest
surrender in British history.

There was no relaxation in the forward movement.  While cavalry and
airmen chased the fleeing enemy on and over the land, gunboats harried
them from the river.  Here and there they made attempts to stand, but
lost so heavily, especially in guns and prisoners, that their flight
degenerated into a stampede.  Within less than a week they had been
hunted half-way to Bagdad.  Then the rapidity of the pursuit
necessitated a halt, in order that supplies might be brought up and the
extended lines of communication secured.  This inevitable halt
prevented General Maude from destroying the Turks as a military force,
and enabled them to restore some semblance of order.

The advance was resumed on March 5, after only a week's delay.  The
Turks had had time to throw up entrenchments in more than one
well-selected position, and here they contested the ground with the
stubbornness for which they are famed.  At the Diala river, twenty
miles below Bagdad, they were massed in great strength, and fought with
courage and tenacity to prevent the British troops from crossing.  The
story of the forcing of the passage, after repeated failures and
terrible losses, by the Lancashire and Wiltshire regiments, is one of
the most heroic in our annals.

When the river was crossed, the enemy lost heart, and withdrew towards
Bagdad.  On March 11 General Cobbe occupied the railway station on the
right bank of the Tigris, and General Marshall flung his advanced
troops into the outskirts on the left bank.  Without parade or the
insolence of victors the British troops marched into the city, between
crowds of inhabitants, a mixed population with elements from almost
every race known in the East, shouting, dancing and clapping their
hands.  For the first time in history the city of Haroun al Raschid
welcomed a Western conqueror.


A few hours before this historic event, Firouz Ali, the barber of
Bagdad, came within an ace of losing his life.

When it became clear that the city must soon fall to the victorious
British forces, the Turkish soldiery, with a licence which their German
masters could hardly have exceeded, had begun to plunder the
inhabitants, among whom they were always foreigners and the agents of a
corrupt despotism.  They stripped the houses of everything valuable
that they could carry away, and with threats, blows and actual murder
extorted huge sums of money from the wealthier citizens.  Having thus
provided themselves, they crowded into the last outward-bound trains,
and left the city to its fate.

Their departure was the signal for all the ruffians of the place to
sally out of their haunts and loot the defenceless citizens.  Checked
by no authority, restrained by no scruples, they pillaged from midnight
till dawn, gutting houses and shops, sparing none who resisted them,
and even wrenching away the beds of the wounded in the Turkish hospital
from under them.

Among those who suffered in this orgy of plundering was Firouz Ali.  He
had barricaded his house and shop, but in the early morning an excited
mob forced an entrance, and in a few minutes stripped the place of
everything, sweeping even such trifles as shaving brushes along with
every portable article of value that the old man possessed.  Vigorously
protesting, he followed the looters into the street, crowded with the
dregs of the population mingled with a few Turkish soldiers who had not
succeeded in escaping, or had perhaps remained to increase their spoils.

Almost at once the cry of "Spy!" was raised.  One of the soldiers--the
sentry who had arrested Firouz Ali and his supposed apprentice--had
recognised the barber.  Resenting the reprimand he had suffered on
account of the two men, he found himself in a position to wreak
vengeance.  His cry was sufficient, in their present temper, to bring
up every soldier within hearing, and there were not a few among the
civilian rabble willing enough to spare a minute from looting to enjoy
the sport of baiting and torturing a personal victim.  Firouz Ali was
seized by the sentry, and dragged from the platform of his shop to the
road.  A dozen swords and knives, straight and curved, of many
different patterns, were whipped out, and the old man, forced to his
knees, a silent dignified figure among that wild throng, awaited a
cruel fate.

[Illustration: THE BARBER IS MOBBED]

Suddenly there was an explosion close by, that flung innumerable
fragments of masonry like falling leaves into the street, and made the
very earth tremble.  The startled mob broke apart, the group
surrounding the barber loosed their hold on him; the soldiers, who knew
what the noise meant, gazed up into the sky.  Then, with shouts and
curses, they rushed blindly this way and that, seeking doorways,
alleys, dens where they could find shelter from the dreaded bombs.

Firouz All, left alone, got up slowly and went back into his dismantled
shop.

Late that evening, after the entry of the British troops, and when
order had been restored in the town, Roger Burnet came to the house.

"Peace be with you!" said the old man, greeting him warmly.  "Surely
this is a day of deliverance, and a blessed answer to my prayers."

"You have been plundered, I see," said Burnet after returning his
greeting.  "I hoped you had escaped."

"Barely I escaped with my life.  The sword was at my throat when a bomb
fell on that very arsenal which you and I noted when we walked the city
together.  The villains were afraid, and left me, or I should not be
alive now to welcome the son of my benefactor and my friend."

Burnet felt a strange thrill.

"Those walks of ours, that plan I made over the map, were useful to us
both, my old friend," he said.  "It was I who dropped the bomb on that
arsenal, which I saw a rabble of Kurds looting.  I can never be too
thankful that I was able to do a service unawares to one to whom I owe
so much."

"Mashallah!  Surely it was the hand of God.  And I rejoice that I have
lived to see the day for which I have yearned for many years, and to
know that the son of Burnet Aga has had a part in the triumph of the
cause his father had at heart.  And now let us sit down, even among
these ruins, which are but a small price to pay for my soul's
contentment, and you shall tell me all that has happened since last I
bid you go in peace."



THE END



A FEW STIRRING ROMANCES

BY HERBERT STRANG


The Air Patrol

A Story of the North-West Frontier.

Illustrated in colour by CYRUS CUNEO.

In this book Mr. Strang looks ahead--and other books have already
proved him a prophet of surprising skill--to a time when there is a
great Mongolian Empire whose army sweeps down on the North-West
Frontier of India.  His two heroes luckily have an aeroplane, and with
the help of a few Pathan miners they hold a pass in the Hindu Kush
against a swarm of Mongols, long enough to prevent the cutting of the
communications of the Indian army operating in Afghanistan.  The
qualities which marked Mr. Strang's story, "The Air Scout," and won
extraordinarily high commendation from Lord Roberts, Lord Curzon, and
others, as well as from the _Spectator_ and other great journals, are
again strikingly displayed; and the combination of thrilling adventure
with an Imperial problem and excellent writing, adds one more to this
author's long list of successes.

"An exceptionally good book, written moreover in excellent
style."--_Times_.

"'The Air Patrol' is really a masterpiece."--_Morning Post_.



The Air Scout

A Story of National Defence.

Illustrated in Colour by W. R. S. STOTT.

The problems of National Defence are being discussed with more and more
care and attention, not only in Great Britain, but also in all parts of
the Empire.  In this story Mr. Strang imagines a Chinese descent upon
Australia, and carries his hero through a series of exciting
adventures, in which the value of national spirit, organisation, and
discipline is exemplified.  The important part which the aeroplane will
play in warfare is recognised, and the thousands of readers who have
delighted in the author's previous stories of aviation will find this
new book after their own heart.

LORD ROBERTS wrote:--"It is capital reading, and should interest more
than boys.  Your forecast is so good that I can only hope the future
may not bring to Australia such a struggle as the one you so
graphically describe."

LORD CURZON writes:--"I have read with great pleasure your book, 'The
Air Scout.'  It seems to me to be a capital story, full of life and
movement: and further, it preaches the best of all secular gospels,
patriotism and co-operation."

"We congratulate Mr. Strang on this fine book--one of the best fighting
stories we have read."--_Morning Post_.



Palm Tree Island.

Illustrated in Colour by ARCHIBALD WEBB.

In this story two boys are left on a volcanic island in the South Seas,
destitute of everything but their clothes.  The story relates how they
provided themselves with food and shelter, with tools and weapons; how
they fought with wild dogs and sea monsters; and how, when they have
settled down to a comfortable life under the shadow of the volcano,
their peace is disturbed by the advent of savages and a crew of
mutinous Englishmen.  The savages are driven away; the mutineers are
subdued through the boys' ingenuity; and they ultimately sail away in a
vessel of their own construction.  In no other book has the author more
admirably blended amusement with instruction.

"Written so well that there is not a dull page in the book."--_The
World_.



Rob the Ranger: A Story of the Fight for Canada.

With Illustrations in Colour and Maps.

Rob Somers, son of an English settler in New York State, sets out with
Lone Pete, a trapper, in pursuit of an Indian raiding party which has
destroyed his home and carried off his younger brother.  He is captured
and taken to Quebec, where he finds his brother in strange
circumstances, and escapes with him in the dead of the winter, in
company with a little band of stout-hearted New Englanders.

General Baden-Powell, In recommending books to the Boy Scouts, places
"Rob the Ranger" first among the great scouting stories.



One of Clive's Heroes: A Story of the Fight for India.

With Illustrations in Colour and Maps.

Desmond Burke goes out to India to seek his fortune, and is sold by a
false friend of his, one Marmaduke Diggle, to the famous Pirate of
Gheria.  But he escapes, runs away with one of the Pirate's own
vessels, and meets Colonel Clive, whom he assists to capture the
Pirate's stronghold.  His subsequent adventures on the other side of
India--how he saves a valuable cargo for his friend Mr. Merriman, and
assists Clive in his fights against Sirajuddaula--are told with great
spirit and humour.

"An absorbing story....  The narrative not only thrills, but also
weaves skilfully out of fact and fiction a clear impression of our
fierce struggle for India."--_Athenaeum_.





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