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Title: Gunboat and Gun-runner - A Tale of the Persian Gulf
Author: Jeans, T. T. (Thomas Tendron)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Gunboat and Gun-runner - A Tale of the Persian Gulf" ***

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[Illustration: Cover art]



[Illustration: THE _BUNDER ABBAS_ COMES UPON A LARGE ARAB DHOW IN THE
VERY ACT OF LANDING GUNS. _Page_ 105]



                              Gunboat and
                               Gun-runner

                       A Tale of the Persian Gulf


                                   BY

                   SURGEON REAR-ADMIRAL T. T. JEANS,
                              C.M.G., R.N.

              Author of "John Graham, Sub-Lieutenant R.N."
             "On Foreign Service" "Ford of H.M.S. Vigilant"
                                  &c.



                     _Illustrated by C. M. Padday_



                         BLACKIE & SON LIMITED
                           LONDON AND GLASGOW
                                  1914



BLACKIE & SON LIMITED
       _50 Old Bailey, London_
       _17 Stanhope Street, Glasgow_

BLACKIE & SON (INDIA) LIMITED
       _Warwick House, Fort Street, Bombay_

BLACKIE & SON (CANADA) LIMITED
       _1118 Bay Street, Toronto_



       _Printed in Great Britain by Blackie & Son, Ltd., Glasgow_



                               *Preface*


For many years the fierce, unruly tribes beyond the north-west frontier
of India have only been able to obtain rifles from the Arabian coast.
Arab dhows bring them across the Persian Gulf and adjacent waters, and
caravans of camels convey them to their destination through the mountain
passes of Baluchistan.

Ships of the Royal Navy and the Royal Indian Marine, armed launches
manned by officers and men lent from the Royal Navy, and ships’ armed
cutters cruise and patrol these waters from one year’s end to another,
overhauling dhows, landing men to search villages suspected of
concealing arms, and ceaselessly striving to put a stop to this trade.

My story describes the conditions of service in one of these armed
launches, and is based on actual occurrences which took place some ten
years ago.  Most of the incidents have been described to me by
participators in them.  The proof-sheets have also been revised by
officers who have themselves taken part, during more recent years, in
the suppression of "gun-running".

As a result, the story is, I trust, free from errors and
improbabilities.

T. T. JEANS,

Surgeon Rear-Admiral, Royal Navy.



                               *Contents*

CHAP.

      I. A Splendid Appointment
     II. The Story of the "Twin Death"
    III. Skipper of the "Bunder Abbas"
     IV. Adrift in a Dhow
      V. My First Capture
     VI. The Edge of Civilization
    VII. The Battle of the Paraffin Can
   VIII. Ugly Rumours
     IX. Trapping a Caravan
      X. The Fight in the "Coffee-Cup"
     XI. The Cobra Bracelet Again
    XII. Mr. Scarlett Bares his Arm
   XIII. Rounding up a Prodigal
    XIV. We Deal with Jassim
     XV. A Tragedy of the Telegraph
    XVI. The Siege of Jask
   XVII. Jassim Takes his Revenge
  XVIII. To the Rescue
    XIX. The Grey-Eyed Lady Decides



                            *Illustrations*

The "Bunder Abbas" comes upon a large Arab dhow in the very act of
landing guns . . . _Frontispiece_

The four of us tried to haul the yard and sail on board, hauling for all
we were worth

Looking through my loophole I saw a tall, fine-looking Arab peering into
the chasm beneath

Bowing in the most dignified manner to the prodigal son and ourselves,
they squatted in a circle round us



                        *GUNBOAT AND GUN-RUNNER*



                              *CHAPTER I*

                        *A Splendid Appointment*


At the time this yarn commences I was a lieutenant of four years’
seniority, a "watchkeeper" aboard H.M.S. _Russell_, longing earnestly to
see the world, but with no probable prospect of my desires being
realized.

I had been serving in the Channel and Atlantic Fleets, continuously, for
seven years—appointed from one ship to another, from a battleship to a
destroyer, from a destroyer to an armoured cruiser, and from her to the
_Russell_.  In fact, I began to wonder whether my whole naval career was
to be spent plodding round the British Islands, and the limits of my
world were to be bounded by an occasional view of the coast of France,
and a still more infrequent sight of the rugged headlands of Spain.

Then, by a lucky stroke of good fortune, my chance did at last come.

I happened to be on forty-eight hours’ leave in London, and at my club,
the "Junior", met a captain under whom I had served a year or two
previously.

We talked about our former ship, and I told him how tired I was of
sticking at home, and how anxious I was to see some foreign service.  He
jerked out, in the abrupt way he had: "Why, man, clear out!—get along to
the Admiralty!—full speed!—off you go!  I was talking to the Second Sea
Lord not half an hour ago, and he’d just heard that a lieutenant was
wanted for the Persian Gulf.  Give him my card. Why, bless my rags, I
haven’t one!" and he scribbled his name on the back of a club envelope
and hustled me out.

I found myself jumping into a hansom (there were no taxis available then
as now) and driving to the Admiralty before I fully realized what I was
about to do.

"No, the Second Sea Lord won’t see nobody," a porter at the Admiralty
told me; adding, mysteriously: "The First Lord ’as just a-been an’ sent
for him.  You ’ad better see Mr. Copeland, ’is sec-re-tary."

I always feel overawed at the Admiralty—merely being in the same
building with their "Lordships" is enough to overawe any humble
lieutenant—so I meekly followed the porter into a waiting-room, pacing
up and down restlessly till he came back again, beckoning me with a
confidential air.  "’E’ll see you, if you step this way.  ’E is in a
middling good temper this morning—ain’t ’ad many to worry ’im."

My interview with Mr. Copeland was short and sharp.

"What do you want?" he said curtly, more or less as if I was a
pickpocket or a beggar asking for a penny.

"I hear there’s a vacancy for a lieutenant in the Persian Gulf.  I’m
Martin—Paul Reginald Martin of the _Russell_, four years’ seniority next
May—and I want to go there.  My late captain gave me this for the Second
Sea Lord;" and I handed him the envelope with the pencil note: "Give
this chap the job if you can", and his signature.

The secretary glanced at it, threw it on his desk, and looked at me
suspiciously.  "Yes, yes!  I don’t know how he came to hear of it.
Collingwood, of the _Bunder Abbas_, has died of sunstroke.  Quite right!
quite right!  I’ll put your name down for her—if you wish."

"Please!" I said.

"Do you know what the job is?" he asked, as if, did I know, I should not
be so keen to go.

"Not in the least," I answered; "and I don’t mind, so long as I can get
abroad and out of the Channel Fleet."

He smiled unpleasantly.  "It’s a patrolling job, and a lonely one."

He said this as though—officially—he ought to warn me,
though—individually—he didn’t care a button whether I went or not.

That gave me some idea of the job.

"The gunner’s gone mad too.  We’ll have to send another out, I
suppose—confound him!"

I could not help smiling at the idea of a mad gunner being left there.

He cut my smile short with a sharp: "I’ll put your name down.  Good
morning!"

I backed clumsily out of the door.

"What’s the _Bunder Abbas_?" I asked the porter outside.

"The _Bunder Habbas_!" he corrected me, repeating the name to give
himself time to think.

"Something in the Persian Gulf?" I said, to aid his memory.

But he didn’t know—none of the other porters knew; so he rang up some
mysterious individual on the telephone.

"There’s a gen’l’man ’ere wants to know what the _Bunder Habbas_ his.
_Habbas—Bunder Habbas_—hout in the Persian Gulf."

He had a slight argument about pronunciation and spelling, and then
turned to me triumphantly.  "She’s a harmed launch, sir, that’s what she
his, a-looking out to stop them Arabs a-gun-running," and hastened to
answer a bell, pocketing the half-crown I gave him.

I hurried away down the corridor, and was so excited that I did not
notice my former captain until he tapped me on the shoulder.

"I’ve just come round," he said; "will see the Second Sea Lord
myself—put in a word for you—thought I might fix it up at once—good luck
to you if you get it."

"Thank you very much, sir," I said gratefully, and hurried out into
Whitehall.

"Armed launch!  Skipper of an armed launch—Collingwood dead of
sunstroke—gunner gone mad," and I grinned to myself and walked along
like a bird.

"Fancy getting away from all this!" I thought, and looked round at the
babel of traffic and the throngs of people.  Fancy getting away from the
Channel Fleet for a time!  I thought of my ship, the _Russell_, lying
under Portland Bill, with other huge grey monsters; and thought of the
tense readiness for war aboard them, and the strain of it, month after
month.  In a few weeks, with luck, I might be three thousand miles away,
patrolling the Persian Gulf—free as air—with a good launch under me, and
probably a 4.7-inch gun in her bows, ready to tackle any gun-running
Arab dhow which came along. Prize money, too—there’d be a chance of that
as well.

It was grand.

Collingwood, poor old Collingwood—I’d known him in the _Britannia_—dead
of sunstroke, and the gunner gone mad!  That didn’t sound as if the job
was exactly a bed of roses.  But Copeland had put my name down—the die
was cast; I didn’t mind if the whole crew had died of sunstroke and
plague combined.  I rather hoped that they had, and that any other chap
who applied for the _Bunder Abbas_ would—well—feel a little less keen
about her when he heard.

I didn’t notice the rain or the mud splashed on my trousers from the
roadway.  I could have whooped with joy.

All these silly clothes my tailor bothered to make tight here or loose
there, to show more or show less of the waistcoat, as silly fashion
changed—why, with luck, in a month’s time, a pair of flannel trousers
and a cricket shirt would be all the wardrobe I should want.  I’d be my
own skipper, with a dozen blue-jackets, and a stout launch under us;
that 4.7-inch gun—or perhaps it would be a twelve-pounder—shining in the
bows under the awning.  Wouldn’t it shine, too!  There’d be nothing much
else to do but burnish it, and burnished it should be till I could shave
by it.

All that afternoon I waited patiently at the club for the evening paper,
and directly the waiter brought it into the smoking-room I pounced on
it.

Sure enough, under "Naval Appointments" was my name—"Paul R. Martin
appointed _Intrepid_" (she was one of the cruisers on the East Indies
Station) "for armed launch _Bunder Abbas_".

I gave a shout of delight, which rather startled some old fogies there;
and a man sitting near—a naval doctor whom I knew slightly—laughed at
me, wanting to know what was the matter.

I pointed out the appointment.

"Look at that!  Isn’t that grand?"

"_Bunder Abbas_," he said, as we lay back in the luxurious chairs—they
really did feel comfortable now that I was going out to the waste parts
of the world. "That was Collingwood’s launch.  What’s become of him?"

"Died of sunstroke," I told him.

"Really, now?" the doctor went on; "he’s only been there three months.
I knew him slightly; he relieved a chap who had beri-beri, or one of
those funny tropical diseases—sometimes you swell, sometimes you do the
other thing.  I forget now which he did before he was invalided home.  I
did hear; it was quite interesting.  So you’re off there?  Well, good
luck!  Are the ’footer’ results in that paper?

"D’you want any tips for the Persian Gulf?" he asked presently, when he
had finished reading the football news.  "Whatever you like to eat,
don’t eat it.  (You can’t get it, so you needn’t bother to remember that
tip.)  And if you want gin or whisky, or any comforts like that, chuck
them over the side: they may kill the sharks; they won’t kill you.  In
fact, my dear chap, whatever you like doing and want to do, there’s only
one tip to remember if you want to keep fit—don’t do it!

"If you get beri-beri," he called after me as I fled, "you might let me
know whether you swell or do the other thing."

I packed my bag, not in the least disturbed by anyone’s gloomy remarks,
and went back to my ship at Portland.

My orders came next day.

I was to take passage in a P. & O. mail steamer, sailing in twelve days’
time (a luxury I never expected), and join the _Intrepid_ at Aden, where
further orders would be given me.

A fortnight later I was tumbling and churning through the "Bay" in the
P. & O. _Java_, as happy as a king, without a care in the world.

A lieutenant named Anderson shared my cabin. He was going out to join
the _Intrepid_ as one of her watchkeepers.  As, but for him, I should
probably never have survived to write the account of what happened to us
later on, I will give an idea of what kind of chap he was.  First of
all, he was known to his chums as "The Baron" or as "Baron Popple
Opstein", though why these nicknames ever stuck to him I don’t know.

He was a great lumbering, clumsy giant, with a long red face, a big
hooked nose, and a large mouth, always smiling, and showing the whitest
set of teeth I have ever seen.  He had laughing blue eyes, which saw
everything except people’s faults, and a mop of yellow, silk-coloured
hair which grew down his great red forehead in a quaint triangular patch
pointing to his nose.  His whole face beamed good humour and kindliness;
he was the simplest, happiest soul alive—one of those men with whom it
is good to live.  He never did much talking, and never wanted anyone to
talk much to him; but would sit smoking his old, disgracefully charred
pipe, and beam by the hour, just happy to have the dancing sea under his
feet and the fresh salt air in his lungs.  He really was a
splendid-looking fellow, but by some odd twist in his mind imagined he
was ugly.  This made him rather retiring and bashful.  He would sooner
try to stop a mad dog than be introduced to a lady.  "My dear old chap,"
he would say, if I wanted to introduce him to one of the lady
passengers, "what on earth can I talk to her about?  She doesn’t want to
hear about scrubbing hammocks, or the gunnery manual.  I can’t think of
anything else to talk about."

The result was that we both kept pretty much to ourselves, and amused
ourselves watching the others.

There was a major on board going out to India—a fussy, conceited
individual who imagined that all the ladies must be head over heels in
love with him.  He tried to patronize us, but we gave him the cold
shoulder, and so did a little pale-faced, rather nice-looking girl about
twenty-two, with hair the very same shade as the Baron’s.  She was not
English—I could tell that by the way she talked—and she kept almost
entirely to herself.  I never spoke to her during the voyage, but once I
overheard her snub the major in broken English, in the most deliberate,
delightful manner, and as he went away, with a silly expression on his
face, our eyes met.  There was such an irresistibly humorous twinkle in
hers that I smiled too—I really could not help it.  At that her smile
died away, as if ashamed of itself, her pale face flushed, and I
followed the major, feeling like a naughty boy who had been caught
prying.

At Port Said we picked up Mr. Thomas Scarlett—Gunner, R.N.—serving in
the _Jason_, which was doing guardship there.

I had seen his appointment to the _Bunder Abbas_ in the newspapers, and,
as we should have to live together for the next two years, I was anxious
to know what manner of man he was.

He certainly looked a queer chap, tall and thin, with stooping
shoulders, bushy black eyebrows meeting across his forehead, two
piercing black eyes deeply sunk beneath them, a beaked nose over very
thin tight lips, and the blackest of hair, moustache, and pointed beard.
He looked very much like a vulture, with his long thin neck stretching
out from a low collar, much too large for him.  When he talked, the
words tumbled out, one after the other, so quickly that, until one
became used to him, it was difficult to understand what he said.

We soon found out that he had been in the Persian Gulf many times in the
course of the last few years, so Baron Popple Opstein and I used to take
him along to our special corner on deck, and ask him questions.  He gave
us the impression that he did not wish to go out there again, and
whenever he talked of the Persian Gulf and of his former experiences
there he seemed nervous and very ill at ease. But, once we made him
talk, his stories of pirates, pearl-fishers, slavers, and gun-runners
were as absorbing as one could wish.  Old Popple Opstein’s face would
grow purple with excitement.  Mr. Scarlett, too, would often work
himself into a great pitch of vehemence as he told some especially
thrilling yarn.

"You might be an Arab yourself," I said one night, when he had brought a
story to a climax, leaving us breathless and fascinated with his
glowing, fiery description.

"I am almost, sir," he said.  "My father was the constable of the
Residency at Bushire, and my mother was half-Arab."

That explained his dark complexion, and why, in the middle of a yarn, he
would often slide off his chair and sit Moorish fashion—cross-legged.
He could always talk more easily in that attitude.

Ever since he had joined the Navy he had served, off and on, in the
East, his knowledge of all the languages and different dialects of those
parts, picked up when he was a boy, being so useful.

One night, four days out from Suez, we were making him tell us all he
knew about gun-running.  It was very warm, damp, and unpleasant, so he
took off his coat.  In doing so he happened to pull the shirtsleeve of
his left arm above his elbow.  By the light of a lantern overhead we saw
something glittering round his arm.  My chum peered forward to look at
it, but the gunner hastily pulled his sleeve down.

"What the dickens is that?" we both asked.

First glancing fore and aft, to see that no one was near, he very
reluctantly pulled up his sleeve.

He held his arm so that the lantern light fell upon it, and we saw that
the thing round his arm was a small snake, marvellously enamelled—a
cobra it was. The joints, even each separate scale, seemed flexible, and
as he worked his muscles underneath it the snake seemed to cling more
tightly to his skin, in the most horribly realistic fashion.  Two
greenish-tinged opal eyes blinked at us as the light overhead flickered
in them.

The Baron leant forward to touch it, but Mr. Scarlett, with a sudden
look of horror, shot out his right hand and clutched the Baron’s hand so
violently that he cried out.

"Don’t touch it, sir!  For God’s sake, don’t touch it.  There’s poison
enough in that thing to kill a dozen men!" he gasped fiercely.

"What is it—what do you mean?  Tell us!" we cried.

Some passengers coming along the deck, he instantly covered it with his
sleeve.

"I generally wear a bandage over it," he said nervously.  "The night was
so hot that I took it off."

"Well, tell us about it," we urged him.  "Where did you get it?"

"Jassim gave it to me," Mr. Scarlett answered, his black eyes burning
strangely as he looked round to see that no one could overhear him.
"I’ll tell you when and how that snake came here.  It’s a long story—and
a sad one.  When you have heard it you will know why I do not want to go
back to the Persian Gulf.  But, for God’s sake, sirs, don’t ever mention
it to a soul!"

We promised—we would have promised anything to learn its story.



                              *CHAPTER II*

                    *The Story of the "Twin Death"*


"It was nearly thirty years ago when I first saw that bracelet," Mr.
Scarlett began in a strained voice. "I was only a boy then.  It was
brought to my father’s house, at Bushire, by a Banyan jeweller—a friend
of his—who showed it to him as one of the most marvellous and curious
pieces of workmanship in the East.  I remember how frightened I was to
hear the stories he told of it, and to see them examining it.

"When the jeweller had gone, my father, who knew its history, told me
that, when it was pulled off the arm which wore it, it would writhe and
strike with the poisoned fangs in its head, and kill both the wearer and
the person who tore it off.

"There is an Arab song, nearly two hundred years old, which sings of it.
The song is about the woman who first wore it.  She was the favourite
wife of a murdered Sultan of Khamia, and fell alive into the hands of
his Persian conqueror.  He wanted to marry her because she was so
beautiful, and she dared him, if he would win her, to tear the bracelet
off her arm—dared him in front of his Court—and he was so mad with love
that he did so, although he knew what would happen.  The snake struck
them both, and they died.  In that Arab song she is supposed to sing
several verses after the fangs struck her, but," Mr. Scarlett’s voice
trembled hoarsely, "I know that she had not time."

"You don’t mean to tell us that this is the same one?" the Baron asked
breathlessly.

"It is, sir.  I wish it wasn’t."

"But how did you get it?" he asked again.

"Let the gunner spin his yarn," I told him impatiently.

"Well," he went on, "it has always been worn by the chief wife of the
Sultan of Khamia.  It is her privilege to be the only wife who follows
her husband at his death.  She had to kill herself by tearing it off her
own arm, and if her courage failed her a slave stood by to do it, and
the two would die.  The slave was not likely to fail her, for to die by
’the twin death’ was supposed to be a sure way of attaining Paradise,
and not many slaves ever thought that they would have the chance to get
there.

"Some of this my father told me, and the rest, and many other things
besides, I learnt afterwards from the Arabs up and down the coast.

"I saw it next eight or nine years afterwards.  I was an ordinary seaman
in a gunboat lying off Muscat, and, happening to be ashore one
afternoon, with nothing to do, I noticed that there was quite a crowd of
natives gathered on the shore.

"They told me that the Sultan of Khamia was just going to embark on his
way to Mecca, so I stopped to see him, knowing that he was the worst
brigand and pirate in the whole of the Gulf, and wishing to see what
kind of chap he was.

"Presently he came down with a crowd of attendants to guard him—a
fine-looking fellow he was—and after him followed some hooded cages or
palanquins.  Inside these, hidden from view, were, I knew, his favourite
wives, accompanying him as far as Jeddah.  Out of the first stretched a
beautiful arm, and on it was that snake bracelet.

"I half expected to see it, and recognized it at once.  You should have
seen that crowd of natives give way and fall back.  Everyone knew what
it was, and what it meant.  They edged away as if it was the devil
himself.

"The closed cages were taken on board a lighter; the lighter was towed
out to a little steamer rolling in the mouth of the harbour between the
two old Portuguese forts, and I soon forgot all about the bracelet.

"Five years afterwards fate brought me to the Gulf again.  I was a petty
officer in the gunboat _Pigeon_ then, and everywhere we went we heard
the name of Jassim, the now Khan of Khamia—the absolute despot of the
south-western part of the Persian Gulf, the head of the Jowassim tribes
of slavers and pirates, and the terror of the seas.  Not a dhow dared
leave any port without first paying tribute to him, and the tales of his
atrocities made our blood boil with rage; because he was not satisfied
with being master of the Gulf, but he’d swoop down on coast towns,
demand tribute from them, and, if there was any resistance—even
hesitation in paying—he would kill every man, woman, and child in ways
so callously brutal that you could not imagine a human being capable of
inventing them.

"His latest exploit had been to capture the whole fleet of pearl-fishing
dhows and trading baggalows[#] inside Muscat harbour.  He filled them
with his rascally followers—Bedouins chiefly—and thought himself strong
enough to tackle the English.


[#] Baggalow=large ocean-going dhow.


"We soon heard that he was preparing to seize the pearl-fishing dhows
which were then fitting out at Bahrein—under the English flag and the
English guns of the fort there—to sail for the pearl banks, down south.

"The _Pigeon_ and the old _Sphinx_ were therefore ordered to search for
Mr. Jassim and teach him a lesson.

"Well, after dodging in and out of the bays in that rocky coast, shoving
our nose in, finding nothing, and shunting out again, we found him, one
morning, anchored at the head of a shallow bay with all his fleet.

"Four hundred and twenty-two dhows we counted, their sloping masts and
yards showing up like a forest against the shore.  Every one of them was
flaunting the red flag with a white border, the flag of the Jowassims.
The whole place was a-flutter with them.

"At the top of the bay Jassim had built himself a fort, and lived there,
we found out afterwards, in great style, with his harem, sheikhs’ sons
to wait on him, gold plates to eat off, and everything simply tiptop.

"Four hundred odd dhows were there, manned for the most part by
dare-devil Bedouins, with a fair sprinkling of Beni Ghazril, Ballash,
and Ahmed tribes—all low-caste tribes not too keen on fighting. Armed
they were with old smooth bores—nine-pounders, there or thereabouts—and
the little _Pigeon_ was equal to taking on the lot if she could only
have fetched in close enough; which she couldn’t, as she drew too much
water.  We had to anchor five miles away from these dhows—five miles if
a yard.

"Out came a sheikh or a khan—some big swell—to say that Jassim was only
waiting for a change of wind to come out and eat us up.  As it was
blowing a steady shamel (you two gentlemen will know what that is before
you’ve been out here long), blowing right into the bay, and not likely
to ease down for two or three days, we didn’t trouble about them trying
to escape.  Well, the skipper sent that sheikh chap back with a flea in
his ear, and presently Jassim himself came along in a grand barge,
flying the Turkish flag—like his cheek!—and as cool as anything comes up
the side and gives our skipper two hours to clear out of it.

"The cheek of the man amused the skipper, who merely took him aft into
his cabin, kept him there for two hours, talking and drinking coffee,
showed him his watch and that the two hours had gone by, told him he
would have hanged him had he not been flying the Turkish flag, and sent
him back to his fleet.

"The tide rising presently, we chanced our luck and moved in a bit
closer.  Directly we moved, those dhows, hundreds of them, let rip at us
with their old pop-guns, the shot plunking into the water half-way, and
not even the ’ricos’ reaching us.

"That was just what the skipper was waiting for. He opened fire with our
four-inch guns, keeping it up from four o’clock that afternoon till six,
and setting a good many of the dhows on fire.  Just before the sun went
down, along came the old _Sphinx_, paddling furiously, and chipped in
with her old-fashioned guns, till neither of us could see a thing to aim
at, except flames occasionally.  The whole bay was a mass of smoke from
the dhows we had set on fire with our shells.

"It was a fine sight as the sun set behind the great mountains inshore,
and the dark shadows of them came racing across the plain and the
harbour, showing up the flames still more brightly.

"If you ever cruise along that coast don’t miss that sight—the sight of
those shadows as the sun sinks behind the mountains," Mr. Scarlett
interrupted his yarn to tell us.

"Well, all that night we and the _Sphinx_ fired occasionally to keep the
Arabs’ nerves on edge, and made all ready to send in every boat we
possessed, at daybreak, to see what we could do.

"That was the longest day’s work I ever did, and the worst—the worst,"
Mr. Scarlett hissed out, apparently waking up and altering his voice, as
if he had been somebody else telling the yarn before, or as if he had
suddenly turned over a fresh page in a book he was reading, remembered
the terrible ending, and wanted to shut it up.

The Baron and I almost jumped out of our chairs.

"Yes, the worst.  My God! it was the worst."  He jumped to his feet,
looked ashamed of himself, sat down, and went on to tell us in a
strained voice, as though the ending was too terrible, how the crews of
the _Pigeon_ and _Sphinx_ had pulled ashore in their boats, like midges
round a horde of elephants.  He said that two of the bigger dhows,
placed end on end, would be nearly as big as the _Victory_.

We did not believe him.

He told us how, as one boat would clap alongside a huge towering dhow,
her demoralized crew would clamber down the other side to their boats or
jump overboard.  The bluejackets had brought tins of paraffin, with
which they set on fire each dhow they boarded, adding still further to
the terror and disorder, until the crews of all those four hundred odd
junks abandoned them and clustered at the edge of the shore, behind the
walls of Jassim’s fort, shouting bravely and shooting off their crazy
rifles in defiance.

So the bluejackets left off their work of destruction, the boats pulled
ashore together, the men wading as soon as their keels grated on the
beach, whilst the Nordenfeldts and Gardner guns in their bows fired
point-blank into the demoralized crowd of Arab scum. There must have
been fifteen thousand of them on the beach; but panic broke out among
them, and they melted away from the shore and from the fort, scurrying
away inland in front of that handful of bluejackets until they had taken
refuge in the defiles and crevasses of those barren mountains, where (as
Mr. Scarlett told us) you could hardly believe it possible for a goat to
live, but where they sought shelter like frightened sheep.

When he had come to this point Mr. Scarlett paused a little, as if he
was reluctant to go on.  Then he started again hurriedly:

"And we came back, very slowly back, panting, our feet red-hot and our
tongues swollen with thirst, the blazing sun on our backs.  And we found
Jassim squatting on his prayer mat on the sloping shore, his back turned
to the sea and his burning ships, his face turned to the sun.

"A woman crouched at his feet.

"These two were alone, the only living things there; no other human
being had stayed with him; she alone of all his harem and his people
remained to share his fate.  I was sent for to act as interpreter; and
our skipper—a tender-hearted man—had pity on Jassim now that his power
was absolutely broken, and gave him the choice of coming on board or
staying where he was.  Jassim chose to stay, answering proudly and
defiantly, as though he was still lord of a powerful fleet, or as though
his spirit was not broken.  Then it was that I saw this hateful snake
for the third time—it was on that woman’s arm."

Mr. Scarlett’s voice began to tremble, and as he coiled cross-legged on
the deck, and put his hands to his forehead, we could see his dark,
burning eyes gazing outboard, across the deck and the deck rails, to
where the sea and the blackness of the night sky met each other, a dark
rim beyond the moonlit sea surrounding the ship.  His face was haggard
and drawn, as if he saw what he was about to tell us.

"Yes, he was there!  Jassim was there, his head bowed beneath a coarse
burnous[#]; and whilst the rest of us went away to loot the fort and
destroy the guns, a seaman and myself were left as guard on those two.


[#] Burnous = loose Arab cloak.


"I spoke to him in his own tongue, told him to cheer up, that his luck
was ’out’ now, but that it was fate, and a better time would come.  He
seemed not to hear; he just sat gazing at the sun as it sank lower and
lower towards the rim of the mountains, where all his men had
disappeared; and his wife crouched moaning before him, putting a hand
out now and again to touch him, just to remind him that she was there
and suffering too.  Presently she bared her left arm, and moaned to him
not to allow himself to fall into the hands of the infidel, but to seek
Paradise and take her with him, holding out her arm with the snake
coiled round it, imploring him to pull it off and set them both free.

"Jassim never answered her, never looked down at her, never moved a
muscle of his face, and never looked at that bracelet.

"But the sight of it was too much for the seaman left on guard.  Poor
fool!  he thought it would be a fine curio, and before I could stop him
he strode forward, bent down, and seized it.

"The woman gave one shriek of agony as he pulled it from her arm, and
with an oath I saw him throw it down in the white sand, where it coiled
and writhed, whilst he looked at the back of his hand and wiped away two
tiny spots of blood.

"’Suck them, for God’s sake, suck them!  The thing’s poisoned!’ I
yelled, and, springing to the woman, bent down and sucked two little
marks on her arm just below the shoulder.

"Jassim never moved an eyelash.

"The woman jerked herself from me as if the touch of an infidel defiled
her, and as if she courted death. She had scarcely dragged herself again
to her knees before she began to writhe with pain, and her arm became a
dusky swollen purple, spreading upwards over her shoulder as I watched.

"The seaman, cursing, was staggering down to the sea, but swayed and
fell half-way, rolling convulsively, clawing at the sand and jerking
himself towards the edge of the water.

"I could do nothing for either, and I could not take my eyes from that
woman.  She was appealing to Jassim to make the snake kill him, so that
they should not be separated, and she implored him to hold her, so that
she could die in his arms.  Never a muscle did he move; and she cried
piteously for him to look at her, just one look.  But Jassim would not
look at her.  Her face was dusky now, her swollen tongue came out of her
mouth, and in her agony her pride was broken, and she asked me for
water.  It was the last word she spoke, poor soul!  I had some in my
water bottle, so knelt down and held it to her lips.  But she could not
drink, so I poured a little into her mouth and over her face.  Her dark
eyes, dark as velvet they were, gave me one dumb look of gratitude; then
the life went out of them and she was dead.

"As I knelt, Jassim must have stooped down and picked up the gold snake,
for he suddenly flicked it round my arm, saying in a deep guttural
voice: ’Blessed is the giver of water—above all men. Allah, the great,
the compassionate, gave water to those that burned in Hell, even as thou
gavest! Thy reward shall be great; only become a true believer, for this
is the key of Paradise.’

"I jumped to my feet, half-dazed, and dared not touch the thing as it
clung to me, snuggling tightly round my arm.

"The woman was dead.  I ran to the sea; the bluejacket’s body was moving
gently as the tiny waves rolled in.  I knew that he was dead, and I
turned to implore Jassim to take it off if he knew how to do so without
killing me.

"As I turned, the lower edge of the sun touched the top of those awful
mountains, and Jassim, crouching on his prayer carpet, a little patch of
red on the sloping white beach, with the dead woman in front of him,
suddenly raised himself to his knees, held wide his hands, and called:
’Allah ho Akhbar’, as though summoning the faithful to prayer and his
contemptible followers back to him.

"Then he prostrated himself, and, raising himself again, commenced:
’Bismillahi!  Rahmanni! Raheem!’ whilst I stood awed as he recited the
prayer, till the upper rim of the sun disappeared, and those dark
shadows came again down the sides of the mountains and along the waste
of sands, rushing like evil spirits towards us....

"The first lieutenant was at my side shaking me.  He had his hand on the
snake, as if to take it.

"’What the devil do you mean by looting?’ he said; but I gave a shriek,
and sprang away, striking up his hand.

"As I retreated backwards, step by step, I told him what had happened.
He did not believe me; he thought me mad—that I had a ’touch of the
sun’. But he let me be, presently, and I covered that thing up with the
sleeve of my flannel as best I could—and found myself back again on
board the _Pigeon_. Perhaps I was mad, for I could never remember how I
did get aboard, and I was on the sick list for many days, lying in a
cot, covering the snake with my free hand, and moaning for people to let
it be—so they told me afterwards."

The gunner stopped talking, breathed heavily, and wiped his forehead.

He began speaking in his ordinary composed way:

"Since then, thirteen years ago—aye, thirteen years it is next June—an
unlucky year—that thing has coiled round my arm and never left it."

My chum’s eye had been gradually starting more and more out of his head.

Now he gasped out:

"Never!  Do you really mean it?"

"No, never," Mr. Scarlett groaned.

"But, man, a pair of long pincers seizing the head and neck and sliding
a sleeve of thin tin or something like that underneath—next your
skin—why, there are heaps of ways you could get it off—safe ways—if you
really wanted to do so."

"Don’t you think I’ve been tempted, sir; dozens of different ways have
been suggested.  All seemed safe, but there was just the chance that the
thing would strike somewhere—and—and—I’d seen those two die, and put off
trying for another day, till now I’m almost used to it.

"Look," the gunner said, pulling up his shirt sleeve and holding out his
arm so that the moonlight showed the snake.  "Watch its head!" and he
very softly began to push one finger underneath a coil.  As he did so,
the head began to raise itself from his skin, and a tiny dark line, not
visible before, showed across the end where the mouth was.

"Stop!" we both cried, perspiration pouring from me and running down my
back, the Baron’s mouth wide open with fear.  "Take your finger away."
And he uttered a hoarse, gasping laugh as he knew that at last we were
convinced.  He drew back his finger, and the head lay back again.

"Now you can guess why I don’t want to come back to the Gulf.  This
bracelet is known to every Arab there.  The Sultan of Khamia is certain
to find out, sooner or later, that I have it, and then there will be an
end to me.  Why, sirs, he would give half his wealth to get it back, and
once it becomes known that I have it he will get it somehow or other.
Getting it, I must die."

"Man alive," the Baron cried, "why don’t you try? A thin sheet of tin or
something pushed under it, then seize the head with pincers!  Why, man,
it simply couldn’t bite you!  There’d be no risk whatsoever."

"But I can’t," Mr. Scarlett almost moaned.  "I can’t face it.  If
anything did happen—I’ve seen those two die—remember that.  It seems
part of me now—thirteen years it has been there—and I’ve been brought up
amongst Arabs—my mother was half an Arab, and there’s something in my
blood which won’t let me try.  It’s fate—Kismet—and I dare not fly in
face of that."

The Baron fell back in his chair hopelessly.

"Then why didn’t you back out of coming here? Why didn’t you explain?" I
asked.

Then his manner changed again.  He had come out of his dreams, and began
talking hurriedly as if his lips were shaking.

"Truth is, gentlemen, I’m a born coward.  I was too frightened to let on
that I was frightened of coming out this way again.  It’s the same thing
with many things I do.  I’m too frightened to let on as how I’m
frightened, and up to now things have gone all right.  I’m a coward,
sir, and I don’t mind telling you," he said, turning to me.  "We have to
live together for the next two years—if I’m spared—and you’ll find that
out before you’ve known me many weeks, so you may as well know now.
Feel my hand, sir!"

I felt it.  It was cold and clammy and trembling. His dark face looked a
ghastly mud colour.

"That’s simply because I’ve been talking about it, and it reminds me of
things which have been—and might be again."

"Come down below and have a brandy-and-soda," I said, and we took him
down below, rather glad to get into the noisy glare of the smoking
saloon, even though it was so hot.

We always slept on deck, the Baron and I, but that night, whether it was
the heat or the effects of the gunner’s story, precious little sleep did
we get; so, after tossing about restlessly for an hour, we gave up
trying, and leant over the deck rails and talked.

"I’m sure it would be as easy as winking," my chum said.  "One could
lash wire or even string round its head, so that the mouth could not
open. The fangs couldn’t come out then.

"I wonder what became of that man Jassim," he broke in presently.  "He’s
probably dead, so no one could possibly know that the gunner has it.  If
he keeps it covered up he will be as safe as anything."

He gazed out over the sea, thinking.

"And probably what poison is left in it wouldn’t kill a canary now," he
burst out again—neither of us could take our minds off the snake.
"Thirteen years ago!  It must have lost its power by now."

We went to our beds after a time and tried to sleep. Baron Popple
Opstein was soon snoring, but presently jumped up, shrieking, and I saw
him trying to pull something off his arm.

I shook him until he woke up, very much ashamed of himself.  He was
perspiring like a drowned rat, and it made me feel queer and shaky.  I
did not like the mystery of the beastly thing.  I had to live with the
gunner and it.  If he was going to fill me up with many more such
stories, I should soon be frightened of my own shadow.



                             *CHAPTER III*

                    *Skipper of the "Bunder Abbas"*


Two days later we arrived at Aden, and found the _Intrepid_ anchored
close to Steamer Point, looking cool and comfortable under her white
awnings and white paint.  The officer of the "guard", coming across for
her mails, took the Baron and myself back with him.

As skipper of the _Bunder Abbas_ I felt a somewhat important personage,
but Commander Duckworth, the captain of the _Intrepid_, a short,
red-faced, wiry man, full of energy, soon disabused me about that.

It was terrifically hot in his cabin, and he was not in any mood for
talking.

"Eh, yes, Martin—you are Martin, are you?—so you’ve come to take poor
Collingwood’s job.  I won’t shake hands—too hot.  Well, passages have
been booked for you and your gunner in that steamer," pointing to a
disreputable little steamer I could see through the gun port.  "She
leaves to-morrow morning at daylight.  You will go aboard her to-night.
We lent Wilson, one of our fellows, to the _Bunder Abbas_, until you
came.  You’ll find him at Jask—only too anxious to see you, I expect.
You’ll take her over from him, and the boss at the telegraph station—a
kind of political agent—will pass on any orders to you.  You are, more
or less, lent to the Indian Government, you know."

I did not know, but that was nothing.

His letters were brought in then, and he nodded for me to leave.
However, I was so fearfully keen to learn more that I blurted out:

"Any chance of picking up a dhow or anything like that, sir?"

"Of course there is always a chance," he said energetically.  "Wilson
will tell you all about everything: good morning!"

I went away to the ward-room, hoping to get more information there; but
the place was a litter of newspapers, and everybody was busy reading
letters and paid little attention to me.

"_Bunder Abbas_.  What size is she?"

"Oh, about as big as that table!" was all that I could get out of them.

The Baron and I parted company that afternoon, when I went aboard the
little steamer—the _Ras-al-Musat_. I found the gunner already there, and
also that solitary little lady, with the yellow hair and humorous grey
eyes—the little lady who had snubbed the fussy major—and me.  She also
was bound for Jask, of all places in the world, and, as at meal times
she sat on the captain’s right and I on his left hand, we had to talk.
However, she was much more interested in Mr. Scarlett and his stories of
Arabian life than in me.

At daybreak of the fifth morning we dropped anchor two miles off Jask,
and I strained my eyes to catch a first glimpse of the _Bunder Abbas_,
though in the hazy light I could not distinguish her amongst a cluster
of dhows, anchored close inshore.  All I could see was a wide sweep of
yellow sand and a low-lying peninsula, jutting out into the sea, with
some glaring white square buildings at its end.

The place—if it really was an inhabited place—seemed absolutely asleep,
until, presently, some small, crazy lighters, full of jabbering natives,
came slowly off to unload whatever cargo we had for them.

Half an hour later I spied a tiny little tub of a dinghy pulling our
way.  As she drew closer I saw that Wilson was in it.  I had known him
when he was a sub-lieutenant, and I met him at the gangway.

"Jolly glad to see you," he burst out.  "Everything’s all right aboard
the _B.A_.  I’ve ordered a chunk of goat for your breakfast—couldn’t get
anything else.  I told the political chap, up at the telegraph station,
that you’ll be coming to see him. He will tell you anything you want to
know.  Here’s the ’signal book’ and the ’cruising order book’. Sign your
’tally’ there.  There are no more confidential books to hand over."

I signed the receipt for them.

"Now you’re the skipper of the _B.A_.  I’ve finished with her, thank
Heaven!  Griffiths, in the dinghy, can take you back now."

Having so satisfactorily (?) concluded the formalities of handing over
command, Wilson took some letters which I had brought for him, and went
off to read them.  I presumed that he was going to Karachi to catch a
steamer back to Aden, but did not take the trouble to ask him before the
gunner and myself left the _Ras-al-Musat_.

If you had seen us being pulled inshore in that tiny dinghy to join my
first command you would have laughed.  The dinghy’s stern was nearly
level with the water, and her bows so cocked up in the air that Mr.
Scarlett had to creep for’ard to "trim the dish".

As we gradually drew nearer the shore, I noticed a weird odour in the
air.

"What’s that?" I asked the bluejacket, sniffing it in.

"All them Arab or Persh’un places smell like that, sir," he said.
"You’ll not notice it in a week’s time."

I sucked it in through my nose.  At last I had come to the edge of
things, and cut myself adrift from civilization.  It was grand, and I
felt as happy as a bird—and looked like one, too, I expect, perched as I
was on the top of my two cases.

"That’s ’er, sir," the bluejacket said presently, jerking his chin over
his shoulder.  Then I saw the _Bunder Abbas_ for the first time.  She
and I were to have many exciting experiences together during the next
few months.

As I saw her then she looked draggled to a degree. Her sides were a
positive disgrace—paint off in large patches; her awnings were dirty and
badly spread on bent, crazy-looking stanchions; and her rusty unpainted
cable hung drearily out of a most disreputable hawse-pipe.

In her bows, under the awning, there was a gun, in a dirty canvas
cover—a six-pounder I guessed—and aft two Maxims were cocked up at
different angles, in the most slovenly manner.  Their water-jackets,
which should have been so bright, were painted a beastly mud colour, and
from the muzzle of one dangled a bunch of green bananas.

"Your own mother won’t know you in a week’s time, my sweetheart," I
chuckled to myself, as the bluejacket tugged at one oar and twisted the
dinghy alongside.

I swung myself aboard, to be met by a bearded petty officer with a
shifty, crafty face, who saluted me about a dozen times in the first two
minutes. Five or six disreputable-looking sailors peered round the
corner of the engine-room casings to take stock of me, and some lascars
sitting jabbering round a stew-pot took no notice whatever.

I looked round.  The deck was littered with rubbish; men’s clothes were
stretched on it everywhere—to dry; burnt matches and cigarette ends lay
in every corner.

"We ain’t scrubbed decks yet," the petty officer said, following my eye,
his hand bobbing up and down to his forehead all the time.  "Wouldn’t
you like to see the orficer’s cabin, sir?" he added hastily, to distract
my anger, and led me up a ladder, through an opening in the fore awning,
to a platform round the mast and funnel.  On this platform deck, for’ard
of the mast, were the steering-wheel, compass, and engine-room
telegraphs, also a tiny little signal-locker; aft of the funnel was a
diminutive deck-house, about half the size of a railway compartment.  It
had a low bunk on each side, with scarcely room to stand between them, a
few shelves, lockers under the bunks, and a cracked looking-glass.
Overhead the paintwork was blackened by an oil lamp which swung from the
roof and looked as if it had not been cleaned or trimmed for years.

Outside the cabin there was just enough deck space for a small folding
table and a couple of canvas folding chairs.

"Them chairs belonged to Mr. Collingwood, what died of sunstroke, and
the gunner, what went off ’un ’is ’ead," the petty officer explained.

I made a grimace.

"You’ll ’ave a cup of corfee?" he asked, rubbing his hands together and
smiling ingratiatingly as a dirty unkempt Indian boy (a Tamil I found
out afterwards) brought two cups of horrid-looking coffee and a tin of
condensed milk with milk congealed down one side of it.  "Mr. Wilson ’as
ordered your breakfast, and this ’ere boy—Percy we calls ’im—looks arter
you two orficers."

Nothing seemed to stop his talking machine.

I snorted—it was the only way I could express my feelings—and looked
round to see what had become of Mr. Scarlett, who had disappeared.

"What’s your routine on board?" I asked, going down the ladder again to
that six-pounder in the bows.

"We ain’t exactly got none," the petty officer answered.  "Mr.
Collingwood, ’im what died of sunstroke, ’e didn’t ’ave no regular
routine—an’ Mr. Wilson didn’t alter nothing."

He said this in a half-fawning, half-defiant manner, as much as to say:
"Don’t you come making trouble."

Mr. Scarlett joined us, his black eyes gleaming, stepping through the
little crowd of lascars and scattering them.

"They won’t hang any more bananas on my guns," he chuckled.

I had heard a splash, so guessed what had happened, and smiled until
that petty officer, hanging round to join in the conversation, explained
that "They were a bunch Mr. Wilson bought yesterday, off a Karachi dhow,
and ’ung ’em up there to get a bit ripe for you two orficers."  He
looked so cunningly pleased that I told him sharply to clear out of it
and I’d send for him when I wanted him.

I smothered my anger, went up to the little cabin, and began to stow
away as much of my belongings as I could cram into the two shallow
drawers under the bunk, kicking out "Percy", who wanted to help. He did
not seem to mind, and was back again in a minute.  If he was dirty, he
had a cheerful little face and a pair of big dog-like eyes.  He pleaded
with them so hard to be allowed to stay and help that I had not the
heart to kick him out again.

That "chunk" of goat soon disappeared, once Mr. Scarlett and I settled
down to breakfast.  Whilst we were busy with it a European-built boat
pulled past us from the steamer, with our little yellow-haired friend
under the awnings.  I almost felt inclined to wave to her, but, not
wanting another snub, did not do so.

"I expect she’s going to live at the telegraph station.  She won’t find
many comforts in this place," Mr. Scarlett said grimly, pointing to the
various square, white-faced buildings at the end of Jask peninsula.

Down on the low ground, where the peninsula joined the coast line, there
was a neglected-looking red-brick building among some palm trees (Mr.
Scarlett said it was a fort), and another, larger and more imposing,
some little way inshore.  With the exception of these there was precious
little to see except sand-hills, a few scattered palm trees, and perhaps
a hundred native huts dotted among them. We could see the track which
led inland to the town of old Jask, though the town itself was not
visible. On the horizon the misty outlines of barren mountains rose high
into the burning sky.  Even at this hour the sun was very fierce.

Presently that European boat came pulling off to the _Bunder Abbas_ with
a note for me from the Englishman in charge of the telegraph station—the
acting political agent—asking me to breakfast with him and not to bother
with formalities.

"Off you skip, sir," Mr. Scarlett advised me. "They calls their lunch
’breakfast’.  I’d like to have a few kind words with the men whilst you
are away."  So on shore I went, landing on a broad, sandy beach, where
crowds of Arabs or Persians, and niggers of sorts—every sort, I should
fancy—were unloading those wretched lighters and some large dhows lying
half out of water.  Donkeys, as patient as donkeys are all the world
over, and camels, as supercilious and discontented as they, too, always
are, were being laden with bales of merchandise.

One of the boat’s crew—a Zanzibar nigger he was—led me through them,
away from the shore and the native huts, through a small grove of palm
trees, where that old fort stood, and across an open cultivated space,
sloping gently upwards towards the telegraph station.  At the top of
this was a double line of wire entanglements extending from side to
side.

I opened my eyes as I saw these, and still more when he led me through
some roughly-designed earthworks, evidently meant for protection.  Then
we came to the big barrack-like telegraph buildings themselves, with a
line of iron telegraph posts running from them down the peninsula and
then along the edge of the shore to the east’ard as far as my eye could
see.  My guide led me to a building surrounded by a strong stone wall,
with loopholes through it, and at the entrance a short cheery man with a
round red face and a scrubby, yellow moustache was waiting to welcome
me.

He was the political agent—Fisher by name.  He introduced me to his
wife, who came out to join us—a tired-looking little woman—and on the
veranda, in the shade, which we hurriedly sought, was my little lady
friend from the steamer, talking to a tall, good-looking chap.  The
political agent explained that this was Borsen, his right-hand man, the
only other European there, and that she, his sister, had come out to
keep house for him and be some company for Mrs. Fisher.

"They are the only two women here, and it is very noble of them to come
to such a place as this," he said, speaking as though it might be jolly
unselfish of them but that he wished they were not there.

"What do you think of your new ship?" he asked, smiling.

"You won’t know her in a month’s time," I smiled back.

"Shan’t have the chance," he answered.  "I have a very pretty job for
you along the coast—keep you busy for the next three months."

I brightened up and wanted to hear more; but the head "boy"—a "perfect"
old chap in a yellow silk turban—announced breakfast, and until we had
finished there was no chance of my learning.

Then Mr. Fisher took me into his work-room, brought out charts, and
explained things to me.

"Look," he said, pointing to the Arabian coast at a place called Jeb,
some forty miles to the north’ard of Muscat.  "I have information that
several thousand rifles have been brought down there.  The Arabs will be
bringing them across at the first opportunity, and it was only yesterday
that I heard that camels are being collected in two villages not far
from here.  It is fairly certain that somewhere between those two
villages they mean to land them.  You see that headland jutting
out—look—close to Kuh-i-Mubarak—thirty miles to the west’ard.  There are
two creeks; one just to the south’ard of it, the other about eleven
miles to the north’ard.  They are favourite places for landing arms, and
those camels—a hundred or more—are somewhere close by.

"The chart does not show it properly.  I’ll draw you a rough
sketch-map."

He drew a sketch and explained it.  A hill named Sheikh Hill (there was
a sheikh’s house or fort on its summit) and the cliffs opposite it made
an anchorage safe from any wind, but the creek leading from a little
inlet past the village of Bungi (where half those camels had been
collected) was very shallow indeed.

South of Sheikh Hill—eleven miles south—there was deep water right up to
the shore under Kuh-i-Mubarak, and the creek there was deep, winding
among sand-hills until it opened out into a "khor" or basin, with the
village of Sudab on its edge.  Here was the remainder of the camels.

The two creeks—the shallow one to the north and the deep one to the
south—were connected up at the back of the sand-hills and behind the two
villages by a channel some thirty yards broad, but so shallow that only
at high water could even the native boats use it.

Behind all, some eleven miles inland, the Persian mountains towered up,
and passes between them led to the desert table-lands behind.

"The track to Baluchistan and the north-west frontier of India lies
across those table-lands," Mr. Fisher said, making a groove with his
finger nail. "I want you to patrol from one creek to another, examining
every dhow which comes along.  I hope you will have luck.  Remember that
if a ’shamel’ blows, the dhows will probably be driven south and make
for the deep creek at the base of Mubarak.

"Gun-running has been very brisk lately.  A caravan of rifles actually
passed last month within sight of the old town of Jask, on its way to
the Indian frontier."

Then he told me more about this trade: how the restless tribes on the
north-west frontier of India will give almost any price for a military
rifle; that they live by brigandage, looting peaceful villages on the
British side of the frontier, or, when not so employed, fighting among
themselves.  They cannot get rifles from India except by creeping up to
a British picket—natives or white men—shooting or stabbing, and stealing
rifles in that way; so the Arabs ship them across the Gulf, and take
them up on camels through the Baluchistan deserts.  So many rifles are
now captured by our cruisers, gunboats, and steam-launches that the
demand is always greater than the supply; and as, directly they have
been run safely into Baluchistan, rifles which originally cost three
pounds are worth thirty to thirty-five each, the temptation to deal in
arms is enormous.

"But who sells the Arabs these rifles?" I asked. The business was quite
a mystery to me.

The political agent shrugged his shoulders.

"You’d better not ask.  We both of us have to obey orders, and neither
of us had better ask questions. Get away as soon as you like.  The
_Intrepid_ is coming from Aden in a week’s time, and will meet you off
the coast, but I want you there as soon as possible."

"I’ll go back at once," I said eagerly.

He nodded approvingly, and took me to wish the ladies good-bye.

"Do be careful," his wife said earnestly.  "It was terrible about poor
Mr. Collingwood and his gunner; everyone was so upset."

"I nearly waved to you when you passed the _Bunder Abbas_ this morning,"
I told Miss Borsen, "but was afraid you’d think me forward—think me like
that fussy major."

She laughed merrily.

"You were quite right.  You never wished me good-bye when you left the
steamer, so I should not have waved back."

The political agent accompanied me part of the way.

"That looks as if you expected to be attacked," I remarked, pointing to
the earthworks, breastworks, and lines of wire entanglement.

"That’s all over for the present.  Some wandering brigand tribe did make
it unpleasant for us once, but that’s ancient history now.  Good-bye!
Look! my wife and Miss Borsen are waving good-bye."

I waved my helmet, and strode down the path feeling quite a hero, my
head full of my new job.

As my boat ran alongside the _Bunder Abbas_ Mr. Scarlett, with a grim
smile, received me, whilst Moore (the petty officer), looking as sulky
as a bear, "piped" me over the side, and the crew, lascars as well,
stood to attention.

"I’ve had a few words with ’em.  Told ’em the _Bunder Abbas_ wasn’t a
Plymouth ash-boat but a man-of-war, and they’d behave as such," Mr.
Scarlett chuckled.

"We have to get up steam and start hunting dhows as soon as ever we
can," I burst out enthusiastically, telling him what were my orders.

I expected him to be as pleased as I was; but his face fell and he would
not look me in the eyes.  I did not understand him yet—not in the least.
However, there were many difficulties in the way of sailing
immediately—chiefly due to the shortage of fresh water for the tanks and
boilers.  Moore did not know where to get any on shore.  He said
sullenly that it wasn’t any use trying during the hot hours of the day,
that everyone on shore slept then, and that the crew, too, generally
slept.  "It was a-working in the ’eat of the day what killed Mr.
Collingwood, ’im what died of sunstroke," he muttered, reminding me of
the latter’s fate for about the tenth time since coming on board.

I told him to "Get out of it and go to Jericho!"

Fortunately there was a splendid fellow on board, Webster, the corporal
of marines, who knew how to get water on shore.  He, the Persian
interpreter (a stolid, aristocratic individual in spotless white clothes
and a black fez), and myself went ashore in the dinghy and made
ourselves extremely unpopular, disturbing an Arab contractor and waking
half the village (if you could call it a village).  But we got our water
alongside in a couple of hours and on board half an hour later.  Oh, my
head was hot!  On shore the sun seemed to strike right through my
helmet, glaring at me from the dusty, sandy ground and hitting me from
every white mud wall.  I had never been so hot in my life.

At last everything was ready.  We hove up our rusty cable and slipped
out through the cluster of dhows anchored near us.  The sun was low, and
as I set my course from a tall signal-mast at one corner of the
telegraph buildings, the white walls were tinged a rosy red.  At the
foot of the flagstaff I thought I saw the figures of two women.  Risking
another snub from the little lady with the yellow hair and grey eyes, I
waved my helmet.  Sure enough, two white handkerchiefs fluttered for a
moment.  I smiled, pleased that she had forgiven me.

Then the sun sank in a glory of red gold, and off we steamed, whilst I
smoked my pipe and watched the lonely telegraph buildings and the
sand-hills behind them gradually sink below the horizon.

I was so happy that I would not have changed places with all the kings
of England from William I—1066—that I could remember.

For the first few hours, as we jogged along, a half-moon gave plenty of
light; but it set by midnight, and the night was dark, with hardly a
breath of wind.

Several times dhows glided by noiselessly and mysteriously, with a
phosphorescent glow along their water-lines, and each time one passed I
felt as excited as a child.  I was much too excited to sleep; kept Mr.
Scarlett’s watch, and gradually edged to the eastward so as to be about
halfway between those two creeks, and five miles or so off the land, at
sunrise.

That first sunrise—the flood of marvellously changing shades of delicate
colours, spreading upwards from behind the Persian mountains—was
magical. Even though my thoughts were full of other things, I almost
held my breath as I watched it.  Away inshore, to the south-east, was
the little headland of Kuh-i-Mubarak, with a peculiar-shaped rock
(marked on the chart) on its top; and to the north-east was Sheikh Hill
and the cliffs which the political agent had sketched for me.  Between
them the shore and the low sand-hills were, as yet, invisible, and not a
sail was in sight.

"Well, here we are, Mr. Scarlett," I said with satisfaction, as he came
to relieve me after a sound night’s sleep.  "We’re just where I wanted
to be. We’ll go and have a look at that creek leading to Bungi."

In half an hour we had shoved the _Bunder Abbas_ within a few hundred
yards of the foot of Sheikh Hill, with its old dilapidated fort perched
on top, and some white-robed figures squatting on the rocks outside it.
I went right in, almost under the high cliffs on the opposite side of
the little bay, until the mouth of the creek came in view, with a number
of native boats drawn up on the sand, and, far inland, the tops of a few
palm trees.

Mr. Scarlett, looking nervous and anxious, spotted a dirty-looking chap
looking down at us from the tops of those cliffs.  "He has a rifle," I
said, handing him my glasses, and had hardly spoken before a spurt of
water jumped up under our bows with a "flop", and a bullet, smacking
against the anchor, squealed past us.  I saw Mr. Scarlett’s face turn
grey, and his hand shook as he hurriedly gave back the glasses.

"He’s an Afghan," he said; "an Arab would not fire without some excuse.
We’d better get out of it, sir."

The man had flung himself down among the rocks at the top of those
cliffs, almost over our heads.  We could not have hit him with rifle,
Maxim, or six-pounder; so, as I had seen all that was to be seen, I
turned the _Bunder Abbas_ round and went to sea again.  The Afghan, or
whoever he was, fired once or twice after us, but he was a wretchedly
bad shot.

"Queer beggars, them Afghans," Mr. Scarlett said, recovering his
equanimity when we were out of rifle range.  "It don’t matter where they
are, but they’ll take a pot-shot at a white man, even if they know
they’ll be scuppered the very next moment. You may bet your life, sir,
that as there are some of them hanging round here, here they mean to
land them rifles."

There was not a breath of wind to be felt, and no dhow could possibly
run in for the next few hours, so I sauntered down to look at the creek
near Kuh-i-Mubarak, eleven miles to the south.  Here the water was very
deep right up to the shore, and in the creek. I steamed up it for a mile
and a half, winding between bare sand-hills, which concealed any view
behind them, until it widened suddenly into a great basin or "khor" that
shoaled rapidly.

"There won’t be any water for us," Mr. Scarlett said, fidgeting.

Bother the water!  I wanted to see all I could, so pushed on.  I had not
seen a single living thing or sign of habitation, so crept along,
sounding as I went, until the sand-hills opened out and showed a wide
plain dotted with palm trees, a few huts close to the water, and many
boats drawn up in front of them.

"Look!" I shouted.  "Look!  Look at all those things under the
trees—camels, as sure as ninepence!"  Through my telescope I could see
fifty or sixty yellowish-brown things kneeling, like lumps of mud, under
the shade of those palms, moving their long necks, and some human beings
were walking about among them.  At any rate I had seen one lot of
camels.  I was quite satisfied, backed the _Bunder Abbas_ out until
there was room to turn her round, and put to sea.

All the rest of that day, the next night, and for three more days and
nights we patrolled up and down from one creek to another, and not a
sign of dhow did we see.

Those days were busy enough.  Mr. Scarlett and I between us had "shaken
up" the crew with a vengeance.  Moore wished he’d never been born. I had
the whole crew "fallen in" and said a few words to them, letting them
know that I was going to stand no nonsense, and that until the _Bunder
Abbas_ was clean above and below, inside and out, bright work polished
and paintwork clean, nobody would have any afternoon sleep whatever.

The trouble of it all was that there were so few of them that either
they were on watch or standing off.

The whole crew consisted of only ten white men, besides myself and the
gunner: Moore, the petty officer; Dobson, a quiet, determined-looking
leading seaman; four able seamen—Andrews, Jackson, Wiggins, and
Griffiths; a signalman named Hartley—the laziest man on board; and three
marines—Webster, the corporal, and Jones and Gamble, privates.  Picked
men they were, I knew, though they had been allowed to get "out of
hand".  Webster, the corporal, was, as far as I could judge, the best
man among them. He did the duties of ship’s corporal, steward,
sick-berth steward, and writer—and did them well too.

In addition to these there was Jaffa, the Persian interpreter, silent
and dignified, always spotlessly clean—a good-looking fellow if he had
not had a cataract in one eye.  Jaffa was far and away ahead of all the
other natives.  He gave you the impression that he was the descendant of
Persian emperors, brooding over the deserted grandeur and humbled state
of his country at the present time.  In fact, I treated him with the
greatest respect from the very first day.

There were three lascar drivers and nine lascar firemen to look after
the boilers and engine, their own lascar "bundari" or cook, another cook
of some unknown nationality, and his boy, to cook for the rest of the
crew.  These two were the most depressed, dirty-looking objects I had
ever seen.  One or the other, generally both, could be seen at any hour
of the day—or night, I believe—crouched on the deck, outside the little
galley, swishing a dirty cloth round the middle of a saucepan or dish,
gazing dejectedly across the sea, and looking as if they longed to jump
into it and finish all their worries.  Last but one was a snuff-coloured
Goanese carpenter; and, last of all, Sinamuran, our Tamil boy from
Trincomalee, who "did" for Mr. Scarlett and myself, and soon began to
look quite respectable.  We never had to call "Percy" a second time, day
or night, before he had glided, silent as a ghost, to our elbows,
looking with solemn black eyes to see what was wanted.

This was the strangely-assorted crew collected in the little _Bunder
Abbas_—thirty in all, and speaking half a dozen languages.  The white
crew lived aft and the coloured men for’ard.

The bluejackets’ uniform consisted of white, mushroom-shaped helmets or
topees, white-coloured singlets, and duck "shorts".  At night they wore
their ordinary ship’s caps, flannel jumpers, and duck trousers.  I don’t
believe there was a yard of blue serge in the launch; so the
"bluejackets" were not anything like the bluejackets one sees in
England. The armament of the _Bunder Abbas_ consisted of that
six-pounder in the bows, the two Maxims in the stern, ten rifles and
sword-bayonets, ten cutlasses, and twelve revolvers.  We had plenty of
ammunition. So now, perhaps, it is possible for anyone to picture us as
we patrolled slowly up and down that coast, keeping well away from shore
in the sweltering daytime and creeping closer during the comparatively
cool nights.

For four days and nights there was scarcely a puff of wind to ruffle the
surface of the sea—certainly not enough to move a dhow; so we saw
nothing.  But on the evening of that fourth day a fair breeze sprang up,
only to die down again before midnight.  Just before daybreak Mr.
Scarlett woke me.  As I jumped to my feet he pointed seawards, and
there, sure enough, even in the indistinct light, was a dhow, about four
miles off, crawling inshore with a fitful breeze behind her.

"That’s no proper trader," Mr. Scarlett whispered hoarsely, his voice
shaking a little.  "Look what a wretched thing she is!  The Arabs never
run arms in a new or big dhow: the risk of capture is too great. See
that signal?"

I looked ashore to where he was pointing.  We were abreast Sheikh Hill,
and on it we could see a red light being moved about.

"It’s a warning signal," Mr. Scarlett said, "and she hasn’t seen it
yet."

"Off we go!" I chuckled, my heart thumping with excitement.  "Get the
guns cleared away."

"Aye, aye, sir," Mr. Scarlett answered bravely, but his voice trembled
and his face turned that muddy colour again.  He would not catch my eye,
and went down on deck.  I bit my lip with vexation.  If I could not
depend upon him at a pinch, what was I to do?

Percy brought me a cup of coffee, smiling, and looking at the dhow.  I
drank it at a gulp. Extraordinarily thirsty I was, and the air had a
peculiar "dry feeling".

Griffiths happened to be at the wheel.  I nodded, and he turned the
launch towards the dhow, whilst I called down the voice-pipe to the
engine-room and ordered more steam.



                              *CHAPTER IV*

                           *Adrift in a Dhow*


The crew of that dhow sighted us long before the puffs of black smoke
from our funnel showed that the lascars down in the stokehold were
pitching on more coal.  The queer-looking craft turned up into the
breeze, hung there for a moment, as if hesitating what to do, and then
paid off, turning to the south’ard.

Off we went after her, gathering speed—Griffiths at the helm, I standing
by him, and the others down below, under the awnings, round their guns.
I noticed that there was no dew on the awnings or decks—usually it was
very heavy; the air, too, was extraordinarily dry, and a splash of water
which fell on the deck as Percy brought my shaving water to the cabin
dried in no time.

Griffiths was sniffing to wind’ard.  "A ’shamel’s’ coming, sir, that’s
what it is—a big one, I fancy; the air’s allus like this a ’our or two
before they comes."

A "shamel"!  I had read about a shamel—the Sailing Directions for the
station was full of it: a changeable, boisterous gale from the
north-west, coming when least expected, sometimes blowing with terrific
force, and often lasting for five or six days; but I was too excited
just then to worry about it, even when Mr. Scarlett, putting his head up
through the gap in the awning, called out huskily: "Bad weather from the
north-west, I fear, sir."

The sun shot up from behind the Persian mountains, its face blurred and
hazy.

"Aye, it’s a shamel all right, afore long!" I heard Griffiths mutter.

Well, if it came, it came; I did not care what happened, so long as I
got alongside that dhow.

In half an hour we were close enough to see that she was of about eighty
tons, high in the poop, low in the bows, and very ill found.  She had
her big sail drawing full, and was streaking through the water.
Presently she began to haul it farther and farther aft, still keeping on
her course.

"Ah! the breeze is backing," Griffiths muttered; "that’s another sign
we’re in for it all right, sir.  It’s going to be a tidy one too."

We were now about a thousand yards from the dhow, and were rapidly
closing.  I ordered Mr. Scarlett to fire a six-pounder shell ahead of
her.

The little cloud of smoke spurted out from beneath the awning, and the
shell burst fifty or sixty yards in front of her bows.  She took not the
least notice, except to ease away the big sail again, still keeping on
her course to the south’ard.

"The shamel’s coming, sure enough; she’s reckoning on that," Griffiths
muttered under his breath. "When it comes, those chaps will carry on
till they lose their mast.  They have rifles, or they’d have lowered
their sail.  If they’re caught, it means six months’ ’chokey’ for them,
besides losing the dhow, so they’re going to have a run for their money.
That’s what they’re going to do."

I was so excited that I could hear my heart drumming in my ears.

The hardly ruffled surface of the sea now began to lose its clearness,
and a little spray sprinkled the fo’c’sle, drying almost as it fell.

I called down to the fo’c’sle, and Mr. Scarlett fired a second gun,
whereupon the crew evidently thought it wiser to haul down their big
sail.  Down it came, and, as we ran alongside, a little cur of a dog,
running backwards and forwards, kept jumping up on the gunwale and
barking at us.  We could not help laughing at its absurd fury.

"Any fight in them?" I asked Griffiths.

"Not by a jugful, sir.  They’ll be as quiet as lambs. You’ll ’ave to be
mighty ’nippy’ a-searching of ’er, sir; the shamel’s coming."

As our sides grated together I clambered on board her, Jaffa, the
interpreter, Dobson, the leading seaman, Jackson and Wiggins following
me.  The little dog snapped at us, then went howling aft to where the
crew of the dhow—nine or ten of them—were squatting, glaring at us.
There were two big hatches, one for’ard and the other aft of the mast,
both covered with several layers of timber planks, securely lashed down.
Beneath them were my rifles.  I felt sure that she must be full of
rifles, and that they were mine already.  As Jaffa followed me aft, the
others began to make the launch fast alongside with ropes thrown to
them.

"Tell the nakhoda[#] to show his papers; tell him to get his hatches
uncovered," I told Jaffa; and he, perfectly accustomed to this job,
began jabbering to a saturnine, bearded old villain who sat on the
raised poop-deck between the tiller ropes.


[#] Nakhoda = captain.


The dog snarled and barked from beneath the poop, but the nakhoda and
the rest of the crew sat there absolutely silent, not moving a muscle,
just looking steadily at us.

I cursed them, but the only effect was to make the old villain smile—a
curious smile, which I could not understand.

"Send everyone you can spare to clear away the hatches," I shouted to
Mr. Scarlett.  "They won’t show their papers, and won’t do anything."

Three lascars and the Goanese carpenter (yellow with fright) climbed on
board with axes, and all my people began hacking at the ropes and
hauling away the balks of timber on top of the main-hatch cover.

I yelled myself hoarse to make the Arabs come and lend a hand; Jaffa,
too, was trying to persuade them. I pulled out my revolver and
flourished it.  Still no one budged an inch, except the nakhoda, who
kept turning his head to the north-west.

It was half an hour’s work to clear the main-hatch cover of all that
timber, and we were about to start knocking out the securing wedges when
I looked towards the land.  Sheikh Hill was now six miles to the north;
its outline was indistinct, and the water under it had a peculiar
greyish, muddy appearance.

I caught the nakhoda’s eye, and saw that triumphant smile again.

"Hurry up, men! it’s coming on to blow," I shouted.

Mr. Scarlett’s voice, very shaky, called:

"I shouldn’t open those hatches, sir.  We’re a long way to leeward."

Little I cared how hard it blew.  Little you would have cared if you had
been in my place, on board my first capture, feeling certain that there
were hundreds of rifles and thousands of cartridges under those hatches.

"Dig out, men, dig out for blazes!" I shouted, and then saw Mr. Scarlett
lean over the side of the launch and be violently sick—with fright, I
presumed—and was madly angry with him.

That line of muddy-grey water was rushing towards us now; Sheikh Hill
was shut out in a blurred haze, and as the lascars were hammering at
those wedges the "shamel" struck us.  It was like a wall of solid wind.
With a rush and a roar it swept down upon us, and I should have been
blown overboard if I had not been holding on to a shroud.  It struck the
high poop of the dhow, and swung her and the _Bunder Abbas_ round like a
top.  Spray whirled in front of the "shamel", and drenched us to the
skin.  The big sail began lashing furiously from side to side, but not a
move did the Arab crew make; the little dog had fled back under the
poop, and the nakhoda was laughing in his beard.

Mr. Scarlett shouted for me to cover up the hatch.

Luckily we had not yet opened it.

I yelled to my men to get hold of the sail, to lash it to the yard and
to haul taut the main sheets, the big block of which was banging about
in the most dangerous manner.

Whilst we were doing this another squall struck us.  The dhow’s bows
paid off before it; the sail partially filled and bore her over until
the lee gunwale was awash, then bore her down against the _Bunder
Abbas_, the yard of the big sail tearing away the after awning and
crumpling the stanchions.  The lascars and the Goanese carpenter,
frightened out of their lives, jumped into the _Bunder Abbas_ or were
knocked overboard into her.  Jackson fell into the sea between the two.
I expected him to be crushed, but saw them drag him safely into the
launch—waiting their chance.  Mr. Scarlett and a couple of "hands" were
lowering the hatches over the engine-room and stokehold; others on board
her were battening down for’ard, as the seas poured over the bows.

It was marvellous what a sea had risen in such a short time.  Waves,
striking the side of the dhow, surged up and topped aboard the launch;
she was half-buried in them.  The Arabs, crouching nearer together under
the weather gunwale, pulled their cloaks over their heads to protect
themselves, chattering volubly and peering to wind’ard; the nakhoda,
clinging to one of the tiller ropes, chuckled to himself.

The dhow fell off again broadside to the wind, seas began washing right
over her waist, and one by one those balks of timber were hurled
overboard.  The launch was to wind’ard, now, banging against her side.
I did not know what to do.  I could not bring myself to abandon the
dhow.

Whilst I was trying to make up my mind, the dhow gave a tremendous
lurch, and the strain on the for’ard rope to the launch was too much for
it.  It rendered, and before another could be secured the dhow had swung
away from her.  Another wave fell aboard her; the _Bunder Abbas_ was
almost hidden in water; the damaged awning stripped and thundered to
leeward, and she heeled over so much that for a moment I thought she
would capsize.  Then the stern rope parted and we drifted away from each
other.

I yelled to Mr. Scarlett to come alongside again (my voice hardly
reached my own ears), but a cloud of steam rushed hurriedly up from the
boiler-room, and I knew what that meant—her fires had been put out, and
she was perfectly helpless.

For a moment I wondered whether she could live in that sea.  It flashed
across my brain that I’d made a fool of myself and lost her; then a wave
soaked me to the skin and half-smothered me.

By this time we were a quarter of a mile apart, the dhow with her tall
sides and mast drifting to leeward much more rapidly than the _Bunder
Abbas_.  As I watched her, wallowing deeply, the after awning tore away
completely, whirling and twisting.  It was carried up in the air like a
dry leaf, and was actually borne right over the dhow before it fell into
the sea.  I saw the nakhoda still smiling from under his burnous—he knew
perfectly well that neither the _Bunder Abbas_ nor her guns mattered
now—and I realized that Dobson, Wiggins, and myself were alone with
those Arabs in a crazy dhow, with a gale blowing harder every moment,
and no possible means of leaving her.  I did not count Jaffa, the
interpreter; it was not his job to fight, and if it came to a scrap he
certainly did not look as if he would be of any use.

"We’ll have to take her into Jask, sir," Dobson roared in my ears.
"Right to lee’ard it is, sir.  This breeze will take us there in next to
no time."

What a chap!  This "breeze"!  Call this tearing, roaring fury of a gale
a breeze!

My aunt; so we would!  I’d never thought of that. We’d take her into
Jask.  Yes, we would!  But there were those Arabs to be reckoned with,
and they might have something to say about that.  We should have to
master them first and make them help us or the dhow might not weather
the gale.  We could do that, Dobson, Wiggins and I; we had our
revolvers, whilst they seemed to be unarmed.

With something definite to do, and with the relief of not having yet
lost my captured rifles, I really minded but little what happened.
Those rifles were mine, and sooner than lose them—I’d go down with them.
Take her into Jask!  Of course we would. But first I must stand by the
_Bunder Abbas_ until she had raised steam again and was in safety.  She
was all right so far—a thousand yards to wind’ard, rolling horribly.
Someone began semaphoring, and I read, "Fires washed out—am getting out
sea anchor—will follow as soon as possible;" so Mr. Scarlett, or Moore,
or somebody, was keeping his head.

"We must try and work her up to wind’ard," I bawled in Dobson’s ear, but
he shook his head and bawled something back which I could not hear.  I
meant to try, and the first thing to do was to get control of the helm,
though how to do that with all those Arabs squatting there, glaring at
us, I didn’t know.

"Tell them to get for’ard," I yelled to Jaffa, and saw him crawl aft and
shout something at them, gesticulating in a commanding way, though those
infernal fellows only smiled and sat still, half a dozen of them holding
on to the tiller ropes.

Dobson looked at me and bawled in my ear:

"I’ll get hold of the helm tackles—just you shoot if any of them tries
any of their tricks."

"No!  I’ll go," I yelled, ashamed to funk the job.

I waited till the dhow was steady for a moment, worked my way along the
weather gunwale, dodging those balks of timber which were being washed
about the deck, until I was right in the middle of them. That beastly
little dog snapped at my bare feet as I grabbed one of the tiller ropes
to steady myself, and I kicked him back under the poop.

I yelled and waved to the crew to get for’ard, staying among them and
kicking two of them in the ribs to make them let go of the ropes.  They
took not the slightest notice.  The nakhoda was just behind me, and I
feared, every moment, that I should feel a knife in my back.

Jaffa came scrambling to join me—I never thought that he would have the
pluck to do so.

"Tell the nakhoda that if the crew don’t go for’ard in two minutes I’ll
shoot him," I roared.

The nakhoda looked impassively to wind’ard whilst I pointed my revolver
at his head and held up my wrist watch, so that he could see it, and
waited.

A minute went past—Jaffa looked nervously round; the nakhoda folded his
burnous more closely round his head.  Two minutes went by—not a single
one in all that stolid group moved; they still clung to the tiller
ropes.  I gave him three minutes.  Three minutes went by, and that Arab
nakhoda knew perfectly well that I would not shoot him in cold blood.

Nor could I.  I let go the tiller rope and crawled for’ard again,
absolutely not knowing what to do next.

We were driving and twisting, screwing and yawing before the gale like a
bit of driftwood, seas toppling over the bows and the waist and washing
right across the decks.  And that crowd refused to budge—would not have
done anything to save their own lives, I believe.

If they had only taken the offensive and attacked us I should have
whooped with the joy of fighting—that cargo of rifles down below was
worth fighting for—but they would not.

Dobson it was who settled the question.

With a "Look out, sir, I’m going for ’em", he took the opportunity of a
moment when the dhow was on a level keel and rushed into the middle of
them.  He seized the burnous over the nakhoda’s head, and before that
malignant brute could get his hands free he had hauled the loose folds
across his throat, choked him, pulled him off the poop on to the deck,
and began hauling him for’ard.

In a trice those Arabs were on their feet, throwing off their upper
clothes, and snarling like a lot of dogs.  Two of them caught Dobson’s
foot, and tried to throw him.  Wiggins and I were among them in a
moment, hitting right and left, until my knuckles were bleeding.  In a
jumbling, struggling crowd, with that dog barking and biting round us,
we were thrown from port to starboard, as the dhow rolled; but somehow
or other we managed to get between the Arabs and Dobson, who had never
let go of the old man’s neck.

A wave washed over us, and for a moment we had a breathing spell, and in
that moment I saw the nakhoda free one of his hands.  He had a knife in
it, so I grabbed his arm, forced his wrist back, and gave him a blow on
the back of his head with the butt end of my revolver which knocked him
as limp as a rag.

As he fell, the crew, like one man, bent down to the folds round their
waists, drawing knives.  Two of them had pistols, and before either
Wiggins, Dobson, or myself could use our revolvers they had fired, and a
bullet had whizzed past my head.

A pistol went off behind me; one of the Arabs—one of the two with
pistols—threw up his hands and fell. The others yelled and rushed for
us; but we were ready now.  I chose the second man with a pistol, fired,
and missed him; another shot from behind knocked him over.  I saw two
more fall.  I got a slice over the head, the man who did it being
knocked down by Dobson before I knew he had touched me, and the rest had
had enough of it, and scrambled for’ard.  The dog tried to follow them,
but made the mistake of attempting a last snap at Dobson’s leg.  Before
you could wink, that little cur was whirling through the air overboard.
In two minutes after Dobson had garrotted their nakhoda, we were masters
of that dhow.

I felt rather rocky, and sat down, holding on to a rope, with blood
simply pouring over my ear and shoulder.

Then it was that I saw Jaffa.  I had forgotten him. He was standing
behind me, calmly re-charging a Mauser pistol in the most matter-of-fact
way possible, and I realized that it was his shots that had killed the
two pistol men.  I tried to show that I was grateful.  "Well shot,
Jaffa!" I shouted.  "Tell them to take their dead and wounded for’ard."

Presently the six Arabs still on their legs crawled and slunk aft, and
dragged the two dead bodies away, helping the wounded man along the
deck, and then sitting in a ring round the foot of the mast, motionless
and mute as bats, drawing their cloaks round them to protect them from
the seas.

The nakhoda was still unconscious, so we secured him to a ring to
prevent him being washed overboard.

Someone lashed a handkerchief round my head and stopped the bleeding.
That made me more comfortable, and I was able to take stock of our
position.

Kuh-i-Mubarak, that hill near the southern creek, was now abreast us,
just visible through the gale. The shamel roared down on us more
fiercely than ever, driving in front of it a wild, jumping, short sea,
twenty feet high, with boiling crests.  That such waves could have been
whipped up in such a short time seemed incredible.

Every now and then the launch’s white side and her yellow funnel and
mast showed up against the dark sky to wind’ard; so she was still safe.
But we were more than two thousand yards to leeward of her, and how I
was going to beat up against that wind and sea in this crazy dhow I
didn’t know.

However, I was not going to leave the launch helpless; I knew that she
could not raise steam for a long time, and determined to make the
attempt.

"I’m going to hoist that sail—part way up—see if we can work to
wind’ard," I bawled to Dobson.

He shouted back: "She’ll never do it, sir; not in this sea."

We should have to try anyway; so we rolled up and lashed the foot of
that huge sail as firmly as we could, and, having done that, all four of
us clapped on to the main-halyard purchase and slowly raised the big
yard about three feet.  What canvas was now free lashed about
ferociously, giving us stern way.

"Stand by your main sheets," I yelled.  "Stand by to ease and haul your
tiller hard a-starboard."

Dobson and Wiggins dashed aft to obey, and, as the rudder was put over,
our bows began to pay off from the gale, and, doing so, the full force
of it broke on the beam; that scrap of sail filled, and bore us over
until our bows were buried in the sea.

"Midships the helm!" I shouted, and watched to see how the dhow would
behave.  A squall struck her, and a wave of great height, leaping over
us, surged on board—solid water.  The dhow heeled over till we could not
stand, and those lashings round the foot of the sail gave way like
pistol shots, one after the other; the whole of that huge sail shot out
like a balloon, and we gave a tremendous lurch.

Where the bows had been was now a churning mass of water; the lee
gunwale and the foot of the lee shrouds were out of sight; I was up to
my waist in water; one of the Arabs was washed overboard, and the
nakhoda would have been had he not been lashed to that ringbolt.

I struggled to the main sheet, yelling to Dobson to ease it, but it was
under water and had jammed; no one could get at it.

I thought that unless the mast carried away we must capsize.

"Cut it, for God’s sake, cut it!" I roared, and Dobson hacked away at
one of the thick ropes. Whilst he was sawing away—his knife was blunt
and would not cut—Jaffa, quick as lightning, pulled out his Mauser
pistol, put the muzzle up against the rope, and fired in quick
succession.

With a leap and a shriek the rope gave way, the running parts lashed
through the sheaves of the "purchase", the sail flew out to leeward, and
the dhow began to right herself, shaking the water from her like a dog.

Thank God we had not opened the hatch cover!  If we had done so we
should have sunk like a stone.

As it was, we were in a bad enough plight.  The huge sail was beating
madly, one second half-buried in the sea, the next whirled as high as
the masthead, and cracking with a noise like thunder, the big block on
the standing part of the main sheet attached to the sail being hurled
about like a stone on the end of a rope.  This block kept on sweeping
over the stern, where we were taking shelter, splintering the railings
like matchwood, and it was all we could do to dodge it.  If it had
struck anyone, that would have been the last of him.

Perhaps, for most of the time, the sail, or the lower part, was in the
water, and the dhow could not lift it out or herself on an even keel;
like a huge bird, with one wing broken, we went rolling and reeling to
leeward, waiting for the mast to carry away.

To have attempted to drag the sail on board and smother it would have
been sheer lunacy, even if we had twenty men to do it.  It would have
been as easy to try to stop a wounded elephant tearing up trees round
him by lassoing his trunk with twine.

To add to our troubles, the seas were beating against the rudder, which
was wrestling with the tiller ropes and trying to shake itself free.

Jask!  I wasn’t thinking of Jask then, or of Mr. Scarlett and the
_Bunder Abbas_.  What was to happen in the next half-minute was quite
enough for me.  We could not stand without clinging to something, the
dhow was lurching too much, and sea after sea, four or five feet deep,
in foaming cataracts, poured over the dhow’s waist.

We had to do something: we tried to lower the big yard, struggling
waist-deep in the sea to reach the foot of the mast, where those poor
wretches of Arabs, in the last stage of fright, were clinging for dear
life. We could not move it or its clumsy rope "sleeve", securing it to
the mast, and Wiggins was banged against the mast by a wave—flattened
against it like a fly on a wall.  It was all we could do to prevent his
being washed overboard.  He broke two ribs, though we did not know that
until afterwards.

As we scrambled back to the poop we saw the rudder head wrench itself
free from the tiller ropes, and to the noise of the gale and the
thundering of that mad sail now came the grinding noise of the rudder
breaking itself to pieces under the stern. Thank goodness, it broke away
before it had knocked a hole in our bottom, floating up and threatening
to come inboard on the top of the next wave.  However, we drifted away
from it like a feather from a piece of seaweed, and had soon left it out
of sight.

Why that mast did not go over the side I cannot think.  The strain on it
and the weather shrouds must have been enormous.

If it had broken we should have been perfectly helpless, and the
end—well, as I said before, we were too busy with each succeeding
half-minute to worry about anything beyond that.

We were drifting to leeward at a tremendous rate; Kuh-i-Mubarak was
below the horizon, and the gale showed no signs of lessening.

"If this goes on much longer we’ll find ourselves blown a hundred miles
out to sea," Dobson roared in my ear.  "We’d best cut away the mast.
She’ll ride more easy and won’t drift so quick."

I looked to wind’ard.  Even though the gale howled as fiercely as ever,
the sky showed signs of clearing; the line of the horizon was certainly
clearer than it had been the last time I looked.  I knew that these
gales often died down as quickly as they rose; the fiercer they were the
quicker over, and I still hoped to sail into Jask.  I even began to
think how best to rig a "jury" rudder.

So I shook my head at Dobson, and determined to keep the mast unless
things became worse, and we hung on, dodging the waves and the block on
that main sheet.

Presently the sail began to give way, great rents showing in it when it
lifted, spreading and ripping, and flying to leeward in long streamers,
which one by one tore themselves clear and spun madly down wind.

As each strip parted it eased the strain, until, after a time, the dhow
came on a more even keel, and in the hollows of the seas wallowed less
deeply.

Somehow or other we felt that the worst was over, and began to look
round us and shift into more comfortable positions.  The old
nakhoda—half-drowned he was—began to recover consciousness, and the
Arabs ventured a little farther aft, crouching for shelter under the
weather gunwale.

There was now no sign whatever of the _Bunder Abbas_—we had drifted out
of sight of her long ago—but the sky overhead was clearing; large blue
patches showed between the clouds, and though the gale still shrieked
down on us with unabated violence, our spirits rose considerably.

The edge of civilization!  Yes, I was there, with a vengeance!  What an
extraordinary change seven weeks had made, after my long seven years in
home waters!  I could not help picturing the Channel Squadron anchored,
as I last saw it, under Portland Bill, and wondered whether it was still
there, thanking Heaven that I was not keeping a monotonous day "on".

To make things still more comfortable for us, that big wooden block, in
a last furious endeavour to dash our brains out, banged itself to pieces
against a big wooden bollard on the poop, so we had no longer to dodge
it.  But to level up things we began to realize how horribly thirsty we
were.  We found some water, or rather Jaffa found some, under the poop,
in an old kerosene tin.  It tasted horrid, and was so brackish that it
did little to quench our thirst. My head, too, now that I had not so
much to think about, began to throb and ache.  Wiggins began to complain
of his side.

"We’ve got to stick it out, that’s all," I called to them; and Dobson
smiled cheerily, shouting back that he thought "this ’ere shamel
wouldn’t last long; it was too blooming strong at the start."

He talked about a shamel as if it was an old acquaintance—sometimes in a
good, but now in a very bad temper.

I began to feel that the wind was not so strong; waves were certainly
not breaking over the dhow so frequently nor with so much force.  The
lee gunwale was well clear of the sea.

I thought that now it might be possible to capture the remnants of that
sail, so, making a rope fast round my waist, and telling Dobson to come
with me, I scrambled to the foot of the mast.  Whilst he stood by to
"pay out" I chose a moment when the big yard over my head was still,
climbed on to it, swung myself across it, and, holding on with arms and
legs, worked my way along it slowly.  It tried to shake me off every
half-minute.  Once it managed to get rid of my knees, whilst I clung
like grim death, my legs dangling almost in the water.  Then it tossed
me like a feather, and I caught it again with my knees, waiting a moment
till it was possible to wriggle along still farther.  I managed to crawl
almost twenty feet from the mast.  That was far enough for my purpose.
I wanted to secure my rope to it there—the rope round my waist—but that
was the trouble; directly I let go with one hand, off I was jerked, just
as if the beastly sail and yard were waiting their opportunity.

For a second I hung by one arm, my body actually in the water, then the
sail, billowing up, lifted me with it, and I clung to that yard like a
fly.  There was a gap just below me, beneath the yard, where the sail
had torn itself away from its lashing.  I wriggled through it and over
the yard again, the rope of course coming along after me, and by waiting
my opportunity I managed another wriggle round the yard. There I was,
with a turn of the rope round it and myself, secured to it like a pig
lashed to a pole. However, I could not be jerked off and could use one
hand. Looking down I saw Dobson yelling encouragement; the Arabs were
looking at me with frightened faces.

Dobson paid out the rope very handsomely, and in a couple of minutes I
managed to take another turn round the yard, secure it, and unlash
myself.  Then, shinning and clinging like a limpet as the yard waved
about, wriggling backwards when it was quiet, I managed to reach the
mast and clambered down on deck.

"That’s done ’im in the eye right enough!" Dobson shouted
enthusiastically, as he grabbed me by the feet.  ’"Im" was the shamel.

Together we led that rope aft, passed it through a block under the lee
gunwale, took a turn round a cleat, and the four of us tried to haul the
yard on board, hauling for all we were worth.

[Illustration: THE FOUR OF US TRIED TO HAUL THE YARD AND SAIL ON BOARD,
HAULING FOR ALL WE WERE WORTH.]

We won a few inches at a time, between squalls, and another turn round
the cleat would prevent the yard dragging them out again.  Slowly, inch
by inch, the end of it came closer to us, and at every inch the dhow
would heel over a little more. However, I knew how much she would stand
by now, so cared not a jot.

However, at last the yard and sail beat us.  It was all we could do to
hold in what we had won; not another inch could we gain.  Then, to our
intense delight, the six Arabs came aft and clapped on too.

"Go it, lads!" I yelled, and, working like one man, we pulled the yard
towards us until the peak of it was close to the railings round the
stern.

Dobson scrambled up with a coil of rope, lassoed it, and captured it for
good and all.

It was grand.

"Now lower it!" I yelled, and we scrambled for’ard to the mast, Arabs
and all, slacked off the main halyards, and down it slid.

The remnant of the sail made a last attempt to escape, then draggled
over the lee side, hanging down in the water—beaten.

No one wanted an order; Dobson, Wiggins, Jaffa, and myself, and every
one of those Arabs, flung ourselves on to it to prevent it filling
again, clutching and pulling till, in a minute or two, it was all on
board, lashed to the yard, and as harmless as a handkerchief.

The dhow now came on a level keel, and, her stern paying off before the
wind, our bows pointed into the sea.  You can imagine what a relief this
was after we had been rolling over on our beam-ends for so long.

However, she could not face the seas, and we were soon being spun round
and round again.

"A sea-anchor; that’s what she wants!" Dobson shouted.  "That’ll steady
her, sir; she’ll be like a cradle when she’s got one."

There was plenty of timber on the fore hatch, so we unlashed it, and,
making half a dozen long balks fast to a big grass hawser we found in
the bows, we tipped them overboard, or allowed the seas to wash them
overboard—whichever happened first—one after the other.  As the dhow
drifted to leeward so much faster than they did, the hawser soon
tautened out, and brought our bows round into the wind.

Jolly proud we all were of that sea-anchor.  It sounds easy enough to
make, but if you had seen us trying to prevent those planks and balks of
timber taking "charge" whilst we were passing the grass hawser round
each one singly, leaping away as they tore themselves out of our hands
and tried to break our legs, you would realize that it was not the
simple matter it sounds.

We must have been struggling with it for at least an hour, up to our
waists in water most of that time, and were thoroughly exhausted by the
time we had paid out the whole of the hawser.

But we were now riding head to sea, our decks were not washed by the
waves, and when we gathered on the poop to rest after our exhausting
work we were as comfortable, as Dobson said, "as fleas in a blanket".



                              *CHAPTER V*

                           *My First Capture*


With that sea-anchor keeping our bows up to wind’ard, the worst of our
troubles seemed to be over. My wrist watch had been broken in that first
mêlée, so we did not know what time it was.  From the height of the sun
we guessed it to be nearly noon.

I climbed to the mast head.  Not a sign of the _Bunder Abbas_ could I
see; in fact, the whole circle of the horizon was empty but for
ourselves, and as there was absolutely nothing to be done (for it would
have been madness to hoist a scrap of sail, and as for trying to make a
jury-rudder, we simply could not have done it whilst we were pitching
and tossing so violently) we four sat comfortably on the poop, dried
ourselves, and watched the Arabs squatting close to the foot of the
mast.  They had asked Jaffa’s permission to search for food, and had
found some dried dates. They seemed to enjoy them, and the sight of food
of any sort made us remember that we had not had any that day, and that
we were as hungry as hunters.

Jaffa found a large store of these dates under the poop, and, though
they looked unappetizing to a degree, we enjoyed them hugely, washing
them down with another drink out of that kerosene tin.

I was so hungry that I could have eaten a cat.

The sun was now blazing down on us.  Unfortunately we had not brought
our helmets or topees, having left the _Bunder Abbas_ at daybreak.  Our
caps were little, if any, protection from it, in spite of our constantly
dipping them into the sea, and my head was burning and throbbing.  Salt
water got into that wound, and I did not dare to take off the
handkerchief for fear of it bleeding again.  Wiggins complained a good
deal of his ribs.

The nakhoda, too, recovered consciousness, and begged for water, sitting
up and moaning when he saw all the wreckage round him.  He had such a
cruel, cunning face that I could not trust him for’ard with the crew,
but kept him aft with us.  He looked as if it would have given him a
great deal of joy to cut our throats, and no doubt it would.

Every half-hour or so Dobson or I would go for’ard to see that the
hawser to the sea-anchor was not chafing in the "fairway," taking stock
of the weather at the same time.  Every time I said: "I think it’s
easing off," Dobson would shake his head; "’E ain’t finished with ’is
tantrums yet, sir."

However, at last I felt sure that the gale was moderating.  There were
not such high waves, they did not boil down on us so furiously, they
were longer too, not so steep, and we were certainly riding more easily.
Dobson at last agreed: "’E’s in a good ’umour, I do believe."

The nakhoda’s wicked old face was a good enough barometer.  As the wind
and the sea fell, so did his face look more glum, until at last, when
there was no manner of doubt that the gale was fast dying down, he
scowled angrily.  What idea he had in his cunning old head, I did not
know.

"We’ll be able to start rigging a jury-rudder soon," I told Dobson,
"hoist a bit of sail, and bear away towards Jask."

I had given up any possibility of beating up to the _Bunder Abbas_.  If
I could get into Jask the political agent would soon charter me a dhow
to go back and look for her.

Well, we made that jury-rudder.  It took us two hard-working hours, and
without the help of the Arab crew we could not have made it.  A clumsy
thing it was; a triangle made of balks of timber, with one long
projecting plank at each corner for the steering ropes.  We also managed
to secure the lower after end of what remained of the sail, binding a
rope round it to act, later on, as a sheet.

There were still six able-bodied Arabs, not counting the nakhoda.  The
wounded man (the one who could not walk) had been washed overboard by
the first big sea which struck us.  The wounds of the others were not
worth troubling about.  As far as I remember, Dobson’s fists had made
them; certainly they had not been struck with bullets, because Jaffa was
the only one on board who had shown himself able to hit a haystack at
ten yards.

Having completed the jury-rudder we rested until the falling wind and
sea allowed us to use it.  We took it "turn and turn about" to keep
watch, Jaffa and I, Dobson and Wiggins—nothing to do and two to do it.
The only thing we had to do was to keep an eye on the treacherous old
nakhoda.

The afternoon slipped by; the sun began to set in all its grandeur, and
only a few gloriously-tinted clouds, scudding across the sky, were left
to remind us that nature had been in such an angry mood.  The wind and
the sea seemed to sink to rest with the sun; only an occasional sobbing
gust moaned through the rigging, and, rising from the sea, a huge full
moon, like a burnished silver plate, set deep in a dark indigo sky,
flooded us with light.

It was now possible to try to bring the dhow under control; so, first of
all, overboard went the jury-rudder, with two hawsers lashed to those
projecting planks, and led to either side of the poop. Then we hoisted a
little of our tattered sail, cut away the grass hawser to the
sea-anchor, and, the breeze—it was only a breeze now—blowing steadily
and softly from the north-west, filling the sail gently, we squared the
yard and let her "rip".

But the jury-rudder would not act as a rudder.  It was too clumsy, and
the ropes attached to it too heavy. Twenty men on each would have been
scarcely sufficient to work it.  However, it kept our stern to the
wind—acting as a drag on the dhow—and we scudded merrily away to the
south-east at about three knots. I imagined that we were about eighty
miles to the south-west of Jask, and hoped that as the breeze backed, as
it generally did for some time after a shamel, we should be presently
blown away to the east.

Up to now the Arab crew had been helping quite willingly: but whilst
they were working aft with the jury-rudder I noticed that the sly old
nakhoda took every opportunity of speaking to them, and that afterwards,
though they still worked, they worked sullenly and unwillingly.

I had thought of allowing him to go for’ard with them, but after this,
and after Jaffa had warned me not to do so ("He only make a mischief,"
he said), I kept him aft where he was, much as I disliked his company.

I rather fancy that that knock on the head had made me sleepy.  I could
hardly keep my eyes open during my first turn of watch-keeping.  It was
beautifully cool, the "shamel" was now nothing more than a respectable
breeze, and the long subsiding swell made a most heavenly sight in the
moonlight.  Jaffa and I talked—it was the only way we could keep
awake—he telling me more about the peculiarities of the winds which blew
in this region.  Then he went on to tell me some of the experiences he
had had during the nine years he had served in the British service as an
interpreter.  Though they were very interesting I was more interested in
him and in his quiet aristocratic method of telling them.  After the
wonderfully cool way he had handled his Mauser pistol that morning he
was not to me the same Jaffa who had boarded the dhow with us.

Dobson and Wiggins relieved us presently.  "The jury-rudder is keeping
our stern into the wind well enough," I told Dobson; "the sea is nearly
smooth, the wind mostly gone, and the Arabs are all sound asleep—the
nakhoda under the poop, the rest for’ard."

Then I slept like a log until Dobson called me for another spell of
watch, and Jaffa and I were again on duty.

It was as wonderful, enchanting a sight as I have ever seen.  Above us
the great, dazzling, silent moon; around us the sea, a rippling surface
of silvery white, stretching away to the circle of the horizon. The
little dhow, with her white deck and black shadows, was the centre of
it, her sail a great patch of white, casting its clear-cut shadow to
starboard over the bows and over the water under them, as sharply cut
where it fell on the water as across the deck.

In the bows, beyond the foot of the sail, the sleeping Arabs lay in its
dark shadow; in the stern, in the shadow of the poop, Dobson and Wiggins
were soon fast asleep—the nakhoda had crawled under the poop and slept
there.

It was all so silent and so beautiful—the embodiment of all that is
lovely and peaceful and good in nature—that the perils and tragedies of
the day before seemed almost unreal, and it seemed impossible to realize
that, unless we kept wideawake and alert for the first suspicious
movement, we might have our throats cut at any moment.

What we could realize—only too painfully—was that we were very hungry.

Probably that helped to keep us awake more than anything else.

At any rate we did keep awake until I thought that two hours had gone
by, when I woke Dobson, coiled down on deck again, and was asleep in a
second.

Something touched me.  I woke up.  Dobson was bending over me.  "There’s
summat going on for’ard, sir.  I don’t like the sound of it.  I’ve been
for’ard under the foot of that ’ere sail twice in the past ’arf-’our,
and those noises leave off.  I find them Arabs a-lying there as quiet as
mice in a nest, and I don’t understand it."

I rubbed my eyes, sat up, and rose to my feet—very stiff I was.

The sea was absolutely calm now; the moonlight flooded our decks.  Every
seam and knot in the planks was distinct; every stitch and ragged tear
showed out clearly in the drooping sail, whose shadow swallowed up the
whole of the bows.

"Listen, sir!" Dobson whispered, pointing for’ard.

I heard a soft rasping sound, as if pieces of rough wood were being
drawn across each another.  I crept for’ard close to the gunwale, and
had not taken two paces before the noise ceased.

Dobson joined me.  "It always leaves off directly I start to go for’ard,
sir."

"Come along," I said, and we both walked along the deck, and, lifting
the foot of the sail, peered underneath.  When our eyes were accustomed
to the darkness we could see the figures of Arabs huddled up close
together on top of the fore hatch.  We waited for several minutes, but
no one stirred.

We crept back again.

"Where’s Wiggins?" I asked, and Dobson pointed under the poop.  "He felt
so bad with his ribs, sir, that I told him to go and lie down."

"See if the nakhoda is under there," I told him, and he crept in.

He came back again, white in the face.  "’E’s not there, sir."

I crawled under myself, crawled all over the beastly place.  He
certainly was not there.

"I never saw ’im go, sir!" Dobson whispered apologetically.

However, he was gone; there could be no doubt about that.  He was
certain to have crept for’ard among his men, and it was as certain that
mischief would be brewing.

"We’ll turn ’em out and see what it is," I said, pulling my revolver
from its holster and opening the breech to see that it was loaded.

We went for’ard again, and as we bent down under the sail, our revolvers
in our hands, there was a rush of bare feet and the whole crowd of them
leapt at us. Three or four were clinging to me, throttling me round the
neck, clutching my arms to my sides, and pulling my legs from under me.
In spite of all my struggles I was thrown to the deck on my face;
someone bent back my wrist to wrench the revolver away, but before it
was dragged out of my hand I managed to get my finger on the trigger and
pulled it.  As my head whirled with the choking of those iron fingers
round my throat I did not know whether I had actually fired it or not.
I was banged on the deck, twisted round and round under a heap of
grunting Arabs; something was forced into my mouth; I nearly lost
consciousness, but when the grasp on my throat was relaxed I managed to
draw a breath of air and found myself next to Dobson, both of us lashed
up like mummies, lying on our backs on some coils of rope.

We were both gagged, unable to speak, much less able to shout and wake
Jaffa and Wiggins—lying perfectly helpless.

Two Arabs were squatting on their haunches on either side of us.  Like a
fool I tried to struggle, and the one near me bent down and drew
something across my forehead—a knife; I felt its edge jag along the bone
and the blood running down the side of my temples and matting on my
eyebrows.

I lay still, terrified lest the next time I moved that knife would be
across my throat.  I really was horror-struck.

I saw the remainder of those brutes stealing aft noiselessly, under the
sail into the moonlight, and had an awful fear that in our struggles we
had made so little noise that Wiggins and Jaffa would not have waked,
and that they, too, would be caught unawares. I did not know whether my
revolver had fired or not. I tried to imagine that it had, but
everything was too horribly blurred for me to be sure.

Then my heart gave a great bound of relief, for, as the last of those
Arabs had stooped down and shown himself in the moonlight, I saw a flash
and heard Jaffa’s Mauser pistol—and a louder one, Wiggins firing too.
Shots banged out close to us, from the foot of the sail.  An Arab gave a
yell of pain, and the others came stampeding into the shadow again.

Thank Heaven!  They had not caught them asleep.

Two of the Arabs—two with revolvers, mine and Dobson’s I imagined—knelt
down by us and hunted for more ammunition, pressing the muzzles against
our foreheads to keep us quiet.  The muzzle slipped into that gash; how
it did pain!  I had no more cartridges—none, thank God!  Dobson had an
unopened packet of twelve rounds, and we saw them carefully dividing
these between each other.  A cartridge dropped between us, and they
hunted for it among the coils of rope, pulling us away roughly. An Arab
pounced on it with a hiss of delight.  I saw the Arab with a revolver
take it and place it in his chamber, so I knew that they only had twelve
rounds between them.  Then these two armed men crept along, one on each
side, to the edge of the shadow of the sail, stooping down to see under
it, whilst the others, with knives in their hands, lay flat down on the
deck between them.

I was half-dazed and mad with mortification and rage.  I would have
given my life to have known what Jaffa and Wiggins were doing at the
other end of the dhow.  There was a dark shadow under the poop platform,
I knew, and trusted with all my heart that they had retreated there.
But not a sound came from aft; they might both have been hit for all I
knew.  And not a sound did the Arabs make either. The only noise was the
creaking of the yard against the mast and its huge sleeve of rope.  The
sail drooped down absolutely motionless, blotting out the moon.

How long this silence lasted I have not the least idea.  It seemed ages.

"They have only twelve cartridges," was the only thing I could think of,
and waited to count the shots, holding my breath for fear the thudding
of my heart would prevent my hearing them.

The dark figures of those Arabs suddenly seemed to stiffen, and then,
from either gunwale, where the shadows were darkest, the revolvers
flashed and banged, twice on my right, three times on my left.

"Seven cartridges now, only seven," I thought joyfully, and each flash
had been answered by more flashes from aft, and bullets ripped along the
deck close to where Dobson and I lay.

An Arab gave a low sob, and I heard a revolver clatter to the deck on my
left.  A dark arm stretched out to pick it up, where it lay in the
moonlight, and as the dark hand seized it and hurriedly drew back into
the shadow a bullet splintered the deck where it had been.

A long period of silence followed.  Except for an occasional groan from
one of the Arabs, and the creaking of the yard above us, no sound came
to relieve the extreme tension of my ears.

Seven more they had.  How many had Jaffa and Wiggins?  That was all I
could think about. Wiggins would probably have very few, but Jaffa—I
knew nothing about him.  My ears were throbbing with the strain of
listening to count pistol shots which never came.  Then they crept aft
again.  I thought they were going to kill us.  They dragged us aft until
we lay among them, just in the edge of the shadow of the sail, and one
of them began calling out.  Though there was no reply from aft, I knew
well enough that they were telling Jaffa that he would probably hit us
if he fired any more.

So long as these Arabs did not recapture the dhow, I did not care in the
least whether I was hit or not.

The answer came with a single pistol shot from aft.  As it flashed, both
the Arab revolvers went off. Probably they were waiting for this, and
fired at the flash.  I was too dazed to count the number of shots. Was
it two or three?  Had they five or four cartridges still?  My brain was
whirling and numb.  I could not be sure.

They were probably as bad shots as ourselves, and appeared to be getting
nervous.

There was a hurried consultation among them; they drew back farther into
the shadow, and all of a sudden began stripping off their loose cloaks,
five of them, two with revolvers, the others with knives, and I could
make out the figure and beard of the nakhoda as he gesticulated and
encouraged them.

I knew that they were standing by to make a rush aft, when suddenly they
gave a hoarse cry and stiffened where they stood, pointing over the sea.
They stood like dark statues for a moment, and then the whole darkness
disappeared.  They stood out in the glare of a searchlight, naked to the
waist, their eyes glittering, their lips drawn back in fear, showing
their white teeth, and their shadows thrown against the now lighted
sail.

In another moment the searchlight—for it was a searchlight—had passed
and it was dark again. Jaffa and Wiggins fired half a dozen rounds very
rapidly; the bullets did not come for’ard, so probably they were firing
in the air; they yelled, too, and back the searchlight swept and
remained, whilst a small shell, bursting with a roar close to the bows,
threw up a column of fire and water.  In a second those Arabs had
dropped on their knees, crouching below the gunwales and hiding from the
glare of the light—all except the nakhoda, who, yelling something like
"Allah", rushed at me with a long knife.

He would have stuck it into me had not the others thrown themselves on
him and pulled him to the deck.

As they did so Jaffa and Wiggins, shouting and cursing, rushed forward.

In a minute I was free, Dobson was free.  Wiggins had cut the ropes,
whilst Jaffa stood guard over the Arabs, and as I staggered to the deck,
bleeding like a pig again, a boat rasped alongside, and Popple Opstein’s
great red face appeared as he climbed over the gunwale, followed by half
a dozen men.

"Four more!  They’ve got four more—or is it three?" was all I could
think of to say as he came for’ard.  I had to sit down to prevent my
legs giving way.

"Thank God you came along in time!" I said, as he shook some sense into
me and gave me something to drink.

I was all right again in a few minutes, and whilst the Arabs were being
securely tied up, to prevent any unpleasant mistakes, I was able to tell
him what had happened.

"What about your edge of civilization, Martin, old chap?" he laughed.
"You nearly toppled over the edge of it that time, eh?  We spotted you
in the moonlight, and saw the revolver flashes, so knew something was
wrong.  We never thought it was you."

"Man, she’s full of rifles.  I’m dead certain she is," I burst out, "and
I haven’t been out here ten days! Isn’t it splendid?"

"You don’t look very splendid," my chum smiled grimly.  "The sooner you
get on board to our doctor the better."

I really felt almost intoxicated.  I could not stop talking.  "Look at
that one-eyed interpreter of mine," I babbled, turning to Jaffa, who was
leaning up against the gunwale cleaning his Mauser pistol.  "Look at
him!  He saved the whole show.  He’s simply grand with that pistol of
his.  Aren’t you, Jaffa?"

He smiled his inscrutable, dignified smile.

"You saved all our lives.  We should not have pulled through without
you," I went on, and for the life of me I do not know whether he looked
pleased or not.

The _Intrepid’s_ men were going round collecting the knives which the
Arabs had dropped on deck.  Dobson and I found our revolvers.

For the life of me I could not keep silent.

"How many cartridges are there in yours?" I asked him, opening my
breech.  "There are only two in mine."

"Not a blessed one, sir!" he grinned; so, after all, I had miscounted.

"How many have you?" I asked Wiggins.

"Not a blessed one either, sir!  I did have two, but fired ’em when we
sighted the _Intrepid_—that ’ere Pershun told me to!"

Commander Duckworth of the _Intrepid_ now came on board the dhow, and I
had to tell him the yarn all over again.  In spite of feeling absolutely
"played out", I talked as if I should never stop, telling him detail
after detail, imploring him to go right away and hunt for the _Bunder
Abbas_.  I rather fancy I suggested that he should leave us in the dhow
to sail into Jask.

However, I found myself, Dobson, Wiggins, and Jaffa climbing down into
his boat and being pulled across to the _Intrepid_.  I know that I
talked to them all the time, and to Nicholson, the staff surgeon of the
_Intrepid_, whilst he was probing and stitching those wounds of mine.
When he had finished these he stuck the needle of a syringe into my arm.
"That’ll send you to sleep all right," he said, looking at me curiously.

When I went aft he was commencing work on three wounded Arabs who had
been brought over.  The rest of them were in the battery surrounded by
inquisitive bluejackets.  The old nakhoda squatted on deck by himself,
covered up in his burnous, with only his eyes showing.  He did not even
deign to look at me. The _Intrepid_ was already steaming ahead, her
boats hoisted, and the dhow ("My dhow, old chap," I said, slapping old
Popple Opstein on the back) was safely towing astern; I could see her
mast.

"Rifles, my dear chap!  She’s simply chock-full of them!" I laughed.

I was famished—starvingly hungry—and they got food for me down in the
ward-room, although Nicholson tried to make me lie down.  The ward-room
chaps, in their pyjamas, sat round me as I talked to them. I could not
leave off talking, and I found that I didn’t like anything they had on
the table, so could not eat.

Nicholson took hold of my wrist and shoved another beastly syringe
needle into my arm.  He made the fellows go away too, although I had not
told them nearly all that had happened, and in a little while I did let
Nicholson take me to a cabin—just to humour him. That is the last I
remember—I certainly don’t remember undressing—but I woke in broad
daylight to find myself in pyjamas belonging to somebody else, feeling
rather shaky, my head covered in bandages, and Nicholson standing over
me with a satisfied smile on his fat face.

My aunt! how hungry I was!

"Food, Nicholson, that’s what I want," I said. "I haven’t had anything
worth speaking about for twenty-four hours."

He felt my pulse, smiled, and went away.  I called him back.  "How about
the _Bunder Abbas_?  Have you found her yet?"

"She’s been alongside us for the last forty hours or more," he said.
"We are anchored off Sheikh Hill. She’s all right."

I looked puzzled.  I had not noticed that the engines were not working.

"My dear chap, you’ve slept solidly for nearly three days.  I’ve seen to
that."

Popple Opstein came in, looking anxious, until Nicholson told him that I
was as "right as rain". "Man, you are lucky!" he cried, his face growing
violet with excitement; "she had nearly four hundred rifles on board.
Look!  I’ve brought you one," and he held up a brand-new Mauser rifle.

I handled it lovingly—my first capture.  "You won’t ’pot’ at any poor
wretched sentry on the Indian frontier, my beauty," I thought.

"How did you find the _B.A._?" I asked; and my chum explained that the
_Intrepid_ had taken my dhow in tow, steaming to the north’ard; that at
daybreak the launch had been sighted, and though she had raised steam
again she could not use her engines as something had fouled her
propeller, below the waterline of course, where Mr. Scarlett could not
get at it.

"The result was," old Popple Opstein went on to tell me, "that we had to
tow her as well, and when we anchored here sent our divers down to clear
it."

Later on Nicholson allowed me to dress, Percy smiling out of his great
eyes when he brought me some clean clothes.  Afterwards I went aboard
the _Bunder Abbas_ to hear Mr. Scarlett’s account of what had happened
and to see what repairs were still necessary.  I found people from the
_Intrepid_ busily straightening the bent stanchions and fitting a new
after-awning cut from an old awning belonging to the cruiser.

"She’ll look all right in a couple of days," Mr. Scarlett said, as he
and I watched the last few boxes of ammunition being hoisted up through
the dhow’s hatches and transferred to the _Intrepid’s_ battery deck. It
was a most comforting sight.

"Thought I’d seen the last of you, sir, when that big squall struck the
dhow, and thought you’d seen the last of the _Bunder Abbas_ when she
half-filled herself with water, her fires had been put out, and that
hawser coiled itself round the screw.

"My, sir, but I was being sick every few minutes with pure fright—I was
that frightened that I wanted to jump overboard and get the drowning
over quietly, without a lot of lascars howling and clawing round me—as I
was waiting for ’em to do when she did sink.  We made some kind of a
sea-anchor with what was left of that awning and some spars, got her
head to the wind, and baled her out with buckets—with buckets, sir!
Three mortal hours that took, and another six to raise steam again, the
lascars all preferring to drown up on deck, so not a blessed one would
go below.

"We never noticed that hawser round her screw till we let the steam in
her engines, wound a few more turns round her screw, and brought them up
all standing.  Thank God! we hadn’t cast off our sea-anchor, or we’d
have had all the making of another over again—and dead tired, tired as
dogs, we all were."

There was this to say for Mr. Scarlett—I never doubted him.  Whenever he
told me of anything, I felt perfectly sure that he had told me all.
However, I was inquisitive to know how he himself had actually behaved,
so could not help asking Corporal Webster later on what kind of a time
they had had, hoping that he might have something to say about him.

"Awful weren’t the word for it, sir; the worst time I’ve ever had in my
life.  We none of us thought she’d float, and she wouldn’t have but for
the gunner—sick one moment, working like half a dozen men the next.
Why, sir, when we steadied her into the wind, an’ baled her out, he laid
the fires in the boilers himself, no one else knowing how to do it, them
lascar chaps funking going below, and we chipping up a mess table (the
only dry bit of wood on board) and passing the bits down to him."

I learnt still more of that extraordinary man by watching Percy, the
Tamil boy.  His eyes showed the most unbounded admiration for the
gunner.  He simply slaved for him all day long, and seemed to be
perfectly happy so long as he was doing something for him: pipeclaying
his helmet, or washing out his vests—anything, in fact.

I don’t pretend to be a judge of character—luckily—and he certainly
puzzled me.  That gale had told me more about Mr. Scarlett, Dobson, and
Jaffa than I should have learnt in six months of ordinary cruising.



                              *CHAPTER VI*

                       *The Edge of Civilization*


For two more days the _Intrepid_ remained at anchor, three miles off
Sheikh Hill, within sight of the open shallow creek running up to Bungi
village and of those cliffs from which the Afghan, a week before, had
wasted ammunition on the _Bunder Abbas_.  The launch remained alongside
of her and the dhow astern.  Why we were thus delayed I am not certain,
but from the many curious and inquisitive questions Nicholson
continually asked me, and from the many times I caught him watching me,
I imagine that it was principally on my account, and that Commander
Duckworth would not send me away cruising by myself until Nicholson had
reported favourably.

At the end of this time both the _Bunder Abbas_ and I were in
first-class condition: the bandage which covered my wounds had been
replaced by what Nicholson called a collodion dressing, and the _Bunder
Abbas_ showed no signs whatever of her recent hard usage.  I was ordered
to tow my empty dhow out to sea, set her on fire, and sink her.  This I
did with very great regret, for, although she was old and rotten, she
was my first capture, and I wanted her to be condemned and sold properly
by a prize court.  However, it was not to be; so she was burnt to the
water’s edge, and her stone ballast quickly sank her.

We all knew that her cargo of arms and ammunition represented not a
tenth of the great number reported to have been brought down to Jeb for
shipment to the Makran coast, and everybody felt certain that sooner or
later—probably sooner—more dhows would endeavour to run across.

We were therefore very grateful when we did at last receive orders for
patrolling between the two inlets.

Two cutters belonging to the _Intrepid_, with a Maxim gun in the bows of
each, had to patrol the creeks, keeping out of rifle shot from shore
during the day and running close in at night.  My chum, Baron Popple
Opstein, commanded No. 1; and Evans, a little rat of a lieutenant, full
of "go", but all nerves, No. 2.

I was ordered to patrol from one to the other, backwards and forwards,
on a line about six miles from the shore, during the daytime, and to
close to within a mile of the shore at sunset.  I was also ordered to
communicate with both cutters each morning, as soon after daylight as
possible, to receive reports of any happenings during the preceding
night.  Still farther out to sea the _Intrepid_ herself would patrol a
line twenty miles long, also closing at dusk to within sighting distance
of a Very’s light, should we want to communicate with her by firing one.

All being ready, Evans, Popple Opstein, and I went aboard the cruiser,
fully expecting that Commander Duckworth would give us a great deal of
unnecessary advice, as though we were a lot of babies, not to be trusted
a hundred yards from him; instead of which he simply asked us if we
understood his written orders, and when we answered that we did, merely
said: "Right you are!  You can get away as soon as you like.  Good
night!"

"He’s a splendid chap to serve under," Evans said in his nervous,
hurried way of talking.  "He’s always just like that."

It was grand to be sent away entirely on one’s own, without being tied
down this way and that before ever the conditions which might
conceivably happen had happened.

"Imagine anything like this in the good old Home Fleet!" my chum said as
we parted.  "We should be fathered and mothered day and night."

So, an hour before the sun set, I took the two cutters in tow, dropped
_Intrepid_ No. 1 close under Sheikh Hill, and steamed down to
Kuh-i-Mubarak with No. 2, leaving her there in the mouth of the deep
creek running up to Sudab, the village where I had seen the camels.

"Good night and good luck!" I shouted, as I steamed off to sea to
commence my own job.

No one expected a dhow to slip across during those first days, because
there were so few hours of darkness; but the moon, of course, was rising
later each night, and every twenty-four hours increased our chances.

However, nothing came in sight, and on the seventh day—a Thursday it
was—according to my orders, I fetched _Intrepid_ No. 2 back to the
anchorage off Sheikh Hill, and found the _Intrepid_ herself anchored
there, with my chum’s boat already alongside.

I made fast to her, and immediately began the job of filling up with
coal, water, and provisions; whilst the crews of the two cutters went
inboard in order to get a good meal and a comfortable sleep whilst their
boats were being revictualled.  Sleep in a cutter crammed with gear is
not a success.  It does not matter how comfortable you try to make
yourself, there is always something sticking into your back; and a
chum’s foot in your face, though quite an unimportant detail, does not
induce slumber, especially if the owner happens to be restless.

I went aboard to have my wounds dressed.  Nicholson took out the
stitches, and said that both gashes were healing well.  I wanted him to
let me take Wiggins back again.  I had had to leave him behind with his
broken ribs (very much against his wish), but he was not yet well enough
to rejoin.

Then my chum came aboard the _Bunder Abbas_ and smoked his dirty old
pipe with me on the little platform deck outside my cabin.  We sat in
those two easy canvas chairs under the awning and had a good time.

"Enjoyed the week?" I asked.

"Splendid," he said, beaming and showing his white teeth.  "Splendid."

"Did that Afghan chap have a shot at you?"

"Once or twice," he nodded.  "He’s a rattling poor shot."

"Shoot back?"

"Once or twice; never hit him."

He was on board for three hours, and I don’t believe he said another
word (as a matter of fact he slept most of the time); but as he was
going away he wanted to know whether I had seen Mr. Scarlett’s snake
again.

I had not.  He kept a bandage round it now.  If he did uncover it, he
did so at night.

Popple Opstein was evidently still very interested in it.

"I wish he’d let me try that dodge of a pair of pincers and a bit of tin
slipped under it, or wiring its head or something," he said.

I shook my head, and told him that it was useless to suggest that again.

Just before sunset I towed both cutters back to their positions, leaving
them there.

Nothing happened during that week, although the darkness was very
favourable for any dhow to try to creep in.  At sunrise every morning I
waited inshore to see that the two cutters were safe and had nothing to
report, then pushed farther out to sea to steam slowly up and down,
whilst the men not on duty scrubbed decks, cleaned guns, or washed and
mended their clothes.

It was fearfully hot all this time, and I learnt that Moore was right
after all, and that one could hardly keep awake in the afternoon.  From
noon until four o’clock the heat, even under the awnings, was at times
almost unbearable.  I could not keep awake myself, so had to let the men
sleep too, and Moore did not hide his satisfaction at my first defeat.
The crew was so small, and, what with men on watch and those wanting
extra sleep after a night’s watch, there were seldom more than three or
four "hands" to employ at odd jobs, so precious little cleaning was done
either, and I even began to wonder whether it would not be wiser to
paint the water jackets of the Maxims, and even the six-pounder, as they
were so difficult to keep bright.

"There is either too much wind or not enough" is a sailor’s saying about
the Persian Gulf; and although we were actually outside the Gulf itself,
yet the saying held true enough here.  Hardly a puff of wind ruffled the
glassy, glaring surface of the sea for those first fourteen or fifteen
days: the sun blazed at us all day from an absolutely silent,
monotonous, burnished sky. I began to curse it when it rose, and when it
did set, and give me a chance to cool down, to dread its reappearance
and the heat of the next day.

Mr. Scarlett told me that I should soon become accustomed to it.  He
himself simply revelled in it. He advised me to drink as little fluid as
possible, if I did not want to be covered with prickly heat, and I did
my best to follow his advice, although the desire for liquid was
sometimes almost unbearable.

Another Thursday we spent alongside the _Intrepid_, my chum coming
aboard me to sleep and smoke, and occasionally make some contented
remark.  Then back we went to our stations for another week of patient
watching.

On Sunday morning I edged in as usual, to see whether the Baron had
anything to report.

It was about half-past four, still dark, but the darkness rapidly
disappearing, when he flashed a signal lantern, and I answered him.

In ten minutes he was alongside.  He had a sick man whom he wanted me to
take on board, so we hoisted him in and put him down below.

"It’s only a touch of the sun," the Baron said; "but we can’t make him
comfortable here.  You can give him back to-morrow."

This occupied perhaps ten minutes.  It had become appreciably lighter,
and I could see the sheikh’s house or fort looming above our heads as I
started off to go along to Evans.

We had not steamed a mile before we heard a Maxim firing very rapidly.
Looking inshore I could see the cutter pulling in under those cliffs
from which that Afghan had fired at us.

"Put your helm over and wake up the engine-room people," I ordered, and
round we swung.  The cutter had now disappeared round the base of the
cliffs, but as we hurried after her we could still hear the Maxim
firing.

We all were grandly excited—all except Mr. Scarlett. As he went down to
see that our guns were ready I saw that his face was a muddy, grey
colour. He would not look me in the face, and his hand was shaking as he
steadied himself by the rail.  My former feeling of contempt for his
cowardice came back.

Percy came up with two cups of cocoa and some biscuits, grinning
delightfully; but his face fell when Mr. Scarlett refused any—he thought
that he had not made it properly.

It was quite light now, and I steered wide of the cliffs, in order to be
able to look up the creek more quickly and to be able sooner to help the
Baron if he was "busy".

Then, as the mouth of the creek opened out, there was a shout from
for’ard of "Look, sir; look there!" and I was astonished to see a large
dhow—a very large dhow—lying half in, half out of the water on the
beach, two thousand yards away.  A red flag was trailing down from her
ensign staff, and her bows were surrounded by a great crowd of camels
and natives.  The cutter was about nine hundred yards away—between us
and the dhow; pulling like mad her men were, and tut-tut-tut-tut went
the Maxim in her bows.  I could see the line of bullet splashes, first
in the water, then in the sand among the camels, then in the water
again.  They were making bad shooting—a Maxim is always a troublesome
weapon in a moving boat.

"Give them a shell!" I yelled down to Mr. Scarlett. The little
six-pounder barked, and its first shell burst in the water, but the
second sent up a cloud of smoke and sand right among a tangled mass of
camels and men.  We saw some camels struggling on the ground, and broke
into cheers as the rest of them were driven frantically up the beach and
the sand-hills, to disappear behind them.

A few chaps, their loose cloaks flapping about, scampered after the
others, until not a single living thing was left in sight.

"She’s a fine dhow that," Mr. Scarlett said, coming up the ladder to me,
his voice very shaky.  "We shall have to be very careful, sir."

"Careful!" I shouted.  "Why, man alive, they’ve run away!  There’s not a
soul to stop us.  Look at the cutter, man; they’re almost up to her."

Mr. Scarlett looked and shivered.

I saw that the cutter had taken the ground.  Her bluejackets, with their
rifles in their hands, were jumping into the water and wading ashore,
racing ashore, my chum struggling to get ahead of them.

"Go it, Popple Opstein!" I yelled, unable to control myself, and wished
that the old "_B.A._" would go faster, so that I could be alongside him.

My aunt!  What luck!  Two dhows in less than a fortnight!

"We shall be millionaires in no time," I said, turning to Mr. Scarlett,
to cheer him up; but he had gone down on deck again.

Then I had to stop my engines.  I dared not go in any closer; there was
not a foot of water under my keel.

I shouted for the dinghy to be lowered.

The Baron and his men—eight of them—were on the firm sand now, running
along towards the dhow, cheering and whooping, when suddenly I heard
rifle-firing—rifles from behind the tops of those sand-dunes, rifles
from the tops of those beastly cliffs, and saw the sand spurting up all
round them as they ran.  Through my glasses I could see heads peering
over the sand-dunes and rifles firing over them.  I yelled to the men to
leave the dinghy and open fire again with the six-pounder.

Then two of those running figures fell; one rose and went on, the other
lay where he fell.

"Lie down and shoot back, or you’ll all be killed," I shouted, like a
fool, as if they could hear me eight hundred yards away.

Then I realized that if they could reach the dhow they would obtain some
shelter from the fire.

I saw my chum fall, sprawling, and get up again, stoop to pick up his
revolver—he never would put the lanyard round his neck—and go on again,
slowly, limping.  Two men stopped to help him, but I saw him waving them
to leave him, and they dashed to the side of the dhow, flung themselves
flat down, half in, half out of the water, and commenced shooting. My
Maxims were busy now, and keeping down the fire a little; but for a
couple of seconds poor old Popple Opstein was alone on the beach, with
bullet-spirts jumping up all round him.  Those two seconds seemed like
ages, till, with a gasp of relief, I saw him gain the shelter of the
dhow and throw himself down among the others.

Thank goodness! he could not be very badly wounded.

But the dhow only gave shelter from the men behind the sand-hills; my
chum and his people were still entirely exposed to a dropping,
long-range fire from the tops of those cliffs, and bullets still
splashed and spurted all round the dhow.

The six-pounder shells were bursting well along the tops of the
sand-hills, and three men, left behind in the stranded cutter, were also
peppering them with their Maxim.  These two guns kept the people on the
beach fairly quiet, so I cocked up my two Maxims and opened fire on the
cliff, the people up there immediately paying attention to us.  A bullet
splintered the deck close to where I was standing, several whistled
through the awnings, others flattened themselves against the funnel.
Griffiths and I were standing there by the wheel and compass absolutely
exposed.  I do not know how I looked, but I do know that I was chiefly
frightened lest I should look as frightened as I felt.  I wondered what
Mr. Scarlett was doing.  He was under the awning, so I could not see
him.  A bullet smashed Percy’s coffee-cup and broke it to atoms—bullets
were flying all round us. There was nothing for me to do; that was the
worst of it.  To relieve the strain of being idle, I sent Griffiths to
bring up a rifle and some ammunition, and took the wheel myself.

Before he came back I saw the figures close to the dhow rise up and dash
into the water, wade round her stern, and disappear from view.  Seven
figures I counted; that little white heap halfway along the sand only
made eight; so another must have been badly hit.  But now they were safe
for a time, entirely sheltered by the dhow.

The natives, Afghans, Baluchis, whatever they were, thereupon turned
more rifles on to us and that stranded cutter—both from the sand-hills
and from the cliffs. The range from the sand-hills was well over twelve
hundred yards, and most of the firing was very wild; but one of our
chaps, Jones, a marine, working one of the Maxims, was shot through the
arm about this time. However, our high gunwales kept off most of the
bullets.

It was very different with that stranded cutter.  She was not more than
six hundred yards away from the sand-hills, closer still to the foot of
the cliffs, and almost immediately one of the three men still working
her Maxim fell and was pushed aside or crawled away—I couldn’t see
which.

Griffiths came up with his rifle.  "Go on, fire yourself!" I shouted,
and he lay down and began potting at the people on the cliff, over our
heads.  The shooting now slackened from there, and I quickly understood
why, for I saw fifty or sixty natives scampering down a cliff path and
wading through the shallow mouth of the creek.  By the time I had
ordered a Maxim to swing round on them most of these had joined the
others behind the sand-hills.  We bagged two or three, however.

I knew that we were in a horrid mess, and didn’t want Mr. Scarlett to
come up to me—absolutely yellow in the face—and tell me so.  Just as he
was blurting and stuttering out something about a falling tide and
getting that cutter afloat, people down below began shouting: "Look!
Look!"

Griffiths, peering over his shoulder with frightened eyes, pointed, and
I saw a regular horde of Afghans pouring over the tops of those
sand-hills and racing down the beach, straight for the stranded cutter.
I looked at her.  Only one man was now working that Maxim, or trying to
do so, and making a bad job of it. Something had gone wrong with the
belt.  He tried desperately to jerk it clear, failed, then gave it up,
caught sight of the yelling Afghans charging down on him, and hid under
the gunwale.

The six-pounder fired as rapidly as it could, and must have killed many,
but one of our Maxims had jammed and the other would not bear.  Mr.
Scarlett’s piercing voice was shrieking for me to turn the _Bunder
Abbas_ round so that he could use the second Maxim. I gave the wheel a
turn and rang down to the engine-room.  Before I was able to turn her
side farther towards the beach that fierce rush had reached the water’s
edge.  Scores of wild Afghans were splashing through the sea.  We could
hear them yelling as they waded knee-deep—waist-deep—towards the cutter.
Then we saw the two men still alive in her peer over the gunwale, and
one seized a rifle and began firing, but the other crawled across the
thwarts, let himself down over the stern, and commenced to swim towards
the _Bunder Abbas_.

A six-pounder will not stop a rush: its shells are not deadly enough.  I
thought the Maxim would never fire.  Looking at the dhow to see whether
our people were safe, I saw rifles sticking out from under her poop
railings, so knew that Popple Opstein and his men had climbed on board.
They, too, were firing on the Afghans charging through the water.  On
these came; they were not thirty yards from the cutter; the man inside
it had his face turned appealingly to us.

Then Mr. Scarlett started the Maxim.  He found the range in a
twinkling—he only had to follow the splash of the bullets till they fell
amongst the natives, and then wobble the gun—and it was impossible to
miss.  Their shouts of triumph changed to wild shrieks of terror.  It
was just as if a scythe had swept over them.  They subsided under the
water—they disappeared—only a few, crouching till their heads hardly
showed above the surface, regained the beach and the protection of the
sand-hills.

There was no time for thinking of this sickening slaughter; my chum and
his men had to be brought off, his cutter had to be refloated, and that
dhow had still to be destroyed.

"Land and help him!"  The thought did come into my head for a second,
but it would have been idiotic.  We should only be putting our heads
into the same trap that he was in.

The Afghans had had such a terrible lesson that for a short time only a
few ventured to the edge of the sand-hills to fire on us.  The fire from
the cliffs, whilst our Maxims were no longer keeping it down, became
somewhat more vigorous, and I knew that now was my chum’s chance to rush
back along that beach and regain the cutter.

I shouted to the signal-man to semaphore across to him, but he must have
also realized that this was his opportunity, for almost immediately we
saw the bluejackets sliding down the dhow’s side—two had to be helped
down—and then they all—seven of them— came back along the water’s edge.
Very slowly they came, for one man was being carried and my pal was
limping badly, though managing without assistance. Only a few Afghans
were firing at them, and these we stopped by mowing the edges of the
sand-hills with Maxim bullets wherever a head showed.

They seemed to be taking hours.  I found myself yelling to them to try
to go faster.  They kept on stopping to fire at the sand-hills.  Then,
at last, they began wading out, and we cheered as we saw them climb
aboard the boat without further loss, get out their oars, and try to
push off.  Our joy died down when we saw that they could not move her.
The tide had fallen, and the cutter was on top of a sandbank with not a
foot of water covering it.  They jumped out again into the shallows and
strained and heaved, but not an inch could they shift her.

All this time the Afghans on the cliff were firing at them.  They
clambered back into the boat and replied to this fire with rifles:
something had evidently gone wrong with their Maxim.  Afghans now
appeared over the sand-hills immediately behind the cutter, where we
dare not fire for fear of hitting my chum’s people. These, too, opened
fire on the cutter, and the water all round it was alive with bullet
splashes.  Another man fell down in the boat and his rifle overboard.

Unless something was done very quickly they would all be killed.  I
yelled for volunteers to pull the dinghy across and take them a rope.
Dobson, the leading seaman, and Webster, the corporal of marines, jumped
into her first.  "Take the wheel and don’t go farther inshore," I called
to Griffiths, and rushed down on deck to supervise the rope being passed
into the dinghy and coiled down in her stern-sheets.  On my way I saw
Jaffa, standing at the foot of the ladder, aiming at the top of the
cliffs with a rifle.  He was as calm as ever.

The dinghy was on our shore side, away from the cliffs and sheltered
from fire.  We coiled all the ropes we had into her stern, bending one
to the end of the next.  I rushed back to the wheel and moved the
_Bunder Abbas_ in towards the cutter until my bows touched the sand.
Then I gave the word to Dobson and Webster and they shot ahead of the
bows, the rope uncoiling and paying out as they pulled.

Directly they had cleared our bows the whole of the rifle fire was
turned on them, and they had not taken fifty strokes before Dobson was
hit.  He dropped his oar, but grabbed it again, pulling with one hand.
A moment later he was struck a second time and fell forward.

Webster seized his oar and went on, but I shouted to him to come back,
and with a brilliant thought he made fast the rope and we hauled him
back.  As the dinghy came near I saw that Dobson was dead.  We lifted
him out and Mr. Scarlett jumped in.

"I’m going, sir," he said, and I was so astonished that I could say
nothing.

We laid Dobson on deck and jumped back to work our guns, whilst Mr.
Scarlett and Webster pulled madly towards the cutter, paying out the
rope and steering wildly.  We yelled with delight when they reached the
cutter and passed the rope inboard.

In a moment the cutter’s crew had clambered into the water again to
lighten the boat.  They held up their hands to signal my rope made fast.

I gave the "_B.A._" a touch astern and stopped her engines, the rope
tautened, the cutter’s crew shoved and pushed and yelled that she was
moving.  In half a minute we had her afloat, her men scrambling in as
she slid into deep water; in ten minutes we were out of range, and in
half an hour she and the dinghy were both alongside, and I had dropped
anchor two miles from the cliffs and out of sight of the dhow.  The
cutter was peppered with bullet holes, her gunwales, sides, and oars
splintered and grooved in a hundred places.  She leaked like a sieve,
and water filled her to her thwarts.

She had one dead man on board—one of those left as boat-keepers—the one
I had seen shot when working the Maxim; one man shot through the chest
and leg; four others wounded (one with three bullet wounds through soft
parts), besides Popple Opstein.

"It went clean through my calf muscles," he told me.  "It’s nothing."

Not until then did anyone remember the man who had started to swim back
towards the _Bunder Abbas_ when those Afghans charged down.  He had not
been seen since, and must have been drowned, or perhaps killed by a
bullet in the head.  Two of the cutter’s crew had been left on shore
dead, so these made the cutter’s total casualties three killed, one
missing, and five wounded.  Only four had escaped untouched.

The dead man and the wounded were all brought aboard the _Bunder Abbas_:
the dead who might only have been wounded, the wounded who so easily
might have been dead.  A turn of the head, and a bullet which would have
only grazed your ear blows out your brains; you drop a cartridge, stoop
to pick it up, and a bullet which would have gone through your heart
wings on its way without your knowing that it had ever come and gone.

Whenever one sees dead and wounded brought back by the untouched men who
have been fighting alongside them, one cannot help thinking queer
thoughts, and casting enquiring glances at the survivors to see what
qualities they have which spared them.  I must admit that I have never
yet noticed anything particularly noble about those who have escaped.
Since those gun-running days I have seen much fighting and many killed
and wounded, and the untouched have generally been cursing something or
somebody, giving relief to the strain on their nerves by cursing hard.
Thoughts take longer to write than to think, so they don’t, in actual
practice, waste much time.

We were obliged to take every heavy weight out of the cutter to prevent
her sinking, and then tried to stop the bullet holes below the water
line.

Webster, the corporal of marines, was as handy with the medicine chest
and its bandages as he was with anything else I ever saw him try his
hands on. In half an hour he had made the wounded chaps as comfortable
as it was possible for them to be.  Percy, too, was in his element
bringing them water, tinned milk, and coffee.  He was like a dog in his
admiration for white men.  If he had had a tail he would have wagged it
off that morning.

Until that cutter was safe I did not care how many rifles the Afghans
took out of the dhow in our absence; but directly she was fairly
watertight I left her at anchor with the dinghy, Moore, the timid
Goanese carpenter, and a couple of hands, to carry on repairs, and
steamed inshore again.

I kept wide of the cliffs (from which a terrific fire burst out) until
the beach and the dhow herself came in full view.

The shore was again alive with Afghans and their camels.  Through my
glasses I could see sacks of rifles being thrown from the dhow on to the
sand, snatched up by eager men, and rapidly packed on the camels’ backs.
A long string of heavily-laden camels was already disappearing behind
the sand-hills.

But I was not going to worry about them or Afghans.  I was going to set
that dhow on fire with my shells.

At twelve hundred yards I opened fire.

"At the dhow!" I shouted to Mr. Scarlett.  "Don’t worry about people."

Her woodwork began flying, and I knew that the shells were bursting
inside her.  It was only a question of time—the people aboard and close
to her had vanished at the first shell—and presently smoke began to pour
from her hatches.  We cheered at this—those of us on deck working the
gun, Griffiths at the wheel, and poor old Popple Opstein supporting
himself against the deck rails.  The rest I had sent down below under
cover.

We kept on firing at her, and soon there was a rush of black smoke,
small explosions took place aboard her, her stern blew out, her masts
came tumbling down, and she took fire fore and aft.  Every other minute
some ammunition must have exploded, scattering fragments of wood and
broken rifles round her on the sand.  It was courting death to go near
her; but, even so, some Afghans now and then rushed towards her, seized
a rifle, and rushed back again. What plucky fellows they were!

By half-past ten o’clock there was no doubt that not a round of
ammunition remained in her, nor a rifle that was not entirely useless;
so, with a parting shot dropped behind the sand-hills, I went back to
the cutter and dinghy, running the gauntlet of the cliffs without
receiving any damage.

Hoisting in the dinghy, and taking the empty, waterlogged cutter in tow,
I steamed very slowly seawards to find the _Intrepid_ and Nicholson.

Four men killed, one missing, and five wounded among the cutter’s crew,
one man killed and one wounded aboard the _Bunder Abbas_, was the price
of that Sunday morning’s work.

As we left Sheikh Hill behind us reaction set in, and we were very
depressed.

The edge of civilization!  I could not help thinking of that.  At home
people were just getting out of bed, wondering what Sunday clothes they
should wear. I wished that some of them could have seen how we had spent
that morning.  If only I could have got hold of the people, English,
French, or Germans—I didn’t know and I didn’t care—who had manufactured
those rifles or sent them out there, I should have enjoyed torturing
them.

Poor old Popple Opstein sat moodily outside my cabin under the awning,
with his elbows on the table and his face buried in his hands.  If I had
been in his place I know that I should have done exactly as he had done;
but, poor old chap, he knew as well as I did that he had bungled the
whole affair, that we might have destroyed the dhow and the rifles
without landing or losing a single man.  He was suffering the tortures
of the damned.

I put my hand on his shoulder and squeezed it. Nothing I could say would
do him any good, and nothing did either of us say.

I dared not ask him if he was certain that those two men who had been
left on the beach were actually killed; the thought of them having
fallen alive into the hands of the Afghans was too horrible.  Instead, I
asked one of his men, and, thank God! he was certain that they were both
dead.  The one who had dropped halfway along the beach had been shot
through the head, and the other, the one shot whilst lying half in the
water under the dhow’s stern, had been lying next to him, and his head
was under the water all the time they were there.

The only touch of humour about the whole tragic business came from
Percy.  Dressed in his best, and looking very important, he had come up
to me as we were in the middle of destroying that dhow and asked,
pointing to my chum: "Master have guest to breakfast?"  I had laughed
like a fool, till I hurt myself.

As we were eating the food he had prepared for us—on the way back to the
_Intrepid_ that was—I turned to the gunner.  "Mr. Scarlett," I said, "if
you are a coward you are the bravest coward I have ever heard of."

"I do things like that just to try and beat it down, sir," he mumbled;
"but it’s just as bad when the next show comes along.  I can’t help it,
sir; I really can’t.  I know I look frightened; but I don’t look half as
frightened as I really am."

Percy looked upon him as a demigod—that was very evident.



                             *CHAPTER VII*

                    *The Battle of the Paraffin Can*


We were only able to tow that waterlogged cutter very slowly, so we did
not sight the _Intrepid_ until three o’clock that afternoon.  Half an
hour later we crawled alongside, and my chum and I went on board to
report.  He looked as if he was going to his execution, and though I did
my best to make him "buck up", and tried to hammer it into his head that
we had done our best, and could do no more, he seemed more "down in the
mouth" than ever.

Commander Duckworth made us tell him all that had happened, and I
thought afterwards that if only people at home—just coming out of church
they should have been at that hour—could have peered down into that
luxuriously-furnished cabin of the _Intrepid_ in the middle of the
Straits of Ormuz, could have heard the story which my chum told, and
seen the agony in his face as he told it, how it would have impressed
them!

Cool, grey-green silk curtains kept out the glare from the port-holes
and skylight; green-silk lampshades on the tables fluttered in the
grateful breeze from the electric fans; pictures of English scenery, old
naval prints, photographs of beautiful women in evening and Court dress,
and photograph groups of polo teams and their ponies covered the white
bulkheads.  From photographs in silver frames, standing on the tables
between silver cups and trinkets, more delicate women looked out with
smiling sympathetic eyes, whilst backwards and forwards past them paced
the commander in his spotless white uniform.  The Baron and I were
sitting on a dainty, silk-covered sofa, digging our bare feet and toes
into a soft Persian rug.  We had no clothes on except dirty, open cotton
shirts (the sleeves rolled up), and a pair of dirty duck "shorts"
halfway up our thighs.  Our bare legs and knees, our sunburnt chests and
arms, looked very much out of place among the luxurious surroundings.
Tied below his left knee Popple Opstein had a blood-stained
handkerchief, and on my head and forehead was the dressing which
Nicholson had put there three days ago.

My chum still wore his revolver belt and holster, and, for once, the
dirty lanyard was round his neck.

"I made a fool of myself, sir," he blurted out; "I’d never had a chance
before, and I went straight for her."  His face was drawn with pain and
shame at his want of discretion.

"You both want a brandy-and-soda," was all Commander Duckworth said when
he had heard our tale.

He made us drink one—it was iced, and it was grand—and said not a word
of reproof for our foolhardiness.  If he had stormed and cursed us, I do
not know what we should have done.

I dreaded terribly that my chum would not be allowed to take his cutter
away again on account of his wound—if for no other reason—but I think
that the commander realized his distressed state of mind, and I breathed
freely when he quietly told us to repair all damages, that fresh men
would be sent to replace casualties (my chum winced), and that we were
to report as soon as we were ready to return to our stations.

I saw Popple Opstein’s face flush with gratitude.  He said, tremblingly:
"Thank you, sir!" and limped out.

Commander Duckworth stopped me.  "I don’t know whether I am doing wisely
or not in allowing him to go away again.  Just have a look at him every
daybreak, and, if that wound goes wrong, bring him back.  Tell Nicholson
to report to me what he thinks of it before he does go, and—and—just let
him know how things stand."

"Very good, sir.  Thank you, sir, very much! He’s rather a strange old
chap, fearfully sensitive, and he’d break his heart if you stopped him
going."

The cutter was hoisted to the davits, and, whilst all the carpenters and
ship-wrights in the ship were repairing her, the _Intrepid_ slowly
steamed inshore, towing my launch astern.  Nicholson found time to look
at the wounds in my scalp and forehead.  He told me that they had healed
splendidly; but when I saw them in a looking-glass—a great red line
across my forehead and another on the side of my head across a patch of
half-grown hair—I could not help making a grimace.

"It won’t show in a month’s time," he said, laughing. "Don’t you worry
about your beauty being spoilt; the girls will like you all the better
for it."

Strangely enough, I did happen to be thinking that perhaps if that
little, yellow-haired lady saw me now, her mocking grey eyes might look
a little serious—for once.  At any rate she could not possibly treat me
as an infant.  I grew quite red—though that I should have done so was
perfectly absurd, because I scarcely knew her, had only spoken to her
once or twice, and then she had treated me as if I were a midshipman or
a mere child.

Nicholson read my thoughts—or thought he did—and chaffed me till I grew
more red than ever, and wanted to kick him.

Five miles off Sheikh Hill the _Intrepid_ lowered the repaired cutter,
the _Bunder Abbas_ came alongside for me and to take in more ammunition,
my chum and an entirely fresh crew manned his boat, and I towed him back
to his old billet.  He looked so sad and "rigid" as the cliffs opened
out and he saw the blackened mass of woodwork, all that remained of the
dhow which had caused that tragedy of the morning, that I felt very
nervous to leave him alone for the night. It was quite dark when I
yelled "good night" to him and steamed away down the coast to
Kuh-i-Mubarak, to try to find Evans.

We found him surely enough—or rather he found us.  He mistook the
"_B.A._" in the darkness for a dhow, and fired twenty or thirty rounds
from his Maxim before he saw my flashing lamp.

He was awfully apologetic; though, as no damage had been done, it did
not matter.  He had not seen a suspicion of a dhow, nor had he heard the
noise of our firing, so went nearly "off his head" with excitement when
I told him what had happened.

Having found that he was safe and sound, I went back to my patrolling
line.

For several weeks everything went on extremely quietly.  Every morning I
would hail old Popple Opstein, and find how things were going with him;
sometimes, when there was no hurry, he even came aboard for a cup of
coffee.  Every morning I visited Evans, and these two events were about
the only excitement we had; except, of course, the weekly Thursday
afternoon alongside the _Intrepid_.

The weather was monotonously fine, and it really was monotonous work.
Neither was Mr. Scarlett exactly the type of man I should have chosen to
live with.  We agreed very well, indeed, but he was of a morbid
disposition, never laughed except cynically, and seldom talked much
unless something or other stimulated his rather brooding, sluggish mind.
Then, as you already know, it was difficult to make him stop.

I liked talking at meals—he didn’t; and, as a matter of actual fact, I,
being a cheerful kind of chap, found him rather a "damper".

Wiggins had returned to the _Bunder Abbas_, and a leading seaman named
Ellis, a sturdy, hard-working, little man, rather opinionated and fond
of "gassing", had taken Dobson’s place.  He and Moore, the petty
officer, did not "get on" at all well together.  Moore was jealous of
him, and was for ever coming to me complaining that "that ’ere Ellis
took too much on ’isself."

Several times Moore brought him up to my platform deck (which we used as
a quarter-deck) and reported him for disrespect.  Precious little
sympathy did he get from me, however.  Still, in such a tiny little ship
it was unpleasant to know that they were not on friendly terms.  The
jealousy first started, I fancy, when we had a "sing-song" one night.
Both of them had sung songs, and Ellis had been more often "encored"
than Moore.  The reason seems perfectly inane, but full-grown men, under
conditions such as these were, often behave in the most childish way
possible.

During these first weeks Mr. Scarlett and Jaffa, between them, put me up
to all the tricks of the gun-running business.  What one didn’t know of
the Arabs’ dodges for concealing rifles the other did; so I became quite
an expert, theoretically.

One evening when it was fairly cool—after a regular furnace of a day—Mr.
Scarlett became communicative. We had been speaking of boarding
suspected dhows.

"Now take the case, sir, of a dhow flying the Turkish flag.  You steam
up to her; down goes her sail; over you bob to her in the dinghy with
Jaffa, and tell the nakhoda to show his papers.  You dare not board
until you have seen them.  He hands them down to you.  You look through
them—written in Turkish, English, and Hindustani; all three probably—and
so long as they are in order, whether you know for certain that she’s
brim-full of rifles or whether you only suspect that she is, you dare
not board and search her.

"I remember," he said, "running up against a fine dhow one morning—I was
away in the old _Pigeon’s_ cutter then—a long time since.  We ran her
down, headed her off till she couldn’t get away, felt sure that she was
going to be a fair prize, and yelled "Hallib!  Hallib!" until she
lowered her sails. And that reminds me, sir; never go alongside any dhow
until she’s lowered her sail.  They Arabs have a nasty trick of waiting
for you to come alongside, and then lowering the sail so that it and its
big yard drops into the boat and smothers it.  I’ve known ’em carry away
a cutter’s mast that way.  Whilst you are helpless under the sail they
pot at you, hoist it up again, and sail away.  I’ve been ’had’ like that
myself once.

"Just you see that sail properly lowered and then make them hold up the
halyards to show you that they are ’unbent’, because they are as nippy
as sharks a-hoisting it again.

"Well, as I was saying, we were as keen as mosquitoes over that ’ere
dhow, but, as we caught hold of her with our boat-hooks, she hoisted
Turkish colours and we dared not board her.  The nakhoda, grinning at
us, leant over her side and handed down his papers.  These were in
perfect order, so we no more dared board her than we dared stop the
mail-steamer.  What riled us chiefly was the brazen-faced way they did
things.  The cargo was put down as one hundred cases of champagne,
consigned to a dirty little Persian village of about twenty miserable
fishing-huts.  We knew it well, we did, before—and after.  We felt jolly
well ’had’.  We were as certain as ’eggs is eggs’ that she was
chock-full of rifles and ammunition, but they were as safe where they
were as if they’d been on top of the Eiffel Tower.

"The lieutenant in charge of us cursed the Arab nakhoda, and called his
ancestors dogs and sons of dogs, hoping he knew enough Hindustani to
understand.  Then off we had to shove.

"Our only chance was to catch those rifles on their way to the beach
whilst the dhow was unloading, or when they once got there.  All we
could do was to pull off again and follow her, and it was about all we
could do to keep up with her until she reached her blessed village just
before dark.

"We’d been there a week before—for water—so we knew what it was like.
If there had been thirty half-starved fishermen then I’d be overshooting
the mark; now the beach was crowded with rascally Afghans and their
camels, and no sooner did the dhow drop her anchor, close in to the
beach, than those cases of champagne—about five feet long they were,
each holding a dozen fat rifles we felt sure—were bundled into boats.

"We had a Gardner machine-gun in our bows, and opened fire with that and
our old Martin Henrys; but there must have been a couple of hundred
Afghans letting rip at us, so we had to pull out of range and watch
those cases of champagne being lashed on the camels’ backs until it was
too dark to see anything more.  At any rate, all those rifles got
ashore, and you can guess what they were used for later on—for potting
at British Tommies trying to keep order on the Indian frontier.

"Don’t you go away with the idea that we English don’t have a hand in
the game," Mr. Scarlett continued gloomily.  "Why, sir, many’s the time
I’ve seen captured rifles with the old ’Tower’ mark on them, showing
that they’d been made in England—old-fashioned Army rifles some of them,
others not. And the tricks they’re up to!  My word, they are as artful
as a bagful of monkeys!  I’ve helped search a couple of hundred dhows or
more in my time, and that’s taught me a thing or two."

"The first dodge as I remember bowling out—and the simplest of ’em," Mr.
Scarlett told me another evening, as he sipped his tot of rum—for it was
not until Percy had brought along his rum and he had taken several
"sips", when the crew had "piped down" and everything was quiet, that he
generally started his "talking machine"—"they built double bottoms in
their dhows, made ’em so cleverly that we used to think they were the
real inner skin.  But we happened to have emptied one of her cargo, and
walking about inside her she sounded hollow under our feet, so we ripped
up a board and found a snug little collection of rifles lying there.  Of
course the nakhoda swore he knew nothing about them; he and his crew
called upon Allah and most of the minor prophets to testify to that, but
it didn’t prevent them doing their five months ’chokey’ or losing their
dhow. A nice little haul that was, and the word was passed along to
’sound’ the bottoms of all the dhows we overhauled.  We used to bang ’em
with the butts of our rifles.  They gave up that dodge after a while and
invented something ’cuter’ still.  They’d fasten ten or twelve long
ropes to the keel, outside her, bringing them over the side on deck, and
they’d lash the free ends to sacks of rifles.  If they sighted a gunboat
or a launch, or any of our people, and there was a risk of being caught
and searched, they’d simply drop them overboard and let them hang down
in the water suspended from the keel.  Along we would come, and find
nothing wrong; search her high and low, and let her go, with our
blessing or the other thing.  Then one of our launches happened to come
upon a dhow unexpectedly, and caught them doing it, heaving the sacks of
rifles overboard—took her by surprise—and that game was ’up’.  Never you
leave a dhow, sir, till you’ve ’underrun’ her.[#]  You’d be surprised
how many rifles we picked up that way.


[#] Underrun = drop a bight or loop of rope over the bows and haul it
along under her keel.


"Then there’s another dodge they have round about these coasts.  All
along the Arabian side there are plenty of mangrove trees, and a great
trade in firewood is carried on with the Persian coast.  So what was
easier for a dhow than to stow a dozen or more rifles at the bottom of
the hold and fill up with firewood on the top of them?  They’d chance us
getting tired of unloading them; a cutter cruising by herself couldn’t
do it, because you daren’t throw any of the stuff overboard, and there
wasn’t room on the dhow’s deck for all the wood stowed below. Why, sir,
I’ve seen the whole of the _Pigeon’s_ upper deck on both sides full up
to the level of the ’nettings’ with chunks of firewood.  Just imagine
the amount of work that meant—five or six hours in the horrid heat—every
chap feeling as limp as putty with the climate and the monotony.  A
cutter cruising by herself either had to let her go or stand by the
dhow, wasting perhaps three or four days, till her gunboat came along to
victual her.

"However, we did search them, and we did find rifles, which meant
’Good-bye’ for that dhow and ’chokey’ for her crew.  They found that
trick not worth the risk, these people being generally law-abiding
people (more or less), simply tempted every now and then to make a
larger profit by carrying a few rifles.  They weren’t what you might
call reg’lar hands at the business.

"And there’s another thing they do, sir; on top of the firewood they
often load a small cargo of their dried fish, thinking the British
sailor won’t stomach the smell of it.  Ugh! the stink from some of those
dhows!  Why, we sometimes never got rid of the smell of it for weeks.

"You never heard about the mail-steamers—the Royal British Mail—carrying
rifles themselves, I suppose, sir?" he asked, a little less gloomily as
the incongruity of it appealed to him.  "Why, sir, for one whole six
months the mail-steamer brought up regular consignments of sugar from
Karachi to Bushire and landed them there for a respectable firm of
merchants.  One fine day a careless chap at a winch, who was lowering a
cask of sugar into a lighter, let it drop.  The cask was stove in, and
instead of sugar they found half a dozen rifles stowed in pieces, packed
in saw-dust.  That was an eye-opener, I can tell you.  The mail-steamers
don’t carry so many casks of sugar now as they did then," Mr. Scarlett
finished, smiling sardonically.

Another night he became talkative and began:

"You remember that chap who fired at us—the first time we shoved our
nose under the cliffs at Sheikh Hill?  I told you for certain he was an
Afghan and couldn’t possibly help firing his rifle at a white man.
Well, sir, they often send one or two of these fellows across to the
Arabian coast in the empty dhows, just to see that the rifles are
brought to the proper place.  You can always tell if there’s one of
these chaps aboard a dhow when you come along to search her, because
he’ll fire at you for a dead ’cert’. What we did was to make the crew
line the side nearest us, after they’d lowered the sail and unbent the
halyards.  Our sportsman, the Afghan (or Afghans) dar’n’t fire then for
fear of hitting his friends, or had to climb up where we could see him,
which didn’t give him much of a chance, we being standing by waiting for
him.  Still, he didn’t mind being riddled with bullets so long as he got
in a shot at us English, more especially if he’d hit any of us.

"The only thing in this world he does fear and does mind is the sea.  If
there’s a bit of a lop running you may bet your life that Mr. Afghan is
as sea-sick as a dog, and you’ll find him coiled up like a cat somewhere
under the poop, without a kick left in him. He’d give anyone, white man
or no white man, all he possessed, if he’d only kill him right
out—that’s when he’s sea-sick.

"He’s a terrible bad sailor, is the Afghan!" Mr. Scarlett said
reflectively; "that’s the only good point about him except being such a
born fighter."

Mr. Scarlett, as you know, would talk about gun-running occasionally,
but never once in those weeks did he mention that bracelet snake of his.
It was covered with a bandage which he used to replace very carefully
every morning; sometimes I happened to catch him doing this and saw it,
but as he never referred to it neither did I.

Percy, I am sure, was very inquisitive to know what was the matter with
his arm, because, as I said before, everything about Mr. Scarlett was of
absorbing interest to him; though, after he had been kicked out of the
cabin once or twice when Mr. Scarlett was dressing, he never ventured
near it again until he was called.

Things went on like this for three weeks—three weeks of calm, intensely
hot weather.  Popple Opstein’s wound had healed without anything going
wrong with it; my scars were becoming less marked. Jones, the private of
marines, was well—as were all the other wounded.  Popple Opstein was
quite himself again, and in fact everything was going on very
comfortably if monotonously.  It certainly was monotonous, because
during all that time we never sighted one single dhow, and although the
_Intrepid_ had stopped and searched a few farther out at sea she had not
found a single rifle over and above the proper number a dhow is allowed
to carry for her own protection.

Then, to vary the tedium, it began to blow.  A shamel got up very
quickly, and blew steadily for eight or nine days.  It was not so bad
that the _Bunder Abbas_ couldn’t keep the sea and do her patrolling, but
the two cutters had to hug tight at anchor in their two little creeks.

However, Evans grew restless after the third day, and put to sea one
morning, leaving the shelter of Kuh-i-Mubarak and beating into the
shamel long after he ought to have run back again.  A squall carried
away his foremast when he was already to leeward of it, and he rapidly
began to drift farther to the south.  Fortunately I happened to sight
him, went down to help him, and took him in tow.  Towing him back into
shelter against a heavy head sea strained some of the planks in the
bows, below the water-lines, and the boat began leaking badly.  We had
only left the _Intrepid_ four days previously, so that she would not be
coming inshore to revictual us for another three; and, as it would have
been foolish to attempt to tow the cutter right out to sea to find her
and repair damages, we decided to beach her, do a little amateur
caulking, and try to repair the foremast if that was possible.

There was a jolly little sandy beach about half a mile up the creek, so
we beached her there after Evans had transferred his Maxim, ammunition,
and stores to the _Bunder Abbas_.  I anchored close by, in case he was
attacked.  There was little chance of that, however, because the village
of Sudab lay more than three miles away behind the sand-hills, not a
single living soul was in sight, and none could approach without being
seen for at least a mile.

His men were soon busy working and skylarking, stretching their legs on
the strip of sand, and thoroughly enjoying themselves.  Not a sign of an
Arab or an Afghan, not even of a miserable Baluchi, did we see all that
day.  In fact, things seemed so safe and pleasant that I landed most of
my fellows too, and we got up a cricket match, with an empty paraffin
tin for a wicket, a ball made of "spun yarn", and a bat made out of a
broken oar.  We equalized numbers with my lascars, and had a most
exciting game, the _Bunder Abbas_ winning the championship of
Kuh-i-Mubarak just before the "spun-yarn" ball was worn out completely.

The work on the boat had been finished, the seams recaulked, and the
mast repaired; but Evans decided, as it was going to be a perfect
moonlight night, to stay there until next morning, in order that his men
might have a change from the cramped cutter and get a good night’s
sleep.

At sunset I took all my people back to the _Bunder Abbas_, leaving the
cutter’s crew playing football with that paraffin tin, with their bare
feet, until they grew tired of that, and kicked it into the edge of the
sea. They then made themselves snug for the night, lying down on the
crest of the beach with their rifles by their sides, in case they were
attacked, and with one man doing "sentry go", to give warning if
necessary.

When the moon rose I could see them all lying comfortably there, one
sleepy-looking figure sitting up among them, and some way along the sand
the cutter, with the sea—it was just about high water—lapping against
her stern-post.  Having seen my own "look-out" man "standing by" with a
loaded belt in the Maxim, in case he was needed, I lay down on the deck,
outside my cabin, and slept gloriously.

I was awakened by a rifle shot, and jumped up. More rifle shots
spluttered out.  I looked ashore and saw the cutter’s crew lying flat on
their chests firing along the strip of beach—showing up in the moonlight
as clearly as if it was daytime—and heard Evans shouting out excited
orders by the dozen.  (I told you what a "nervy" chap he was.)  One of
his men came crawling down towards us, yelling to us to open fire. It
did not want his shouts to alarm us; my fellows were already on deck,
looking wildly up and down the creek to see who was attacking.  Not a
sign of an enemy could I see, and it was light enough to see half a
mile; but the hummocks of sand stretching inland and along the beach
cast such very dark shadows that whoever was attacking could lie there
absolutely hidden.

To judge by the amount of ammunition the cutter’s crew were expending,
Evans was evidently certain of his enemy.  Spurts of sand were flying up
just in front of his men, although I could not see any flashes coming
from out of those dark shadows.  I admit that I felt considerably
flustered; Mr. Scarlett’s face looked ghastly in the moonlight, and I
wished with all my heart that I had not allowed Evans to sleep ashore.
I could not help thinking of how Popple Opstein had been caught, and was
very fearful that something of the same kind was going to happen again.

If we could only have seen something to fire at it would have been less
frightening, but there was nothing.

Then Evans himself came rushing down to where the cutter lay, and yelled
to me to open fire whilst his men shoved her off.

I thought he could not possibly have made a mistake, so banged away with
a Maxim at those shadows. "There, sir, there!  Look there, sir!"  Moore
suddenly rushed at me, pointing excitedly to a dark object apparently
crawling along just by the water’s edge not a hundred yards away.

The cutter’s crew had seen it too, their bullets were spurting close to
it, but Evans shrieked for them to come down and shove off the cutter,
so I started the Maxim.  We saw our bullets splashing all round, ceased
fire, and waited for anything else to appear. Whatever that was, it
never moved again.

By this time Evans had got the cutter afloat, and had come alongside the
_Bunder Abbas_.

"Arabs crawling along the beach!" he shouted. "The sentry saw them
first, fired at them—we’ve all fired at them—we’ve not seen any more
since."

"Were they firing at you?" I called down, when he left off shouting at
me.

He didn’t know—he was not certain of anything except that his fellows
had managed to kill at least one man.

At any rate, whatever had happened, no one was attacking us now.  I
stopped the Maxim, and together we waited on the qui vive all night, in
case we were attacked again.

When the moon sank, an hour and a half before the sun was due to take
her place, it became extremely dark, which made it most trying and
nervous work waiting for daylight.  Instead of the good night’s sleep we
had all promised ourselves, not a soul among us so much as closed his
eyes after the alarm.

At daybreak not a sign of any living thing could be seen on those
desolate sand-hills or on the beach, so we ventured ashore to pick up
the cutter’s masts and sails, which had been left behind in the panic.

I went too, to have a look at the chap we had shot, and guess what we
found—fifty yards along the beach—that paraffin tin! just where we had
thought we had seen the enemy crawling along to attack us—simply riddled
with bullets.  It was like a nutmeg grater, and the sand all round it
was scored and tossed about by hundreds more.

I simply sat down and laughed and laughed till I thought something would
crack.  The whole thing was so obvious.  It was high water when the men
went to sleep; as the tide fell it left that tin high and dry: the
sentry, suddenly catching sight of it and its shadow, lost his head,
thought it was someone crawling along the beach, let off his rifle at
it, woke the others, and in their excitement they fired at every shadow
they saw.

"You killed him, sure enough," I roared, holding up the perforated tin;
"the attack was repulsed with great slaughter."

It was not until we had walked behind the sand-hills, and found not a
single trace of footsteps, that Evans would allow that the whole thing
had been a false alarm.

"Your Maxim fired at it too," he said angrily. "You’ve made a fool of
yourself as well."

Evans never heard the last of his paraffin tin, nor did his boat’s crew;
and, later on, when the yarn (with additions) spread aboard the
_Intrepid_, we all came in for a great deal of chaff.  For months
afterwards, a messmate hankering after a black eye had only to ask a man
belonging to that cutter’s crew, or to the _Bunder Abbas_, what kind of
an Afghan a paraffin tin was most like, and he got one.

However, we had made the cutter watertight and mended the foremast
(after a fashion), though it was not strong enough to "look at" the
shamel still blowing; so, leaving Evans to wait until it had blown
itself out, I struggled up to wind’ard to have a look at Popple Opstein
and find out how he had fared.

I found him snugly anchored under the lee of Sheikh Hill.  He was so
close inshore that when I poked in to have a yarn, the "_B.A._" could
not get within half a mile of his cutter.

I pulled across in the dinghy.

"Has no one fired at you?" I asked him, seeing that he was within easy
range of the shore and even of those high cliffs.

"Not a soul," he told me.  "I’ve not seen a man, woman, or child these
five days.  Just look at those palm trees!" pointing in the direction
where Bungi village lay.  "They seem to have changed colour: they’re
browner than they were; and we cannot see anyone moving about among the
sand-hills, not even from the top of the mast.  I can’t make it out."

I had to tell him the yarn of last night’s brilliant little battle with
the paraffin tin, and left him and his crew intensely amused.

When I went back to the _Bunder Abbas_ I climbed her mast (much higher
it was than the cutter’s masts), and through my glasses very carefully
searched the flats behind those sand-hills.  Not a single living, moving
thing did I see, although I watched for quite a quarter of an hour.

I sent Jaffa up to the masthead, and he came down puzzled, wanting me to
land him so that he could find out what had happened.

He smiled when I suggested danger.  "You wait, sir," he said, and
disappeared down below.

My chum began making a signal to me, asking if I could spare any
matches, so I forgot about Jaffa until, going back to the cabin, I came
across him rigged out as a coast Persian or Baluchi—I didn’t know
anything of the different tribes, and I don’t now—a regular low-caste,
unkempt, miserable creature, dirtier than the dirtiest.  The only thing
remaining of the immaculate Jaffa was his dignified smile.

"You send me shore, sir, when dark comes.  I go Bungi; find out things;
come back to-morrow night—same time."

Mr. Scarlett told me that no self-respecting Afghan would waste a
cartridge or blunt a knife on him in that rig, and that he would run
very little risk; so, after sunset, and before the moon rose, I took him
ashore myself in the dinghy, feeling rather ashamed to let him disappear
behind the sand-hills alone, and promising to be there for him the next
night.

At sunrise next morning, just as we were preparing to go to sea for the
day, he was seen strolling calmly over the sand-hills, not even deigning
to wave his arms to attract attention.  One thing was certain: he could
not be in any danger.

I stopped heaving in the cable, lowered the dinghy, and pulled ashore
myself, jolly glad to get some exercise.

"What’s the news?" I called out, as the dinghy took the ground.

"Bungi all gone—houses burnt—men and old women lying all round—killed—no
one else there—no young women—no children—only dogs and some goats—no
Baluchis—no camels—no Afghans—all nothing."

"What’s the meaning of that?" I asked in horror and astonishment.

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Afghan take revenge—lose many fighting men—cannot have rifles so take
young women and children—take them to mountains—come and see."

I was only too keen to go, and followed him over those same sand-hills
from behind which the Afghans had fired at Popple Opstein that horrid
Sunday morning.  We walked nearly a mile across the sandy wastes—very
hot they were to my bare feet—and as we neared the clumps of palm trees
which showed where Bungi had stood I saw why they had changed their
colour—nearly all had been scorched by the heat from the burning
thatched roofs.  Their big leaves, red and yellow and black, hung low,
mournfully.

The whole village was destroyed and the scene was too horrible to
describe, but I saw enough to know that Jaffa was right.

Some half-jackal half-wolf dogs went yelping away when we disturbed
them; nothing else lived.

The cruel Afghans had not even been satisfied with this.  It was plain
that they had driven their herd of camels up and down the patches of
cultivated ground until not a trace of them existed.  Jaffa explained
this, and pointed out the innumerable hoof-marks.

The one well was heaped with dead bodies.

He said, in his quaint way, that that was a proof that "the Afghans had
been very angry"!

Then he took me out of the village and showed me the broad track of
camel marks leading across the ford towards the mountains.

The sooner the captain of the _Intrepid_ knew of this the better; so
back to the dinghy and the _Bunder Abbas_ we went.  I signalled across
to tell Popple Opstein (we now knew why he had not been fired at) and
went to sea, steaming down to Kuh-i-Mubarak. The shamel was still
blowing strongly, so Evans was taking shelter in the creek close to the
site of the "battle of the paraffin can".  As we passed him I shouted
out to tell him the news, and that I was going to find out whether Sudab
had met the same fate.

I steamed up until the lagoon opened out and the water became too
shallow to go farther.  Then, landing with Jaffa, Webster, the corporal
of marines, and two privates, all armed, we advanced very cautiously
inland towards those palm trees under which I had seen the camels many
weeks ago.  Long before we reached them we knew by the burnt leaves and
the sickening smell which pervaded everything that Sudab had met the
same fate as Bungi.  Even the fishing-boats had been smashed or burnt.
We were very glad to get away from it, tramping back through the hot
sand, and meeting Evans on his way to explore on his own account.  I
tried to dissuade him from going, but he was too excited to listen.

"I’m going along to find the _Intrepid_" I shouted after him.

"I’ll come along too, directly the shamel has finished," he called back.

In an hour the little "_B.A._" was plunging and burying herself into a
head sea, making two knots, over the land.  We went at it all the rest
of that day and all that night, sighting the _Intrepid_ next morning.

I signalled across my news, and was immediately ordered to close.  It
was too rough to go alongside. I was ordered to steam to Jask with
telegrams for the Admiral and to find out if the telegraph people had
any news.

Of course, it was evident to everyone that the Afghans had given up any
idea of landing more rifles at either of these two places, so the sooner
the Admiral knew of this and the sooner we found out what fresh schemes
were under way, the better.

But I was short of coal, and it took nearly two hours to fill up from
the _Intrepid_, making fast with a hawser to her stern, and passing
small bags from her poop to our bows along a running whip—no light job
with such a nasty sea running.  Then I was off again for Jask.

I looked at myself in the cracked glass inside our cabin.  That scar
across my forehead still showed very plainly, and for the life of me I
could not help wondering what that little yellow-haired lady would say
when she saw it.



                             *CHAPTER VIII*

                             *Ugly Rumours*


At daybreak next morning we were off Jask Point, with its square white
telegraph buildings and its low sand-hills jutting out into the sea.  As
the shamel was still blowing hard from the north-west I anchored to the
east’ard of the point, close to some rocks, and among a number of dhows
sheltering there.

Percy pipeclayed my shoes and helmet, laid out my last clean white suit
of uniform, and, having made myself look as smart as I could, I landed
close to the old ruined fort (or sheikh’s house) and walked up towards
the telegraph buildings, meeting the political agent, in pyjamas,
smoking a cigar and looking critically at the earth breastwork and the
line of wire entanglements.

"Hallo!" he called out cheerily; "they told me you were coming in.  You
people have made it hot for everybody along the coast, and no mistake!"

He did not want me to give him any news.  He had already heard of the
capture of one dhow and the destruction of the other, of the terrible
losses of the Afghans, of our men being killed, and that Bungi and Sudab
had been destroyed.  The Afghans had got the idea into their heads that
the poor, wretched Persian villagers had given the "show" away, so had
taken this ghastly revenge.

"You can’t keep anything secret in this country," he said; "the way news
travels is simply marvellous. I even heard that an officer had been
wounded.

"Was that you?" he asked, looking at my forehead. "I heard that one of
you had been seen to fall whilst running along the beach."

I shook my head.  "I did not land.  It was my chum.  Shot through the
calf he was.  He’s all right now."

"Those Afghans came along this way before they went home," he continued;
"camped round the new fort, halfway to old Jask; hanged a couple of
Persian customs people who lived in it; hanged them from the top of the
wall to show their contempt for the Persian Governor; looted it and went
away next morning with their camels and the women and children captured
in those villages.  They had a great number of wounded, those you had
wounded—poor wretches!—and threatened to come along and cut our throats
later on.  A few of them did actually ride up here and fire their
rifles—but that was nothing.  They put down their losses—they had more
than sixty killed—and their ill luck with the gun-running business to
the telegraph cable—about right they are too—and would do anything to
destroy it and us.  Before they went away they cut the land line running
along the coast to Karachi, just to give us the trouble of repairing
it."

"Aren’t you rather nervous?" I asked him.

He shrugged his shoulders.

"We have twenty fellows here who can handle rifles—Eurasians and people
like that—besides Borsen and myself.  The governor of Jask, too, has
fifty or sixty border police, Bedouins, whom the Afghans hate more than
they hate us, so we could rely upon them at a pinch!"

"I suppose they will not attempt to run more rifles into Bungi or
Sudab?" I said enquiringly.

"No, no! they’ve had enough of those two places. They’ll get news across
to the Arabian coast and lie quiet for some months.  Come along and have
’chota-hazri’," he said, changing the subject.  "You needn’t say
anything about those Afghans or about them coming along here.  My wife
knows nothing about it, nor does Miss Borsen; I don’t want them to
know."

He took me up to his house and sent off the telegrams for the Admiral.
The old head boy brought us tea, bread and butter, and fruit, and I
quite enjoyed myself, except that the old gentleman was wearing a
yellow-silk turban, and every time he came out on the veranda it caught
my eye, and I thought he was Miss Borsen.

However, I might have spared myself the trouble of constantly turning my
head and expecting to see her, because she was not even living in that
house, but with her brother.

Afterwards, on my way down to the beach, I saw her there, a slim little
figure on the shore, dressed all in white, with a big white helmet
almost covering her yellow hair, looking strangely out of place among a
motley crowd of Arabs, Persians, and Zanzibaris, loading and unloading
the dhows.

"Her brother ought not to let her come down alone," I thought angrily.

She had a camera with her, and was taking pictures of the natives and
their camels.  She smiled when she saw me, and every mortal thing I had
in my head seemed to go out of it.  I couldn’t think of any blessed
thing to say except that it was a fine morning.

Then she laughed until I grew red and uncomfortable. It was a relief to
shout across to the "_B.A._" for the dinghy, but whilst it was coming
she made me pose for my photograph.

"I have a snapshot of your little steamboat (boat!—mind you); I must
have one of its captain too," she said, as if it was a great compliment
to be photographed by her.

If there is one thing I hate more than another it is having my
photograph taken.  Especially did I hate this, because she arranged me
and rearranged me, with Griffiths in the dinghy for a background, and
all the time he was grinning at me till I felt the idiot I looked. She
never mentioned the scar on my forehead, so I took my helmet off so that
she must see it, and then all she said was: "Do put your hat on again,
and turn side face; that nasty scratch quite spoils the picture."

Hat!  Nasty scratch!  Spoils her picture!  My word, what irritating
things girls are!  I’d gone ashore wanting her to see the wound, perhaps
to say something nice about it, and hoping that she would treat me, for
once, as though I were a man; and she’d made me cover it up in order not
to spoil her picture, and made me stand there, like a baby, whilst she
took the snapshot.

I felt very irritated, and when she said: "Let me come aboard and
photograph that dear Mr. Scarlett," I felt more annoyed than ever.  At
that time of the morning the _Bunder Abbas_ wasn’t clean and tidy, so I
answered rather cuttingly that I’d send the gunner ashore to be
photographed, and suggested that perhaps she’d better wait until her
brother or the political agent’s wife could bring her on board some
other time.

She smiled again her mocking smile, and, curtsying derisively, watched
me clambering clumsily into the dinghy, trying not to wet my feet.  With
her eyes on me I felt like an elephant trying to get into a canoe, and
one of my feet slipped and went into the water. That buckskin shoe was
pretty well spoiled.

When Griffiths shoved off—still grinning the brute was—I looked back to
salute; but she was already walking away from the beach and did not turn
her head.

"She’s offended now," I thought.  "Serve her jolly well right!  Fancy
asking herself aboard like that; no English girl would have dreamt of
doing such a thing!"

However, I was not really in the least pleased, and Mr. Scarlett soon
found out that I was in a pretty bad temper.

Commander Duckworth had ordered me to lie at Jask until replies to his
telegrams had been received from the Admiral, so there I had to
stay—possibly for days.

The morning went by very slowly.  I was in a thoroughly bad temper, and
didn’t care a "buttered biscuit" whether the six-pounder’s recoil
springs wanted adjusting or not; and when the lascar first-driver
reported that the packing in the high-pressure piston-rod gland was not
as tight as it should be, dragging me down below to see it, I cursed him
till he salaamed a hundred times a minute to appease me. Moore, too,
reported Ellis again for giving him "lip", and went away "with a flea in
his ear".

I could not get the idea out of my head that those Afghans would come
back and attack the place. Those wire entanglements and earthworks
looked such puny things to keep back those fierce chaps who had faced
our Maxims and six-pounder near Bungi, that if they really meant
business, fifty rifles would not keep them out.

It was such hard luck on those two women.  The political agent and
Borsen did not count.  They’d gone into the job with their eyes open,
but the women—well, that was different.  They should never have been
allowed to come to this desolate, exposed, out-of-the-way spot, on the
very edge of civilization.

Those mountains, too, were only twenty miles away; the Afghans could
swoop down from them in a night, appear as unexpectedly as a vulture,
get between the telegraph station and old Jask, with its fifty Bedouin
border police, and cut it off entirely.

I sent for Jaffa and asked him what kind of fellows these border police
were.  He shrugged his shoulders, as much as to say that they were
useless, and volunteered to go to Jask and find out, in the bazaars,
what news there was.  I let him go, and he borrowed a camel from a
friend on the beach and rode away inland, his black lambskin fez
disappearing among the palms surrounding the ruined sheikh’s house.

That afternoon Mr. Scarlett and I enjoyed the luxury of a thoroughly
good sleep, lying back in our canvas chairs under the awning outside our
cabin until Percy woke us for afternoon tea—tinned milk, bread (stale)
buttered with liquid tinned butter, rancid at that.

There was a little sandy cove among the rocks close alongside, so I sent
the whole crew ashore there, natives and all.  They were soon enjoying
themselves to their hearts’ content, bathing and skylarking, scrubbing
their clothes, drying them on the hot sand, and having a thoroughly good
time.

"I’m hanged if I’m going to land at Jask again," I said to myself; but I
did go, bawling ashore for someone to bring off the dinghy, and wearing
my one respectable flannel suit of "plain clothes"—the very first time I
had worn "plain clothes" since joining the _Bunder Abbas_.

I left Mr. Scarlett in charge; he never wanted to go ashore.  He said,
quite openly, that he was afraid of meeting Jassim, and felt sure that
he would do so sooner or later.  He was not a man one could argue with.
Once he had made up his mind that something gloomy was going to happen
he’d stick to it, and when it didn’t happen he would be more certain
that something worse still would take its place.  This silly business
about Jassim and the bracelet was, of course, at the bottom of it all.
It seemed so absolutely childish for him to imagine that he would meet
the man, or that anyone would remember the beastly thing, after all
these years, to say nothing of the fact that whatever poison was left in
the fangs after they had bitten those two could not possibly have
retained its powers, that I lost patience with him.

I landed, but never intended going near the telegraph station, not by a
long chalk.  I did not want to be treated like a child by Miss
Borsen—you bet I did not—so I wandered off to explore the ruins of that
sheikh’s house or fort among the palm trees.

It was a great square building with a tower at one corner, built up of
red sandy bricks, all rounded by age, and the mortar, or whatever it was
which bound them together, so friable and crumbling that I could loosen
a brick with the end of a stick in no time.  An entrance under the tower
(from which the door had long since disappeared) led into a courtyard
covered with rubbish, and all round it were the remains of
dwelling-rooms, storehouses, and stables.  Some still had roofs to them.
A great high wall with crumbling battlements and platforms seemed to
shut out every trace of breeze and shut in every ray of heat.  The place
was like an enormous oven.  I climbed up some rough brick steps leading
towards the battlements and base of the tower and had a good view over
the surrounding country.

Beyond a few miserable palm trees was the open narrow piece of flat
ground forming the neck of the peninsula.  It gradually rose towards the
telegraph buildings, and about halfway between—something like three
hundred yards from where I stood—-were the line of wire entanglements
and the earth breastwork, stretching right across from the rocks under
which the _Bunder Abbas_ was anchored to the shore on the other side,
where the shamel was still driving white breakers up the beach with a
continuous roar.

Still higher was that strong, loopholed wall surrounding the buildings
themselves.

Away to the east’ard ran the telegraph line on its bare steel poles: the
line which ran along the coast to Karachi, and which the Afghans had cut
only a few days ago.  I could follow the line of telegraph posts till
they dwindled into "nothing", and felt very thankful that it was not my
job to go along that appallingly lonely coast to repair damages.

I suppose I was seen from the telegraph station, for a servant came
running down the peninsula, came into the middle of the courtyard, and
I’m hanged if I didn’t get an invitation to tea with the political
agent’s wife.

I climbed down and followed him, pretending that I was unwilling to go,
and grumbling to myself that if I did meet Miss Borsen we should
probably have a row.  In half an hour I found myself playing tennis with
a borrowed racket and borrowed shoes, which flopped about like canoes on
my feet, with Miss Borsen playing opposite me, and beating me time after
time with her low drives along the side lines. She seemed to take a
positive joy in seeing me falling over my own feet in my attempts to
return balls much too good for me.  I hate being beaten at any game,
especially by a woman, so that did not improve my temper.

"What about your gunner?" the political agent said, when at last I was
allowed to "cool off" out of range of that little torturer’s eyes.
"Doesn’t he ever come ashore?"

This made me think of Jassim, the bracelet, and of snake poisons.

"Do you know anything about poisons?" I asked. "How long do you suppose
a cobra’s poison would remain deadly?"

"In a dead cobra, do you mean?  I don’t know; but I should not care to
keep a dried one without having his poison gland removed."

"No," I said.  "If you extracted the poison and kept it in a—a bottle,
for instance."

"Not for long, I should imagine," he answered; and then I was fairly
startled, for he began to tell me the story of the very cobra bracelet
on Mr. Scarlett’s arm. I did my best to appear as if this was all quite
unknown to me, for fear he should guess that I knew something about it,
and drag more information from me than Mr. Scarlett would care I should
tell.

"I’ve never seen it," he went on, quite unsuspiciously; "but an old
friend of mine, skipper of a tramp steamer doing a queer business in the
Gulf many years ago, saw it once, and told me that he’d never seen such
a beautiful piece of workmanship. It will turn up some day at Christie’s
or at some other curio dealer’s in London, I expect, and I’m rather
sorry for whoever buys it.  If he is known to possess it the news will
come along out here, and I don’t mind saying that it will disappear
again within six months.  The present Khan of Khamia, the real owner, is
not the wealthy chap some of the former khans were, but he offers a
reward every three months in the bazaars of every town on both sides of
the Gulf—a reward of thirty thousand rupees—to whoever brings back the
’twin death’, as it is called.  That’s two thousand pounds, and there’s
not an Arab born yet who wouldn’t give his body to earn that, to say
nothing about his being certain of Paradise if he helped to restore it
to its rightful owners."

I mopped my perspiring face often enough to prevent him noticing how his
confirmation of Mr. Scarlett’s yarn had stirred me, and was quite glad
to be called away to play tennis.

I played worse than ever, and Miss Borsen grew more provokingly
successful.

After all my determination never to go near her again, I found myself
weakly consenting to stay to dinner.  The political agent rigged me out
in clothes of his own, and the meal was a most delightful change after
"pigging it" on board the "_B.A._" for six weeks on tinned grub, with
only the gunner’s black-bearded, morose face in front of me.  After such
fare as we had had this dinner was luxury, but still more of a luxury
than the food was the daintily decorated table with its soft
candlelight.

It would have been absolutely enjoyable if Miss Borsen had not been
there too.  She had a most irritating effect on me.  Whether she
intended it or not she always seemed to be "pulling my leg", and I
instinctively "bristled up" and wanted to get the upper hand, and put
her in her proper place as a very dainty little lady who should listen,
very respectfully, whilst I talked.

I tried to tell them about being carried away to sea in that dhow; but
when I came to the part where I climbed along the struggling yard,
instead of looking impressed, she merely giggled: "I wish I’d been
there; you must have looked like a frog."  This put me "off" telling any
more yarns, and made me so annoyed with her that I disagreed with
everything she said.

Every time I did so she came off best in the argument, in spite of not
speaking English very fluently.

By the end of that dinner I felt that I wanted to pick her up—I could
have done so with one hand—and give her a thoroughly good shaking, just
to make her realize how strong I was, and that though she could defeat
me with her clever little tongue, she was, at any rate, helpless
physically.

It was a most gloriously cool night, with millions of stars shining, and
they all walked down to the beach to see me go aboard.  We came to a
dark patch close to the beach, where the tide sometimes washed across,
and when the political agent called out: "Be careful of your feet; it’s
swampy," the temptation was too great.  I whisked little Miss Borsen off
her feet, and, before she had time to make more than an angry protest,
had carried her twenty paces across it and set her down on the dry sand.

She never spoke a single word after that, and I chuckled to think that,
at last, I had stopped her tormenting little tongue.  I would try that
dodge again if necessary.

I hailed the "_B.A._"; the dinghy came ashore for me, and off to my
launch I went, shouting good-night to them all.  My little tormentor’s
voice was not among the chorus of "good-nights" shouted back.  She still
had her tongue tied.

Mr. Scarlett was waiting up for me, looking more saturnine than ever.
His dark eyes gleamed maliciously when I came into the light of the
lamp, because a little blue-velvet bow had caught in a button of my
coat.  It was one she had worn, and I got red, looked an ass, and
untwisted it.  I kept it, too, as a trophy of the first victory I had
won.

"Brute force is better than brains—sometimes," I chuckled to myself.

"Jaffa come back?" I asked.

Mr. Scarlett shook his head, and I felt rather nervous about him,
although that was quite unnecessary, because he arrived next morning,
safe and sound, but with very little definite information.  The
townspeople in Old Jask were in a state of alarm at the threats of the
hill tribes, and the Khan or Mir had called in the border police from
outlying villages.  He had actually served out ammunition to them—a
thing he did not often do for fear that they themselves would plunder
Jask.  I went up to see the political agent to tell him of this.  He
knew it already, but it was a good enough excuse to go, for I wanted to
know if I had offended Miss Borsen and apologize if I had done so.

However, I did not see her; and although the replies to those telegrams
did not come from the Admiral for another four days, and I went there
every day, I never did see her.  There was always some excuse: that she
had a headache, or was resting; but it was plain enough that I had
mortally offended her, and my victory seemed much more like a defeat.

So it was quite a relief when the cipher telegrams did arrive, and when
the "_B.A._" steamed away north-west again, to look for the _Intrepid_.

These telegrams ordered Commander Duckworth to proceed immediately to
Muscat.  He wasted no time in picking up the two cutters and departing,
leaving me to cruise up and down that same strip of coast for another
fortnight, without seeing a sail—until, in fact, I had to run across to
Muscat myself, for coal and water.

I found the _Intrepid_ there anchored under the black cliffs and the old
fort, and hoped to get ashore, but was ordered to fill up as quickly as
possible and to cruise off a place called Jeb, about forty miles to the
north’ard, where those rifles were originally reported to have been
stowed.  A miserable native chap, with a grudge to repay, had come along
from there to say that a dhow was filling up with rifles for the Makran
coast.  So off I had to go.

This coast was entirely different from the one I had just left.
Stupendous barren mountains towered up to the sky; their ridges and
shoulders, sweeping down to the sea, ended abruptly in stupendous cliffs
whose feet were eaten away by the continual beating of the south-west
monsoon waves, until they looked as if they must soon topple over.
Forbidding-looking inlets here and there made very comfortable shelter
to lie in for a few hours, though I could not stay in them for long
without being "sniped".  My orders were not to go within five hundred
yards of any inhabited place, because the people along the coast were so
well armed, and even in these desolate inlets they would discover me,
after a very short time, and compel me to go out into the heavy seas
again.

Thank goodness, they were execrable shots!

Luck was not in our way, for when we returned to Muscat we found that
the _Intrepid_ herself had captured that dhow, and all we had to do was
to tow it out and burn it—not a very heroic task.

The next fortnight was spent still farther to the north’ard.  Sixty
miles of coast we had to examine, and we started from the farthest
point, gradually working along towards Muscat.  Wherever there was a gap
in the cliffs, or a valley running down to the sea, in we would go and
be sure to find a village, perhaps a dozen huts, perhaps fifty, nestling
under a few date-palm trees or along the banks of a stream.  The natives
(fishermen, for the most part, owning perhaps a few sheep or goats,
which they guarded day and night from wolves and jackals) were an
inoffensive, absolutely ignorant lot of people.  Even Jaffa could make
very little out of them except that they lived in perpetual fear of
Bedouins or other raiding Arab tribes and of wild animals.  They did not
want money—they did not seem to know the use of it—and for a few dates
and a few pounds of rice—especially rice—we could get enough fish for
the whole crew.

I had to search all these villages for concealed arms. It was supposed
that the Arabs—Bedouins or whoever they were—knowing that it was useless
to try to send any more rifles away from Jeb, would take them farther up
the coast in caravans, distributing them in small numbers among these
villages and compelling the natives to store them in their huts, until
dhows should come along and take them away.

However, we found nothing whatever except a few old muzzle-loaders,
dating from the year "one".

There was such an entire absence of danger that whilst a couple of
bluejackets or marines, under Moore, Ellis, or Webster, went from hut to
hut, searching, I would take the head man of the village away up the
slopes of the mountains and try to get a shot at a wild goat.  I managed
to bag one or two, and when, one day, at some wretched place which I
don’t believe possessed a name, I shot a leopard (I had only a shotgun
with me), breaking its hindlegs so that it could not get away and the
natives could surround it and beat it to death, I was looked upon as the
saviour of the village.  They filled the dinghy with fish, and actually
brought along a sheep.  Jaffa and Mr. Scarlett said it was a sheep; I
thought it was a goat; and I’m hanged if it was possible to tell, by
eating it, which it was.

The news of my shooting the leopard spread along the coast, and whereas,
previously, the villagers had been half-frightened out of their lives
when the "_B.A._" appeared, flying hurriedly with their women and
children, goats and sheep, to the mountains, now, when we anchored off a
village, the beach would often be lined with people to welcome us and
implore me to go and shoot leopards or jackals.

On the last day of this cruise, the last morning before we had to return
to Muscat for more coal and food, I took the _Bunder Abbas_ into a most
marvellous gorge in the cliffs.  Just imagine enormous, perpendicular,
sea-worn cliffs, eight hundred feet high, with the south-west monsoon
swell roaring at their feet, and a cleft, not fifty yards across, cut
straight down through them, as by some enormous knife.

Into this the "_B.A._" shoved her nose, twisted and turned, with those
huge walls on either side, until long after the sea had disappeared and
the booming of the breaking swell had ceased.  Gradually the walls
trended downwards, until a last turn disclosed an inland basin, quite a
mile long and nearly as broad. Mangrove trees came down all round it
nearly to the water’s edge; what looked like rich grass-land ran up the
slopes of the mountains until it faded among the gaunt bare rock; and at
one place, where a little stream opened, there was quite a large cluster
of huts, with many fishing-boats drawn up on the beach in front of them.
I anchored in front of this village—marked on the chart as Kalat al
Abeid—lowered the dinghy, and pulled ashore, with Jaffa to interpret,
and the three marines (armed with rifles) to do the usual searching.

I took my shot-gun, but the head-man—a tall, wizened, old chap with a
scarlet sash round his waist and a scarlet turban on his head—as soon as
he saw it, shook his head, patted one of the marine’s rifles, and
jabbered away excitedly to Jaffa, pointing up to the mountains.

Jaffa interpreted: "He say plenty leopard in mountain—come down every
night—kill sheep and goats—two nights ago killed a woman.  Want you get
rifle from ship—go shoot them—want all men go—kill many leopard—he show
you where they sleep in daytime."

"Right oh, old cock!" I said, sent the dinghy back for another rifle,
and hurried away the marines and Jaffa to get their searching done.

The villagers were so eager for us to go shooting that they had actually
stripped their huts of everything movable, bringing the things outside,
so that all we had to do was to stoop down through the low doorway, see
that the floor was bare and had not been disturbed lately (no rifles
buried there), then back out again and search the next.

It was the quaintest sight in the world to see the excited
children—little brown naked urchins—staggering out with big clay cooking
utensils and brass cooking pots as big as themselves, as happy as the
day was long at this new kind of game.

One or two huts were so dark inside that we could not see; but the
natives tore away some of the palm-leaf roof to let in light, in order
that nothing should delay us.

Griffiths came back with the dinghy and my rifle, bringing a spare one
on the chance that I would let him have a day’s sport too.  I let him
come, and away inland we started, the head-man, Jaffa (with my
shot-gun), and myself leading, followed by Webster, his two marines, and
Griffiths, surrounded by a dirty, happy mob of natives, armed with
short, clumsy hunting spears, some only with boat’s paddles. Innumerable
children followed, shrieking with delight, and a dozen or more women,
hooded so that we could only see their eyes, bearing vessels of
water—big earthenware chatties—on their heads, brought up the rear of
the expedition.

If I had had any idea whatever of treachery the fact of the women coming
along would have dispelled that.  We were just as safe as if we had been
going shooting among a lot of country people in England.

Directly we had reached the limits of cultivation the children were sent
back very quickly.  No leopard could have slept comfortably within a
mile of the noise they made.  Then we commenced to wind up a track
towards the mountains themselves, and the nearer we came to them the
more rugged and barren they looked.  Very nearly black they were in
places; great rents split whole shoulders from the main ridge; huge
masses of rock were poised on each other like vast columns, looking as
though a bird perching on them would upset them.  Indeed the slope we
were ascending was so strewn with gigantic blocks of black rock that one
knew that they, at one time, must have fallen from just such columns.

The head-man began talking volubly to Jaffa, and he, turning to me,
said: "Leopards there—come down at night—go back sleep close by."

I told Jaffa that whatever happened I must be back by sunset.

The old man understood and nodded—so we pushed on.  It was very hot work
scrambling up that vast, debris-strewn slope, over smooth rocks which
gave scarcely any foothold, twisting round great boulders or half-wading
through loose sand, worn from the face of some steep, precipitous part
by countless years of exposure—everything too hot to put one’s hands on
comfortably, and the sun always scorching on one’s back.  I called a
halt long before the old head-man had begun to show the slightest sign
of fatigue.

I looked back.  My three marines and Griffiths were some way below us,
among the admiring villagers, wiping their perspiring faces.  Lower down
was the little group of women crouching together, with their water
chatties in front of them; a thousand feet below, beyond the dark, green
fringe of mangrove trees, the _Bunder Abbas_ lay in that inland basin,
and, winding out like a dark snake, the channel wriggled through the
cliffs to the sea.  The blazing sun poured down relentlessly from a
cloudless sky.

Jaffa touched my arm, pointing out to sea and to a faintly-showing trail
of smoke.  Unslinging my glasses, I followed the line of smoke till I
saw a steamer.  It was the _Intrepid_, evidently making for this same
harbour.

"Why the dickens is she coming here?" I thought, and would have stayed;
but the head-man was impatient, so we shoved on again, though I kept
turning back to watch her until she disappeared under the shore-line.
In half an hour Jaffa, whose one eye seemed better than my two, swung me
round to see her emerge from the channel into the basin itself.

Well, the old "_B.A._" was safe enough now.  It did not matter how late
we got back; when he heard about the leopards Commander Duckworth would
be too good a sportsman to be annoyed that I was not there.  I felt
quite at ease.

So on we scrambled, in Indian file, higher and higher, until a turn of
the track round a shoulder of the rocks shut out the sight of the sea,
and also, thank goodness, gave us shelter from the sun.  It was like
going from brilliant sunlight into a darkened room.

We now found ourselves in an extraordinary hollow, more like being at
the bottom of a huge well or cup—a coffee-cup with a crack in it, the
crack the ravine through which we had just entered—its bottom strewn
with a jumble of rocks which had fallen in the course of ages from the
precipitous walls which shut out the sky.  It was very gloomy and silent
but delightfully cool.

Craning our necks backwards we looked up through the rim of our
coffee-cup to the burning sky overhead. That rim must have been a
thousand or twelve hundred feet above our heads if it was an inch, and
at one point, immediately opposite us, there was an extraordinary gap in
it.  Just as the cleft in the cliffs through which the _Bunder Abbas_
had steamed three hours before looked as though some giant had chipped
it out with an enormous axe, so this gap looked as though the same
giant, on his way to the sea, had pinched a piece out of the edge as he
swung himself across it.

Strangely enough, Jaffa discovered afterwards that there was a local
tradition something to that effect.

The villagers began to crowd round us, jabbering excitedly.  The old
head-man drove them away, whacking them with his long stick.  Then he
began talking to Jaffa.

"Villagers stay here," Jaffa explained.  "Head-man take you and us up to
gap—leopards lie among rocks all about here—when we climb up to top
villagers make noise—leopards try escape through gap—you shoot."

What a grand idea!  I would have gone anywhere with the sporting old
chap, although I had not the faintest idea how we were to get up there
without wings.

"Right oh!  Lead on!" I cried, and the old fellow began leading us
farther into the gloomy bottom of the "cup", clambering round the
boulders, Jaffa, myself, the three marines, and Griffiths following him.
Then he began to ascend the precipitous wall itself by a path—if you
could call it a path—so steep and so narrow in places that it was as
much as I could do to keep my feet or climb up it.  It zigzagged up that
wall in twenty or more zigzags; looking down from the upper ones we
could see those below; looking upwards we could see no trace of any
foothold, nothing whatever but rocks rising sheer above us.  At one or
two of the worst places the edge of the track actually overhung, and
small stones dislodged by my feet fell plumb down until I dare not watch
them far for fear of feeling dizzy.

Presently we had scaled the rocks sufficiently high to come to the edge
of the shadow cast by the eastern rim of the "cup".  Here I called a
halt, perhaps three hundred feet below the gap, and we leant back
against the rocks and rested.  I felt like a fly on a wall, and only
wished that I had suckers on my hands and feet, or were a goat.

"This isn’t a proper track, is it?" I asked Jaffa.

He smiled, and at the time I didn’t believe him when he said: "The only
way out of the valley—only way inland from the village—for men or
camels!"

"Camels!  What nonsense!" I thought.

The old head-man was much too energetic for me. Off he went again, and
led us into the full blaze of the sun.

Great snakes!  In a minute or two I was dripping with perspiration, and
when we did at last reach that gap, and I threw myself down on some
rocks there, I don’t think that I had ever felt so hot in my life.

However, a grand current of air whistled through the gap, as though
this, too, was the only way the sea-breezes could pour inland.  I soon
cooled down.

"What a climb!" I said to Webster, as we looked down at the
extraordinary chasm beneath our feet—the "coffee-cup", as I have called
it—and tried to trace the zigzag path up which we had climbed.  It must
have taken us an hour at least to ascend, and I confess that, as I
looked down, I did not in the least relish the idea of having to crawl
down again.

At the bottom it was dark and gloomy and silent; not a trace of
villagers could we see among the rocks there, nor could we get a view of
the _Intrepid_ or the sea beyond, because the crack in the "coffee-cup"
was shut in by another shoulder of the mountains.

The gap was about five yards wide, its sides about twenty feet high, and
I took twelve paces before I looked down into the valleys on the far
side.  Deep and misty they were, and beyond them stupendous ranges of
barren, naked mountains lost themselves in the distance.

The old man made us take up positions on the crest on either side of the
gap, myself, himself, Jaffa, and Griffiths on one side, the three
marines on the other; and was just going to give the signal to the men
below to commence their drive—a leopard drive, mind you; think of it,
and think how happy and excited we were—when, turning to look down the
far side, his face became a muddy-yellow colour—just as Mr. Scarlett’s
often did.  All the life seemed to die out of it, and he gasped out:
"Bedouin!"

We all turned, and through my glasses I saw what at first looked like
some huge snake winding up the valley towards us.  Then I saw that it
was an apparently endless caravan of heavily-laden camels, wearily
trailing one after the other.  Among them were many horsemen—a hundred
or more, although it was impossible to count them.

Then I knew why the _Intrepid_ had turned up so unexpectedly.  These
were the very fellows we had been hunting for, bringing their rifles
from Jeb to hide them in the village at our feet, until dhows could be
sent to take them away.  And they must pass through this gap, on either
side of which we were lying, in order to get there.  Some wretched brute
must have taken the news to Muscat, and given away the scheme (there
were always plenty of these fellows mean enough to sell their own
fathers for a few rupees).

The old head-man, half-paralysed with fear, was worming himself down
into the gap.  I clutched him.

"Ask him how long before they reach here!" I told Jaffa.

The old chap could hardly speak, he was so frightened.

"In two hours!" Jaffa told me.

My brain was hot with the fluster of wondering what I ought to do.

Webster, the corporal of marines, came scrambling down across the gap
and up to me, his eyes gleaming. He was bursting to suggest something.

"Out with it!" I said.

"Beg pardon, sir, but the five of us could hold this here gap against a
whole regiment, and we’d drive these chaps off like winking.  They can’t
outflank us, they must come along in single file.  It would be grand if
we could stop ’em."

I could see that for myself; but at the first shot back would go the
whole caravan, and if those camels were laden with rifles and ammunition
not one should we capture.  A better plan rushed through my head—to let
them get through and then prevent them getting back!

I would send the head-man to tell Commander Duckworth.  He would come
along with every man he could land, and do the whole business whilst we
stopped their retreat.  It would be the grandest haul that had ever been
made.  Instead of the villagers driving leopards up to us, the
_Intrepid_ should drive these Bedouins and their camels; instead of
getting a few mangled leopard skins, we would bag the whole caravan and
its rifles.

I told Webster.  He grinned with delight.

"How many rounds of ammunition have we?" I asked.

We had nearly six hundred between us; that was enough.

Hurriedly I explained to Jaffa what we intended doing.  I tore a leaf
from his note-book, and with his pencil wrote a message to Commander
Duckworth.

"Give it to the old man!  Tell him to take it to the _Intrepid_ as
quickly as he can; tell him to take his villagers and the women back
with him."

Jaffa’s eyes sparkled as he passed the orders to the trembling head-man
and gave him the note.

I let go of his cloak, and he slid down the rocks like an eel, and was
off down the dizzy zigzag path, like a goat, to where his people lay
hid.

Then Webster, with a grin on his face, went back to his side of the gap
with orders to conceal himself and his two men farther along the edge,
not to expose themselves on the sky-line for a single moment, and on no
account to fire until I fired.

I knew that I could trust Webster.

Jaffa drew out his beloved Mauser pistol to see that it was loaded, and
we had nothing to do but wait whilst those weary camels and their escort
wound their way up towards the gap.



                              *CHAPTER IX*

                          *Trapping a Caravan*


From where I lay, sprawling on my stomach, on the very edge of that vast
ridge, like a fly clinging to the rim of a cup—my "coffee-cup"—I could
look down on both sides.  Inland, the sides of the ridge fell away
steeply but not precipitously; the track from the gap did not zigzag
down, as it did on my other side, but wound and sloped at an easy angle
until I could trace it no farther.  The leading horseman of the caravan
was, possibly, two miles away, and perhaps a thousand or fifteen hundred
feet below me—one could not judge heights or distances with any
accuracy—the middle portion of the winding caravan was hidden by a
swelling of the mountain slope, and the tail end, indistinct, lost
itself in the stifling haze which filled the valleys below.  I watched
those first few mounted men.  They kept on halting and waiting, going on
again and stopping, as though the camels could not keep pace with them.

I turned my head the other way, and looked down the precipitous curtain
of rocks which fell almost sheer into the extraordinary hollow below me.
The red turban and flowing white cloak of the old villager showed up—a
bright spot against the dark rocks—as he scrambled hastily to join his
people, tiny little dots moving about between the boulders which strewed
the bottom of the "coffee-cup".  I could not see the crack through which
we had entered the hollow, because the huge walls surrounding it
overlapped there, but I marvelled how we had managed to climb the path
without slipping and being dashed to pieces below.  I really did not
believe it possible for a camel to negotiate it in safety.

"Surely a camel cannot go there?" I asked Jaffa.

"Yes, camel go down, safe; horse cannot; Bedouin leave horses behind
them."

"Will they bring them up to the gap?"

Jaffa did not think they would, and I devoutly hoped that they would
not.

I thought how old Popple Opstein’s face would have beamed, and his
yellow hair stood up, if only he had been here with me on that edge of
rocks.  Yes, here I was literally on the edge of civilization, where all
my life I had longed to be.  How my chum would have chaffed me about
that if he saw me now!  Perhaps in a few hours, if he had the luck to be
landed, he would see me.

And, thinking of yellow hair, perhaps little Miss Borsen, if she too
could see me and could realize what might soon happen, would treat me as
a man. More likely than not she would only have smiled in her
tantalizing, irritating way, and told me how uncomfortable I looked.

Jaffa touched me.  "Bedouin see very far; very good sight; see us soon."

What an ass I was!  I had ordered Webster and his fellows to conceal
themselves below the crest, and here I was still sprawling on the
sky-line myself.

I crawled lower down; so did Jaffa and Griffiths.

Until I had left the ridge it never occurred to me that probably the
advance party of Bedouins would scale the sides of the gap and scatter
along the edge. If they did that they would certainly see us; so it was
necessary to hide much farther away from it and take no such risk.

I whistled softly to Webster, and he came crawling across to me, keeping
well below the sky-line.

"Take your men a hundred yards along the ridge," I told him; "hide among
those rocks there, below the edge, and for Heaven’s sake don’t show
yourselves, not until the last Arab and the last camel have gone halfway
down the zigzag, and not until you see me move."

"I understand, sir," he answered grimly, and presently I saw him and his
two men scramble to a cluster of detached rocks much farther along.

When they were safely hidden, Jaffa, Griffiths, and myself crawled in
the opposite direction, away from the gap, behind some more boulders.
We shifted about among them until we found a position from which we
could see that gap, and also look down the zigzag path.  We were about
one hundred and fifty yards from the gap, and practically on a level
with it. Of course we could see nothing of the approaching horses and
camels, but I trusted to my ears to hear them.

Lying there under these conditions was an extraordinary trial to my
nerves, and I thanked my stars that Webster had come ashore with me that
morning and not Moore.  Moore would have made a hopeless muddle of his
job, and could not have controlled his own nerves, let alone those of
his men.  As it was, I presently found the strain of waiting and
listening so great that I had to hang on to those rocks, like a maniac,
to prevent my legs making me crawl up to the sky-line, twenty feet above
us, to have one more look at the caravan.

I do not believe that if I lived a thousand years I could be more
excited or "jumpy".

I breathed more freely when I saw the head-man reach the bottom of the
"coffee-cup", gather his villagers together, and disappear with them,
like a lot of white ants, out of sight round that projecting corner of
rock which marked the huge crack or rent giving exit to the path.  I
relied upon the old sportsman hurrying down to the village as quickly as
he could, and hoped that in another hour Commander Duckworth would
receive my note.  In another forty or fifty minutes afterwards he might
be able to land his men, and in another hour and a half they might reach
the entrance to the "coffee-cup".

Then the fun would begin.

My wrist watch was, of course, still smashed—there had been no chance of
having it repaired—so I could only judge by the height of the sun that
the time was about eleven o’clock.  At the earliest the _Intrepids_
could not reach the bottom of the zigzag path for another three hours;
and, if the head-man had been accurate, the head of the caravan would be
at the gap an hour and a half before they arrived.

The only thing that troubled me then was whether the leading Arabs would
have descended it, turned the corner, and sighted the _Intrepid_, and
perhaps the advancing bluejackets, before the rear of the caravan had
passed through the gap and had begun the perilous descent.

Once the rear-guard was below us I felt that we could prevent them
climbing back; but if it should happen that the _Intrepids_ were sighted
and the alarm given when only a part of the caravan had passed us, then
our position would be perilous.

If they searched the ridge before even commencing to send their camels
down I knew that we should be discovered, and in that case there would
be nothing for it except to sell our lives as dearly as possible. But I
did not think they would take the trouble to do this, nor did Jaffa, and
the chief danger lay in the alarm being given before all the camels and
Arabs had passed through the gap.

If this happened, I made up my mind to shoot as many camels as possible,
to prevent the Arabs getting away with all their rifles; and I told
Jaffa that if anything went wrong, I relied upon him and his Mauser
pistol to prevent either Griffiths or myself falling alive into their
hands.

Somehow or other I could rely upon Jaffa, and it was a comfort.  Webster
would have to look after himself and his two men; I knew that he would
not fail.

Writing this now, the fact that I really thought this ending possible,
or prepared for it, seems almost unreal.  Time has quickly blurred the
remembrance of the extraordinary peril of our position at that time, and
only left vivid recollections of the wonderful feeling of exhilaration
which took hold of us as we lay there feeling almost like wild beasts
waiting for our prey, and listening for the first sound of their
approaching feet.

A large bird appeared above us, circling with motionless wings.
Suddenly he came gliding downwards, disappearing behind the crest.
Looking up again into the burning sky I saw more specks coming from all
directions.  Soon there were ten or twelve of the ugly brutes circling
round.  So close to us did they come that I could see their heads and
their naked necks stretched towards the ground.  They were vultures, and
one by one they slid downwards in huge spirals and disappeared.

Jaffa whispered: "A camel or a horse has dropped; they must be driving
them hard."

He told me that the speed of a camel caravan was about two and a half
miles an hour.  As the crow flies, Jeb was probably thirty miles away
from the spot where we lay.  It was inside the mark to add another
fifteen for the turns and twists of the track through the mountains and
valleys; this would bring the probable march to forty-five miles, and if
the camels had been pressed forward day and night, as Jaffa imagined
likely, the poor beasts must be very weary.

Jaffa had noticed when he first looked through my glasses at them that
their necks were very straight. He now explained to me that the halter
of one camel is secured to the one next in front, and that, as the
leading camels of a gang were always the best, when the others tire they
tend to be dragged along, and the ropes stretch their necks until they
are almost straight and not curved.

"They were very straight," he said.

This waiting was a tremendous strain.  To know that the caravan was
approaching on the other side of that ridge, behind and above us, made
the longing to climb up and look over simply maddening.

To pass the time we made little loopholes between the rocks, through
which we could fire towards the gap and down the zigzag path without
being seen ourselves.  Griffiths asked me, under his breath, if he could
smoke his pipe.  He asked simply to hear himself speak.  He knew that I
would refuse, but it was a comfort for him to whisper and a comfort for
me to whisper back that the blue smoke might show—a fact he knew well
enough.

Then a horrid thought struck me.  When we had first reached the gap I
had lighted a cigarette, and the burnt match and the end of the
cigarette must be lying somewhere there still.  If either of them were
seen the alarm would be given at once.  My whole mind became tortured
with picturing them lying there on the bare stones, and I would have
given anything in the world to be able to crawl across and try to find
them.  I did not fear that our tracks would be found: the rocks were
quite bare; what loose stones there were between them would not leave a
foot-mark; but even now, as the scene comes back to me, I remember that
the fear of the burnt match and cigarette end being discovered was
horrible at the time.

Just as the strain became almost unbearable, and the impulse to crawl to
the gap almost more than I could resist—I had actually risen to my hands
and knees—Jaffa gave a low sound, and pressed me down.

Looking through my loophole I saw a tall, fine-looking Arab standing
erect at our side of the gap, with a rifle in his hand, turning his head
from side to side and then peering below into the chasm beneath.

[Illustration: LOOKING THROUGH MY LOOPHOLE I SAW A TALL, FINE-LOOKING
ARAB PEERING INTO THE CHASM BENEATH.]

I felt certain that the white cigarette end must be lying there at his
feet, and that in another second he must see it.  My heart seemed to
stop beating and my ears buzzed.  He turned and looked intently at the
very heap of boulders behind which we lay. I could have sworn that our
eyes met.  I had to put my hand to my mouth to prevent me giving way to
the frantic desire to yell.  Then he disappeared back into the gap, and
I breathed more freely.

"He tell others—all safe—see nothing—camels come presently," Jaffa
whispered.

In two or three minutes more Arabs—ten, then twenty—crowded through the
gap, their rifles held ready and their fierce eyes scanning every rock.

Thank goodness!  The towering sides of the "coffee-cup" hid the
_Intrepid_ from view.

They moved stiffly, as though tired, talking quietly and squatting on
the rocks for a few minutes, until they suddenly stood up, looked back
through the gap, slung their rifles over their shoulders, and commenced
to scramble down the zigzag path.

They had hardly left the gap when, with a light scraping noise, the ugly
head and neck of a camel appeared.  He hesitated as he saw the steepness
of the path below him, but the camel leader beat him about his head and
lips until he condescended to move out of the gap, and with hesitating
paces, putting down his huge feet with very great care, started the
descent.  As his body came into view we saw long sacks or bundles of
matting—containing rifles, we felt sure—strapped one on either side of
him.

From his quarters stretched taut the halter of the camel "next astern",
and another supercilious, scornful, ugly head appeared.  Camel after
camel (all with their bundles), Arab after Arab (some armed, others
simply leading camels) squeezed after each other through the gap in the
crest and started down the zigzag path.

I was thankful to notice that the advance-guard seemed in no hurry to
reach the bottom, but would go on for a hundred yards, wait for the
leading camel to overtake them, and go on again.  The longer the time
which elapsed before they sighted the _Intrepid_, the more chance would
there be that the end of the caravan had already passed through the gap
before the alarm was given.

Fifty camels I counted; sixty; sixty-two—three; but as the sixty-fourth
head emerged into sight it sank down to the rocks.  The wretched brute
had fallen on his knees, his neck stretched quite straight as his halter
to the camel ahead took the strain.  He was dragged bodily forward for a
few inches on the smooth rock, then the halter "parted", and his neck
curved again.

Another ugly camel’s head appeared over his back, but there was no room
to pass—the gap was too narrow—and he stopped, swaying his head angrily
from side to side.

The Arabs called shrilly one to another—-half-dazed they seemed to be,
probably from fatigue—and a dozen of them, surrounding the kneeling
camel, tried to make him rise to his feet.  They prodded him with their
rifles and spears, howling execrations, hauled on the broken halter, and
beat him on the nose and face.  They actually fired rifles close to his
face; but he took not the slightest notice.  He never even moved his
head, holding it up quite motionless, with that extraordinary sarcastic,
supercilious look which camels always have, and appeared to be quite
unaware of the cruel treatment.

"Camel—finish—much tired—never get up—stay to die," Jaffa whispered.

Two vultures—appearing from nowhere—perched silently on the rocks behind
which lay Webster and his two men, saw them, and flapped across to
another rock.  The Arabs were too busy to notice this or they might have
been suspicious.

Then a fine-looking, very richly dressed Arab, with a flowing red[#]
patriarchal beard and a green turban pushed past the camel and began to
give orders.  The ropes securing the bundles were unlashed, the bundles
were dragged aside and propped up against the projecting rocks, and
then, hauling on those ropes (they passed under the camel’s belly),
shouting and yelling as though hell had broken loose, the Arabs tried to
hoist him to his feet.


[#] The sheikh must have visited Mecca three times, as only after three
such pilgrimages are beards dyed red.


The sheikh, or whoever he was, climbed to the top of the gap, the better
to superintend operations.  A grand-looking chap he was, with a fine
"fighting" face, beetling eyebrows, and a great hooked nose.

For a moment I thought again of that cigarette end, and grew sick with
fear lest it was there and he should see it.  But he was too much
interested in the camel to see anything else.  Although his men heaved
with all their might they only raised the poor beast a few inches, and
down it would sink again.

Then the sheikh gave more orders.  Men began calling down to those on
the paths of the zigzag, immediately underneath the helpless camel, and
I saw these hurriedly making large gaps in the line of camels.  Two men
took hold of the poor brute’s halter and hauled the head round until it
was touching the hind quarters; the others, gathering at the side of the
camel farther from the precipice below, using their rifles as levers and
also pressing against his lean flanks, shoved "all together"; the men on
the head-rope tugged the head still farther round, and the helpless
brute toppled over the edge.  Rolling and falling, sliding through the
gaps in the lines beneath, bounding from boulder to boulder, he at last
"fetched up", two hundred feet below, against a rock, and lay there a
shapeless mass of broken back and neck and legs.

The two vultures hopped about excitedly and flapped a little farther
down, eyeing the remains with twisted heads.

At another order from the sheikh those bundles were torn open, and I
simply "thrilled" to see at least two dozen rifles—brand-new
rifles—hauled out.  Each man, taking one or two of them as he passed,
started off again along the zigzag path after the rest of the camels.
The sheikh, clambering down to the path, followed them slowly, and that
procession of camels commenced afresh through the gap, camel after
camel, until I had counted eighty-three.  After the eighty-third came
many more, pace by pace, with weary feet, but these were loaded with
boxes of ammunition.  No attempts had been made to conceal that fact;
the boxes were just as they had left the manufacturers, slung in great
nets across the camels’ backs.

One hundred and thirty-four passed through, counting both those with
rifles and those with ammunition; and, last of all, led by two men, a
magnificent camel, splendidly caparisoned, with a scarlet,
silver-embroidered cloth and with silver-mounted harness, stalked
angrily through, followed by two smaller ones with unwieldy burdens.
These three were doubtless the sheikh’s own camels, his riding camel and
the two which carried his tent and the cooking gear and food which he
might want on the march.

No more camels came.

I could hardly believe our good fortune.  Everything had turned out as
we had planned.  Looking down into the "coffee-cup" I could see the
zigzag of painfully-descending camels; and still farther below them the
white figures of the advance-guard, not yet near the bottom or that
corner beyond which they would be able to see the _Intrepid_.  Not one
of those Bedouin Arabs suspected that we six were lying there above
them, or that the _Intrepids_ were—possibly—hurrying up to drive them
back to us.  I would have given much to know what was happening beyond
the mountain screen, whether the _Intrepids_ had actually landed, and,
if they had landed, how near they were. I reckoned that, by now, if all
had happened as I hoped, they would be about halfway up from the
village, and in another quarter of an hour, or less, the first of those
Arabs would have scrambled out of the bottom of the "coffee-cup" and
should see them.

What the time was, or how long it had taken those one hundred and
thirty-seven camels to pass through the gap, I had no idea; but the sun
was already slanting downwards in the west and was no longer lighting
the rocks at the bottom of the "coffee-cup".  In fact they had
disappeared for some time in the shadow cast by the ridge on which we
were hidden, and as the sun gradually sank, so did the sharply-outlined
shadow of the ridge and the gap, rising upwards along the opposite face
of the chasm, gradually shade the zigzag path higher and higher.

We were fearfully thirsty, but we still dared not shift our cramped
positions to get at our water-bottles and make ourselves more
comfortable.  We simply lay where we were, peering through our loopholes
between the rocks at the caravan crawling down the path.  Vultures,
perched on the rocks around us, craned their bare necks downwards and
watched too. It looked like some huge centipede or caterpillar, as each
camel carefully felt for his next foothold and swung his long ungainly
legs stiffly and cautiously forward.  I caught sight of one, the third
in a gang or string of five, evidently making very "heavy weather" of
it.  Whenever the path was sufficiently broad I noticed that an Arab
would take hold of his halter to steady him.  I pointed out this camel
to Jaffa, and scarcely had he whispered: "He fall—soon," when the poor
brute stumbled, tried to recover his feet, and fell on one knee, the
other leg sprawling over the edge, violently pawing space.  The Arab
guiding him sprang away, clinging to the rocks, and in a moment the
camel had toppled over.  I heard wild cries of alarm; the camel leaders
on the zigzag below tried desperately to make a gap in their line as
they saw what was happening over their heads; but too late.  The camel
fell; the two camels behind were dragged after him, and the three slid
like an avalanche down the rocks, sweeping more camels and one or two
Arabs from the narrow zigzags below, bursting their bundles and
scattering rifles until they disappeared in the gloom beneath.

It was a horrid sight, and for two or three minutes there was the utmost
confusion.  The frightened drivers pulled the camels’ heads this way and
that, and how the poor stupid creatures could keep their foothold at all
was marvellous, especially as in many places the path was so narrow
that, even from where I was, I could see the "inner" bundles of rifles
scraping against the rocks.

We were so intent on watching this that we never turned our heads; but
when I did again look across the gap to see whether Webster and his men
were still hidden, I had a terrible fright.

Squatting right in the mouth of the gap, and on both edges of it, were a
score or more of Arabs, their rifles slung over their shoulders.  Jaffa
saw them; Griffiths saw them.  If they were as frightened as I was they
did not show it.

We hardly dared to breathe.  There they were, the nearest of them not
fifty yards away.  They evidently meant to stay, for they had brought
firewood, and some of them were trying to set light to it, whilst others
were pouring water from a skin into a brass cooking pot.

That anything such as this should happen had never entered my head.  I
never thought that they would have taken the precaution of leaving a
rearguard to protect their line of retreat, and to have done so entirely
altered the whole situation and upset all my calculations.

If they took to wandering along that ridge we should be discovered, and
if they simply remained where they were we could not fire on the caravan
without exposing ourselves to this new force.  At the very first shot
they would take cover, find out where we lay, and then crawl to the
rocks overhead and shoot down.  In those first few moments my whole idea
was to kill as many as possible before being killed myself.

We watched them with straining eyes.  If they had scattered and come
near us I should have opened fire. My fingers clutched my rifle to draw
it to me, and then loosened again, because they all collected round that
cooking pot; the blue smoke came curling up among them, and they
evidently had no other thought than to rest and make coffee.  They never
even troubled to look down to see whether their comrades and the camels
were recovering from their disorder, but huddled close together,
sheltering their heads from the sun with their dirty cloaks.

There was no immediate danger, so I turned to watch the caravan.  Down
at the gloomy bottom of the "coffee-cup" I could just distinguish little
white figures moving among the boulders—-the advance party had at last
reached the gorge which led them out into the open.  Three or four
disappeared round the shoulder of the rocks which shut out my view of
the gorge, and I knew that in a moment or two they would sight the
_Intrepid_ lying at anchor—and perhaps her advancing men.

I was right.  Hardly had they disappeared before back they came into
view, very hurriedly, and in a marvellously short space of time the
whole of that "coffee-cup" rang with strange cries and shouts as they
passed the word up and up its precipitous sides.  Along the zigzag
path—from one zigzag shouted to the next above—we could hear the news
being passed.  The camel leaders seized the heads of their camels and
stopped them; the Arabs crouching round the gap sprang to their feet as
the shouting disturbed them, unslung their rifles, and began talking
excitedly.

Down below I saw the green turban of the sheikh as he worked his way
along the lowest zigzag, until he too reached the bottom and also
disappeared from view.

I would have given all I possessed to know what he could see.

Whatever he had seen I quickly knew that he had seen something which
convinced him that the caravan could not hope to escape downwards,
because more orders—flurried and high-pitched—were shouted upwards along
the zigzag until the deep ravine re-echoed from side to side with them.
The camel leaders began unfastening the long halters from the camels,
and, very nervously, began to try to turn the tired animals round to
face upwards again.  Some had room enough and managed to do so; others
were in places so narrow, with steep rocks so close to the path, that it
was a pure impossibility for a camel to turn.  Many camels absolutely
refused to try, sinking to their knees; two or three tried, toppled over
their clumsy feet, and fell, increasing the horrible confusion as they
crashed below.

I realized now that the caravan could neither move upwards nor
downwards.  If only Commander Duckworth and his people could come
quickly the whole of these rifles and ammunition would be theirs.  In
the joy of knowing this I cared not a jot what happened to us.

The shouting and confusion below us grew greater; every armed Arab was
trying frantically to reach the bottom of the path, squeezing past the
standing or crawling over the kneeling camels.  Directly they reached
the bottom they hurried away round the shoulder out of sight.

Some unarmed camel men began shouting to the men round the gap, and ten
or twelve of these left the group round that cooking bowl and began the
perilous descent.  They had not gone more than a hundred yards along the
first arm of the zigzag before more shouts came from below; they turned
and called back to the others, and the remainder of the rear-guard rose
and followed them.

In five minutes we six were alone on that ridge, with the blue curling
smoke of that Arab fire between our two little parties.

I had to hold my breath to prevent myself shouting with joy; Jaffa’s
face was beaming; I heard Griffiths chuckling with delight.

The relief from the awful strain of having that rear-guard so close to
us was too much for Webster or one of his men, because for a moment I
saw the barrel of a rifle appear behind their rocks and almost expected
to hear a cheer.  The rifle disappeared as if someone had pulled it down
violently.

By this time the caravan was in a state of the most hopeless confusion,
totally unable to move either upwards or downwards; many camels had
fallen, others were kneeling and refused to move; some were facing one
way, some the other.  The frightened camel leaders had given up any
attempt to restore order and were gradually moving up the path as if to
escape themselves, even if they could not bring their camels with them.

Only the upper few zigzags were now in sunlight; the gloom down at the
bottom was increasing very rapidly, and unless the Arabs there had worn
fairly white clothes we should not have been able to see them as they
scrambled among the boulders, to disappear out of sight round that
corner.

I realized now that when the sun sank still lower, and the gloom
increased still more, we should be able to see nothing whatever to fire
at down below.  And, too, I had never thought that if they tried to
defend the approach to the gorge they might take up a position round
that corner where our fire could not reach them.  They were evidently
doing this, and it upset my scheme still more.

I knew enough of soldiering to know that a small force, well posted
behind rocks, could hold the mouth of that ravine (the crack in the
"coffee-cup") for an almost indefinite time against a very much superior
force.  If the _Intrepids_ were actually advancing, and had not brought
Maxims or field-guns, these Arabs, with their "backs to the wall", could
keep them at bay for the three and a half or four remaining hours of
daylight.  If so, they might be able during the night to withdraw a
remnant of the caravan, and in the dark our five rifles and six hundred
cartridges would not stop them.

There was only one thing to do.  It sounds heroic, but there was no
thought of heroism.  Those men still scrambling to the bottom and the
men of the rear-guard must be stopped.  We five must open fire on them
and compel them to remount the zigzag to attack us, and therefore
prevent them joining those who had already issued from the "coffee-cup"
to defend it against the _Intrepid’s_ people.

If I could only have been certain of what was actually happening down
there, outside our line of vision, we might have waited; but I did not
know, and it was absolutely necessary to do something, and to do that
something quickly.

We had to take the risk that perhaps after all the _Intrepids_ had not
landed, and that directly we opened fire the whole force of Arabs would
turn back and overwhelm us.

I told Jaffa and Griffiths that we must open fire. Griffiths nodded.
"Just as you like sir; I’m ready."

Webster must be told, and Jaffa was the man to tell him, because, if he
was seen, his clothes at a distance might be mistaken for those of an
Arab.

I told him to make his way to the top of the ridge, find out what was
happening down in the valley, how far away the horses were, and how many
men had been left with them.  Then he had to work his way along beneath
the sky-line to Webster, and tell him to separate his men, station them
on the top of the ridge so that they could not be seen, but, if
possible, be able to fire down both ways, and, when I opened fire, to do
so himself at every armed Arab in sight.

Jaffa understood, took my field-glasses, and wriggled away up to the
ridge, whilst Griffiths and I listened to the noise of grating stones.
Then there was silence and what seemed a very long period of waiting
whilst we anxiously watched that rear-guard descending.  If we did not
open fire soon it would be too late.

At last I could stand the strain no longer.  Jaffa must have had time to
reach Webster, although we had not seen him crawling over the ridge.

Already the leading men of the rear-guard were indistinct in the gloom
of the lower zigzags.

"We must chance it," I whispered to Griffiths. "You scramble up till you
get a comfortable place where you can see both ways.  I’ll go halfway
towards the gap.  When I open fire you commence; aim awfully carefully.
Now go!"

We both rose stiffly to our hands and knees, dodged round the rocks, and
separated.  Some cartridges fell out of my bandolier.  I stopped to pick
them up: one cartridge might make all the difference.  I crawled to the
top of the ridge.

I gave one hurried look into the valley, but not a sign of horses or
Arabs could I see.  I threw myself down and crawled to the edge of a
rock from where I could point my rifle into the darkening "coffee-cup".
As I did so I saw Webster and his two marines leave their shelter and
clamber up the crest on their side of the gap.

There was no time to wait; the excitement was too great to think what
would be the result of this new move, too great to realize anything.
Not twenty armed Arabs were in sight down in that vast hollow beneath
us, little, dirty, whitish, moving figures threading their way past the
motionless camels.

I took a very careful aim at the nearest and fired.



                              *CHAPTER X*

                    *The Fight in the "Coffee-cup"*


As I fired so did Griffiths; our two rifles went off almost together.
We fired again.  Three shots also came from Webster’s side of the gap.

The effect was immediate.

Those camel-drivers who were abandoning their camels and creeping up to
what they thought was safety, stopped; those still squatting among the
camels scrambled to their feet; the little string of moving figures, the
last of the rear-guard (it was at them we had fired) turned, looked up,
and tried to find cover.  Unfortunately for them there was no cover
where they were, and they showed up against the rocks sufficiently well
to make fair targets.  We kept on firing at them, firing almost
vertically downwards, and presently saw one stumble and fall off the
path among the boulders strewn at the bottom.  The rest managed to crawl
safely down the last "leg" of that zigzag and scattered among those same
boulders, hiding one by one.

I had no fear that they would "spot" us yet, because the Lee Metfords
made scarcely a streak of smoke. For the same reason they would not be
able to know how few we were.

Jaffa, having given my message to Webster, returned and crawled to my
side, and told me the comforting news that he had seen the horses, quite
two miles away down the valley, with very few men left to guard them.

As I peered below I could see the camel-drivers seeking cover all along
the line, squeezing themselves behind rocks or underneath the motionless
camels themselves.  We made many of them hurry still more by firing at
them, until in less than a minute after we had opened fire there was
absolutely nothing to be seen on the wall of precipitous rocks except
the zigzag line of camels—some standing, others kneeling, some facing
upwards, others downwards.

Jaffa cried for me to look.

At the bottom, hastening back round that projecting corner of rock which
hid the outlet from the "coffee-cup", many little moving dots appeared.
I seized the glasses, and believed I could see the green turban of the
sheikh.  Dropping them I called to Griffiths to fire, and emptied my
magazine into the middle of the group.

It was grand, it was just what I had wanted.  The more men we forced to
come back within sight the fewer would remain to defend the ravine out
of sight, where we could not get at them.

Now if only the _Intrepids_ would hurry up!

I pricked up my ears.  One solitary report of a rifle came up from
below, dull and muffled.  More followed rapidly, and I fully expected to
hear bullets coming our way, thinking that the sheikh’s party had
commenced firing in our direction.  However, none came, nor could I see
any spurts of flame from among those boulders, although it was so gloomy
there that I certainly should have seen them had those fellows been
firing at us.  The only explanation could be that the firing was outside
the ravine, and must be at the _Intrepid’s_ people—or perhaps _from_
them.  My ears tingled as I tried to decide which.

The volume of fire increased so rapidly that soon I could not
distinguish individual shots; there was one continuous grumbling rumble,
and suddenly whatever doubt I had was swept away, for I heard the
tut-tut-tut-tut of a Maxim—faint but unmistakable.

That settled the question.  Griffiths shouted: "They’ve come, sir;
that’s their Maxim," and a moment later, to make still more certain, a
sudden flash of flame burst out among those boulders at the bottom of
the "coffee-cup" and the noise of a bursting shell came bellowing up to
us.

I found myself waving my arms and cheering; the others were doing the
same.  Some vultures which had remained indifferent to the noise of
rifle firing flapped heavily up from below.  The camel-leaders were
peeping down to see what was happening; the camels themselves showed no
signs of alarm.

Several more shells bursting there in quick succession so filled the
hollow beneath us with smoke that we could see nothing until, very
leisurely, the white cloud began drifting upwards, clinging to
projecting rocks in little eddies, just like the morning mist in some
deep valley before the sun has quite driven it away.  Eventually we
could actually smell that powder smoke as it escaped over the "rim" of
the "coffee-cup", and it was the most beautiful scent we could wish for.

Good little nine-pounder!  I’d often seen it on the _Intrepid’s_ poop.

The noise of the firing continued without cessation, rising and falling
in fierceness, and although we could still hear shells bursting we could
not see them. Probably those first few had been fired before the
_Intrepids_ knew where the Arabs lay concealed.

Occasionally a different sound came up to us—the puff of a bursting
shrapnel—and as I pictured the little balls flinging themselves down
among the rocks, and finding out the defending Arabs, I wondered how
long they would stand such a trial.

The worst of it was that we could take no part.

Those Arabs who had come back with their sheikh—and the rear-guard,
too—had probably wormed their way out of the hollow and were taking part
in the defence.  There was no one for us to fire at.  A few of the
camel-leaders were in view, though, as they were unarmed, we did not
waste ammunition on them.

All five of us had ceased fire and were listening to the noise of
fighting.  We tried to distinguish some difference between the Arab
firing and the shots from our own people, but that screen of rocks
seemed to muffle them and make this impossible.  We could not even tell
whether the rattle of the Maxim was getting nearer to us; nor could we
distinguish the firing of the nine-pounder at all.

Whether hours seemed minutes or minutes hours I could not tell.  All I
did know was that we were not helping, and that it might be impossible
for the _Intrepid’s_ people to dislodge the Arabs.  What could we do to
compel some of them to come back?  I racked my brains but could think of
nothing.

Then Jaffa suggested shooting the camels.  "You shoot camels—they fall
down—break rifles—Bedouin lose camels and rifles as well—must come back
to save them!"

I did not know; but we might try, however cruel and inhuman it was.

I sent him across to tell Webster to single out the nearest standing
camel and fire at it until it fell.  I called to Griffiths to fire at
the second standing camel, and chose the third myself.  It was that
magnificently-caparisoned one belonging to the sheikh, standing perhaps
four hundred feet below me, entirely unconcerned, and unmistakable in
its gorgeous crimson cloth.

I fired very carefully at him.  At my second shot he swung his head
round as if a fly had bitten him; at my third he lurched forward, fell
over the edge, and plunged down.  Almost immediately one of those
smaller animals toppled over, and both, crashing across zigzag after
zigzag, swept more camels in front of them.  The bottom was so filled
with powder smoke that we could scarcely follow the confused mass of
bodies as they hurtled downwards.

The utmost terror broke out among the unarmed Arabs.  We could see them
leaving their camels and taking shelter under any projecting rock they
could reach.  I fired at another wretched brute, standing with his
bundle of rifles so closely pressed against the side of the precipice
that I knew that the path must be very narrow there.  Immediately below
him, on the next zigzag, was a confused group of animals clustered on a
broader path.

At my second shot he staggered, fell right among them, swept three or
four off their feet, and another avalanche swept down.

I felt almost sick at what I had done and stopped firing to see what
would happen.  The others ceased firing too.

Jaffa came back and lay down near me.  His one eye was better than my
two, so I gave him the glasses.

Then—all at once—bullets came whizzing our way, striking rocks below,
above, at each side of us, and screaming away out of the "coffee-cup".
The noise of this rifle fire was very different—each shot was a roar,
magnified a hundred times, and multiplied a hundred times as it
re-echoed from the walls of the chasm.

Thank goodness!  At last we had compelled the sheikh to weaken his
defence by trying to save his caravan from destruction.

Griffiths and I began firing at more camels; Webster and his men
followed suit; more went hurtling down.

We had to do this, however cruel and beastly it was.  Unless we kept
those fellows away from the mouth of the ravine, the _Intrepids_ might
never force their way in.

I could now see the flashes of many rifles—it was a beautiful sight.

Jaffa, excited for the first time, told me that twenty or thirty armed
Arabs were climbing up the zigzag. I wished that fifty or a hundred were
coming—the more the better.  They could not possibly see to aim at us,
nor could they know how few we were, and as they emerged from the gloom
we could pick them off like starlings on a fence.

Several more camels were hit and fell.  Absolute panic had broken out
among the unarmed men; many of those on the upper zigzags began creeping
and crawling downwards, and I knew that when they met the Arabs coming
up to attack us, the confusion on that awful path, and in that awful
obscurity below, would be appalling.

After this events began to follow each other very rapidly.

The number of bullets whizzing round us was great, and proved that very
many men must have been withdrawn already, back into the hollow; I felt
certain that the noise of the Maxim gun seemed louder.  If this meant
anything it meant that the Arabs were gradually being forced back and
that the line of bluejackets was advancing.

Very shortly afterwards the character of the noise of rifle firing
altered entirely.  There was very little of that muffled rumbling which
we had heard before; the noise was sharper and very much louder, and
amongst it, quite distinct, I could hear the most distant sound of our
own rifles, much like tin tacks being driven into wood with single blows
of a big hammer.  The bottom of the ravine, too, was lighted up with
hundreds and hundreds of rifle flashes, and shells began bursting there
again.  This made it certain that the Arabs had actually fallen back
into the bottom of the "coffee-cup", and I knew that they must be so
bunched up together that the shrapnel bullets would soon compel them to
scatter up the lower legs of that zigzag.  Once there it would be
difficult to reach them, but I did not bother about that.  They would
have to come up and attack us if they wanted to save a single camel.

Jaffa quietly told me that they were already beginning to do this, and
then, almost before he had spoken, I heard the faint sound of cheering,
and knew that the _Intrepids_ were rushing the mouth of the ravine.

Oh, what a grand, comforting sound that was!

The nine-pounder had stopped firing; so had the Maxim.  Probably the
guns’ crews could not keep pace with the last rush of our fellows, or
could not fire without hitting them.

Then I saw spurts of rifle flame spitting out into the gorge, in the
very opposite direction from which they had been spluttering before, and
knew that they came from our own people.

It was grand!  It meant absolute victory and the capture of the entire
caravan.  I turned and grinned at Jaffa and Griffiths.

"Bedouin come up very fast—plenty come," Jaffa said.

"Well, let them come; so much the better," I thought; but then it struck
me that in my excitement I had not noticed how rapidly the sun was
setting. The shadow of the ridge above us had long since swallowed up
the whole of the opposite face of the walls of the "coffee-cup".  What
with the powder smoke and the shadow I could not see farther down than
about the third zigzag.  In the morning it had taken us a full hour to
scale the path when it was clear; now these people had to do the same
thing when it was blocked with camels.  They could not possibly do this
in less than two hours, and by then I knew that the sun would have set
and that it would be completely dark before one of them could put foot
in the gap.

This difficulty now faced us, and I had not foreseen it.

If those Arabs intended to abandon their camels, scale the path, and
endeavour to escape back to their horses in the valley, what should we
do, or, rather, what would become of us?

So long as they only thought of escape, all would be well.  They were
probably well beaten now, but directly it became impossible for our
people to keep them "on the move" with rifle fire—owing to the lack of
light to aim at them—they would begin to recover from their panic.  Once
they came up to where we were we dare not fire on them, because the
flashes of our rifles would have told them immediately that there were
only five of us.

If we did not fire they would imagine that we had evacuated the ridge,
and the obvious thing for them to do was to occupy it themselves, and
wait until morning.  If they did that, I realized very well that we
could not escape, and, more important still, I knew that it would be
impossible for Commander Duckworth to remove a single camel from the
path under the fire of their rifles, and that all the nine-pounders and
Maxims in the Navy could not dislodge them.

Already rifle fire was dying down at the bottom.  It was too dark to aim
there, and it would soon be too dark for us to aim either.  No bullets
had come our way for some time, so I had not them to disturb me as I
tried to think what to do.

At first I thought that we all should gather in the gap itself and
defend ourselves there, but I gave up that idea because I felt sure they
would scale the ridge above it on either side, shoot down, and make an
end of us pretty soon.

I did not know what to do.

All I could see now, except for the very occasional flash of a rifle,
was a frightened group of camel-drivers huddled together on the third
zigzag, apparently waiting for the armed men to join them before they
plucked up sufficient courage to start the ascent. It was too dark
farther down to see a single camel.

Then Jaffa turned to me and said simply: "I go down path—speak to camel
men—tell them you no want kill Bedouin—Bedouin throw rifle away—you
won’t shoot—if they no throw rifle away you kill them all."

My aunt!  What a chap!  What a scheme!  If it would only work, and if
only the camel men could get the Arabs to listen!

"I tell them you have a hundred men on top—they no know—very
frightened—very much frightened."

"But they might kill you," I said.

He shook his head, and drew his beloved Mauser pistol.  "I go and speak
to them."

"All right!  Good for you!  Go along!"

He did not stand up and scramble down to the path; he wriggled himself
below the farther side of the crest, and presently appeared through the
gap, walking coolly along the path, his white suit making him very
conspicuous.

I crawled over the crest myself, and made my way to the gap.  So did
Griffiths.

We saw Jaffa holding up his hands to show that he came in peace, and
heard him calling loudly.  Then some heads appeared much nearer than I
imagined any Arabs to have reached, and gazed at him.  He stopped and
harangued them, pointing along the crest where we had been lying,
sweeping his hands from side to side as if there was a bluejacket behind
each rock.

The Arabs were answering him, and he was arguing with them like a
father.  Then, as the last rays of the sun streamed through the gap, he
came sauntering back to us.  Webster and his marines had joined me.
"They believe me," Jaffa said.  "All very frightened—will tell
Bedouin—Bedouin throw away rifles."

"You are a splendid chap!" was all I could say.

I told Webster what Jaffa proposed to do, and at his suggestion we all
began to show ourselves at different points along the crest—one here,
two there, all of us at another place—dodging backwards and forwards,
dividing into parties, and going to opposite sides of the gap.  I felt
as though we were a lot of "supers" in a pantomime, trying to "make
believe" that we were an army.

Breathless, we all collected again at the gap.

It was not quite dark yet—not behind us—where the twilight lingered a
little, and we could see perhaps fifty yards along the path into the
"coffee-cup".

Presently Webster proposed that he and I should take station at either
side of the mouth of the gap, and that the two marines should do the
same at the other end of it.  He suggested this because if we all stayed
where we were there would be no room for the Arabs to pass.  Griffiths I
sent up to the ridge above it, with orders to fire only when told to do
so.  He did not like leaving us, because it was so dark.  In fact we
could hardly see each other, and, looking down into the hollow, the
darkness seemed like black velvet.

Up from that blackness came sounds of men calling to each other; once or
twice there were yells of pain or fright, and we strained our ears to
hear whether anyone had fallen down.  The noises were still far below,
but gradually approaching.

We waited, and, with nothing else to do, began to grow fearfully
nervous.  When one is frightened one gives an enemy credit for all the
virtues and valour and skill imaginable, and thinks that he must be cool
and collected.  At that time I could not conceive how we could escape
being killed, and was only certain of one thing—that I’d account for as
many Arabs as possible before that happened.

I wondered what our fellows were doing at the bottom, and whether old
Popple Opstein was there. I knew that they dared not attempt to climb
the path at night.

Jaffa began to coach us as to what we should say when the Arabs came.
He made us repeat after him: "Khalli bunduk ’ak", meaning "Throw down
your rifle"; "Ist agel", meaning "Hurry up"; and "Ma kattle kum",
meaning "Won’t shoot you".

We repeated these after him till we knew them. Shall I ever forget them!

Then he said it was time for him to go, and asked me for a box of
matches.  Luckily I had one—nearly full it was.  Why he wanted matches I
did not know.

We heard the stones rattling under his feet as he slipped away down the
path.

"Can you see me?" he called out.

I shouted back: "Yes."

He went farther down the path, asking at every two or three paces
whether we could see him.  When our eyes had become accustomed to
following his white clothes we could distinguish them at quite a
distance.

At last he had gone too far.

"We can’t see you!" I called.

He retraced his footsteps until he was again visible. Then he seemed to
rise in the air.

"I stand on rock by side of path!" he shouted; "path is under my feet—to
my right—very narrow—Bedouin must pass one by one—I speak to them—make
them throw away rifles—if no give up rifle I strike match—you see
match—fire below match—kill Bedouin."

"Come back!" I yelled.  "It’s too dangerous!"

"No!  I stay!" and nothing would induce him to give up his plucky
scheme.

Plucky!  Why, it was the bravest job any man could have taken on
himself.

Quite close beneath us men began shouting.  I hoped these were the camel
men warning the armed Arabs to throw away their rifles if they wanted to
save their lives.  I knew that in a few minutes the first of them would
reach Jaffa, and that then the crisis would come.  Webster was fidgeting
with the bolt of his breech-block and breathing hard.

Already Jaffa was beginning to call out: "Khalli bunduk ’ak!  Khalli
bunduk ’ak!  Ma kattle kum! Ist agel! ist agel!"

Our nerves were very much on edge.

Then footsteps began to approach, softly, cautiously. Jaffa altered his
tone of voice.  One could almost imagine that he was imploring someone,
for his own safety, to throw away his rifle, just as a father might have
done.  We heard the noise of a rifle falling on to the rocks, then
another and another, and, before Webster and I realized it, dim, cloaked
figures came up to the gap and stopped there, as if frightened and
uncertain what to do.

My heart was in my mouth then, and I said as firmly as I could: "Ma
kattle kum!  Ist agel!"  Webster chipping in with a quaver in his voice,
and the two marines and Griffiths bellowing these words behind and above
us.

For a moment the Arabs still hesitated, but then they commenced to pass
through the gap between Webster and myself.

One, two, half a dozen, a dozen panting figures glided through, and more
came—twenty or thirty more—and all the time Jaffa’s voice sounded—as
calmly as if he were aboard the "_B.A._"—"Khalli bunduk ’ak! khalli
bunduk ’ak!  Ma kattle kum! ma kattle kum!"

Then I heard Griffiths moving among the rocks overhead, probably
shifting himself into a more comfortable position, and the fool must
have had his finger on his trigger, because his rifle went off, right in
our faces, almost blinding us.

Of course the approaching Arabs thought that we were firing at those who
had passed through the gap, and believed that they were going to be
murdered.

I cursed Griffiths, and shouted: "Ma kattle kum! ma kattle kum!"

Jaffa yelled to us not to shoot—but no more Arabs came.

Out of the darkness Jaffa’s voice sounded, higher pitched now: "Khalli
bunduk ’ak," and voices at his feet answered him, angry voices,
despairing voices; a crowd of Arabs seemed to be collecting all along
the path, and people were calling up from below.  I realized that they
were refusing to part with their rifles, preferring to have a chance for
their lives, or to die, if they had to, with them in their hands.

We were all shouting: "Ma kattle kum!  Ist agel!"  The two marines,
knowing that something was wrong, ran to us.

"Stand by to fire!  Be very careful; fire below, and to right of the
match, if Jaffa strikes one."

There was a very ominous murmur now.  Jaffa was haranguing,
expostulating; then he stopped.

"Stand by!" I shouted, bringing my rifle to my shoulder.

A tiny light showed.  Jaffa had struck a match.

"Fire!" I yelled, and our four rifles went off together.

We heard groans, a yell of pain, and a body falling. Some of our bullets
had gone home.

Jaffa’s pistol flashed once; we fired again; it flashed a second time,
and then, with a glare and a startling roar, a shell burst not fifty
yards below us, and for a second or two lighted up the whole scene—Jaffa
on the rock, and those Arabs, a whole line of them, surging up to him.
Wild screams came up from a lower path, and told us that men there had
been wounded; and Jaffa began in his old voice of calm assurance, "Ma
kattle kum!  Khalli bunduk ’ak"—he never once stopped talking.

"No shoot," he called to us; "they throw away rifles—they come:" and
with the most intense relief from the strain of those few awful seconds
I heard the welcome clatter of rifles on the rocks, and that weird
procession began again to pass between us.

In their hurry to escape this new terror of the bursting shells the
Arabs actually swept the two marines back to the farther end of the gap.

Another shell burst, some way from us, but near enough for all to hear
the fragments smashing against the rocks, and enough to break the nerves
of any who had already suffered as those poor wretches had done.

I realized now that they were absolutely panic-stricken; they were
throwing away their rifles long before they reached Jaffa.  They came in
one continuous line through the gap, struggling with each other to
escape those shells, and to escape from that awful inferno below them.

They were mere terror-stricken fugitives, with no more fight left in
them, and Webster and I had to step aside, out of the mouth of the gap,
to prevent them carrying us along with them in their flight. We were
shouting: "Ist agel!  Ma kattle kum!" more to let them know the way to
the gap than anything else, for the glare of those shells (which burst
dangerously close to us every four or five minutes) blinded everyone,
and they could not see the way. In fact, we four standing there, and
Jaffa on his rock, were now doing nothing more dangerous than a
policeman does in calling out to a crowd to pass along. The marines at
the farther end of the gap had forgotten their Arabic words, and
forgotten their fright—if they had been frightened—and were shouting:
"’Urry up there! keep a-moving!  ’Ere, you won’t get no front seat if
you don’t ’urry.  Pass along, please! First turn to the right takes you
to the ’orses.  ’Urry up! ’urry up!  The show’s about to begin."

Griffiths, on the rocks above, had altered "Ma kattle kum," into "Call
the cattle home," and was droning this out under the impression that he
was talking the proper "lingo".

As one shell burst I had seen a group of men on one of the paths
apparently bearing a comrade.  In time they came up to Jaffa, and I
heard the sound of voices entreating something.  Jaffa called to me that
it was the sheikh’s son, badly wounded and asking for water.

With shuffling footsteps they bore him up to the gap, and laid him on a
rock.

I could well imagine the awful experience he must have had whilst being
carried up there amongst his terrified followers, and the tremendous
pluck of those who had stuck to him.

They now began crying "Pani!  ma!" and Jaffa called out that the
sheikh’s son wanted water.  He, poor chap, did not deign to ask; but for
a half-suppressed groan, when they laid him on the rocks, he was
absolutely silent.

We had no water (our water-bottles had been emptied long ago), but I
remembered that brass cooking bowl in which the rear-guard had started
to cook coffee.

It had been placed between some rocks, so had not been upset, and I
groped round and found it.  There was still some liquid "of sorts" in
it.  I gave the bowl to the men, and they scooped up a little fluid with
their hands and poured it into his mouth.  They finished the remainder
themselves.  Then they picked him up and bore him through the gap as he
muttered something, apparently to me—though whether a blessing or a
curse I did not know.

The two marines hurried them on with cruel jests, and, before they had
passed through, the blaze of another shell lighted up the mournful
little band and the red-stained beard of the sheikh.  I looked for the
green turban, but that was gone.

During the next few minutes perhaps twenty limping, hard-breathing men
passed us.  After that, though we waited and watched the zigzag path
whenever a shell burst, not a single man could be seen.

It was time to stop those shells.  They were meant well, but they had
done their work and had scared the Arabs; now we should be very relieved
if no more came, because many were unpleasantly close.

I ordered the two marines, Webster and Griffiths, to fire three volleys
into the air, giving them the word of command, and firing myself.
Whether the _Intrepids_ saw these volleys or not, or whether they
understood that we were "all correct" or not, I did not know, but they
ceased firing.

Then, at last, we knew that we had won, that the morning would show us
our prize—the caravan of living camels strung along the zigzag path and
the dead ones below.  But we were too worn out with the strain of that
day’s work, and that last hour or more in the gap, to feel any
exultation.  All we wanted to do was to lie down and sleep, and all we
wanted to see was the rising of the blessed sun.  We had cursed it a
good many times during the last three months; now, how we did long to
see it again!

Jaffa came back to us, and we made much of him, praised him, and told
him that it was he who had saved us and captured the caravan, that all
the credit was due to him.

He simply lay down and slept.  Praise from us seemed to mean nothing to
him.  I let every one of them sleep.  I only had to say the word, and
they simply subsided where they stood, and straightway fell asleep.

Backwards and forwards by myself I paced from one end to the other of
that gap, my rifle in my hand, looking down into the black obscurity as
I came to the opening on each side.

Away down in the valley which had swallowed up those panic-stricken
Arabs I sometimes heard voices, gradually growing fainter and fainter in
the distance. Below, in the "coffee-cup", occasionally weird noises came
up, perhaps from those poor wretched camels still huddled on that awful
path, with their unwieldy burden of rifles flattened against the rocks.
Once or twice a momentary twinkle of light flickered far below; probably
the bluejackets were striking matches to light their pipes.  It was a
comfort to think that someone down there still kept watch.

Presently a land-breeze began gently sweeping through the gap, on its
way to the sea; so warm and heavy was it that it made the desire to
sleep an agony. How I could have remained awake without my pipe, I do
not know; that, and perhaps my hunger, kept me going.

Hyenas, jackals, or wolves began howling in the valley; others, along
the walls of the "coffee-cup", answered them.  They must have scented
blood, and appeared to be gathering all along the ridge, but did not
venture down, staying there howling and whining in piercing cadences.  I
set their hateful music to a tune of "Keep awake! keep awake! one turn
more! twelve paces! one turn more!"

There was no means of judging the time, but perhaps it was an hour after
I had been left to myself when two wretched Arabs came stumbling up, or
hopping up, dragging broken legs after them, and supporting each other.
Poor, wretched, miserable creatures! the agony they must have suffered
would have made me feel pity for them had not my brain been absolutely
numbed with the craving for sleep, and unable to think of anything
except the necessity for fighting it.

At last, when I thought that I must have done more than my share of
"sentry-go", I simply collapsed on top of Webster.  I remember him
scrambling to his feet, but I am certain that I was sound asleep before
I lay flat on the ground.  It was no use being ashamed of myself; I was
not.  It was physically impossible for me to keep awake any longer, and,
as it turned out, it was physically impossible for any of us to keep
awake.

When I did awake it was broad daylight; the sun was just appearing over
the opposite rim of the "coffee-cup", and dear old Popple Opstein was
bending over me, shaking me.  The gap was full of the _Intrepid’s_
bluejackets, and they were trying to shake life into the others.  Jaffa
was leaning against a rock.

"Water! water!" was the first thing I said, and Popple Opstein, with his
face that strange violet colour, his eyes ablaze with excitement, gave
me his water-bottle.

"We couldn’t climb the path in the dark, Martin, old chap," he burst
out.  "We tried, but we couldn’t do it.  Two of our chaps fell over and
broke legs or arms, so the commander brought us back.

"Thank goodness that he did call you back!" I said.  "You would have all
been killed.  It’s bad enough in daylight, with nothing blocking it."

"It took us three hours to get up," he said.  "We counted more than a
hundred camels on the path, and you knocked over any number.  They are
lying in heaps at the bottom!"

He gave me a ship’s biscuit.  Nothing I have ever tasted tasted so
appetizing as that did, and he spared me another mouthful of water to
wash the last crumbs down my throat.

Then I lighted a cigarette, and together we walked through the gap to
see if there were any traces of the disarmed Arabs.  The valley was
empty and silent, shrouded in shadow.  Not a single living thing could
we see except a few vultures.

We walked back again and looked into the "coffee-cup".  The zigzag path
was now swarming with villagers and bluejackets trying to restore order
among the camels.  Close to the rock where Jaffa had stood, rifles lay
scattered everywhere.

"We must have captured a couple of thousand rifles and thirty or forty
thousand rounds of ammunition," my chum said exultingly.  "It’s the
finest haul, they tell me, that’s been made for years."

I don’t mind saying that if he had told me that there was a steaming hot
dish of bacon and eggs and a potful of coffee waiting for me round the
corner I should have been much more excited—just at this time.



                              *CHAPTER XI*

                       *The Cobra Bracelet Again*


Take the whole world over, and you would not have found a more happy
group than we made that morning, sitting in the gap, yarning whenever
our jaws were not busy crunching the ship’s biscuits the _Intrepids_ had
brought us; Webster, Griffiths, Jaffa, and the two marines surrounded by
a crowd of bluejackets eager to learn every detail of the adventure, and
the Baron and myself squatting on a rock, he beaming at me like an old
mother hen who had just found her long-lost chick, and watching me munch
his biscuit as if it was the most pleasant sight in the world.

"When darkness came on," he was saying, "We gave you up for ’finish’.
We thought they’d rush you; we thought you’d have not the slightest
chance of escape. You remember firing rifles—at the beginning—when it
first got dark?  We were waiting for them.  We tried to help you with
those shells of ours—it was the only thing we could do—but we made so
certain that it was the beginning of the end for you that, when no more
rifle flashes showed up, we thought you all were killed.  We felt sick
that we couldn’t climb up and kill a few Arabs to revenge you, so we
kept plugging away with the nine-pounder in sheer desperate anger.  Man!
we never guessed for a moment what was really happening.  Look down
there at that litter of rifles; the path and the rocks for a hundred
yards are simply smothered with them.  It’s splendid! splendid, old
chap!"

In his excitement my chum leant forward and gripped my shoulder till I
winced.

"If you’d seen Jaffa standing there on his rock, and heard him calling
out: ’Khalli bunduk ’ak.  Ma kattle kum!  Ist agel!’ you’d have thought
him splendid. He’s the hero of the affair," I said, pointing to Jaffa,
who was extricating himself from the crowd of his admirers and stalking
solemnly away to perch himself on a rock, where no one could come and
worry him with questions.  "We shall never forget those words; we
shouted them till we were hoarse.  Didn’t we, Webster?"

Webster smiled.  "Pretty ticklish work—part of the time, sir!"

"Those shells of yours just did the trick," I went on, telling him how
Griffiths’s rifle going off accidentally had nearly brought about a
catastrophe. "They were simply hideous in the darkness; the chasm looked
a perfect hell, and the half-crazed wretches fled through the gap from
them like a flock of sheep.  How the dickens did you manage to train the
gun and aim it?  That’s what beat me."

He explained that before it was too dark to see the gap from the bottom
of the "coffee-cup" they had found a rock which gave, more or less, the
proper elevation when the muzzle of the gun rested on it, and when the
trail of the carriage was pushed up against another, the gun pointed
somewhere in the right direction.  After every shot they had had to drag
it back, feel about for the rocks, and trust to luck.  That was why the
shells were so erratic and the firing so slow.

"We were very nearly as frightened of them as the Arabs were," I
laughed, "and were mighty glad when you stopped your fireworks and bits
of ironmongery flying round us."

Recollecting those volleys we had fired when all was over, I asked my
chum whether they had seen them, and how they knew what we meant.

The Baron shook his head.  "Too much smoke down there; we saw nothing.
We only stopped firing for the simple reason that we’d fired every
blessed shell we had.  Why, my dear old chap, we thought you’d been
’deaders’ long before.  Even this morning we thought we should have to
fight our way here; it was a kind of a forlorn hope; the commander
didn’t want me to come, and it was not until we were halfway up without
being fired on that we had a glimmer of an idea that the Arabs had
’hoofed’ it during the night.  And you and your fellows were so fast
asleep you never heard us cheering as we scrambled up the last fifty
yards.

"When we saw you six huddled here we thought it was a burial party
wanted—nothing else.  Why, dear old ass, I was just turning you over to
see where you’d been killed, when you began muttering some outlandish
gibberish."

"Ma kattle kum!" I suggested, smiling.

"Something like that," he grinned.  "Ugh! it was a bit of a shock," and
his cheeks flushed that curious violet colour.

"What was a shock?" I asked.  "Finding me alive?"

"No, you fool!  Thinking we’d have to bury the lot of you, and not an
inch of ground where we could stick a pickaxe, let alone a spade, for
miles."

The Baron lifted his helmet and wiped his forehead.

The sight of his yellow hair reminded me of Miss Borsen, and I told him
how I had managed to silence her tormenting little tongue.  "Just picked
her up like a feather, carried her twenty yards before she could say
’knife’, and never a word more did she say. I thought I’d got the best
of her for once, but she only thought me a horrid cad, and wouldn’t even
let me apologize, wouldn’t even let me see her again. So she came off
best after all."

"Women always do," the Baron grinned.  "Irritating things, women."

We were both agreed on that point.

Then he told me his part of the yarn.  It was just as I had thought.
Some skunk of an Arab with a grievance had come along to Muscat and
sneaked, given the whole show away, and the plan of taking all the
rifles and ammunition still remaining at Jeb to Kalat al Abeid (the
little village whose head-man had brought me up here to shoot leopards).
That was why the _Intrepid_ had hurried round.  Even before Commander
Duckworth had heard from Mr. Scarlett that I was up in the mountains he
was preparing to land his men, and when he received my scribbled note it
had been a case of hurrying ashore in double-quick time, to try to take
possession of the mouth of the ravine leading to the "coffee-cup" before
the Arabs reached it.

As you know, they did not, in spite of the villagers clapping on to the
nine-pounder and Maxim and dragging them up those baking slopes.  They
had been met with a very fierce fire, and it was not till the resistance
began to weaken (when many Arabs had been withdrawn to defend the camels
from us) that the _Intrepids_ could make any impression.  But once an
Arab leaves his first position for one farther in the rear, his chief
anxiety is to keep his eye on a still safer place behind him; so, once
they had begun to retire, the job was comparatively easy.

Before they gained the mouth of the ravine the _Intrepids_ had lost two
men killed and five wounded. My chum told me that Nicholson, the staff
surgeon, did not expect one of those to pull through safely.

"It’s jolly hard luck on them," the Baron said, his face falling.

We sat silent for some time, looking into the "coffee-cup" and watching
the very tedious and dangerous work of getting the remaining camels
safely down to the bottom.

Then a message was semaphored that the commander wanted to see me and my
party; so I gathered them together and left the Baron and his men to
keep watch at the gap in case the Arabs recovered from their fright and
came back.  There was precious little chance of this.

The zigzag path was the most extraordinary sight, littered with rifles,
bandoliers, water-bags, turbans, and cloaks, showing how hurriedly the
poor wretches had tried to escape.  It was dangerous work there, and
worse still when we reached the camels.  Each poor brute thought we were
bringing him food, and was furious when he saw we were not, swaying his
neck and making an angry rumbling noise somewhere from halfway down his
neck, scraping his bundle of rifles or ammunition-boxes against the
rock.  We had to squeeze past each one very carefully indeed, with an
eye on his head and neck and a hand gripping at his bundle.  Lower down
we came to the villagers trying their best to shift the camels, make
them get on their feet if they were kneeling, or turn them round if they
were facing upwards.  Poor devils, they were only fishermen, and were
evidently making a poor job of this.  Among them was my old friend the
head-man, shouting orders by the dozen.  He smiled affably, and gabbled
a lot of weird words as I squeezed past him.  Jaffa explained that he
was comparing me "to the sun for strength and the jackal for cunning".
I smiled back, and as Jaffa followed he commenced another long
rigmarole, which I did not stay to listen to, but which Jaffa afterwards
told me was to the effect that the Bedouin would be very angry, and
would come back presently, when the _Bunder Abbas_ and _Intrepid_ had
gone away, and kill them all.

That was the worst of it.  I knew enough about the temper of those
gun-running fellows—hadn’t I seen what had happened at Bungi and
Sudab?—and the Arabs are no whit less ferocious and revengeful than the
Afghans.  It seemed such hard luck to get those villagers to help us and
then leave them to certain vengeance.  These especial people were so
simple, and had been so useful, that it would be a shame to leave them
unprotected.  But what could we do?  Neither the _Bunder Abbas_ nor the
_Intrepid_ could stay there for ever.

Lower down still, quite close to the bottom of the zigzag, I met the
commander, very pleased with himself and with me too.

"You should get promotion out of this," he said, as I saluted; "it’s the
finest haul that’s been made for years—three thousand rifles at least,
and more ammunition than we’ve destroyed in the last twelve months."

He made me tell him the whole yarn over again, and then ordered me to
take my men back to the _Bunder Abbas_.  I did not want to go, but had
to.

At the bottom of the "coffee-cup" I saw the mangled remains of many of
the camels which had fallen down the precipice.  Rifles from their burst
bundles were scattered round them, and some of the _Intrepids_ were
still moving about among the boulders, searching for dead or wounded
Arabs.  Then at the very entrance to the gorge, round the corner where
the Arabs had taken up their first position, I found Nicholson busy with
the wounded, and showing some natives how to make litters.

The man who had been so desperately wounded was dead.  "Nothing could
have saved him," Nicholson told me, as though I might think he had not
done enough for him.  He brightened when he saw how little the scar on
my forehead showed.

"A good bit of work—that," he said, quite pleased, and wanted me to take
the other four wounded back to the village.

So off we started with them.  Two could walk, and we took it in turns to
carry the others, for the villagers were much too excited and impatient
to realize the necessity for gentleness.  They wanted to run along with
them as if they had been sacks of potatoes.

Fifty or sixty of the camels were already slowly tramping down the rocky
slope ahead of us, and when we reached the village we found them
kneeling under the shade of some trees, looking quite contented—that is,
if a camel can look contented.  The youngsters who had brought them
down, and all the women and children in the village, were gathered round
in a state of wonderment.  The women covered their faces when they saw
us; but the children came crowding round us, clapping their little brown
hands, and followed us down to the beach, dancing and jumping with glee.

I took the wounded men on board the _Intrepid_, and then went aboard the
_Bunder Abbas_, where I had a great reception.  Even the dismal cook and
his still more dismal "mate" showed symptoms of pleasure, and Mr.
Scarlett’s face—for once—was beaming.  His claw-like hand shot out and
gripped mine like a vice.  "I’ve had a terrible bad time of it for the
last twenty-four hours, sir.  Never thought to see any of you alive
again.  We all wanted to come along and lend a hand, but you know that
we dursn’t leave the ’_B.A._’, sir, don’t you?"

He was terrified lest I should think he had failed me.  Of course he
hadn’t.

I sent him, and as many men as could be spared, up to Commander
Duckworth, in case they should be needed.  They went ashore like a lot
of boys, Mr. Scarlett one of the youngest, but had had enough of the sun
and hot rocks before they eventually returned.  By dark every camel had,
somehow or other, been brought down to the village, and by midnight all
the rifles and ammunition were aboard the _Intrepid_.

As I looked shorewards to the grim dark mass of mountains towering into
the starlit sky, I was most thankful that I had not to spend another
night on top of them.  We all had had enough excitement to last a long
time.

I went across to the _Intrepid_ to gloat over the rifles piled in her
battery, and had supper with the Baron. A most joyous and hilarious meal
it was.  Afterwards Commander Duckworth sent for me to give me orders to
proceed to Muscat next morning.

This gave me the chance of putting in a good word for the villagers.

"It does seem precious hard," he said, shrugging his shoulders.  "These
hundred and thirty or more camels are not the slightest use to them;
they dare not take them inland to sell, and those Arab chaps are certain
to wipe out every man of them.  But what can I do?  I can’t stay here
for ever."

I suggested that he should let them have some of the captured rifles.

"They won’t know how to use them," he said; "they’ll only shoot each
other."

However, he changed his mind next morning, for as I weighed anchor he
signalled across: "Am sending fifty rifles and two thousand rounds of
ammunition to the village ".

If the inoffensive, childlike villagers would only learn to use them
properly, and would guard that gap night and day, they would be safe;
but—I knew they would not.  They were simply fishermen; they could not
spare men from the boats; and after the first few days had passed
without anything happening they would imagine themselves safe, or, still
more likely, never take any precautions whatsoever, considering it wrong
to interfere with "fate".

Just as the _Bunder Abbas_ was shoving off, a native boat came paddling
furiously from shore.  I stopped my engines, and it came alongside with
a couple of sheep—a parting present from my old head-man. Sending back a
message of thanks, and dragging them aboard, I went ahead again, wound
my way through that extraordinary channel in the cliffs to the open sea,
and by sunset found myself once more anchored in Muscat harbour.

It was too late to report myself to the political agent that night, so I
went next morning.  He heard my news with great satisfaction, said very
nice things about my part of the "show", and expressed the opinion that
the loss of the valuable caravan would be such a blow to the inland
tribes that the gun-running trade would be dead on that part of the
coast for many months.  He agreed with me that something ought to be
done for the villagers, but shook his head when I suggested that the
"_B.A._" might be spared to protect them for a few weeks.

"Can’t anything be done for them?" I asked anxiously.

"The most I can do," he said, "is to let the local Arab camel dealers
know that they have all those camels to sell—almost for the asking.
Once they have got rid of them there won’t be so much temptation for the
Bedouins to attack them."

He did this, and during the afternoon six or seven large trading
buggalows glided out of harbour.  I hoped that they were off to my
village, and, one passing close to the "_B.A._", Mr. Scarlett hailed her
to know where she was going.

"Yes," he nodded, after much shouting backward and forward; "they are
all on their way there as quickly as they can.  They aren’t going to let
the chance slip; they don’t expect those Bedouins will leave the camels
there many days."

Poor devils!  Precious little profit would they make out of their
assistance to us, and precious little would those traders give them.

We "coaled" and "watered" that day, having a good deal of trouble with
the natives in the lighters. There was such a swell running into the
harbour that we were banging against those lighters rather heavily, and
the natives were often frightened to carry the coal on board.  Jaffa was
ashore, so Mr. Scarlett had to do all the persuading.  He was in his
element at "persuading".  I don’t believe he had any more feeling for
those chaps than if they’d been dogs.

"There now, that comes of knowing the ’lingo’!" he said cheerfully, when
at last the eighteen tons of coal had been stowed below, and he came up
on deck to have a drink.  "I told them a few things about their
grandfathers and fathers, grandmothers and mothers, which fairly got
them on the raw."

He was a very strange chap.  He would be cheerful and talkative one
moment, morbid and taciturn the next—one never knew.  I often tried to
chaff him out of these fits of depression, told him they were worse at
full moon, and joked him about being in love. The moon may have had
nothing to do with them; but I often noticed that he grew silent and
morose towards sunset, and have often seen him go and hide himself in
the cabin or turn his back to it.

Once I asked him why.

"I can’t help it, sir; every time I see the sun setting I remember those
shadows racing down from the mountains that time Jassim’s wife was
killed with this," and he tapped his left arm where the bracelet was.

He happened to be quite cheerful that evening, after his successful
day’s work with the lightermen, so when it was cool I simply forced him
to come ashore.

"Come and have a walk; it will do you good," I said, and took him with
me in the dinghy.  Directly we landed, between the Custom House and the
Sultan’s palace, he started off along the shore at a great pace, pushing
in and out of the Arabs busy loading and unloading dhows as if he never
even saw them.  As I caught up with him I saw that he was in one of his
morbid fits again.

"What’s wrong now?" I asked.

"This is the very spot where I stood eighteen years ago and saw the
cursed snake for the second time. The Khan of Khamia came down here, and
his wives were carried along that passageway—the arm with this bracelet
on it showed up just there—there!" and he gripped my arm and pointed,
his eyes glittering as if he could really see it again.

"Come along, man; don’t be a fool!" I cried angrily; "people will think
you mad," and dragged him reluctantly away through narrow, tortuous
passages, jostling natives of every black or brown nationality under the
sun, and pressing back occasionally against the walls of the miserable
houses to let laden donkeys pass.  The Eastern smell pervading
everything delighted me; it was splendid; but I do not suppose he
noticed it.  At last we came to the main gate of the town, with its
armed guard of ruffianly Arabs, and turned to the right along an open
space where many horses were tethered, until we found ourselves close to
a wretched mosque and a crowd of idlers lazily listening whilst a
decrepit-looking old chap, standing on the steps, read from a paper he
was holding.  As we pressed through the people I caught the words
"Khamia", when Mr. Scarlett stopped suddenly, gripped my arm fiercely,
and literally pulled me away.  He was shaking all over, and that muddy,
frightened expression had come back.

"What the dickens is the matter now?" I asked, very irritated.

"Come back; get back to the ’_B.A._,’ sir; I can’t breathe here."

He let go of my arm and simply ploughed his way through the crowd, and
when clear of it actually began running.

I caught him up and stopped him.  I was furious.

"Didn’t you hear what he was reading?" he said, trembling.  "It was the
proclamation offering a reward for the ’Twin Death’?"

"That’s nothing, man; you know they read it out every few weeks."

"I can’t help it, sir; don’t leave me, sir!  For God’s sake get me back
to the ’_B.A._’!  That’s not all.  I’ve seen something else."

He would not tell me what, but walked as fast as he could, looking back
every other second, with wild eyes, as if he was afraid of being
followed.  He walked so fast that I could barely keep up with him, and
in one street or alleyway, which was fairly empty, he broke into a run
again.

He was in a pitiable state of terror, and I was mighty glad when we did
at last reach the beach, jump into a shore boat, and get aboard the
_Bunder Abbas_.

It was not until he had had a glass of brandy that he began to calm
down, and presently he apologized most abjectly for spoiling my walk.

I knew that I should never take him ashore again; I was very irritated.
The whole business was so childish.  He might take the bracelet off—I
would guarantee to have it off in ten minutes—without the least risk.

I tried to argue with him; but it was not of the least use; he only
became more agitated.  He shut himself in our cabin, and I left him
there till Percy announced dinner, with a grin of importance at having
provided a special feast for us from one of the sheep those poor devils
of villagers had given us.

"Kid-ney on to-ast," he said, his eyes and mouth wide open with delight.

"Come along, Mr. Scarlett!" I shouted, and tried to make him come out.

"I durs’n’t yet, sir; I’ll wait till it’s dark."

"What on earth are you frightened of—now?"

"Of being seen, sir; I durs’n’t show myself.  Look at those boats there,
sir," he said, pointing through the cabin door at some native boats
which were passing—such boats were passing at all hours of the day.  "He
might be there."

"Who?  Not that decrepit old chap we saw this afternoon?"

"No," he said, clutching the side of his bunk and looking half-mad;
"Jassim!  Jassim himself!"

"Jassim?  You haven’t seen him, have you?" I asked, startled.

"Yes," he groaned; "and he saw me!  We came face to face in that crowd
outside the mosque.  I knew him directly, and he knew me—I’ll swear it."

"You’re mistaken, man; it couldn’t have been he."

Mr. Scarlett shook his head.  "No, no!  I recollect his face as though
it was yesterday—he has a scar on his upper lip, too.  No, no!  I
couldn’t make a mistake!  He shot out an arm, felt above my elbow, then
turned away without a word."

"Touched the bracelet; made sure it was still there, did he?"

Phew!  I whistled, and shivered in spite of the terrible heat inside the
cabin, for there was something so uncanny about the whole business.  If
Jassim had recognized him there might be danger—might be very great
danger, unless Mr. Scarlett would let me or someone take the cursed
thing off his arm. We could not hope that we had escaped by hurrying
away.  Two Englishmen couldn’t walk through the town of Muscat without
everyone knowing from where they came.  There was not a mail steamer in
the harbour, and even if there had been, and we might have been taken
for passengers, the native boatmen who had brought us off from shore
would give us away. It was very awkward.

"Kid-ney get cold, master," Percy pleaded, with a disappointed look in
his face; so I went and tried to eat, sending Mr. Scarlett’s share into
the cabin.

I ate but little; he ate less.  His nervousness and fright were
infectious.  I began to feel as nervous as a cat.  Fearing lest
Jassim—if indeed it was Jassim—should try to force his way on board, I
gave very stringent orders that no native boat should be allowed to come
alongside and no one allowed on board without my permission.  I also
stopped the leave of the native crew, lest they should be tampered with.

Webster, Moore, and Ellis, who acted as quartermasters, were provided
with revolvers, and ordered to use them if anyone did attempt to come
aboard during the night.  I don’t know what they thought had suddenly
made this precaution necessary.  Certainly the whole crew knew that
something had happened, and every one of us was in a horrid state of
nerves.

When the sun had set, Mr. Scarlett ventured out for a breath of the hot
air.  I had a terrible night with him.  I had never seen anyone so
unmanned as he was.  Eventually he did go to sleep, but woke screaming
in a hideous nightmare, and there was no more sleep after that—for
either of us.

Next morning he would not be content until he had rigged a screen round
the little upper deck where the cabin was, and there he stayed, hour
after hour, peering through a slit in the canvas, with a pair of
field-glasses at his side to scrutinize any approaching boat. This made
me more "jumpy" than ever.  But a screen would not keep Jassim away, nor
did it, and during the forenoon a native boat came pulling towards us
with a single Arab in the stern-sheets. Mr. Scarlett called out for me,
and I found him yellow with fear, peeping through his screen.

"That’s him, sir.  He’s coming."

"He can’t do anything; I won’t let him aboard!" I said.  "For goodness’
sake don’t be such a confounded coward."

"But I am a coward!  I told you I was a coward. I am, sir; I can’t help
it;" and he slunk into his cabin and fastened the door.

"No one allowed to come aboard," I reminded Ellis, who happened to be
the quartermaster at the time.  He waved off the boat, but the Arab
forced the boatman to bring it closer, and as I saw him more clearly I
gasped with amazement, for I had seen him before; he was the sheikh who
had commanded the caravan we had captured—the red-bearded man to whose
wounded son I had given water.  There could be no possible mistake.  His
beard was not dyed now, but once having seen this man Jassim—-if it was
Jassim—there was no forgetting him.

To meet him under these conditions was startling, to say the least of
it, and I was quite thrown off my balance.  To gain time I told Jaffa to
ask him what he wanted.

A long conversation followed, and then Jaffa said: "Say he want very
great talk—-must have very great talk."

In my own opinion it would have been better to let him come aboard, have
the matter out once and for all, and hear what he proposed doing; but
the door of the cabin overhead slid back and Mr. Scarlett whispered
through the screen: "For God’s sake, sir, send him away; don’t let him
come near me."

So, as my head really was rather dizzy with my discovery, I sent him
away, and back he went, never moving a muscle of his face to show that
he was disappointed.

I certainly was disappointed; one doesn’t meet such people every day,
and I should have liked to find out whether his son was alive.  One
thing, only, I determined on—not to let Mr. Scarlett know that it was
his caravan of rifles we had captured, because I knew this would only
add to his fright and his fear of impending calamity.

That afternoon a letter was brought off addressed in sprawling letters
to the "Officer with black beard, His Britannic Majesty’s ship, _Bunder
Abbas_."

The quartermaster brought it to me and I took it up to Mr. Scarlett, who
seized it with trembling fingers and tore it open.  Presently he called
me to come to him.

"I’ve translated it, sir.  He wants the snake; he offers me five
thousand rupees if only I will let him take it off my arm.  He says he
does not want to do me any harm, but that he is desperately hard up and
must and will have it.  It’s really a threat, sir," he said, his hands
trembling violently.

I guessed why he was so desperately "hard up", though I did not tell Mr.
Scarlett, but spent the whole day trying to argue with the poor chap,
going over the same old arguments which Baron Popple Opstein and I had
used so often—with the added inducement of his now being able to make
money by getting rid of the snake.

Every now and again he would almost yield.  Then he would remember
seeing Jassim’s wife dying and that bluejacket clawing his way down to
the sea, and he would rock himself from side to side, like a woman in
despair, shouting at me that he would sooner be killed than die such a
death.

I really thought that he was going mad—as his predecessor had done.

So when Jassim came next morning I sent him away again.  Not a flicker
of disappointment crossed his face, but as I watched the retreating boat
and his motionless back I could not help feeling that we had done a very
foolish thing indeed, and that trouble would certainly follow.

Not a soul stirred out of the _Bunder Abbas_ all day; there was a
strange sensation of impending trouble, and as darkness fell and the
lights of the gloomy, unruly town twinkled out, I felt an unpleasant,
gruesome feeling that we had let him go, had lost touch with him, and
should not now know when danger threatened or from where.  Whether my
mind had gradually been influenced by association with Mr. Scarlett or
not, yet although I did my utmost to induce myself to believe that there
was no danger, the effort was extremely unsuccessful.  Jassim now had
good reasons for revenge on both of us, and he badly needed money.  If
he had turned out to be an insignificant nonentity or a mere cadging
loafer whose only trace of his former power and dignities remained in
his remembrance of them I should not have feared him; but this Jassim
was evidently a man of great influence still (you must remember that
gun-running or slave-running were then the only aristocratic occupations
the sheikhs of the various tribes indulged in), and must even now have
powerful friends scattered everywhere who would be only too glad to
assist him.

I do not mind saying that it caused me most unpleasant thought, and I
was more than ever sorry that we had rebuffed him twice already.

Luckily the _Intrepid_ came in next morning, and I was extremely pleased
to receive orders to return to Kalat al Abeid for a fortnight.

Whilst our lascars were raising steam I saw the commander going ashore
to call on the political agent, and on his way back he came aboard the
_Bunder Abbas_.

"The political agent’s delighted with our haul," he said, as I saluted
him.  "He’s mentioning your name in his dispatches to the Indian
Government.  You ought to get something out of it.  You got my orders.
Well, you can go there for a fortnight; you can’t be spared for longer.
Don’t get into trouble.  You can finish off those leopards.  I killed a
couple; there are plenty more."

I thanked him very warmly, and as he was shoving off he called out:
"They’re getting nervous at Jask again.  Some brigands of ’sorts’ from
the hills have been cutting the telegraph line and threatening to burn
the telegraph station."

"Is nothing going to be done?" I asked.

"No," he called back.  "We’ve advised them to send away those two
ladies—two are there, I hear—but nothing else.  They’re always crying
’wolf’, and we can’t keep a ship tied to the telegraph-posts all the
time."

I had intended telling him that Jassim was in Muscat, but this news made
me forget him and spoilt my pleasure at getting away from Muscat and
being able to help my friends the villagers.  It made me very
uncomfortable to think of those two fragile ladies exposed to such
dangers in those sunbaked telegraph buildings on the little promontory
of Jask.

We were not ready for sea until next morning, and that night I dreamt
that I had to rescue those two ladies, or, rather, choose which I should
rescue, and I picked up the little yellow-haired lady with the grey eyes
and tried to carry her down to the _Bunder Abbas_; but my foot wouldn’t
move properly, and an Arab with a flaming-red beard and a knife in his
hand would have caught me had I not woke up.

However, if one always worried about dangers which might happen at some
uncertain future one’s time would be pretty well occupied.  When once we
were out at sea, and the little "_B.A._" was tumbling about with the
tail end of the south-west monsoon swell sliding under her, our cares
and troubles seemed quickly blown away.  The whole crew had caught some
of yesterday’s gloom, and they too were now as cheery as schoolboys.
Even Moore and Ellis—still enemies—exchanged a few friendly remarks, and
the dismal cook and his "mate" chattered to each other as they carried
on their everlasting scouring of pots and pans.  Mr. Scarlett was a
different being altogether. He was his natural colour again, and I could
have sworn that he was fatter than the day before.  As for Percy, his
glistening brown cheeks were split with a smile which extended from ear
to ear.  He knew that there had been something wrong, that his hero had
been in some danger, and his two solemn great eyes followed Mr. Scarlett
wherever he moved.  To him the gunner was the most wonderful thing his
little world held, and if you had seen him squatting in a shady corner
outside our cabin, whitening Mr. Scarlett’s shoes or helmet, daubing
here and there, then waiting for the damp places to dry in the sun,
holding them up to see the effect and trying to make them look whiter
than any shoes or helmet had been before, you would have felt a great
liking for the little chap in his queer surroundings so far from his
home and people.

All that day we steamed along that tremendous coast line of cliffs, and
whenever some particularly barren rock stuck out into the sea I could
not help, for the life of me, picturing the white telegraph buildings at
Jask, and remembering the fluttering of a white handkerchief I had once
seen waving "good-bye" from the corner near the flagstaff.

"No other tune you know?" Mr. Scarlett asked me cynically, whilst we
were thoroughly enjoying the lunch Percy had furnished.  "You’ve been
whistling and humming the same old tune for the last three hours."

I’m hanged if I’d known it at the time, but it was "Two Eyes of Grey".
Well, to know that those treacherous Afghans were threatening that
isolated telegraph station was enough to make anyone think of the little
grey-eyed lady imprisoned there.

In the afternoon we passed quite close to one of those buggalows which
had gone to Kalat al Abeid to purchase the camels, and her deck was
crowded with them.  We met another as we threaded our way through the
channel cut in the cliffs, also laden with camels.  She was drifting out
with the tide, and we had some difficulty in passing her.

When we anchored off the village itself, three more were half in, half
out of the water, and we could see our friends the villagers trying to
persuade more stubborn brutes to climb aboard along sloping gangways.

The head-man was along in a jiffy, bringing another sheep with him.  I
hardly recognized him for a moment in a green turban and a scarlet
burnous with a flaming scarlet belt, into which he had stuck
silver-mounted daggers (the green turban I found out afterwards was the
one Jassim had lost that awful night, and I remembered that he was not
wearing it when he followed his wounded son through the gap). Across his
knees he had one of the rifles we had given him—each man in the boat had
one—and he was treating it as if it was a baby or something alive. When
he stepped on board, all smiles and friendliness, he brought it with
him, and kept on patting it affectionately, shaking a bag slung from his
shoulder by a piece of coarse string, and smiling like a big baby when
the cartridges inside it rattled.

He was vastly amusing in his new finery.  He told Jaffa, for my
edification, that "men of Kalat al Abeid no fish—so much good things no
work any more—Arab trader from Muscat bring so much food—dates, rice,
cloth, beads, bracelets for women—brass cooking-pots; never want nothing
no more.  No fear Bedouins—taffenk—fishenk[#]—kill them all."


[#] Rifles, cartridges.


Jaffa soon found out that, as I thought, he never bothered to keep even
a few men posted in the gap in the mountains.  "It was absurd to keep
them there in the daytime: surely they could see the Bedouins coming
down from the ravine and shoot them; and as for at night, why, everyone
knew that devils and horned dragons breathing flame came and went
through that gap during the dark hours."

If he had spent the night with us up there, whilst the _Intrepid’s_
shells were bursting, he might have had some foundation for his yarn.

At any rate, not a man of the village dared stay there after dark, and
it was useless work trying to chaff the old chap out of his
superstitions.  He certainly had not seen any devils or horned dragons
breathing flame—no one alive had; but their fathers had told them about
them, and that was good enough for him.

"Sometimes hear big noise of wind rushing through the gap," Jaffa
interpreted, as the old man evidently tried to back his superstition
with some tangible facts.

"Well, ask him about the leopards.  Tell him I want to go there and
shoot some," I told Jaffa.

He was quite willing to talk about them, but did not want to give me the
trouble of climbing all that way.  He patted his rifle, pointed to those
of his men, and Jaffa explained, without a smile on his face: "The white
sea-lord shall recline in the shade of my hut whilst I and my men go and
shoot leopard—bring back plenty skins, and plenty claws to make necklace
for white sea-lord."

"But the white sea-lord jolly well wants to do the shooting himself," I
laughed, "and to-morrow too."

When this was interpreted to the old man—I must call him sheikh, now
that he was so important—he smiled, as though he thought me rather a mad
ass.

"Well, tell him I’ll come ashore to-morrow an hour before sunrise, and
we’ll have a great day together."

That was arranged satisfactorily, so I gave him a packet of cigarettes,
and he went ashore, still patting and fondling his rifle, to hurry up
the embarkment of the remaining camels.



                             *CHAPTER XII*

                      *Mr. Scarlett Bares his Arm*


Mr. Scarlett was in such high spirits at getting safely away from Muscat
that he declared his intention of coming shooting with me, and he did.
I left Webster, the corporal of marines, in charge of the "_B.A._", and
took Moore, the petty officer, Hartley, the lazy signal-man (who was so
fat I knew he’d sweat his soul out climbing up the mountains), and the
two marines, Jones and Gamble.  Of course Jaffa came with us; we could
do nothing without our aristocratic Persian interpreter.

Early as it was, we found the shore swarming with the villagers, helping
the crews of those dhows to embark the last of the captured camels, and
making enough noise to prevent any respectable devil or horned dragon
venturing within a hundred miles of them.

When they saw us they hastily rushed back to their huts, and by the time
we had landed and found the sheikh waiting for us near his white-domed
well, they came running back—the whole crowd of them—every man with a
rifle and a bag of cartridges.  At a word from the beaming sheikh they
began firing their rifles to welcome us.  How it was that no one was hit
was a marvel, for they knew less about handling them than I do of a
sewing-machine.

You may bet your last dollar that I was not going shooting with that
little lot, and it took Jaffa at least a quarter of an hour of talking
before they stole away to their huts, and came sorrowfully back without
their rifles, but with much more useful spears and sticks.

I asked Jaffa how he had managed this.

"Tell them in England country sheikh ask great man shoot—insult if
villagers shoot too."

I could not help laughing at the idea of a day’s "shoot" at home when
all the beaters from the countryside carried rifles.  It would make some
"shoots" a good deal more exciting than they often are.

The sheikh himself would have sent his rifle away as well, though I saw
that it would almost break his heart to do so.  However, I explained by
gestures that I wanted him to shoot with me, and his pride and joy were
comical to see.

Eventually we shoved off for the ravine, followed by hooded women
bearing huge chatties of water, and every "toddler" in the village
carrying a bigger or smaller bundle of dry date-palm leaves.  It was as
quaint a shooting party as ever I had seen.

As we traversed the rocky slopes across which the _Intrepids_ had
advanced to the attack of the mouth of the ravine, the natives spread
out to pick up battered bullets and empty cartridge cases.  They were
lying there in hundreds, and every big stone had one or two white marks
where bullets had struck it.  At the mouth of the ravine, at the spot
where the Arabs had first taken up a position, the stones and rocks were
white with splashes and fragments of nine-pounder shells, and fuses and
shrapnel bullets lay among them.  Close by were three cairns with wooden
crosses.  These were the graves of the three who had been killed, and
the sheikh explained that he and his people had piled up those big
stones so that the wolves and jackals should not disturb them.

Passing through the ravine we once more entered that vast hollow, left
the sunshine behind us, and craned our necks upwards to see the gap.
Six days ago, when I was there, it and the path had been full of living
creatures and ringing with shouts from one zigzag to another, as the
bluejackets and villagers tried to bring down the camels.  Now the gloom
was haunted with silence and loneliness.  Except for two or three
bloated vultures, which flew heavily upwards and disappeared over the
rim, not a thing moved. The not-yet-whitened skeletons of several camels
showed what a feast they and the jackals had made.

As we did on that first memorable day, so we did on this.  The villagers
were ordered to remain at the bottom whilst the sheikh, Mr. Scarlett,
myself, and the rest of the men climbed up the zigzag.  We left Hartley
below; he solemnly shook his head when he saw what kind of a path it
was, and, as he was already pretty well "done up", I let him stay.  He
promptly went to sleep.

When we did reach the top, walked through the gap, and looked down into
the valleys beyond, I almost expected to see the huge snake of a caravan
wriggling up to us again.  I showed Mr. Scarlett where we had first seen
it, and pointed out the rocks behind which we had crouched nearly all
that day; also the rock on which Jaffa had stood calling out in the
dark: "Khalli bunduk ’ak!  Ma kattle kum!  Ist agel!"

He was very interested, but the sheikh was still more impatient, so we
spread out along the crest just as we had done before, and then he gave
the signal for the villagers to beat up towards us.

I don’t know what I imagined they would do. They were not flies, or even
goats, so I could hardly expect them to climb up the precipice; but what
actually occurred was that, after spreading over the whole of the bottom
of the "coffee-cup", yelling and throwing stones into any places likely
to conceal a leopard, they all made for the zigzag path and came up it
very swiftly, one behind the other, yelling like fury, beating the rocks
with their spears as they passed them, the ones in rear beating the
rocks which had already been struck a hundred times already, just as
vigorously as the first.  Occasionally they threw blazing bundles of
date-palm leaves into crevices and caves; but, except for this and the
noise they made, their ideas of what was wanted were very laughable.

The sheikh had lain down close to me.  Presently he gave an exclamation
and pointed.  I saw a leopard slinking round a rock just ahead of some
shouting villagers; he was at least four hundred yards away, and before
I could stop the old man he had fired his rifle, regardless of the fact
that if his aim was anywhere in that direction he was far more likely to
hit one of his own people than the leopard.  I need not have worried
myself.  The bullet struck a rock close below us and shrieked away into
the sky, whilst the recoiling butt struck his cheek.  First of all he
looked to see whether the leopard was dead, and as it had disappeared
behind a rock he was as pleased as "Punch"; then he felt his cheek and
patted his rifle reprovingly as if it were a naughty boy.  But he
smacked it a moment after, when the leopard appeared again, bounding up
the rocks.

I roared with laughter, which of course upset him. Holding the rifle
more gingerly than ever, and keeping his face well out of the danger
line (he could not possibly have looked along his sights) he fired
again, and of course "thump" went the butt against his shoulder.  At
that he laid the rifle down, sat up, and gazed scornfully at it,
jabbering something to me which I, of course, did not understand.

The leopard was now standing on a rock, entirely unaware that he had
been fired at, watching the advancing beaters, twitching his tail, and
uncertain what to do.

I nodded to the sheikh to watch how it should be done, took a steady
aim, and fired.

The animal was two hundred yards away, if an inch, and I did not expect
to hit him, but luck was with me.  He sprang up, pawing the air, gave
two or three huge bounds from rock to rock, then just missed the edge of
a boulder, clawed frantically for a moment, and fell on the zigzag path
dead.

The wonder and amazement showing in the old man’s eyes were the greatest
compliment I had ever had paid to my skill.  He handed me his rifle and
wanted to try mine, taking it with an awed expression as if it were a
live thing.  Then he noticed the difference in the breech (mine was a
Lee-Metford, his a Mauser), and a cunning smile flickered across his
face, as if that was the reason why mine had behaved so much better.
His eyes simply danced from rock to rock, watching for something to
appear, so that he could show me that with the same rifle he was just as
good a shot as myself.  Presently a wolf or jackal trotted along a
narrow ledge of rock below us.  He threw up my rifle, pressing the
trigger at the same moment, and, as he never even held it tightly, and
was sitting up on his haunches, was nearly knocked over by the recoil.

Where the bullet went goodness knows, but his look of abject
disappointment when he recovered himself and saw the beast still running
along was too comical for words.  He gave the rifle back to me, waved
his hands as if to say that he would have nothing more to do with such
works of Satan, folded his cloak round him, and sat sulkily indifferent.
His green turban and crimson cloak made him a quaint figure in the
glaring sunlight.

The others fired a few shots (though at what I could not see) and I only
hoped that they would not shoot the villagers.  Nothing more appeared
for us to shoot at, till presently a vulture, coming from nowhere,
perched heavily on a rock not fifty yards away—a splendid target for a
rifle.  He was quite indifferent to our presence.

I made the sheikh lie down—he was as excited as a child again—showed him
how to hold the rifle, press it into his shoulder, and look along the
sights; the bird watching us all the time, looking like a ragged tramp
sitting for his photograph.

When he at last fired, the bullet hit a rock at least ten yards below
the bird; but the report frightened it and it flew away.

The old man evidently thought he had wounded it, for he recovered his
affability and patted the rifle approvingly, smiling at me.

Whether or no there were as many leopards as we had believed, at any
rate we saw no more there, and presently they brought my dead one up to
the gap and commenced skinning him.  Whilst they were doing this the
sheikh led us down to some craggy rocks on the other slope, and a
leopard was frightened out of them but broke back through the frightened
villagers, and only gave me a long and hopeless shot whilst he was
travelling very fast.  I am sure the old gentleman was rather pleased
that he wasn’t the only one who missed.

This was a disappointing day’s shooting, but the exercise did us all the
good in the world, and we went back to the village quite content.  As we
drew near the villagers rushed ahead to exchange their spears and sticks
for their beloved rifles, came back to meet us, and fired another _feu
de joie_.

At a word from Mr. Scarlett the sheikh, seizing a stick, rushed in among
them and whacked left and right till they stopped.  If he realized the
danger it was a very plucky thing to do, because bullets were whizzing
all round us.

It was very evident that if the villagers went on expending their
precious cartridges as they had this day, they would soon have none left
to keep the Bedouins away.  This waste of good ammunition so outraged
Mr. Scarlett’s professional feelings that he actually spent the greater
part of the next week teaching them the elements of rifle shooting.  I
had never seen him so happy for so many days together.

Under the shade of some "nabac" trees close to the well he rigged a
tripod and a sand-bag for a rifle to rest on, painted some black
bull’s-eyes on the side of one of the huts, and every evening showed the
villagers how to look along their sights and get them in a line with the
bull’s-eye.

At the end of the week he rigged a target some way along the beach and
invited me to see the results of his training.  I do not suppose that
there was a single man, woman, or child but had come down to join in the
excitement.  They were all gathered round the firing point, some eighty
or one hundred yards from the target, jabbering noisily—the children not
being more childish than the "grown-ups".

Then in absolute silence—even the children held their breath—the first
man lay down and aimed very carefully.  He fired, and every single soul
scampered pell-mell along the beach to the target to see where it had
been hit.

In spite of actually seeing most of the bullets striking the sand, they
had the most implicit confidence in each other’s marksmanship; and I
nearly burst myself with laughing, when, after a little while, they
began to tire of running to and fro after every shot, and actually
gathered round the target itself with their heads as close to the black
bull’s-eye as they could get them, waiting for the next shot.

Mr. Scarlett managed with difficulty to bring them back, but at this
rate the millennium would have arrived by the time each man had fired
the three rounds he allowed them.  As a matter of fact this exhibition
of the result of his training did take three evenings, and I do not
remember that any man hit any part of the canvas more than twice.  Most
of them never hit it at all.  However, they were not in the least
disappointed; they were all too ignorant and stupid to mind what became
of the bullet so long as the noise and recoil were big enough.  Not even
when Mr. Scarlett put the target four hundred yards or so farther along
the beach, and he and I fired a dozen rounds and hit the bull’s-eye
seven times between us, did they show much appreciation.  Every one of
them—even the children—put their fingers in the holes and shouted with
glee; but they evidently considered the whole performance due to
magic—not our magic, but the rifles’ magic.

The sheikh refused to fire, evidently not wanting to disgrace himself
before the tribe, although his explanation, given to Jaffa, was that it
was quite unnecessary—"that if he could hit a vulture at twenty paces,
of course he could hit a huge piece of canvas."

Well, even Mr. Scarlett could not be expected to train those poor
ignorant fishermen in three or four days.  I do believe that they
imagined that all that was necessary was to put a cartridge in the
rifle, show it the object, and pull the trigger.  Allah would look after
the bullet.  If he did not mean it to hit—well it wouldn’t, that was
all—and Mr. Scarlett and Jaffa had not sufficient command of their
language to make them believe otherwise.

Even after this fatuous display the sheikh confidently told Jaffa that
he pitied any poor Bedouins who tried to attack his town—town! mind you;
not collection of hovels, as it actually was.  His own house and the
dome-shaped well were the only two structures you could lean against
without risk of falling through the sides.  He and his silly simpletons
of villagers really believed that they were now a formidable tribe—with
their rifles, their new finery, their sacks of dates, and the flocks of
sheep the Arab traders had given them in exchange for the camels. They
suffered badly from "swollen heads", were too proud to fish, and loafed
about the village with their rifles and silver-mounted daggers—doing
nothing.  The women were just as foolish over the stores of food and the
unaccustomed finery they now had, and all had lost any fear of the
Bedouins swooping down through the gap to take revenge.

Every camel except one had been taken away, and that one the sheikh kept
for his own use, fitting it out with the gorgeous trappings belonging to
Jassim’s own riding camel—the one I had killed on the zigzag path.  When
he was perched, insecurely and uncomfortably, on top of all this
splendour, he thought himself the finest fellow in the world, in spite
of the fact that the brute could only be induced to move, and that only
at a snail’s pace, by being pulled along by his halter.

He used to mount it and come along with me when I went shooting along
the mountain slopes; but he could never keep up with me, however much
the attendant villagers hauled on the head-rope.

One evening, as our fortnight’s stay was drawing to a close, we saw from
the _Bunder Abbas_ two little dots moving rapidly down from the mouth of
the ravine.  As they drew nearer we saw that they were two camels, and
that a man was riding the first and leading the other.  Darkness
swallowed them up; but next morning there were three camels kneeling
under the shade of the dark-green "nabac" trees alongside the well—the
sheikh’s and the two strange ones.  And whilst we were wondering who the
man could have been, a boat paddled off with a letter for Mr. Scarlett.
As he caught sight of the handwriting he actually seemed to shrivel; the
lines in his face became drawn and haggard, his eyes positively sank
into their sockets, and that horrid, frightened, muddy colour spread
over his face and down his neck.  I knew then who had written the
letter—Jassim.

Mr. Scarlett staggered into the cabin and slid the door across.  It
seemed hours before he opened it—just a crack—and beckoned to me.

"Same thing, sir, only more threatening.  Says he will take it off
without hurting.  That he must have it, and he’ll give me still more
money."

I had not the patience to try to persuade him to run the slight risk and
get rid of the beastly bracelet once and for all, so said nothing.  It
was he who at last, trembling and sweating with fright, suggested that
Jassim should be allowed to come on board and talk things over—"if—if
you’ll stand by with a revolver, sir, and kill him if he tries to seize
it."

It was the only sensible course to take; and, later on, Jassim did come
aboard.

What a grand-looking fellow he was in spite of his age, and how he must
have hated me and the _Bunder Abbas_ for the part we had played in
capturing his caravan!  If he did, he showed no sign, salaaming to me as
to an equal.  I took him up to our little deck, to Mr. Scarlett, and the
two began yarning very earnestly, whilst I stood by to see fair play.
Jassim was evidently explaining how he proposed to take off the
bracelet, and produced two pairs of thin pincers—the same idea that my
chum and I had suggested a hundred times.

Some extraordinary excess of courage seemed to come to Mr. Scarlett, and
he actually bared his arm, uncovered the bandage, and showed the snake.
As it glittered in the sunlight I saw Jassim’s eyes flash with something
which was not all greed.  He slid on his knees, bent down till his lips
touched it, holding out his hands and muttering something.  Then he rose
to his feet, his chest muscles working under his muslin shirt, walked to
the rails, and stood for a few moments looking towards the mountains.
Mr. Scarlett’s arm was stretched across the table, the muscles clenched
so hard that they stood out in lumps.  He looked at me appealingly, said
something to Jassim, who came back to the table, lay half across it to
steady himself, and took up those two pincers.  Very, very gently he
began to insert the jaws of one under a coil of the bracelet, whilst
with the other he held fast the head of the snake.  I noticed Mr.
Scarlett shudder as the pincers touched his skin, and great drops of
sweat gathered on his forehead.  Then Jassim gently pulled at the coil
until it began to come away from the skin.  I was looking on,
fascinated, my eyes riveted on the head, which, although it was gripped
by the other pair of pincers, seemed to be fighting to twist itself
backwards and wriggle itself free.  At an unlucky moment those pincers
slipped off the head, and as the iron dug into Mr. Scarlett’s arm and
the head flattened itself against the skin, Mr. Scarlett’s self-control
gave way.

Clenching his free hand over the snake, and seizing the pincers which
held the coil, he tore them out of Jassim’s hand and jumped away.  His
chair and the pincers fell with a clatter on the deck, and he stumbled
blindly into the cabin, crying to me to send Jassim away, and closing
the door behind him.

I turned towards the Arab.  He too seemed to have grown older.  His face
was not pleasant to look at.  I managed somehow or other to get rid of
him, but there was no peace for me.  Mr. Scarlett would not let me leave
him all that day nor all through the night.  I think he must have been
mad.  He sat crouched in one corner of the cabin, clutching the snake
with his right hand, and moaning for me not to leave him if ever I
stirred.

I did everything I could to rouse him—taunted him with cowardice, told
him that he was not fit to be called an Englishman, let alone an
officer; but he only whimpered like a child, and moaned that it was the
Arab blood in him, rocking himself backwards and forwards, cursing
himself for ever having allowed Jassim to see the snake.

When day broke after that horrid night those two camels had disappeared
from under the nabac trees. Seizing my telescope and looking towards the
mountains I could see them entering the gloomy mouth of the ravine.  Mr.
Scarlett was just in time to see them too, and some of the terror in his
face faded away as they were lost to view.  All day he followed me,
cringing and apologizing in the most abject manner.  Twice he came to
me, with his face set and determined, to ask me to take off the snake;
but at the sight of it round his bare arm he would alter his mind and
say: "Not now, sir; let’s wait till Jassim shows his hand again; let’s
wait till we go back to Muscat!"  I lost patience with him completely,
and would not speak to him.

The whole crew were, of course, aware that something mysterious had
occurred, and Percy guessed that danger threatened his hero.  It was
quite pathetic to watch him following Mr. Scarlett with his big brown
eyes, and looking wistfully sad at not being able to help him.

This affair of Jassim completely upset me, and made me wish that the
_Bunder Abbas_ should be sent patrolling again.  However monotonous that
might be, there would not be the dread of such a scene and such a horrid
night as I had just spent with the gunner.  Our fortnight at
Kalat-al-Abeid had now come to a close, so I went ashore to wish my old
friend the sheikh good-bye and to give him a few parting words of
advice—through Jaffa.  I pointed out to him that if a man and two camels
could come riding down from the gap without anyone seeing them, five
hundred could do so just as easily and just as unexpectedly.  However,
he only smiled a superior smile and patted his rifle, so I left him
complacently oblivious to his danger, and took the _Bunder Abbas_
through the channel in the cliffs out into the open sea once more.  Once
out there Mr. Scarlett quickly recovered his composure, but I very much
dreaded what would happen should we be detained at Muscat for any length
of time.

However, we were in luck.  When I went aboard the _Intrepid_ to report
myself, and told Commander Duckworth that, so far, the Bedouins had made
no attempt to attack the village, and amused him by describing the
results of their rifle practice and the grand appearance of the old
sheikh on his walking camel, he said: "Well, Martin, you’ve had a
fortnight’s rest, and now I have rather an amusing job for you.  There’s
a place called Sur on the chart; it’s thirty miles to the south’ard, a
deep backwater with two towns—Heija, on the north-east side, belonging
to the Beni-Bu-Ali tribe; and, on the west, Shateif-al-Kabira, inhabited
by the Beni Janaba.  They hate each other like poison, and are always
having rows. There is only one decent well for both towns—half-way
between them—and the old Sultan has a fort and keeps a garrison there to
protect it and keep order. A few months ago he sent a son of his there
to command, and the harum-scarum young ass got himself into a mess,
enraged both tribes so much that they’ve joined forces—for the first
time on record—and surrounded his precious fort.  As a personal favour
the Sultan has asked the political agent if he will get him out of this
trouble; so there’s your job, and off you go as soon as you’re ready.
The Sultan is sending off a few thousand rupees, and if you find these
won’t do the trick, and the tribes are bent on getting the young scamp’s
blood, just bring him back with you. The _Bunder Abbas_ can get quite
close in to the fort, and you ought to have no trouble.  At any rate,
fix things up as best you can."

"Thank you very much, sir!" I said, and asked him if there was any more
news from Jask.

He shook his head.  "The political agent is always hearing rumours of
trouble—nothing more.  They haven’t sent those ladies away.  I wish they
would."

So did I.

I stayed on board to lunch with Popple Opstein. He was beginning to find
lying off Muscat rather dull work after the exciting times we had had,
and almost wished we had not captured all those arms.  "The gun-running
business has been knocked on the head for the next few months or so," he
told me, "and things are as dull as ditch-water."

The _Bunder Abbas_ had taken nearly all her coal, water, and provisions
on board by the time I went back to her, and I found Mr. Scarlett in
another of his nervous saturnine fits.  Moore told me he had shut
himself in his cabin ever since the coal lighter had come alongside.
When he came out to speak to me he was so nervous and shaky that I was
more than ever anxious about him.

To come back from the noisy, cheery mess aboard the _Intrepid_ to be
cooped up alone with him again made me feel extremely miserable.  I was
beginning to dread Percy announcing a meal.  The food, generally
speaking, was horrid—horrid to look at and horrid to eat.  The gunner
would sit on one side of the table, I on the other, and we often never
spoke a single word all through a single meal except to curse Percy or
the cook or the flies or the sun blazing through the awning.  At least
once every day the wretched cook would be sent for by the gunner and
slanged in Hindustani or Urdu or some such queer dialect or other until
he slunk down the ladder trembling with fear.  Often to avoid a row with
the gunner I would go away and leave him to finish his meal by himself.
Latterly, when I saw Percy laying the cloth for "food", I would find
myself a job of work to do, hoping that Mr. Scarlett would finish before
I came. But that was no good; he would always wait for me.

I was, in fact, heartily sick of him.  I don’t mean to say that I
actually disliked him, but we had nothing whatever in common once we had
told each other all the yarns we knew and when the subject of
gun-running was worn threadbare.

It suddenly occurred to me to ask old Popple Opstein to get leave and
come along with me for this trip to Sur, so I signalled across, and
presently back came a semaphore: "Right oh! leave granted. What time do
you sail?"

I was not going until the morning; it was no good spending a night at
sea along that coast.  So I signalled: "Daybreak—delighted."

He made me dine with him; we had a great sing-song on the poop, with the
ship’s company chipping in, and after it he came back with me, bringing
his bedding and other gear.

The night was as hot as Hades, without a breath of air, but the old
"_B.A._" standing out in the moonlight was a different ship with Popple
Opstein climbing up her side and with him to yarn to before we lay down
on the little deck outside the cabin (inside which Mr. Scarlett had
again shut himself) and tried to sleep.

Not much sleep did we get, so much had we to talk about, and so pleasant
it was for me to have someone to talk to.



                             *CHAPTER XIII*

                        *Rounding up a Prodigal*


At daybreak next morning our little steam-winch ran the anchor out of
the water merrily, and off we went for Sur, its two towns of
irrepressible Arabs, and the young scamp of a Sultan’s son who had
caused all this bobbery.  Old Popple Opstein, in his pyjamas, lay back
in my easy chair, smoking his noisy pipe—the deck all round him soon
strewn with half-burnt matches—and looking happy and contented to sit
there and watch me take the _Bunder Abbas_ out of harbour. Mr. Scarlett,
his old self once more, was in the bows under the awning, securing the
anchor, and I’m almost certain he was whistling a cheerful tune; the
crew, both black and white, were skylarking and singing snatches of song
whilst they scrubbed and holystoned the decks; Percy’s big, shy eyes
were dancing with fun as he brought three cups of tea up the ladder to
our little deck; and even the despondent cook seemed to have made a
better brew than usual that morning.

"Here’s luck to the ’_B.A._’!" Popple Opstein cried, as he drank his,
and the _Bunder Abbas_, not intending to be left out of the
lightheartedness and gaiety he had brought with him, dipped her bows
into the swell and gambolled and sported like a porpoise.

It was a very joyous morning, and though the monsoon was in a rather too
playful mood we made five knots against it as we steamed along that
grand coast line.  By noon Jebel-al-Khamis, towering into the burning
vault of blue sky, showed that we were abreast the opening in the cliffs
which led to Sur, so over went the helm and inshore we steamed, with the
swell catching us up, sliding under us, and hastening ahead to crash
itself to a foaming dazzling death.  A cairn perched on the top of the
naked cliff, and a vast jumble of rocks, piled on each other like a heap
of enormous broken bricks, at its foot, marked the entrance to the
actual channel.  In half an hour we were inside just such another ravine
as the one leading to Kalat-al-Abeid, only the walls were not so high
nor so bold.  The roar of the breaking swell outside died away: we
twisted this way and that, and saw by the chart that in a few minutes we
should turn another corner, enter the open backwater, and see right
ahead of us the fort which guarded the well, and the two towns whose
people were trying to "do for" the Sultan’s son, or the "Prodigal Son"
as my chum called him.

By this time we were both in uniform—if one could call it uniform: white
topee helmets, white cotton shirts with the sleeves rolled up, white
cotton "shorts", bare legs, and canvas shoes.  We only had to put our
neck through our revolver lanyards and buckle our revolver belts round
our waists to be ready to land and demand the Prodigal Son; quite ready
even though ten thousand Arabs wanted to keep him.  The chart showed
three fathoms of water quite close to the fort which he was so
gallantly, or otherwise, holding out against such odds; the little
"_B.A._" only drew eight feet at the stern, so we could run up almost
alongside, and the one thousand or ten thousand Arabs would, we feared,
soon alter their minds when they heard the chink of those dollars.  Both
of us sincerely hoped that they would not and would give the six-pounder
and the Maxims a chance of arguing it out with them.  We were doing this
for the Sultan as a personal favour, so knew he wouldn’t mind how many
of his faithful (?) subjects went to Paradise during the argument.  We
certainly did not.

"My dear old chap," Popple Opstein said, smacking me on the back as this
thought struck him, "there’ll be no red-tape business about this little
job; none of your beastly waiting for them to fire at you first, no
worry about ’papers’ and nationality or rot like that.  Just go straight
in, see how things are; if he’s in a tight place, and they won’t take
the old man Sultan’s bag of dollars, pull the Prodigal Son out by the
scruff of his neck—and there we are.  We ought to have fine sport."

Presently we ran clear of the channel into a big backwater or "khor",
not so big as that at Kalat-al-Abeid but longer and more narrow, its
shores thick with scraggy, dried-up-looking mangrove trees, with here
and there a clump of darker almond trees, the everlasting bare hills
rising behind everything.

"There’s the fort," we both cried, pointing to the top end, where we
could see a big, square, battlemented building about two miles away,
standing alone on a waste of sand in which even the mangrove trees
apparently could not exist, for they stopped short perhaps five hundred
yards from either side of the fort.  Almost at the same moment we
spotted the two rebellious towns—one on each shore—nestling under the
trees.  Through my telescope I saw that the red flag of Muscat drooped
down from the flagstaff over the fort, so we had not arrived too late!
Not another sign of life appeared, no figures were moving about behind
the parapet of the fort, and not a single soul showed on the open sandy
space.  As we drew nearer, a dark patch close to the edge of the sea
turned out to be a couple of trees half-concealing a dome-shaped
well—the well for the guarding of which the fort had been built.

It all seemed so peaceable that we were rather disappointed, until
suddenly that open space round the fort simply swarmed with crawling
figures, hundreds of little white "puff-balls" of smoke seemed to grow
out of the sand, and great spurts of white smoke leapt out from the
battlemented parapet of the fort itself. The dull booms coming across
the water told us that the Prodigal Son must be firing his old
muzzle-loading cannon.  To judge by the amount of firing, he was having
a very bad time of it indeed.

"Just in time, Martin, old chap," Popple Opstein chuckled, his face
becoming violet in his excitement. "Shove the ’_B.A._’ ahead and we’ll
chip in."

Mr. Scarlett, sucking in his breath and looking unhappy, wondered why
they were fighting in the heat of midday.

"They never do so," he said.  "It must be a very fierce attack."

But I was not going to shove on any faster.  To begin with, I had to go
carefully, because there were many shoal patches marked on the chart;
and, to end with, I couldn’t go faster, because the packing in the
high-pressure piston-rod gland had opened out on the way down.  The
lascar engine-drivers were already terrified at the escape of noisy
steam, and if we shoved her on faster the packing might blow out
altogether.

So I just sent along two or three six-pounder shells—or, to be accurate,
four—two among the people on one side, two among the people on the
other.

"The white sea-lord metes out even justice," old Popple Opstein chuckled
(of course I had told him the yarn about the "white sea-lord jolly well
wanting to shoot his own leopards ").

The little shells burst beautifully, and their result was magical.  The
dark crawling figures making "puff-balls" tore back to the cover of some
huts at the edge of the mangroves, whilst the defenders of the fort gave
it them hot with the little cannon.

As we anchored within fifty yards of the shore—just abreast the big fort
with its red flag, and the white-domed well close to it—the big door at
one corner was flung open, and out streamed a crowd of men laden with
water-skins and chatties—any mortal thing which would hold
water—hurrying to the well.  They began working like the very dickens to
fill them, and staggered back again into the fort with anxious glances
to right and left, to see whether the tribesmen were going to attack
again.

"We were just in time, old sonny," my chum grinned; "they were short of
water."

"That’s why they were fighting at noonday," Mr. Scarlett explained.  "It
must have been a very close thing."

I prepared to land.  Where I went my chum went too.  We both buckled on
our revolver belts, and I saw to it that he put his lanyard round his
neck this time.  Jaffa, clean as a new pin, standing at the side waiting
for Griffiths to bring the dinghy alongside, was making certain that the
magazine of his Mauser pistol was full.  Mr. Scarlett remained in
charge; Moore had to "stand by" with the six-pounder, and Webster and
his marines manned one Maxim, Ellis and his bluejackets the other.  With
the knowledge that they would shoot straight and quickly there was no
danger in landing, and I knew that no Arab would play the fool with us.

It was my chum who suggested that we should lay out a kedge-anchor
astern, in order to bring the "_B.A._"’s broadside to bear.  This
delayed us for a quarter of an hour, but at last we were ready, and with
a white ensign flying in the stern of the dinghy—almost as big as
herself—we landed on the beach: Popple Opstein, Jaffa, and myself.  My
aunt, but it was hot!  The sand seemed to burn through our rope-soled
shoes as we tramped up towards the well and its two weeping "nabac"
trees.  Footmarks in thousands were all round it; one deep trail leading
to the door of the fort, two more leading away along the sand to the
towns on either side.

As we left the shade of the trees the door at the angle of the fort
opened, and out came four Arabs, armed to the teeth with rifles, belts
of cartridges, swords, and huge curved daggers.  They advanced to meet
us, salaaming a hundred times.  The leader fixed his dark eyes on me
whilst he jabbered away to Jaffa.

Jaffa translated, to the effect—more or less—that, thanks to the
all-seeing benevolent kindness of the Prophet, whose name be praised,
who always shielded the true believer and scattered his enemies just as
they were cock-sure of having won in an innings with runs to spare—or
words to that effect—we, rulers of the sea and sons of the Great White
Queen, had unexpectedly turned up and scored the winning goal just as
time was called.  He implored us to demean our noble selves sufficiently
to take some abominable refreshment (he was pretty well right in that)
under the wretched roof of his cowardly and entirely despicable master,
the mighty fighter, the heaven-born leader of men, born with a
double-edged sword in his hand, and destined to bring joy to the heart
of his noble father, the Sultan of Muscat, "to whom all we pigs and
nobodies own eternal allegiance—Mohammed be praised!"  There was another
long rigmarole to explain why the Prodigal Son could not come to receive
us, but I gathered that he had been wounded in this recent attack, and
was having his wounds dressed even now.

"Right oh!  We’ll go along with them," I told Jaffa, cutting him short.
"Tell him that we didn’t come here by chance, but at the request of the
Sultan."

The sheikh, or whoever he was, received this news with astonishment.

"He say they all lay down lives for Sultan—love Sultan very much," Jaffa
interpreted to me with impassive face.

Off we went, and, my word, it was a most unpleasant place!  The foot of
the walls of the fort was piled with all kinds of rubbish—cast-off
blood-stained clothes, bones, skeletons of dogs and camels, all the
filth one could imagine—and the stench was horrid.

Popple Opstein pointed out any number of bullet marks in the crumbling
bricks of the forts, and we made grimaces as we realized what a very
tough defence they must have been making, and how excessively
uncomfortable they must be.

Two solemn, weary-looking Arabs—one bandaged about the head—opened a
little door in the big one, which had been closed again, and we passed
into a large passage, which opened out into the court-yard in the centre
of the fort.  Stone benches on either side of this passage-way were
thronged with more tired-looking soldiers, most of them asleep, and very
many of them evidently wounded.  In the court-yard itself the heat and
the smell were awful.  Thirty or forty lean horses were tethered in the
open, a dozen camels knelt stolidly in the shade which a mat-screen gave
them, whilst hundreds of goats and sheep wandered about feeding on
whatever garbage lay about.  As we passed across, and tried to avoid
falling over sheep, being kicked by a horse, or bitten by a camel, a
score or more battle-stained Arabs raised themselves wearily from the
ground and leant on their rifles.

"A beastly place to be cooped up in," Popple Opstein whispered, as we
followed our guides through an archway into a delightfully-cool chamber
or hall, and up some winding stone steps to the upper story. This was
evidently where the officials and officers lived—much more handsomely
decorated it was, with carvings, and lattice-work of stone, wood, and
iron, elegant pillars and arches forming a delightfully-cool,
creeper-covered balcony above the four sides of the crowded court-yard,
from which, however, the smell and the noise of all the animals below
were still too unpleasantly evident.  Fifty or more soldiers were lying
on this balcony in every attitude of weary sleep, and as we hurried
along it after our silent guides we could catch a glimpse of the
battlements on the flat roof above our heads, and a motionless sentry
standing out vividly against the sky, watching to give the alarm did the
tribesmen make another attack.

We passed several elegant door-ways screened with matting, and then, at
last, a richly-embroidered curtain was drawn aside and we were ushered
into a long, darkened room, the wooden floors carpeted with splendid
rugs, on which six or seven magnificently-dressed Arabs were seated.
They welcomed us gravely.  Most of them appeared to have been wounded:
one had his arm in a sling, another had his leg swathed in white cotton
and tried to repress a groan when he moved. We, in our very rudimentary
costume, must have made a comical appearance in the midst of all this
magnificence; but we didn’t care "tuppence" about that. On a raised,
rug-carpeted platform a very handsome Arab stood erect, his left arm
bound closely to his chest under his white linen shirt, his right hand
grasping the hilt of a gold-mounted dagger stuck in his belt.  Salaaming
gravely, he stepped down to meet us with outstretched hand, drew us to
the platform, and made us sit beside him.

We almost fell over ourselves when he burst out with: "It’s awfully good
of you fellows to come along—awfully lucky, too; just when things were
queer. Another hour of it and my chaps would have burst out to get water
or die—you saw them scurrying out. I can never be too grateful.  You are
on your way to Muscat, I suppose; if you can see my father, the Sultan,
or get hold of the Chief Wazir, tell him you have saved his son’s
honour.  He will do anything for you, I know."

"Oh no!" I said, when I’d recovered from my astonishment at hearing him
speak such English. "We’ve come straight from Muscat, at the Sultan’s
special request, to get news of you."

I did not like telling him that we’d come to rescue him.

"Really!" he said, his eyes glowing.  "We are all the more in your debt.
But when you return, do not say anything about this," he touched his
left arm; "it’s nothing.  A bullet splintered the bone.  It will do
quite well.  My father will only worry if he knows of it.  Have some
coffee and cigarettes," he continued, as a Zanzibar slave brought round
a tray.  "Now you’ve given me the chance of stocking my fort with water
we can hold out until these tribes leave us alone to fight each other.
They’re certain to do that soon. I need hardly tell you that we are all
very grateful indeed."

He turned and spoke to the others, who answered with a murmur of
respectful and dignified acquiescence.

Coffee was brought in tiny little enamelled metal cups, more cigarettes
were handed round, and the Prodigal Son kept us busy answering questions
about the latest news from Muscat; and, when he discovered that we were
practically ignorant of anything that was happening there, asked
questions about European politics, of which neither Popple Opstein nor I
knew much more.  It seemed really most extraordinary that though he was
wounded and surrounded by the tribesmen from those two towns, thirsting
to eat up him and his handful of soldiers, he should interest himself in
events so far away.  To show him that I was not altogether ignorant of
Court "goings on", I told him of the two sums of money which the Sultan
had already tried to send him overland.

"The Sultan is a good father; he deserves a better son," he said with
such engaging frankness that he raised himself tremendously in our
estimation.  To cap all, I told him that he had sent five thousand
rupees with us, not daring to trust them by land again, and that if he
thought they would be of any use in pacifying the two tribes, I would
send them ashore directly we returned to the _Bunder Abbas_.

"If not," I added with a great show of importance, "I have orders to
take you back to Muscat."

He smiled, such a jovial frank smile that I could not wonder why he was
such a favourite with his father.

"What would you do in my place?" he asked. "Here I’m given a fairly
important job, to protect this well and keep peace between the two
towns.  I’ve done it so successfully that they are as thick as thieves,
and are so hot-headed with the imagined strength of their combined
forces that they dare to revolt.  Would you give up the job until you
were compelled, now that it has turned out a failure?  A few more weeks,
perhaps months, a little money paid out here and there—now that you have
brought me some—and I shall be able to report that all is peace again,
and commence to levy taxes, of which (he shrugged his shoulders) I have
not sent to Muscat enough to buy a skinful of wine—not for the last five
months."

There was no necessity for us to tell him what we should do if we were
in his place—he knew; but the interview was becoming rather prolonged,
so I hinted to him that unless we showed ourselves outside the fort
fairly soon that six-pounder on board the _Bunder Abbas_ might "go off".

He smiled delightfully, apologized, and immediately led us out, down the
stone staircase, across the courtyard, through the passage-way with its
sleeping soldiers, and out into the glare of the open waste land. I
could have sworn that I heard some women’s voices singing to the twang
of musical instruments, and women’s merry laughter coming from an upper,
lattice-hid window.  What a place for women, and how brave they must be
to be merry under these conditions! I could not help thinking of Jask
and those two ladies there, and wondered whether they kept up their
spirits as well as these did.

At last we were again in full view of the _Bunder Abbas_, and I guessed
that the sight of us must have been a great relief to Mr. Scarlett.

A brilliant idea struck the Prodigal Son.

"How much money did you say you brought? Five thousand?  It’s not much,
is it? but we’ll see if the Khans of the two towns are open to a little
bribing. They often are, in spite of them being such important people,"
he laughed.

"I’ll send messengers to them at once," he said. "Come down to the well.
We always discuss things there."

He gave some orders, and before we had reached the grateful shade of
those two nabac trees, two mounted Arabs, bearing white flags fastened
to spears, came out from the fort, separated, and galloped away along
the sands.

We sat down, thoroughly enjoying our amusing experience, and whilst we
were waiting I sent Griffiths in the dinghy to bring back the money
bags. Before he returned with them, nine or ten splendidly-mounted Arabs
had galloped up from the two towns and dismounted.  Bowing in the most
dignified manner to the Prodigal Son and ourselves, they squatted in a
circle round us, keeping their eyes fixed on my chum’s yellow hair and
blue eyes—in evident admiration.  More coffee was brought from the fort
and more cigarettes were rolled, and a discussion—a very heated
discussion—took place, of which we, of course, could not understand a
word.

[Illustration: BOWING IN THE MOST DIGNIFIED MANNER TO THE PRODIGAL SON
AND OURSELVES, THEY SQUATTED IN A CIRCLE ROUND US.]

However, the Prodigal Son seemed to soothe them and when Griffiths came
up the beach with four fat bags of rupees—making two trips with them—and
dumped them down at my feet, they became very affable indeed.  To watch
those dignified Arabs—half of them wounded and all of them scarred—try
to pretend not to be interested in the four bags, when all the time
their eyes kept turning towards them, evidently calculating how much was
inside, was as good as a play.

Eventually, after innumerable cups of coffee, everything seemed to have
been arranged peacefully.  They rose to their feet, bowed to us, to the
Prodigal Son, to each other, mounted their horses, and rode back to the
two towns, leaving us alone.

"Well, I cannot thank you enough," he began, his face twitching as he
pressed one hand against his broken arm, as though the pain was very
great. "With your help, and with the money my father sent me, I have
patched up the quarrel, and I trust it will be lasting."

"The quarrel or the patching up?" Popple Opstein interrupted admiringly.
"I do really believe you’d prefer the first."

I’m certain that he was right too.

We induced him to come aboard the "_B.A._", which he did in the
uncomfortable little dinghy, first having sent the bags of silver into
the fort, and he made himself so agreeable to Mr. Scarlett that the
gunner’s dark eyes glowed with pleasure.

"Will you do me one more favour?" he asked before he went ashore.  "The
Sultan will be anxious to hear how things are—you have seen for
yourself. He is an old man, and he worries.  Both of us will be the more
grateful if you let him know as soon as you can."

We were so carried away by his delightful personality that within an
hour the "_B.A._" was steaming back to Muscat, going so fast—to save
daylight—through that tricky channel that the lascar drivers were scared
to death by the noise of steam escaping through the piston-rod gland.
We saved daylight right enough, and were soon tumbling about in the
swell outside; but the gland gave so much trouble that we could only
manage to go dead slow, with barely enough way to prevent the _Bunder
Abbas_ being driven on the rocks, where the roar of the breaking swell
boomed in our ears all night.  We had a most horrid time of it—old
Popple Opstein and I—not knowing from one minute to another when the
engines would stop entirely.  It was not the slightest use to try to
reach Muscat, and I only waited for the first streak of daylight to
crawl back through the channel into safety.

My lascar first-driver said he could repair the gland in two days at
anchor, and I intended anchoring close to the fort again; but before we
were clear of the channel the packing blew out altogether, the
engine-room was filled with steam—the whole launch seemed to be in a
cloud of it—and the engines stopped entirely so there was nothing to do
but anchor where we were. It was a beastly nuisance, because I was so
anxious to take the news to Muscat as quickly as possible; otherwise I
did not care a rap.

Popple Opstein suggested that we should sail the dinghy up to the fort
and spend the day with the Prodigal Son.  No sooner said than done.  Out
went the dinghy; Griffiths stepped the mast and put up the sail; my chum
and I jumped in with a loaf of bread, a tin of tongue, and some
sardines, and off we went, only to pull back again for water and for
Jaffa—we had forgotten both, and both were necessities.  We drifted and
sailed, pulled round corners, and sailed again until we came out into
the open "khor", met a fairly-steady breeze—a soldier’s breeze—which
filled our little sail, and made us bubble through the water.

In a couple of hours from leaving the "_B.A._" we were hauling the
dinghy on to the sand, close by the well, and were tramping up to the
fort as happy as schoolboys, leaving Jaffa to guard the boat from a
crowd of loafing Arabs who surrounded it.  We noticed one thing
immediately—the horses, camels, sheep, and goats were now outside the
fort, so we knew at once that all was peace.

However, the Prodigal Son was not at home—we imagined that he had
perhaps gone to distribute the money; so, as the silly soldiers at the
big door would not let us inside, we amused ourselves by examining the
outer walls, walking all round them and looking up at the battlements
and the muzzles of the silly little cannon sticking out from the towers
at the corners.  The walls were pitted everywhere with bullet marks,
especially round the loopholes, and we felt that we had underrated the
Arab marksmanship. The heat thrown back from those lofty bare red-brick
walls was so great that soon we were only too glad to go back to the
shade of the nabac trees near the well, until the attentions of the
crowd gathered there became rather irritating and the beastly flies
almost insupportable.  So off we went for a short walk to have a look at
Heija.

Whilst we were wandering round it, feeling like a couple of trippers, we
turned round a corner, and, clatter, clatter, with a smother of dust, a
dozen or more Arab horsemen dashed madly past us.  Behind them, at a
more dignified pace, cantered others, and among these we at once
recognized the Prodigal Son, who, catching sight of us, drew his horse
back almost on his haunches to speak to us.  On his right wrist was a
hooded falcon, and he was holding the reins with his left hand—holding
in a troublesome, fiery horse with the arm we had seen bandaged to his
side the day before, the one he had said was broken. Although we
recognized several of the cavalcade, not one now had a bandage or a sign
of a wound; even the man whose leg had been swathed in cotton was
joyously curveting and pirouetting on a splendid horse.

For a minute neither of us quite realized the real truth.  Then, when we
looked enquiringly at his left arm, the Prodigal Son burst out laughing,
and even the older, more dignified among them smiled grimly.

They lent us a couple of horses to ride back with them, and old Popple
Opstein disgraced himself by falling off, but afterwards managed to
stick on until we reached the fort.  There we were taken up to that same
audience-hall and had more cigarettes and coffee. The Prodigal Son never
gave us a chance of asking for an explanation of the marvellous
recoveries, and presently we found ourselves sailing merrily back to the
"_B.A._", so delighted with his amusing, frank manner that it was not
until we were halfway there that we even began to wonder what was the
meaning of it.

Jaffa’s dignified face had been gradually relaxing, as if he was
bursting to tell us something amusing.

"Out with it, Jaffa," I called.  "What is it?"

"Very much laughter—in Heija—in Shateif also—make much fool of
Sultan—poor people very angry—sheikhs and soldiers much joy.  Plenty men
from Heija and Shateif come to well—tell me.  All pretence—the
fighting—surround fort—much powder play—news goes Muscat—Sultan’s son in
much danger—want money—buy peace—money comes—son rob caravan—Sultan
think wild Bedouin rob caravan—send more—son rob that—writes letter that
he in much danger—Sultan thinks money never come to him—so send more
money in _Bunder Abbas_."

"But we saw them fighting like ’billy loo’, going it ’hammer and tongs’
yesterday.  You mustn’t believe everything you hear," I said,
incredulous still.

Jaffa shook his head.  "All game—make pretence to fight—all men know
_Bunder Abbas_ bringing more money—runner come from Muscat in early
morning—when they see her come, begin pretend fight—fort fires powder
from cannon—men fire rifles—take no aim—only make noise.  Then hurry,
pretend have many wounds when masters land—take money—send masters away
with good tale for Sultan."

"Nonsense!" Popple Opstein blurted out; "the walls are peppered with
bullet holes.  We’ve seen them ourselves."

Jaffa smiled again.  "Make them—themselves—when merry—fire at loophole
for target—all play."

My chum was the first to believe the yarn.  He roared with laughter.
"It all fits in like a puzzle. The Prodigal Son!  What a name for the
chap!  That’s why they all looked like cripples yesterday, and left off
their bandages to-day.  My holy Moses! the whole thing was a ’plant’,
simply to delude us.  What a chap!  Didn’t you hear those girls singing
and laughing? They wouldn’t have been there if there had been real
fighting—or they wouldn’t have been so cheery. D’you remember the rush
for water?  My sacred aunt!"

He kept on roaring with laughter every few minutes.

As he had said, the whole thing fitted in like a puzzle.  It amused him,
but it did not amuse me to be made a fool of.  I was very angry, though
with my chum in the boat it was impossible to remain angry for long, and
soon I, too, saw the funny side of the expedition, and was laughing as
much as he was.

And the Prodigal Son had been so anxious for us to hurry back to Muscat,
and so anxious for us not to mention his poor wounded arm to his father!
Of course not!  It was all as plain as a pikestaff now. If the Sultan
heard of it, back to Muscat he would order him, and evidently the fatted
calf there was not half so much to his liking as the spree he was having
in that fort.

On our return to the _Bunder Abbas_ we told Jaffa not to breathe a word
of this to anyone.

By next night the steam gland had been repacked so, threading our way
out again to the sea, we steamed back to Muscat.

I went across to the _Intrepid_ and told Commander Duckworth everything.
He, too, roared with laughter but quickly checked himself.

"That’s all right.  It doesn’t matter one way or the other.  You saw the
battle; you got there just in time to stop it; the money was just in
time to make peace; and you saw the Prodigal Son, as you call him, out
hawking.  That is all the Sultan wants to know, and he’ll be just as
grateful to us as though you had actually rescued him."

And he was, too, and sent me a Mauser pistol, just like Jaffa’s, as a
present.



                             *CHAPTER XIV*

                         *We Deal with Jassim*


The packing in the high-pressure piston-rod gland blew out again as we
anchored at Muscat.  As a matter of fact, the whole of our engines
required a thorough overhaul after practically four months of almost
continuous steaming; and though the lascar engine-drivers had done their
best—a very poor best—it was now entirely beyond their capabilities to
put things to "rights", and make all the necessary readjustments and the
_Bunder Abbas_ again fit for sea.

In these circumstances, and as neither the political agent nor Commander
Duckworth had anything very pressing for us to do, artificers were sent
across from the _Intrepid_ to carry out the necessary repairs.  Whilst
they were opening out the engines, working and sweating down below,
there was, of course, but little to do on deck, and I had at first a
very pleasant, lazy time indeed—pleasant, at any rate, after five
o’clock in the evening.  Before five o’clock the heat was much too great
except to pant and perspire under the awnings; after that hour one’s
muscles began to call out for exercise.  Then, with Popple Opstein and
the rest of the _Intrepid’s_ officers, we would often pull across to a
sandy beach—where no sharks ventured—about a mile from the rock on which
the southern of those two old Portuguese forts stood, and have grand
bathing picnics—in and out of the water for a couple of hours at a time.
Occasionally fifty or sixty of the men would come with us and drag the
seine-net, for the sea was simply alive with fish.  If we did not do
this, we would go up to the political agent’s house and play tennis in
the compound there—on a concrete court—in the most terrible glare; or
perhaps we would wander out through the main gates of the town and
scramble about the ravines and defiles leading inland.

I have never in my life been in such a hot place as this was.  The
little white town of Muscat is surrounded by bare, razor-backed,
volcanic, rocky ridges; the harbour itself is enclosed by more black,
naked cliffs, and these seem to collect the violent heat of the sun all
day to give it out all night.  The temperature in the shade on board
seldom fell below a hundred degrees during the day, and seldom dropped
more than four or five degrees at night.  Sleep under these conditions
was very difficult, very unrefreshing, and often I have tumbled and
sweated on my grass mat till daybreak, kept awake by the oppressive heat
and the weird chants of the watchmen calling across the harbour from the
towers of the two great forts.

Several of my men went sick.  Little wounds (a scratched mosquito bite,
for instance) simply would not heal; and Wiggins, the broken-rib man,
had to be sent down to Karachi suffering from fever.  He was very loath
to go, poor chap.

For the first two or three days Mr. Scarlett was quite happy.  I let him
take some men ashore to paint the name of the launch on the rocky face
of one of the sides of the harbour.  He painted it in white letters,
four feet long—"BUNDER ABBAS"—among the names of a hundred other ships
which had done the same during the last twenty years, and this kept his
mind occupied; but after he had finished, he shrank into his usual
saturnine self, his dark eyes seemed to sink farther back than ever
beneath his shaggy eyebrows, and he spent his whole time watching lest
Jassim should come again.  For fear of seeing him, and for fear of any
violence, he never ventured on the mainland.

Jassim had sent him another letter, increasing his offer to fifteen
thousand rupees if only Mr. Scarlett would let him have the bracelet.
My chum happened to be on board when the letter arrived, and we both
went over the same old arguments as before, doing our utmost to persuade
him to take the risk, and holding out before him all he could do with
the money—a thousand pounds would be a fortune to him—and how with that
and his pension he could retire and live comfortably ever after.  If he
had been an ordinary warrant-officer we might have argued with him
successfully.  But he was not; he was more than half-Arab, by nature and
upbringing if not by birth; and if our arguments were met at first by a
half-shrinking consent, the possibility of a fatal result would so
terrify him immediately afterwards that he always ended with a flat,
sullen refusal.

"Kismet," he would groan, and once he had used that word we knew it was
impossible to move him.

If he did agree to accept the increased offer we were to hoist a red
flag; and the mere knowledge that evening that Jassim’s gloomy eyes were
watching us from shore, awaiting his signal, made even my chum and
myself feel nervous.  It drove Mr. Scarlett into the locked cabin, where
he stewed all night.

As you can imagine, this state of things was bad for his health, and
when one day he ran a rusty nail into the palm of his left hand the
wound festered, and the hand and the whole of his arm swelled
tremendously.

He was so ill that Nicholson, the staff surgeon of the _Intrepid_,
determined to give him chloroform, and make deep cuts into both hand and
arm.  The snake, of course, would have to be exposed during the
operation, and Mr. Scarlett was so desperately anxious that no one else
should know anything about it that he only consented when Nicholson
promised (I had told him about it) to come across to the _Bunder Abbas_,
and, if Popple Opstein and I would stand by and give him a hand, do it
there.  He came that very evening, when the great heat of the day was
over, and we (with Percy terrified and sad) cleared a space on the
little upper deck, just outside the cabin, for the operation.  Having
kicked Percy down the steps and screened the deck from observation,
Nicholson began.

It is not necessary to go into all the details, but when Mr. Scarlett,
lying on the deck, was thoroughly insensible, we unwound the bandage and
found the beastly snake almost sunk in a deep groove of the mottled,
swollen skin, clinging ever so tightly.  I noticed Nicholson run his
finger along it until he came to the head, when he tried to pass one
finger under the jaw, but my nerves were very much on the stretch.  I
saw him pick up a knife, and, not being used to such things, turned away
my head. It was not till Mr. Scarlett had given one or two sudden,
half-conscious moans that I turned round again.  There were the deep
cuts in the arm and hand, but—I almost started out of my skin—the snake
had disappeared, and only the deep groove round the arm remained, the
scale marks showing how tightly the snake must have buried itself.

Nicholson quietly pointed to a corner of the deck close to the funnel,
and there, sparkling in a patch of sunlight coming under the edge of the
awning, was the bracelet—writhing, coiling, and uncoiling, drawing back,
and striking with its head.

Popple Opstein’s face was blue, his mouth wide open, his eyes staring at
it, his great red hands shaking violently.

Nicholson went on with his work.

"Good God!" I at last managed to gasp.  "Did it bite him or you?"

Nicholson did not answer.  Mr. Scarlett was recovering consciousness
now, and he was working very rapidly.  Popple Opstein and I had to fly
round and do this and that as he bade us.  There was no time to ask
questions or answer them.

At last Nicholson, starting to bandage the arm, asked for a piece of
rope—a couple of feet of signal halyard.

"Now a needle and thread," he called, and, when I fetched them, sewed
the bandage very securely.

Not till then had I time to look at the snake again.

It was now lying perfectly still, coiled closely like a watch-spring,
the flat head pressed over the coils and the light flickering in its
green opal eyes and playing on the enamelled scales.

Nicholson, busy holding Mr. Scarlett’s head, jerked out: "Hide it!

"Pick it up," he said irritably, as my chum hesitated to touch it; "the
confounded thing won’t hurt you."

Popple Opstein stooped and took hold of it very gingerly.  As it did not
move he held it in the palm of his hand, and we were both examining its
marvellous beauty when Nicholson again jerked out: "Hide it
somewhere—lock it up—Mr. Scarlett’s coming round—he mustn’t see it."

I took it very nervously from Popple Opstein, and in the excited state
of my nerves, its scales seemed to press themselves into my hand and
wriggle.  I could only just prevent myself dropping it, and darted into
the cabin and locked it in my one drawer.

"Now, help me to lift him," Nicholson called out, and in a couple of
minutes Mr. Scarlett lay moaning in his bunk, with the bad arm swathed
in cotton-wool and bandages.

"He’ll do all right now.  Give me a drink, and have this mess cleared
up," Nicholson said gruffly.

"How did you do it?" I asked him.

"Feel that," he answered, and with a blood-stained finger and thumb
pinched the end of one of my fingers.

I winced—he might have had hold of me with pincers.

I shouted for Percy, and sang out for Moore to send up a couple of
hands, and whilst Nicholson kept an eye on his patient my chum told me
what had happened.

"He took up his knife.  I set my teeth; but just as I thought he was
going to use it he dropped it, and before I could wink an eyelash he’d
nipped the jaws of the snake—just as he nipped your finger—bent four
inches of its neck right away from the arm and, with the fingers of the
other hand, swept round under the coils and unwound it.  For a moment or
two he held it in the air, the jaws in between his finger and thumb, the
body coiling and twisting—I could hardly breathe—then he threw it away
where you saw it, and it lashed about like a live thing.  It’s done now;
what danger there was is over.  Won’t he be thankful?"

"We’ll tell him directly he’s round," I said.  "My country, won’t he be
pleased!  He’ll be a new man."

Nicholson, coming out of the cabin, sang out: "No, you won’t, unless you
want to kill him.  He’s bad enough now, and he’ll fancy the swelling is
due to poison, whatever we tell him.  He must not know until he’s well
again.  As many people die of sheer fright, after being bitten, as from
the poison itself."

"Is that why you coiled the signal halyard round the groove?" we both
asked excitedly.

"Of course it was.  He’ll feel it under the bandage and think the
snake’s still there.  I sewed the bandage so that he couldn’t take it
off to make certain.  Don’t you tell him till I give the word."

A very anxious week followed, for Mr. Scarlett was so ill that he had to
go aboard the _Intrepid_.  Whilst he was away, several more letters came
from Jassim, and at last Jassim himself came aboard.

On the chance of his coming I had given very strict orders that no one
should say where Mr. Scarlett had gone, and when I took him all round
the _Bunder Abbas_ his face fell as he realized that he was not on
board.  Not a word would he say about the snake, never so much as a hint
to Jaffa; but as he left the ship he spoke to him, looking at me, and
Jaffa repeated: "Twenty thousand rupees".  I could not resist asking
him, through Jaffa (who, if he had a shrewd suspicion that he was the
red-bearded leader of the caravan, never mentioned it), how his son
was—the wounded man who had been carried through the gap.

At the question Jassim gave me a glance of such terrible hatred that I
knew at once that the poor chap was dead, and that he blamed me for it.

This could not help but worry me, and another worry came along about
this time: there was disquieting news from Jask.  Mr. Fisher, the acting
political agent, had telegraphed across that the Baluchis were causing
trouble and constantly threatening to come down from the hills and
attack the place. The land wire had been cut in several places, and a
party of native employees had been beaten and robbed about twenty-five
miles to the eastward.  He had borrowed a few of the border police from
the Mir of Old Jask, but they were such brigands and so much of a
nuisance that he had sent them back again.

It really made me angry to think of keeping Miss Borsen and Mrs. Fisher
there.  I actually asked if the "_B.A._" could not go as soon as ever
her repairs had been effected, but Commander Duckworth shook his head.

"It’s just as it always is at this time of year," he said.  "Those
tribesmen keep on threatening, hoping to get ’backsheesh’.  They do it
every year; but nothing will come of it.  They won’t risk their skins."

However, this did not relieve my anxiety.  I seemed to have a personal
interest in little Miss Borsen, because, I suppose, she had come out
from England with me, and possibly because we had quarrelled.

One day Nicholson signalled across that he and Popple Opstein were
bringing Mr. Scarlett across that evening.  They came, he looking
desperately ill, although his arm was practically well.  When we four
were alone he pulled out another letter—Jassim had evidently soon found
where he had gone.

"He offers me twenty thousand rupees," he said wearily.  "It’s a lot of
money."

He thought that we should commence the same old arguments again, but,
Nicholson winking at me, I went into the cabin, unlocked my drawer, and
brought out the bracelet.  I handed it to Nicholson, for it was "up" to
him to tell the good news.  He simply laid it on Mr. Scarlett’s thin
knees and said quietly: "It’s been off your arm for ten days.  I took it
off when you had the operation."

Mr. Scarlett shrank from it and clutched his arm. "But it’s there—I can
feel it—I’ve felt it a hundred times in these last days."

Nicholson smiled, pulled up his sleeve, cut through the bandage, and
showed him the signal halyard.

Mr. Scarlett gave a wild look at each of us, dropped the snake on the
deck, bolted into the cabin, and we heard him sobbing like a child.

Nicholson yelled for Percy.  "Brandy and soda for Mr. Scarlett."

"For all of us," I said, because we needed it.

Eventually Mr. Scarlett came back and asked to see the bracelet,
handling it tenderly.  He was much too disturbed to talk coherently, or
to thank Nicholson or either of us.  It was pitiful to watch him.  He
had not found his "bearings"; did not realize all that it meant to him,
and kept on rolling up his sleeve to look at his bare arm as if he did
not believe his own eyes.

He gave way again, buried his face in his lean hands, lying half over
the table, which shook with his sobs.  It was very distressing to watch.

"Can’t we hoist that red flag, sir?" he asked presently, lifting a
haggard face.

I nodded.

He jumped to our signal locker, picked out a red-and-white flag, tore
off the white part like a maniac, bent it to the halyard, and hoisted it
to our little yardarm, where it drooped in the heated air.  Seizing a
pair of glasses he watched the shore as though he expected Jassim to
come paddling out.  But Jassim did not come, and in his nervous
condition Mr. Scarlett worked himself into a terrible state of agitation
lest he had disappeared, and was, even now, preparing violent measures
to regain the bracelet.

I think that before Nicholson went away he had taken the precaution of
giving him a very strong sleeping-draught, because he eventually became
calmer and went to sleep.

When he was asleep I took the bracelet away from him and locked it in my
drawer, hoping most devoutly that Jassim would soon come and claim it;
and next morning, without saying anything to him, I took the precaution
of sending the bracelet across to the _Intrepid_, so that the sight of
it should not upset him, and that Jassim, if he came, should not be able
to terrorize him into giving it away before the money was produced.

Jassim did come that day, and his manner was mysterious and threatening;
nor did I like the look in his eyes when Mr. Scarlett bared his arm and
he realized that the bracelet had disappeared and that the gunner had
not now the fear of taking it off.

Jassim evidently wanted to get rid of me; but I would not go.

"When he puts down his twenty thousand rupees he shall have it, not
before," I told Mr. Scarlett. "The bracelet is not on board, and I shall
not tell you where it is.  Never you mind where it is."  I stopped him
enquiring.  "You tell him to bring his money and he shall have it."

As I imagined, Jassim could not produce the money, nor do I think that
he ever intended doing so, hoping all along so to work on the gunner’s
fears that he could get it for nothing.  The two of them began talking
very excitedly, waving their arms and thumping the little table.  From
the fierce looks which Jassim occasionally turned on me I was evidently
being talked about, and was not very popular in that quarter.

I saw that hateful muddy colour spread over Mr. Scarlett’s face and his
eyes narrow with fear.  He turned to me, hardly able to speak.

"For God’s sake, sir, give up the wretched thing," he stuttered.  "Tell
me where it is and I will give it him.  I don’t want any of his money;
all I want is to be quit of it."

"When you’ve got your money, not before," I said.

"But, sir, remember we are not in England.  He swears he’ll kill you;
that if you land he will kill you; if you don’t he’ll find other ways of
killing you.  He won’t touch me, because I gave his wife that drink of
water.  But, sir, it’s different with you."

"I gave his son water a month ago," I said, with a sudden inspiration.

Mr. Scarlett was too much agitated to enquire when or where.  He turned
to Jassim and asked him something. Jassim replied bitterly.

"He says you shot him, and he died; the drink of water made no
difference.  You don’t know these people out here," he implored.  "Don’t
run any risk. I don’t want the money, indeed I don’t."

Jassim had risen to his feet and stood not three feet from me, glaring
at me as if he would willingly kill me then and there.  I saw in his
eyes that what Mr. Scarlett had said was true.  I don’t know what made
me do it—I certainly never thought, and regretted it immediately
afterwards—but I suddenly locked my arms round him, and before he could
make a move I had tripped him over the railings and dropped him
overboard.

The boat which had brought him off was close there, and he scrambled on
board like a drowned rat, sat down in the stern-sheets, folded his
clinging wet burnous round him, and, without deigning to turn his head
in our direction, was paddled ashore.

"You’ve done it now, sir," Mr. Scarlett moaned, burying his face in his
hands and sprawling across the table.  "For God’s sake let’s get away
from Muscat."

I tried to pacify him by pointing out that if Jassim killed me he would
lose all chance of finding the snake.  "He won’t be such a fool as
that," I said.

"He’ll want revenge—revenge more than the snake—now, sir," Mr. Scarlett
groaned.

There are times in plenty in most men’s lives when, either through anger
or stubbornness, danger does not influence them.  This was a case in
point. I had suffered so much from Jassim and his wretched snake that
his threats simply stiffened my back to such an extent that I much
preferred to be killed than give in.  The mail steamer was leaving next
day so to make certain that Jassim should not get it, I went aboard the
_Intrepid_, told Popple Opstein what had happened, and after one last
look at the bracelet we packed it up and sent it home to my bankers in
London.  At any rate, whatever happened to me (and I did not really
believe that anything would happen) Jassim should never have it, and
later on we might be able to negotiate for the reward of thirty thousand
rupees with the rightful owner, the Khan of Khamia himself.

I breathed more freely when the mail steamer left the harbour, and not
until it had gone did I tell Mr. Scarlett what I had done.

He and I stood watching till she disappeared behind the rocks at the
entrance, and, drawing a deep breath of relief, he said:

"It seems wonderful, sir; don’t it, sir?  Here for thirteen years it’s
been part and parcel of me, and now I’m finished with it.  I never want
to set eyes on the beastly thing again."

From that moment Mr. Scarlett began very rapidly to mend.  He grew
stouter, his eyes lost their hunted look, and though he worried much
about the risks I was running, still it is a different thing to worry
about other people’s risks from worrying about one’s own, and he rapidly
recovered his spirits.

I made light of any danger and took no precaution whatever, until one
night, shortly afterwards, I was awakened by the noise of a scuffle and
a splash in the water alongside.

"What’s that?" I sang out, springing up.

Webster answered out of the darkness: "It’s all right, sir.  It’s that
Arab chap you hove overboard the other day.  He was trying to creep on
board over the stern.  I spotted him, sir, and popped him back into the
’ditch’."

Another day I was bathing with the _Intrepids_, and we were skylarking
afterwards on the beach, when a bullet hit the sand close to me and we
heard the report of a revolver.  Spotting someone moving behind a rock
we all darted in that direction, but when we reached it saw no one.

I don’t mind saying that those two things happening made me extremely
nervous, and made me stick pretty close to the "_B.A._".

I could now realize what mental agony Mr. Scarlett had suffered, and
though perhaps I did not show it as much I felt it most acutely.  The
boot was on the other foot now with a vengeance, and it was I who, when
it grew dark, looked longingly at the little hot oven of a cabin and
felt a great temptation to lock myself in until daylight.

A few days after the revolver-shot incident Mr. Scarlett astonished me
by asking leave to go ashore for a walk in Muscat itself.  Remember that
he had not dared to land since he and I had had that first walk there
and had run across Jassim.  Away he went, taking Jaffa and Webster with
him, and they did not return on board until long after I had finished
dinner.

Mr. Scarlett was chuckling—I had never seen him so pleased with
himself—Jaffa had a contented smile on his face, and Webster so far
forgot himself as to wink at me.

"Hallo, what have you been doing?" I asked.

"He’s all right, sir," the gunner said, rubbing his hands.  "Mr. Jassim
won’t be worrying you again for some time."

"What has happened?" I asked eagerly.  "Have you killed him?"

"Well, sir, not exactly, but we just happened to meet him—after we’d
been hunting round for him all the afternoon—and we just happened to
have a bit of a row, and there just happened to be a couple of the
Sultan’s soldiers handy.  I made a bobbery, Jaffa and I calling out that
he had stolen money from us, and off they took him up there," and Mr.
Scarlett jerked his thumb towards the big fort on the right, whose
towers and battlemented walls showed out in the moonlight over our
heads.  "There he’ll stay, sir, as long as we like to pay for his keep.
It cost us five chips to the soldiers and another twenty to the sheikh
in charge of the fort.  It was well worth it.  Don’t you think so, sir?
So long as we pay the governor of that fort or jail, call it what you
like, five rupees a day he’ll keep him there and feed him," Mr. Scarlett
said, emphasizing the "feed him" as if that made his action quite
meritorious.

Well, it was a very "low-down" game to play, and if I had known they
were going to play it I should have put a "stopper" on it; but now the
man was under lock and key it was so much a relief that I had not the
honest courage to blame the gunner or take steps to have Jassim set
free.

After that Mr. Scarlett visited the jail nearly every day, to assure
himself that Jassim was still there; nor was he content until he had
peered through a grating overlooking the court-yard in which untried
prisoners were kept, and seen him.  He seemed to take a fiendish delight
in those visits, and I must say that I fully shared his satisfaction,
for, to me, the resulting comfort and relief from anxiety was cheap at
the price—only five rupees a day.  It may have been a cowardly,
despicable thing to do, but I don’t believe that anyone placed in the
same circumstances would have done otherwise.

We had now been very nearly a month at Muscat, and the artificers from
the _Intrepid_ had not quite finished my engine-room defects, when one
morning, four or five days after Jassim had been secured, an urgent
signal came from Commander Duckworth that he wanted to see me at once.
I had a presentiment that something had gone wrong at Jask.

I was right.  As I went into his cabin the Commander sang out: "You’ll
have to go across to Jask after all, and as soon as ever you are ready.
There’s more trouble there.  One of the European telegraph people has
been killed somewhere along the coast by a marauding lot of brigands who
have cut the wire again.  Fisher dare not send his people to repair it
without an escort, so you had better go across and see what you can do.
When can you start?"

"By midnight, sir," I told him, having taken the precaution of finding
out before I left the "_B.A._".

"Right you are!  Off you go!  I don’t fancy that there is anything
serious.  If there is you can telegraph for me and I will bring the
_Intrepid_ along. Good-bye!  Good luck!"

What a grand chap he was!  I left his cabin feeling that he had not
hampered me with any restrictions whatsoever, and had placed entire
confidence in my judgment.  If only senior officers would always treat
their juniors in that way they would not so often have to grumble at the
way they are served—and, what is more important still—they would make
more efficient officers of them.

I met Popple Opstein outside.  For once he had shipped a long face.

"Did the skipper tell you who has been killed?" he asked.  "I’m afraid
it’s our poor little friend’s brother.  What rotten hard luck on her if
it’s true!"

In my excitement at getting this job I had never thought.  Of course it
must be Borsen; he was the only other European there.  Poor fellow!
Poor little sad-eyed slip of a girl, she would be weeping her heart out.

I had a burning feeling inside me, and I wished that I could have
started off then and there to blow a dozen or more of those cowardly
treacherous Baluchis to atoms.

"I wish I could come along with you," my chum said wistfully.  "I’d love
to have a ’go’ at them!"

He tried to get leave, but without success, so back I went to the
"_B.A._", angry, and impatient to get away.

"Good-bye, old chap!  Tell her how very sorry I am," he called after me.

"Right you are!" I shouted back, but had an uneasy thought that perhaps
she was still too angry to allow me to speak to her.

I told Mr. Scarlett the news, rather expecting him to show the old
half-frightened expression, and was quite taken aback when he smiled and
said: "A chance of our seeing a bit more scrapping—eh, sir?"  He said it
as if he, too, rather looked forward to such a thing happening, and I
had to look again at his face to make sure.  Well, his disposition
seemed to be changing, and as there was nothing else to account for the
change except the parting with the snake I put it down to that.

It was splendid the way those artificers and lascars worked to finish
their job.  They knew why they had to hurry, and they toiled and sweated
in the heat of the engine-room like demons.

By half-past ten that night we were ready.  I sent the _Intrepid’s_
artificers back to their ship with something inside them to warm their
stomachs, flashed across the "Permission to part company", and steamed
out of the harbour.

"He won’t be there very long now," Mr. Scarlett grunted, jerking his
thumb towards the fort, whose towers and walls showed up above us in the
moonlight.

I really had forgotten Jassim, and did not care how soon he bribed the
jailers and got free.  I despised myself for having allowed him to be
kept there.

Off we went to Jask—-easily at first, to give the engines a chance of
settling down; later on as fast as they would whizz round.

We were all so impatient to get there that however fast they went the
"_B.A._" seemed to crawl along.

At ten o’clock next morning we met the fortnightly mail-steamer coming
from Jask, on her way to Muscat and Hartley semaphored across to ask if
all was well there.

Someone on board took in the signal and answered "Yes," to our great
relief, and then I asked if the two ladies from Jask were on board.

"No," was semaphored back, and I was half-glad and half-sorry—glad to
know that I should see them, sorry that another fortnight must elapse
before another steamer would give them a chance of escaping.

By noon the little white telegraph buildings showed up over the horizon,
and two hours later I steamed close in under the rocks on which they
stood, and anchored.  No white handkerchief fluttered from the
signal-mast.  Poor little lady, if it was her brother who had been
killed she must be somewhere inside those white walls in a terrible
state of grief.

I landed immediately.



                              *CHAPTER XV*

                      *A Tragedy of the Telegraph*


As the keel of the dinghy grated on the sand, and I scrambled ashore,
Mr. Fisher, the acting political agent, came down the path to meet me,
looking so thin and haggard I scarcely recognized him.

In answer to my eager questions he told me that he feared Borsen had
been killed, but was not yet certain.

"Five days ago the poor chap went down the coast on his usual monthly
duty of paying the local people at the different relay stations along
the telegraph-line. He took with him a Goanese telegraphist and half a
dozen native employees.  The party rode away on their camels, and the
next I heard of them—two days later—was a telephone message that they
had seen some wandering parties of Baluchis or Afghans and had been
warned, by a friendly village where they had halted, that they might be
attacked and robbed.  He intended to send the pay-chest, that night,
secretly, to the next village and to push on after it next morning.

"A message came from him to his sister, next morning, saying that he was
thoroughly enjoying himself and wished she was with him—that was to
allay her anxiety.  Within an hour the Goanese telephoned in that he had
been killed, but the message was then interrupted, the wire was cut, and
we have heard nothing since.  Quite probably this man was killed as
well.

"All we know is that the wire was broken somewhere about twenty-eight
miles away, and that when I took a large party out to try to reach the
spot, we found the coast swarming with brigands and were glad enough to
get back safely.  We only returned a few hours ago, and now I want you
to take us down there as quickly as you can.  It is our only chance of
finding any of the party alive—and a very poor chance, I’m afraid."

Of course I was ready to go anywhere or do anything.  He and his party
were "standing by" to embark, and some ten or twelve natives were
already coming down from the telegraph-station with folding-ladders, a
portable telephone apparatus, coils of telegraph-wire, and repairing
tools.  They also brought with them a roughly-made coffin, and, as fast
as they arrived, I sent them aboard the _Bunder Abbas_. Whilst Griffiths
was pulling the dinghy backwards and forwards I asked Mr. Fisher how his
wife and Miss Borsen were bearing up.

"Wonderfully well," he said, his face twitching. "Women sometimes make
us men almost ashamed of ourselves—they are so patient and brave."

The dinghy had returned for us, and just as we were stepping in we heard
a girl’s voice calling, and saw poor little Miss Borsen standing behind
us, looking the picture of misery and distress, so sad and so pale under
her big, white topee that I felt horribly sorry for her.  I saluted and
tried to show my sympathy.  As I did so she flushed scarlet, and as
quickly every trace of colour left her face; she seemed to freeze, and
only bowed in the most distant manner.  I knew that she meant this as a
direct "cut", to remind me that she had not yet forgiven me for carrying
her over the swamp that night.

Speaking to Mr. Fisher, and ignoring me, she implored him to take her.

He tried his best to dissuade her, but she insisted on coming.

"Do you mind if she comes?" he asked, turning to me.

"Not at all," I answered coldly, as if she were a complete stranger.
"Anybody you care to bring may come."

I looked to see if that hurt her, but she gave no sign whatever that she
had heard.  I felt angry to be so snubbed, and a brute to feel so
enraged with her just when she was so miserable; but I could not help
it.

So they both came aboard with me, and an extremely uncomfortable trip it
was—squeezed up together in the little dinghy as we were, with Miss
Borsen ignoring me completely.

However, I was sitting where I could see her profile, and she looked so
utterly woebegone and lonely that my anger died away, until we got
alongside, when she smiled so sweetly on Mr. Scarlett, as he helped her
out of the boat, that I was furious again.  I beat the feeling down,
and, as she evidently loathed the sight of me, kept away, giving her and
Mr. Fisher the use of the cabin and the little deck aft of it, and
rigging up a screen for’ard of it, so that she need not see me whilst I
took the "_B.A._" out of harbour. Percy fetched my pipe and tobacco, and
I smoked furiously and fumed inwardly all the way down the coast, unable
to avoid hearing Mr. Scarlett, on the other side of the screen, spinning
one of his most exciting yarns and trying to take her thoughts away.

However, he soon found that was no use, and came for’ard to me shaking
his head.  "Poor little lady! Poor little soul!"

Percy was a fickle youth.  Whilst Popple Opstein had been aboard, on
that amusing "Prodigal Son" adventure, he had transferred his worship
from Mr. Scarlett to him.  Now he transferred it again to Miss Borsen,
and waited on her hand and foot, standing by with his big eyes fixed on
her as if she was some beautiful angel come straight down from heaven
into this little world of his.  He was such a nuisance that Mr. Scarlett
had to drag him out and drop him down the ladder on to the fo’c’sle.

Mr. Fisher joined us presently, and we three, through our glasses,
examined the shore and desert plains running inland behind the line of
telegraph-posts.  Before we had steamed ten miles we saw numerous bands
of mounted men moving about the dreary wastes, and Mr. Fisher was on
thorns to get back as quickly as possible to the telegraph-station
(which was now without a white man), and kept on saying: "I must send my
wife and Miss Borsen away by the very next steamer.  I don’t like the
look of things at all."  He also told me that he had tried to make them
go by yesterday’s mail-steamer—the one we had "spoken"—but that Miss
Borsen would not go until she had definite news of her brother’s fate,
and his wife would not leave her at Jask alone.  "They’ll have to stay
there for another fortnight now," he said, shrugging his shoulders.

"She doesn’t seem very pleased to see me," I said bitterly.

"I’m afraid you rather annoyed her the last time you were here."

"How?  Carrying her over that swampy place?"

"Yes," he nodded; "she thought it an insult."

"If she never gets a bigger insult than that she won’t do badly," I
answered angrily.  "However, I’m sorry; but she won’t let me tell her
so."

At last, about half-past four, Mr. Fisher thought we were abreast the
place where the last telephone message had come from—the five hundred
and twentieth telegraph-post I think he said it was—so I turned the
"_B.A._"’s bows inshore, with Ellis heaving the lead every few seconds,
to warn us of shoaling water.

It was a shallow, sandy bay with nothing to be seen on the desolate
shore except the endless line of telegraph-posts.  I anchored three
hundred yards off and took ashore Mr. Fisher, a native telegraphist, and
the portable telephone apparatus.

They connected this to the telegraph-wire and tried to call up Jask.  If
Jask answered, we were on the near side of the cut wire; and, as Jask
did answer, it showed that the spot where the tragedy had taken place
must be still farther away.

So back to the "_B.A._" we went, and I heard Miss Borsen asking Mr.
Fisher, with a half-sob, whether he had found anything.

We weighed anchor and felt our way, carefully, still farther along to
the east’ard.

Presently the signal-man shouted to me that he saw someone on the beach,
and, looking through my telescope, I made out a man hopping down towards
the water’s edge on one leg and waving his arms to attract attention.

I called out to Mr. Fisher that we had found the place, pushed the
"_B.A._" in as far as I dared, anchored, and he and the man with the
telephone-box came ashore with me.

"The wire’s cut about two hundred yards on the left," Mr. Scarlett
shouted after us.  "I can see it trailing on the ground."

Griffiths pulled us in to the spot where the man—a Goanese he was—was
waiting for us, squatting down close to the sea.  As I jumped ashore I
realized why he had been hopping—his left foot had been roughly hacked
off above the ankle.  He was gesticulating and sobbing, jerking his head
backwards and forwards. Raving mad I thought him; certainly he was
half-delirious, and as he held out both his arms towards us I shuddered,
for he had no right hand, only a stump of a forearm.

"Right hand, left foot—a common custom," Mr. Fisher said, quite calmly,
as he let him sip from his water-bottle and tried to calm him.

Presently he was helped upright, and went hopping through the sand to
the top of the beach, where he clung to a telegraph-pole, close to the
foot of which were the remains of a wood fire and what I took to be
charred sticks.

He began speaking very rapidly.

He stopped, and Mr. Fisher led me away just as the repair party landed
about two hundred yards farther along the beach.

"Would you mind going and giving them a hand? They will work better if
you do.  I must stay here."

I thought his request strange.  His manner was very strange: his eyes
were burning with fear and disgust.

I did as he asked me and walked along to where the telegraph-wire lay on
the sand, coiled in spirals like a snake.  The repairing people were
very smart at their job, fixed a rope and tackle from one cut end to the
other, and then hauled taut the great length of wire between the two
nearest telegraph-posts, mounting their portable ladders and fixing
things in a most seamanlike way, until they had the wire as taut as they
could haul it, with six or seven feet of rope tackle bridging the gap
and the two cut ends of the wire hanging down.  Then they commenced to
put in a splice, and worked so cleverly and systematically that I was
quite interested.

The sun was getting close to the horizon by the time the wire was
properly joined together and their work finished.  Mr. Fisher came to
see the job, and the telephone-box was brought along and messages sent
into Jask and to the nearest relay station on the other side.

"Well, that is done," he said, with a sigh of relief, "until they cut it
again."

The repairing people took their gear back to the "_B.A._" and we were
left alone.  He took me to where we had landed, and I saw the mutilated
Goanese sitting close to the coffin, which I had not noticed being
brought ashore.

"Did you find Borsen’s body?" I asked.

He nodded very sadly.  "Yes; all that was left of it—a few charred
bones.  They had cut him in pieces and burnt them."

I shuddered, and knew that what I had mistaken for charred sticks had
been bones.  That was why he had sent me away.

There was nothing more to say, and we stood looking out over the sea,
with rage burning within us, at the thought of the hideous, useless
tragedy which had taken place at this spot only two days ago.

The glorious sunset was bathing everything—the sea, my little launch,
the shore—in a flood of molten gold, shading to the tenderest pinks as
it reached the barren mountains standing up so clear and sharp against
the silvery, green sky behind them.  The radiant glow threw our shadows
and the shadows of those gaunt telegraph-poles slanting across the
sands, far across the trackless desert towards the feet of the
mountains.  If we moved our bodies, our shadows swept in huge arcs
across the infinite silence, and, as we moved our arms, shot out huge,
ghastly tentacles horrid to see.  The setting sun seemed to mock us in
its beauty, to laugh and say: "See, I rejoice in the wild wastes of
eternal sands.  I wash their edges with my golden sea.  I paint them
with my wondrous tints, and your ghostly shadows, and the shadows of the
telegraph-posts you have dared to place there, are the only blots on my
fair handiwork."

A beautiful sunset generally gives me a feeling of hope and of trust in
a glorious future.  That evening I felt myself trembling with an
ill-defined fear of impending danger, and as though we and that lonely
telegraph-line had trespassed, had forced ourselves and our civilization
upon a land where nature, primitive and unchanged, held her sway, and
that we too should have to pay the penalty of our vandalism, even as
poor Borsen had already paid for his.

The dinghy was coming ashore, her sides glowing with light, the blades
of her oars dropping showers of golden spray as Griffiths lifted them
from the surface of the sea.

I stirred myself as the bows rasped on the beach, and helped to carry
the coffin into the boat, not daring to look behind me.  It was very
heavy, and I looked enquiringly at Mr. Fisher.

"Sand," he said, and I understood.

The poor Goanese had crawled a little distance away, and was digging at
the sand with one hand. We found that he had buried his
telephone-box—the one by which he had sent that interrupted message into
Jask, and we quickly brought it to light. I knew what the look of
satisfaction in his eyes meant—he had saved it from falling into the
hands of the brigands, and had been faithful to his trust. The fellow
deserved a V.C., but seemed perfectly contented when Mr. Fisher spoke a
few words of praise to him.

We pulled away from the appalling loneliness of the telegraph-wire and
gaunt poles, and as we came alongside, the sun slid down below the
horizon, and Hartley, the signal-man, struck our little ensign.

What Mr. Fisher told Miss Borsen I do not know. I heard him take her
into the little cabin, slide the door across, and leave her there.  The
port-holes were close to me as I stood by the compass giving orders to
the helmsman, and her broken-hearted sobs seemed to tear their way right
through me.  Poor little fragile, lonely thing, and I had been so
fiercely angry at her scorn of me!  I would have given the whole world
for her to forgive me and to be able to comfort her.

Presently her sobs ceased; possibly she slept.  I dared not look through
the port-holes to see, and gave my orders in a whisper lest they should
disturb her. You could not hear a sound aboard the _Bunder Abbas_ except
the noise of the engines and the occasional tinkle of cooking-pots as
the dismal cook went on with his everlasting washing of them.

On the way back to Jask Mr. Fisher told me all that he had been able to
learn from the Goanese. The morning after Borsen had sent off the
pay-chest all his native employees deserted, so he and the Goanese had
to continue their inspection alone. They thought that the brigands would
not molest them; but when these cruel brutes galloped up and found the
money-chest gone, they were so enraged that they had killed Borsen,
mutilated the Goanese (as you know), and galloped away again.  They
probably thought that the wretched telegraphist would die of sun and
thirst, and so he would had he not bravely crawled to the wire, dragging
the telephone-box after him, and with consummate pluck, considering the
horrible agony he must have been in, had thrown up the connecting wire
till its hook caught the telegraph-wire overhead, and enabled him to
send the message into Jask.  This was the message which had been
telegraphed to Jask, from there to Muscat, and had brought us a hundred
and twenty miles across the sea to save his life.  He had not been able
to complete it, because the Baluchis—some of them—had ridden back and
cut the wire between him and the telegraph-station.  There he had been
for more than forty-eight hours without one drop of water.  It was
indeed marvellous how he had survived.

On the way back, Percy and the dismal cook prepared as lavish a meal as
our little meat-safe and a small store of tinned food (kept for special
occasions) could provide, but I was in no fit mood to eat, and stayed
alone at the wheel.  I steered to the south’ard, to get well away from
the land before laying off my course to Jask, picked up the light shown
from the telegraph-station some time before midnight, and anchored close
in under the rocks.

I believe that Miss Borsen slept all the way back. Poor little lady, the
strain of the last two days must have been awful, and she must have been
dead tired. I thought that the sight of me would increase her misery, so
I did not go down on deck when Mr. Fisher took her ashore.

Leaving Mr. Scarlett to see that everything was fixed up for the night,
I turned in, weary in mind and body, and dreamt once more that I was
carrying Miss Borsen down the path from the telegraph-station, pursued
by a score of mounted Baluchis, and that Griffiths was trying to bring
the dinghy ashore, but had lost one oar and was turning circles.  I was
yelling for him to come my way, when Jassim suddenly appeared between me
and the sea.

I jumped up in a perspiration, and found Mr. Scarlett bending over me.

"What’s the matter, sir?  You’re making a terrible noise.  I had to give
you a shake."

I murmured some apology, and he left me to sleep again.

Mr. Fisher had asked me to go up to the telegraph-station early next
morning, and so I did, landing in time to have some "chota-hazri" with
him in the veranda.  The old head-boy, wearing his best yellow turban,
came forward for my helmet, and smiled a greeting.

"Have some coffee; there are some bananas too—yesterday’s steamer
brought them," Mr. Fisher said.

I asked him how Miss Borsen was, but he did not know.  His wife had been
with her all night, and he had not seen her.

He tried to talk of many things, but with manifest effort.  At last he
blurted out: "The truth is, affairs are in a very unpleasant position.
It’s impossible to disguise the fact any longer.  Our coolies, and even
some of the house boys, are leaving us.  They all say the same thing:
don’t want to go, but they have wives and children, and they don’t want
to be killed.  They are going to their village, and presently, they say,
they will come back.  ’Presently’ means," he said bitterly, "if the
tribesmen don’t kill us all.  There is no doubt in my mind that they
intend to attack this place.  Almost daily I get warnings from the Mir
of Old Jask, who’s a feeble, well-meaning old chap, with all he can do
to look after his own town, and quite unable to spare us any of his
soldiers.  Not that they would be of any help. I’ve tried them, so know.

"You see," he continued, "I have no absolute proof of any rising more
formidable than what has just occurred.  No one knows what is going on
behind those beastly mountains.  I’ve sent plenty of warnings both to
Karachi and to Muscat (I knew that), even to Teheran; but the answer is
always the same: Sit tight, and if anything definite happens, let us
know.

"Well, you are here, that’s something; and I don’t mind telling you that
the presence of your little launch makes all the difference in the
world.  Up there, right away beyond those hateful hills (he had risen
and was pointing away towards the gaunt Baluchistan ranges), in every
village for a hundred miles or more, it is known you are anchored here;
and the head-men at this very moment probably are deliberating whether
they had better not keep quiet till you steam away."

"I’m hanged if I’m going!" I said, rising too. "If I’m ordered away I’ll
break down my engine and take a month to repair it."

He smiled.  "I want you to come round our little defences with me and
make suggestions.  We have nineteen Eurasians here who can be trusted
with rifles.  If the worst came to the worst we might hold out for a
week until help came; but I wish with all my heart that those two women
were not here. It’s getting on my nerves.  I find myself peering through
the big telescope up there hour after hour, searching the desert.  I
can’t tear myself away from it, and at night I can’t sleep.  This place
at the best of times is one of the worst holes in the world, and after
being stuck here for two solid years my mind is so enfeebled that it is
almost impossible to concentrate my thoughts.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you!" he continued; "I sent a telegram to
Duckworth last night informing him of yesterday’s proceedings."

I had forgotten all about doing this, so, before any reply could be
received, I wired again that I considered it advisable to remain at Jask
on account of the disturbed condition of the surrounding district.
Commander Duckworth might laugh at my self-assurance for imagining that
the little "_B.A._" could be of much use, but I did not think that he
would—nor did I care, so long as he did not order me away.  My whole aim
in life now seemed centred round the forlorn little lady with the sad
grey eyes; and even if she would not make friends with me again, I hoped
to be able to protect her.  I knew perfectly well that this was the
impelling force which decided me to remain there.

The telegram having been sent, Mr. Fisher took me round the whole
position.

As you know, the telegraph buildings were built on the rocky end of the
peninsula and surrounded by a strong, loopholed wall.  He explained to
me that there was no probability of an attack either from the sides or
from the end, because the Baluchis and Afghans hated the sea, and
nothing would induce them to get into a boat.

If they came, they must attack along the neck of the peninsula, and up
the open, sloping space below the wall.  Across this, as you already
know, there was a small breastwork of earth, with a still smaller trench
behind it, looking much more like an elongated vegetable-marrow bed than
a defence work and, fifty yards lower down, two rows of barbed-wire
railings stretching across from sea to sea.

Five hundred yards away, on the narrowest portion of the peninsula, and
commanding the landing place to the east—on our right as we looked
inland—was the ruined sheikh’s fort, or Old Fort, which I had explored
on my first visit.  It was half-hidden in a fold of the ground and by
some date-palm trees.  A thousand yards away on the western side—our
left-hand side—commanding the beach and landing place there, was the new
sheikh’s fort, or New Fort, where the custom-house officers had been
hanged by the Baluchis on their way back from destroying Bungi and
Sudab.  Between these were perhaps a score of native "matting" huts.
The whole of the sloping neck of the peninsula afforded no cover
whatever; but on the right side of the slope, just between the line of
barbed-wire and the baby entrenchment was a line of more substantial
huts belonging to the coolies and other servants of the telegraph staff.

I don’t pretend to be a soldier; but it struck me immediately that this
line of huts must be destroyed. It interfered with the fire space from
the loopholed wall.  Also I told Mr. Fisher that the half-ruined
sheikh’s house—the Old Fort—must be pulled down, as it would give grand
cover for an attacking force.

He shook his head.  "I daren’t do that; it belongs to the Mir of Jask."

"If you don’t pull it down, blow it up," I said, smiling.  "You can tell
him it was an accident."

All sorts of plans ran through my head.  I suggested this and
that—twenty different schemes—and rather swept Mr. Fisher off his feet
with suggestions. "The first thing to do?" he asked, passing his hand
nervously across his forehead, as if he only wanted to be told one thing
at a time.

"Blow up the Old Fort!" I told him, and he promised to start right away,
as soon as he could get hold of his people.  He took me up on the roof
of the signal station, where the big telescope stood on its tripod, and
I had a grand view of the surroundings of Old Jask, eight miles away,
and the wriggling track which led to it round swampy inlets of the sea;
of the dreary wastes of sand stretching east and west as far as the eye
could see till they lost themselves in the mountains; of the
interminable telegraph-poles dwindling away in the distance along the
shore line to the east’ard and to the west’ard (to our left as we looked
down), of the little _Bunder Abbas_ under her now trim awnings, and of a
cluster of dhows moored close to the new sheikh’s fort and the village
of New Jask.

From force of habit Mr. Fisher slued round the telescope and diligently
searched the plains at the foot of the mountains, in whose ravines and
valleys the wild tribesmen were concealed.

"Can’t see a single band of them this morning," he said with much
relief.  "The _Bunder Abbas_ is the cause of that."

Afterwards I returned aboard her and sent Hartley, the signal-man, to
the telegraph-station, so that I could communicate with Mr. Fisher and
he with me at any time.  I also sent Jaffa to Old Jask to try to obtain
news in the bazaar there.

That done, I had a yarn with Mr. Scarlett.  A great change had come over
him since he had got rid of his snake bracelet.  I am sure he was
fatter; the lines in his face were certainly not so deep, nor his eyes
so sunken.  He had lost that furtive look in them and that vulture
appearance.  He received the news that I was going to stay here, and
that there would probably be some fighting, with positive pleasure.

"Anything we can do to help the poor little lass sir!  Now, a Maxim,
that’s what’s wanted up there (pointing to a prominent corner on the
flat roof of the main building); from there it could sweep the whole
approach.  We might lend ’em one of ours if it came to the pinch.  Eh,
sir?"

"Right oh!" I told him.  "Directly we get permission to stay, you can
mount one there."

Permission did come, Hartley semaphoring the telegram that very
afternoon, and Mr. Scarlett waking me to give the good news.  I could
swear that he was as pleased as I was.

For the next few days I spent most of my time on shore, landing at
sunrise and supervising, in a sort of way, the destruction of the ruined
sheikh’s house, and the strengthening of the breastwork and the wire
entanglements.  I say "in a sort of way", because neither Mr. Fisher nor
I knew which of us should take entire charge of the defence
preparations, with the result that there was a lot of unnecessary work
done and some muddling.  At any rate the one or two charges exploded in
the walls of the Old Fort did not do much damage, and I did not care to
interfere.

Meanwhile Mr. Scarlett busied himself preparing the corner of the roof
of the telegraph buildings and placing big balks of timber behind the
parapet to receive the mounting of a Maxim, if the occasion arose.  In
spite of the desertion of most of the servants, labour was plentiful,
natives of all nationalities and shades of colour clamouring for a job.
Many of them were Afghans and Baluchis, and probably were spies; but the
only information they could give was that we were expecting an attack
and preparing for it, which it was good for them to know.  We set these
people to work strengthening the barbed-wire fence and the
"vegetable-marrow" trench.

At first I had most of my meals with Mr. Fisher and his wife—Miss Borsen
never joined us.  In fact, I never saw more of her than a flick of a
skirt as she fled round a corner one day when I had appeared
unexpectedly.  She was so obviously avoiding me that it became most
unpleasant, and later on I never went to the house unless I was obliged
to do so.

This worried me a good deal—the fact of her refusing to forgive me, I
mean—-and took away a great deal of my enjoyment.

In spite of this the days went past very quickly. Hartley occasionally
saw bands of mounted people wandering about the plains and the coast,
but the telegraph-wire was untouched.  Jaffa could report nothing more
definite than a general feeling of uneasiness; trading dhows came and
went, and, day after day, trains of camels and donkeys shuffled
backwards and forwards through the eight miles of sand to Old Jask,
loading or unloading them.

Indeed, the only exciting incident was the sudden bursting of a strong
"shamel", which scattered the dhows and compelled me to raise steam and
take shelter from it round the other side of the peninsula.

A fortnight passed, and the mail-steamer had called and left again
without either of the two ladies.  This time it was Mrs. Fisher who
would not leave her husband, and Miss Borsen who would not leave Mrs.
Fisher; so they both stayed—out of a mistaken and foolish sense of
duty—much to Mr. Fisher’s secret grief.

Then the blow fell, the morning after the steamer sailed.

Of course I always slept on board, and just as daylight was dawning I
was awakened by hearing a tremendous fusillade.  Mr. Scarlett and I
jumped up, peering ashore in the direction from which the noise came,
and saw a great number (a multitude they looked in the indistinct light)
of people on camels streaming right along the peninsula, firing rifles
as they rode, whilst a furious burst of firing farther away, in the
direction of the new village and the New Fort, told us that another band
must be attacking that.

The crew of the _Bunder Abbas_ were tumbling to their guns, and Mr.
Scarlett jumped down on deck to see that everything was ready.

Fascinated, I watched that mad rush of shrieking, firing natives.
Leaping off their camels, two or three hundred of them began advancing
up the slope towards the telegraph building, stopping to fire, moving
on, and stopping again.

"For God’s sake get those guns going!" I yelled down.

"In a minute, sir, in a minute!" Mr. Scarlett’s voice, calm and
collected, came back.

I clutched the railings and gasped as I thought of those two women up
there and wondered whether the door through the loopholed wall was
closed or not—it was not light enough for me to see.  If it was open—God
help them!

By this time the leading Baluchis—or whatever they were—were almost up
to the line of the barbed-wire; but then I was intensely relieved to
hear a few shots popping off from the telegraph buildings, so knew that
some of the people had had time to seize their rifles.

"What the devil has gone wrong?  Why don’t you open fire?" I bawled, as
the first of the attacking party reached the barbed-wire.  It stopped
them for a moment, but then they began throwing their loose cloaks
across it and scrambling over.

Now was our chance, and, mad with fury, I dashed down below, yelling to
the six-pounder and Maxims’ crews to open fire.  Mr. Scarlett was not
there, nor Moore.  Someone told me they were below, aft, and I heard a
smashing of woodwork, jumped down, and found them smashing open the door
of the magazine. I seized a box of Maxim cartridge-belts and simply
heaved it up through the hatchway.  In a mad rush of Mr. Scarlett,
myself, Moore, and two or three others we were on deck again with a box
of six-pounder ammunition between us.  As we dragged it forward the
marines and Ellis, with his seamen, were pulling the Maxim belts through
the breech-blocks; and as we wrenched off the cover of the six-pounder
cartridge-box I saw that the crowd of Baluchis were already swarming
over the line of breastworks.  The long cartridge was thrown into the
empty breech of the six-pounder, and as I darted up the ladder to the
upper deck it fired.  A moment later both Maxims opened too.



                             *CHAPTER XVI*

                          *The Siege of Jask*


Fortunately the _Bunder Abbas_ was lying broadside on to the shore, so
that all three of her guns were able to bear on the ground leading up to
the telegraph-station—about fourteen hundred yards away.  I reached the
upper deck and looked ashore just in time to see the first six-pounder
shell bursting on the open slope, close to a group of fifty or sixty of
the enemy, who had already reached the breastwork. Some had jumped down
into the little trench, others were still clambering over the earthwork.
Most of them were firing their rifles, though (as far as I could see
through my glasses) without taking the trouble to aim—in fact they were
practically firing in the air. As the shell burst among them they
swerved aside, just as minnows do when you drop a stone among them, but
still went on.  Another shell made them swerve again and scatter a
little more widely, but did not stop them.  A Maxim was wanted—not
shells.

Although both Maxims were firing very rapidly, Ellis and Webster did not
seem able to find the range. This may have been due to excitement or the
uncertain light.  At any rate, from where I was I could see, quite
plainly, the bullets tearing up the ground near the end of the
barbed-wire fence, some two hundred yards this side of where the
Baluchis were crossing it.

I yelled down that they were going short, and actually watched the
furrows advancing until in another moment those streams of bullets had
reached the poor wretches and simply ploughed lanes through them.  These
people made such a fine target that Ellis and Webster instinctively kept
firing at them, and more time was lost before I could make one of them
slue his gun round to support Moore’s shells. When he did so, the
rushing, yelling crowd, who were scrambling across and beyond the
trench, seemed to melt away, and only a few were left alive—some to fall
back into the trench, where they lay comparatively safely, and others to
take refuge among the mat shed huts belonging to the telegraph
employees—the huts I had so often implored Mr. Fisher to burn.  Ellis—I
think it was Ellis—was still "playing" the Maxim on the barbed fence,
and was not able to see, or too excited to realize, that he was only
firing on dead men lying heaped in masses, or sprawling singly over the
fence.  I shouted down to tell him not to waste more ammunition.

At this time there were not more than perhaps twenty of the enemy to be
seen, and these were doing their best to escape, crawling and creeping,
dodging towards those confounded huts.

I stopped the Maxims and ordered Moore to fire a few shells among the
huts, hoping to set fire to them, or at any rate turn out the Baluchis
taking shelter there.  Before he could do this my fellows began
shouting: "More are coming, sir; look, sir!" and I saw another horde of
chaps dash out from the Old Fort and the dip in the ground round it,
rushing up the slope as the others had done, but keeping away to their
left, to avoid the mangled heaps of their tribesmen huddled near the
barbed-wire fence.

They were already within fifty yards of the huts before we could swing
our guns round, only to discover that whilst they kept on the far side
of the slope the curvature of the ground protected them to a certain
extent, and we could not reach them easily. Only their heads could we
see, their heads and their arms brandishing rifles.

We let rip at them without doing much damage, if any, for I never saw
the rush waver.  But then they came to the barbed fence, and climbing
over it they made a better target.  They must have suffered horribly,
but at least a hundred passed it and disappeared among those huts to
join the remnant of the first rush.

I guessed what would happen.  Directly they had regained breath the
whole crowd would dash for the loopholed wall.

I yelled for everybody to "stand by" and train their guns on the upper
slope.

"They’ll be in the open in a minute!" I shouted, and glued my glasses to
my eyes.  It was quite light now.  Turning for a moment to the
telegraph-station, I saw Hartley trying to semaphore something from the
top corner.  Rifles were poking out through the loopholes, and, thank
goodness, that door in the wall was shut.

Shooting was still going on everywhere—one could not distinguish exactly
from where.

"Drop a shell among the huts and turn ’em out," I called down.  "Stand
by with the Maxims to follow them when they break cover."

Moore fired twice.  Then, as I expected, a regular horde of Baluchis
rushed out from among the huts, yelling and firing their rifles, making
a most appalling din as they swarmed up the slope.

But they were in full view and entirely exposed. The Maxims swept
through them; the six-pounder scattered bits of iron and stones amongst
them and tumbled many over like rabbits.  But we could not stop them
all, and before I realized it the wave of men—thinned, it is true, but
still numerous—had swept to the foot of the white, loopholed wall
itself.  The desperate savages were leaping up to grab the top, climbing
on each other’s backs, poking their rifles through the loopholes, and
hammering at the door with their rifle butts.  And at this very time the
Maxims stopped firing; so did the six-pounder.

I dashed below.

"Go on!" I shouted.  "Go on!  Why the devil ain’t you firing?"

"We’ll hit the telegraph people, sir!" they called.

"Don’t worry about them—fire—fire—carry on the Maxims," I yelled, "or
they’ll be inside in a moment."

I cared not a rap whether we killed all the telegraph people, so long as
we kept the Baluchis outside.  Miss Borsen wouldn’t be anywhere near the
wall, so we should not hurt her.

The Maxims began pumping out more lead—by good fortune they worked
splendidly, the belts jerking through like lightning—and in less time
than it has taken me to write this the Baluchis had begun to fall back.
Once they were clear of the wall Moore opened on them with shell, and
though these shells do very little damage in the open they kept them on
the run whilst more Maxim belts were being slipped in.

They fled back to the huts almost too quickly for the guns to follow
them.  From the rear of the huts they burst forth, trying to keep out of
sight; but as they came to the wire-fence they had to climb over it, and
one of the Maxims was waiting for them and played terrible havoc.  The
remnant simply flew down—their heads showing beyond the contour of the
slope—till they disappeared among the date-palm trees round the Old
Fort.

My fellows began to cheer—they had been too busy before—and the lascars
and all the other natives danced about and cheered too—Percy wildly
excited; all except of course the cook and his mate, who were busy
preparing the men’s cocoa, and were apparently still contemplating their
usual early suicide directly the saucepans had been cleaned again.

Jaffa, left to himself, had been firing a rifle.  He looked pleased and
happy.  As for Mr. Scarlett, he was beaming.

"Drove ’em ’Balooks’ back all right, sir!" he said, rubbing his hands.
"They’ve learnt a lesson or two, those poor wretched devils," and he
jerked his thumb towards the open sloping ground, which now looked as if
a fierce gust had blown the washing out of a laundry and distributed it
unevenly over the ground.

I asked him what had been the matter at first, and why he had broken
down the doors of the magazine. He told me that as Moore had run aft
with the key he had dropped it overboard in his excitement.  This was
Moore all over.  Just like the idiot he was!

We now had time to look towards the village and the New Fort.

Only a very occasional shot came from that direction, and through our
glasses we saw that the parapets and battlements were black with
figures, so knew that the Baluchis had captured it.  The trading dhows
were being hauled off-shore and were putting to sea, their crews working
desperately to save them from falling into the hands of the Baluchis;
the bay was full of their frightened cries as they hoisted their clumsy
sails and tried to gain safety.

Just then bullets began to fall round us, and soon we were under a
brisk, long-range fire—apparently from the fugitives round the Old Fort.
It was so badly aimed that it was hardly enough to disturb us but a
badly-aimed bullet is just as dangerous as a well-aimed one—if it
happens to find a billet.  So whilst the Maxim crews were getting up
more ammunition and reloading belts, I made Moore throw a few shells
close to the Old Fort.  The first few they stood but at the seventh we
had the gratification of seeing them bolt back into a fold of the ground
close to the landing-place on the other side of the peninsula. They
drove their frightened camels into this shelter and were safe from any
tokens of "esteem" we could send them.

Just then someone called my attention to the telegraph buildings.  I
looked and saw the door in the loopholed wall thrown open, and men began
filing out and racing down the slope—a man in pyjamas leading them.  It
was Mr. Fisher.  Why they were coming out goodness only knows; but down
they ran, apparently with the idea of manning the trench and breastwork.
They had almost reached it before I remembered that some of the enemy
might possibly be there still; and, sure enough, as the leading ones
leapt into the trench on one side, I saw thirty or forty Baluchis, who
had been hidden from us on the other side, spring up, fire point-blank,
and leap over, dropping their rifles and slashing with swords as they
jumped down among them.  We could not possibly give assistance; we could
not fire into the mêlée, and stood stock-still, holding our breath,
watching the hand-to-hand struggle.  It probably did not last fifty
seconds, though it seemed more like fifty minutes, and at last the
telegraph staff began to retreat uphill. Luckily very few—not half a
dozen—followed them; the rest contenting themselves with lying down and
firing.

Mr. Scarlett, without orders, took the risk and fired a shell among this
lot, and made them scramble over the breastwork again out of sight.  The
others stopped as well and came back.

Mr. Fisher, in his pyjamas, tried to lead his people to charge down once
more; but they would not follow him.  Instead, they fell back inside the
loopholed wall—the white figure being the last to enter—and I breathed
again when the door was once more closed.

We now had all we could do to prevent the _Bunder Abbas_ being damaged
by the fleeing dhows. Their crews had quite lost their heads.  One
fouled us amidships and tore a stanchion out before she drifted clear;
another, having cut her "grass" hawser cable, drifted helplessly right
across our bows, with our little cable tautening under her bottom. Every
single soul of us was trying to shove her free, and I had to veer cable
before she eventually scraped past, hanging up for a moment as her
projecting stern caught in the stem-post and carried away another
stanchion, which let the whole fore part of the awning fall over the
six-pounder gun—and over us too. If only the Baluchis had taken
advantage of this moment we could have done nothing.  Luckily the poor
wretches were disheartened, or perhaps they never even saw their chance.

Away inshore, by the New Fort, there was much yelling and screaming.
The whole village was humming like a hive of bees disturbed—the
inhabitants fleeing along the beach and staggering under their
valuables, until some shots, apparently from the New Fort, fell among
them, when they dropped their burdens and fled all the faster.  The
enemy in that fort commanded the track to Old Jask, and these poor
wretches had to make a great circuit before they could hope to reach
safety.

Honestly, I had not imagined that an attack would have been delivered
with so little warning.  As Mr. Scarlett said: "It was not at all like
their usual way of doing things."  They ought to have come along in the
daylight, settled themselves across the base of the peninsula, and then
sent in a messenger to ask for a ransom, failing which they would storm
the place. That had always been the custom in this part of the world, so
both Jaffa and Mr. Scarlett assured me.

It was not very flattering to our own military instincts and preparation
for defence to realize that if they had not begun firing their rifles
almost before they had reached the neck of the peninsula, and long
before they ever commenced to dismount from their camels to charge up
the slope, they must have taken the telegraph-station by surprise.  We
should have heard or seen nothing until too late; and I really went cold
"all over", to think what would have happened inside those walls with
the _Bunder Abbas_ absolutely powerless to interfere.  I knew now,
though I did not know it before, that none of these people can control
themselves; they must let off their rifles to work up their courage to
the charging-point, and must continue wasting ammunition to keep it
there.

The extraordinary thing was that Jaffa had ridden nearly twenty miles
inland only yesterday, and had actually visited several villages at the
foot of the mountains, without obtaining any warning whatever.

Hartley began signalling again from the top of the roof.

"Two men killed and two missing," I read.  "Mr. Fisher wishes to know if
you can clear the trench. There are fifty or sixty of the enemy still
there?"

I’d forgotten them.

I called out to Mr. Scarlett and asked him whether he thought we could
turn them out with shell and Maxims.  We both agreed that we could not
do so without expending more ammunition than we could afford.

"Right oh!  We shall have to land and drive ’em out!" I said.

He was very anxious to come with me.

"Don’t leave me this time, sir," he pleaded, and I could not help but
wonder at the change which had come over him.

He saw my look of surprise and burst out with: "I am a different man
now, sir; I feel a different being altogether since I got rid of that,"
and he touched his left arm.  I shook my head and told him that he would
have all he could do to keep the main body back if they had the heart to
come along again.

I semaphored to Hartley to tell Mr. Fisher to keep up a fire on the
trench, so as to occupy the minds of those chaps still there, and in
half an hour landed in the dinghy, just below some rocks at the end of
the barbed-wire fences, with Webster, Jones, and Gamble. Sending the
dinghy back for Ellis, Andrews, and Griffiths, we dashed to the top of
the beach and lay down between the end of the fence and the breastwork.
Until they came it was a very ticklish position to be in; for if those
fifty or so "Balooks" had spotted us, and had the "heart of a worm",
they might have "done for" all three of us.

We lay there absolutely motionless, glued to the ground, whilst the
noise of casual firing from above told us that the telegraph people were
doing what I’d asked them—firing at the trench farther along. Not a
hundred yards from us rifles began answering them.  It was a great
relief when the dinghy came back and Ellis, Griffiths, and Andrews
joined us.

Then we rose, fixing bayonets and rushing up and across the open to the
wretched breastwork, much too excited to worry about how many chaps we
should find there.  I knew that the trench had no traverses—we had never
thought them necessary; so once we scrambled over and into it we should
be able to sweep the whole length of it with our rifles.

We just caught sight of the ghastly heaps of dead lying at the foot of
the fence a little farther along, some actually leaning over as if they
were alive. Then we saw some live Baluchis lying down on our side of the
breastwork, too busily engaged plugging at the loopholed wall to think
of danger behind them.

Directly we saw them we yelled—we could not restrain ourselves any
longer—and as we rushed for them they saw our bayonets, squealed with
fright, and leapt across the breastwork into the trench.  We were after
them in a moment, each racing to be first, jumping the breastwork with a
bound, and seeing them flying helter-skelter to the far end.  I jumped
clean on a wounded man, who wriggled up and tried to slash at me with a
sword; but I was away before the blow touched me.  We simply emptied our
magazines into these chaps and they never gave us a chance to close.  A
few fell, but our aim was too wild to account for many, and most of them
scrambled out, over, and down towards the barbed-wire, like a lot of
rabbits making for their "bury".  We knocked over one or two as they
flung themselves over the wires, and the rest simply dashed down the
slope to join the main body hidden in the hollow.

A faint cheer came from the loopholed wall, and I heard a cry of disgust
from my own men.  Looking back I saw them bending over the corpse of
what had been one of the Eurasian telegraph people.  It was horribly
mutilated.

A little farther on another lay dead, mutilated in the same hideous
manner.  It made me sick to look at them.

In fact the whole place was a shambles.  There must have been nearly a
hundred—perhaps more—bodies dotted about in little white heaps near the
fence and the breastwork, the heaps being more scattered between the
breastwork and the wall where the Maxim had caught them in their final
rush. Along the foot of the wall corpses lay singly.  What grand-looking
men they were, too, with fierce high-bred faces.  It was a horrid
business.

The edge of civilization!  Yes!  I was there again, and the only
satisfaction this slaughter gave was the knowledge of what the fate of
those two poor frightened women would have been had the attack
succeeded.

I don’t want, in this yarn, to worry anyone with the thoughts which
flashed through my head on this or that occasion, but I should like to
write just this and have done with it.  To stand quietly, as I was doing
then, on that slope where not many minutes previously four or five
hundred raging men in the prime of life had rushed up with the one idea
in their souls to "kill or die", "kill or die", and to see now the
huddled, white-cloaked figures lying all round, so calm and still and
dignified by death, made me feel wearily sad.

It was my duty to kill them—I was sent there, on the edge of
civilization, to do so—and it had fallen to my lot to do it.  "Kismet!"

It was only one more wave of fanatical, unthinking, misdirected
barbarism broken again as it tried to wash back the advance of
civilization, and civilization cannot and must not cease to roll back
such waves, in the eternal progress of the world.  I remembered the day
I had walked so jauntily out of the Admiralty with every contempt for
the roar and bustle of traffic and trade, and every nerve tingling with
delight at soon leaving it for the edge of civilization; and now that I
was there, and had done a man’s work with the tools and engines of war
which civilization had put in my hand, I was neither pleased nor proud.

It was all too cruel, too brutal, all so meaningless and useless a waste
of life.  These men had died because we prevented them, by every means
in our power, from obtaining more rifles.  They only wanted them to
carry on their family and tribal blood feuds, to raid other tribes, and
to shoot our own soldiers across the Indian frontier.  But to these poor
wretches this was their whole duty in life, and they knew that the
telegraph-cable was one of their chief enemies—it could give warning of
attempts to land arms; it could summon ships from below the horizon to
prevent them being landed: so they had laid down their lives in the
endeavour to destroy it, and had left their waiting wives to teach their
fatherless children black hatred of the white man, and to bring them up
with the one idea, later on, when they were big enough to hold a rifle,
of trying to revenge their fathers’ deaths and beat back—in their
turn—advancing civilization.

Standing among all these heaped-up corpses I could not help thinking
what a wailing there would be when these grand men did not return to
their village fastnesses in those grim mountains standing up like a huge
wall against the horizon.

A rifle suddenly went off close to me.  Turning, I saw Webster open his
breech and jerk out a cartridge.

"A wounded chap tried to stab me, sir," he said in explanation.

That was the worst part of it.  The wounded never expected anything but
death, and wanted revenge before they died.  It was not the slightest
use trying to attend to their wounds, in fact it was dangerous to go
anywhere near a man, even though he looked as dead as a stone—he might
only be pretending to be dead and waiting his opportunity for you to get
close. I ought to have given orders for my men to go round and shoot
every one with any sign of life in him, but this I absolutely refused to
do.  The poor, ignorant wretches should have the chance of crawling down
among their own people—if they could.

I called my men away, and, carefully avoiding every patch of tumbled,
distorted bodies, went up to speak to Mr. Fisher, whom I saw coming
towards me—still in his pyjamas—a revolver in his hand.

He was quite cool.  "Thank you very much!" he said simply.

"How is Miss Borsen," I asked eagerly, "and your wife?" but he did not
know.  He had not seen them since the first alarm.

"What will these Baluchi chaps do now?" I asked.

"Baluchis!" he said.  "Most of them are Afghans, the real fighting
Afghan; there are only a sprinkling of Baluchis.  I don’t know what they
will do, but they’ve had such a lesson that they’ll probably be off
again to the hills to-night.  I’ve sent off a wire to Duckworth to tell
him that we’ve been attacked and that you beat them off by fire from
your launch."

He seemed undecided what to do.  He still hesitated about burning those
confounded huts which had already caused so much trouble.  He did not
want to irritate the employees who lived there, and kept on saying:
"We’ll wait till the morning; there probably won’t be a sign of them
then."

But he gladly accepted my offer to mount one of my Maxims on top of the
station, and I went back to the _Bunder Abbas_ with my people to send it
ashore as quickly as possible.

Already some at least of the Afghans were recovering their fright, for
as we marched down to the beach we came in for a sharp "sniping", and
Jones the marine was shot through the arm.  He dropped his rifle and
swore at Gamble, thinking he had struck him; then he looked at the
place, shook his fist towards the Old Fort, picked up his rifle with the
other hand, and came on.

It was the same arm which had been hit during the engagement with the
Afghans at Bungi whilst we were trying to get old Popple Opstein out of
his trap.

Once aboard the _Bunder Abbas_ I took charge and sent Mr. Scarlett
ashore with the Maxim.

He was delighted to go, unshipped it and lowered it, with two thousand
rounds of ammunition, into the dinghy, and set off ashore with Jackson
and Ellis to help him.

Some of the telegraph coolies were waiting to carry it up the slope, and
as I ate some breakfast which Percy had ready for me, and afterwards
smoked my pipe, I watched the three of them busy mounting it at the
corner of the parapet.

Before leaving the _Bunder Abbas_ I had ordered steam to be raised, and
directly the lascar first-driver reported the engines ready I signalled
to Mr. Fisher that I intended to steam round to the other side of the
peninsula and try to teach the enemy another lesson.

This I did, and, as I expected, found them totally unprepared for my
approach.  They must have seen the _Bunder Abbas_ getting under way and
steaming out, but possibly imagined that she was going to sea. At any
rate, as I suddenly appeared round the head of the peninsula and the
rocks there, I found them crowded together, almost on the shore, among
their camels.

They appeared to be asleep, but woke with a fright when Moore let rip a
shell among them.

As they rose to their feet I turned the _Bunder Abbas_ round and gave
them a taste of the Maxim as well.

They had had one lesson at daybreak; they now, at midday, had a still
harder one.  It was pure, undiluted slaughter; but, though sickening,
was absolutely necessary.  They fled helter-skelter inland, leaving
their camels to fend for themselves, rushing behind the ruins of the Old
Fort, and, when a couple of shells drove them out of that, flying
panic-stricken in a long straggling line—the devil take the
hindmost—through the sand-dunes towards the mainland, many of them
making a long detour in the direction of the New Fort.  What I did hate
to see was the poor, wretched, wounded camels hobbling about, falling
down, and struggling to their feet again.

Having cleared this side of the peninsula I went back and anchored at my
old billet.  From there I could see the remnant of the enemy huddled
round the walls of the New Fort.  I might have stirred them with a few
more shells, but did not.  Mr. Scarlett signalled presently that the
Maxim was mounted and ready, so I ordered him to bring Jackson back to
the ship; Ellis and Hartley between them would be able to work it, and I
was too short-handed already to spare anyone else.  Mr. Scarlett was
very pleased with himself and with the splendid fire zone which the
Maxim he had just mounted could sweep.  He had seen the ladies, and said
that though they were very white they seemed fairly cheerful.

I asked if they’d sent any message to me.

"Mrs. Fisher did, sir, but I’m hanged if I remember what it was
exactly."

"Did Miss Borsen?" I asked, trying to hide my nervous anxiety to know
whether perhaps what had occurred might have made her show signs of
forgiving me.

I felt miserable when he shook his head.  "Not as I remember, sir."

There were two things that troubled him: those confounded huts, which
rather interfered with his beloved Maxim, and that breastwork.  He
pointed out that there were not nearly enough men to defend the
breastwork, and that it formed admirable cover for an attacking force.

"We ought to level it in, that we ought," he said, shaking his head.

Of course he was right.  Hadn’t we seen what had happened that very
morning?

"Mr. Fisher expects them to clear away back to the hills to-night," I
told him.  "What do you think?"

He shook his head again.  "They don’t seem to be carrying out their
usual routine; not a bit of it. They ought to retire—that is, if
experience is anything to go by.  I don’t like the look of them
occupying the fort; it looks as if they meant to stay."

When I asked him whether he thought the Mir of Old Jask would attack
them, and endeavour to recapture his fort, he only made a grimace.

All that afternoon there was absolute quiet except for an occasional
shot from the New Fort and also a few shots fired on the slope itself,
where the telegraph coolies were busy dragging the dead into heaps and
burning them.  These last shots told me that some of the wounded Afghans
had had to be dispatched.

Mr. Scarlett was so anxious for me to try to get a "move on" Mr. Fisher
about burning the huts and levelling the breastworks that I went ashore
later in the day and again urged him to do this.

Nothing I could say could make him realize the necessity.  "I am certain
they’ll all have cleared away home by to-morrow morning.  We’ll wait
till then.  Besides, I dare not overwork the coolies.  If I do they will
desert," was all I could get out of him.

I suggested that it might be advisable to send Mrs. Fisher and Miss
Borsen on board the _Bunder Abbas_ for the night; but he declined for
the same reason as he declined everything else—that he expected the
Afghans to disappear before morning.

"Do you know that you are responsible for much of this?" he said, as he
walked backwards and forwards with me outside the loopholed wall.

"Responsible!  What do you mean?"

"Why," he said, "they all know of the loss of that huge caravan over on
the Muscat coast—the one you and the _Intrepid_ captured between you.
It they had got those rifles and all that ammunition through to the
Indian frontier there would have been another ’rising’ there.  They were
only waiting for them before giving the signal to the tribes along a
hundred miles of the frontier to pour down through the passes and lay
waste the valleys and murder the tribes living there under British
protection.  They all know this, and to-day they have been trying to
revenge themselves for their lost opportunity.  I’ve seen among the
killed several men I know: powerful sheikhs, Arabs from the other coast,
leading men from Afghan villages.  It is a bigger business than I
thought at first.

"However, they will probably be gone by the morning, and you may pride
yourself that but for your capturing that big caravan the other day, the
Indian Government would have had another little war on its hands.

"Oh," he added, "I’d almost forgotten!  I had a wire from Muscat.  The
_Intrepid_ has gone off up the coast after some more arms."

I went back to the _Bunder Abbas_ rather elated at the idea that I had
helped to stop a little war, and remembered what Commander Duckworth had
said: "They ought to do something for you."  It was rather early to
expect promotion, but it would be grand if it came.

"Can’t budge him," I told Mr. Scarlett.  "He still thinks they’ll have
gone back home by the morning. The _Intrepid_ has gone after some more
arms so we shan’t be disturbed till she gets back.  That’s one good bit
of news."

Just before sunset a small dhow came drifting slowly into the bay.  She
was flying the Muscat red flag and did not seem to notice anything
unusual, or that the anchorage was deserted of shipping, so I sent Jaffa
across to warn her nakhoda of what was happening. Jaffa came back to say
that he was very grateful and would put to sea again, but had several
passengers for Old Jask who preferred to land and would take shelter at
the telegraph-station until things were quiet.  I saw them later
on—three cloaked figures—land on the beach and make their way up towards
the loopholed wall.

We also saw numerous little spirals of blue smoke rising into the air
round the walls of the New Fort, so knew that the tribesmen were
preparing food; and Hartley, just about this time, signalled that he
could see a large mass of mounted people moving across the plains in our
direction.  This did not worry us.  We, Mr. Scarlett and I, were quite
happy.  From what he told me it was out of the question that, even
though they did not retreat that night, they would attempt an attack.
Their ideas of war and sieges were to attack at dawn; it was a tradition
to attack at dawn, and seldom had they been known to attack at any other
time.

The sun was setting now in its usual magnificence; everything—the rocks,
the telegraph-station over them, the sandy shores, the walls of the New
Fort, were flooded with delicate rose tints.  The mountains behind and
the few wisps of clouds overhanging them were suffused with the same
delicate colours, and out from behind them rose the moon—nearly full—and
we knew that directly the sun’s light vanished her light would take its
place and enable us to defeat any attack (almost inconceivable) that the
Afghans might attempt.

We only had to keep vigilant watch, and if they tried to rush the slope
again we should see the white-cloaked figures as plainly as in daytime.

I kept the first watch that night, Griffiths with me. At about ten
o’clock flames burst out ashore, in the direction of the New Fort, and
soon it was evident that the whole of the village was on fire.  It was a
grand spectacle as the flames spread from hut to hut, leaping high in
the air, lighting up the walls of the fort, even the white walls of the
telegraph buildings, and making the water of the bay and the brasswork
of the _Bunder Abbas_ glow red.

The flames and crackling were still fierce when Mr. Scarlett relieved me
at midnight.  In his opinion the Afghans had set the huts on fire
purposely, and were probably retreating inland under cover of the heavy
cloud of smoke which lay above them.

I had four hours in which to sleep, so, stretching myself on my bed, I
lay down on that little upper deck outside our cabin, leaving him and
Gamble to keep the "middle" watch.



                             *CHAPTER XVII*

                       *Jassim Takes his Revenge*


At four o’clock in the morning Mr. Scarlett shook me and reported all
quiet and the fire on shore dying down.  I scrambled to my feet to take
over the "morning" watch, feeling as fresh and wakeful as though I had
not been to sleep for a fortnight!

The moonlight was very brilliant, so brilliant, indeed, that the
telegraph buildings on the dark rocks and the New Fort on the white sand
stood out quite as boldly as in the daytime; and all that could be seen
of the remains of the fire was a glowing line of red-hot ashes extending
along the beach, where the village had been.

The slope leading up to the loopholed wall was so flooded with light
that I could distinguish even the barbed-wire fence and the shadows of
the wires and uprights.

Of the Afghans themselves nothing whatever could be made out; but this
did not imply that they had gone away, because most of them might be
sleeping inside the fort and the others behind it, and at the base of
the peninsula the fringe of date-palms threw such extremely dark,
puzzling shadows that the camels might have been concealed among these,
or even been driven farther along behind the sand-hills without our
having noticed any movement.

At any rate, whatever had or had not happened, I was not going to leave
anything to chance, or take any risks: so the rest of the hands were
called and stood to their guns; cocoa was served out; and to make sure
that Ellis and Hartley were on the alert I made a flashing signal to
them.  As it was answered I knew that they, too, were "standing by"
their Maxim.

After this there was nothing to do but strain our eyes shorewards and
wait for daylight.  In the half-hour when the increasing light of dawn
is absorbing the light of the moon and rendering the outlines of objects
uncertain and ill defined, this waiting for an attack is always most
scaring.  It makes no difference how often one experiences this feeling
of acute tension, it always seems to occupy one so completely that not a
soul moves or speaks; even breathing is a difficult matter, and breaths
come in deep jerks, only when they can be held no longer.

But if the strain is great when the moon is there to help, it is ten
times as great when there is no moon and the first glimmer of daylight
distorts everything so strangely and forms such strange weird shapes.

How grateful we were to the moon that morning!

Daylight did come at last.  The fading shadows under the fringe of
date-palm trees showed us hundreds of motionless lumps which gradually
outlined themselves into camels; figures began moving about among them,
and out from the door of the fort streamed many more to kneel on the
sand, facing the glory of the rising sun, throw their arms above their
heads, and bend at their devotions.

This might only be the preliminary to an attack; so still we remained at
our guns, until the sight of many little spirals of blue smoke rising in
the calm morning air, and the little groups of men seated round
them—evidently cooking—made it absolutely certain that they did not
intend any such thing—not that morning.

"That finishes the business," Mr. Scarlett said, drawing a deep breath,
and letting it out again with a jerk.

We had been so certain—Mr. Scarlett and I—that they would have done the
one thing or the other, and now they had done neither; they had simply
stayed where they were, in complete possession of the base of the
peninsula, and entirely cutting it off from any assistance from Old
Jask.

Mr. Scarlett shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.  He could not
understand these tactics.

"It ain’t like ’em, sir; it ain’t like anything I’ve seen or heard of
before, and I don’t care about it," he said, as I dismissed the men from
the guns to get their breakfasts and scrub decks.

Whilst they were doing this we were startled suddenly by the sound of
rifle firing, a long way off, in the direction of Old Jask, and drawing
rapidly nearer.  Without waiting for the order, the crew tumbled up from
below to their guns, but no one could see anything happening.  At first
we made sure that another band of Afghans were attacking the old town;
but this could not be so, because the people round the New Fort seemed
even more startled than we had been.  They sprang to their feet, seized
their rifles, and whilst some began to "round up" the camels, driving
them close to the wall, others poured into the fort itself.

Whilst we were wondering what all this meant, the battlements of the
fort became alive with dark turbans; puffs of smoke darted out from
them, and the reports of their rifles came across to us.  At what they
were firing we could neither see nor guess.

At last, after firing had been going on continuously for four or five
minutes, Mr. Scarlett saw a cloud of dust, and, looking in the direction
of his finger, I made out a number of mounted men—some on horses, others
on camels—advancing over the plain from Old Jask.  Spurts of light,
showing in the cloud of sand dust over their heads, told us that it was
from them we had heard the first firing.

"It’s the old Mir’s border police coming to recapture the fort," Mr.
Scarlett sang out.  "Now you’ll see some pretty fighting.  Just
remember, sir, that they are mostly Bedouins from the other coast, and
they and the Afghans hate each other like poison. Now watch what’s going
to happen."

I did; we all did.

The line of men came charging up to the base of the peninsula, sweeping
away to the right and wheeling round the bend of the swamp lying there,
until they were not more than two thousand yards from the fort.  Firing
from both parties was continuous.  Then for a moment I lost sight of
them behind some sand-hills, and expected, when next they appeared, to
find that they had dismounted, left their horses and camels in rear of
those sand-hills, and were attacking properly—with short rushes or
something of that sort—although I was puzzled to think what they could
effect against the thick walls of the fort.

Instead of this they reappeared in sight—in somewhat looser formation
certainly, but still mounted—and galloped madly along the intervening
sand, firing rapidly, whilst the fusillade from the parapet and towers
of the fort swelled furiously, and the people who had driven the camels
under cover of the walls lay down to fire as well.

The attacking party came to five hundred yards—to three hundred; none of
them seemed to have been hit.  Still they galloped, the men on camels
bringing up the rear left far behind.  Then the horsemen suddenly
divided into two parties, and, yelling and firing their rifles, they
circled completely round the fort, enveloping it, meeting in the rear of
it, and dashing round again.  A continuous splutter of musketry burst
out from the walls above their heads, without, as far as we could see,
doing the faintest damage.  In fact, the firing was so wild that a good
many bullets began falling round us, and one banged against the funnel
close to where I was standing.

The circling rings of horsemen grew larger as they curveted and pranced
in the clouds of dust kicked up by their own horses’ hoofs, until they
all swooped off like a flock of birds and gathered in a knot about half
a mile from the fort; whereupon the firing died down almost completely.
Every now and then a horseman darted out from among them, dashed towards
the fort, gave a display of horsemanship, fired his rifle, performed
some circus tricks, and then dashed back again.

I was so interested and amused that I forgot that the fort was well
within range of our six-pounder.

"Let’s help them," I shouted, ordering Moore to "plug" a shell at the
fort.

Mr. Scarlett only laughed.  "You’ll see what happens."

Our first shell burst short, burying itself in the sand; the second blew
a hole in the soft bricks of the fort; and before we could fire a third
the whole covey of those border police had whirled round and galloped
rapidly away, quickly disappearing in another cloud of dust on their way
back to Old Jask, still firing their rifles furiously.

I don’t believe that a single man of them had been hit.

"Shall we cease fire, sir?" Mr. Scarlett asked. "We haven’t enough
ammunition to waste any more on the fort."

"Right oh!" I nodded.

The horsemen of the party had galloped off, but the few men on camels
who had been left in the rear had evidently "rounded up" some of the
Afghans’ camels, for they now reappeared beyond the sandhills trying to
drive a dozen—perhaps more—in front of them.

Immediately there was a stir among the Afghans outside the wall; more
poured out through the door of the fort, and in a twinkling they were
after them on foot, wading across the swamp so as to head off the party
with the camels.  Firing burst out more furiously than ever, and it was
not many seconds before the captured camels were abandoned and the other
fellows followed the horsemen.

"Well, sir, that little ’show’ was what they call a battle—a regular
’pitched’ battle," Mr. Scarlett said.  "How they decide who’s won beats
me.  It’s an accident if anyone gets killed or even wounded, but those
Bedouins will go back and pour out a long yarn to the old Mir; every one
of them will have to give an account of the fierceness of the fight, and
probably they’ll all desert during the day and go looting on their own
account—looting peaceful villages, which is much more in their line.  We
may as well let our chaps, and the Afghans too, go on with their
breakfasts."

In ten minutes the whole of the tribesmen were squatting round their
fires again as though nothing had happened.

Now that we knew they had not retired—had no intention of doing so—Mr.
Scarlett was as anxious as I was that those huts should be burnt, the
breastwork levelled, and the trench filled in; so I went ashore to try
to persuade Mr. Fisher to make a start on these jobs.

I found him much more surprised at the non-retirement of the Afghans
than we had been, and very much more disappointed.  In fact, he looked
about as worried as any man could look.  He took me up to the house so
that I could personally assure his wife that the _Bunder Abbas_ would
not leave them. She was in a terrible state of alarm, almost beside
herself; her eyes were terrified, and she clutched my arm so tightly
whilst she was imploring me to stay that her finger nails left deep
marks.

"Why don’t you send for the _Intrepid_?  We shall all be killed," she
said in the most agitated manner; and it was quite useless to tell her
that the _Intrepid_ had gone up the coast and that we could not
communicate with her.  When she did let go of my arm her hands worked
convulsively at her sides, and I no longer wondered why her husband
looked so worn.

Miss Borsen was not there, of course, and I had not the courage to ask
after her.  In fact, I was very glad to tear myself away and go up to
the Maxim on the roof, to see for myself whether it could sweep the
whole slope.

Mr. Scarlett had told me correctly.  The Maxim had a grand position, and
no one could approach without coming under its fire except towards the
right, where it was possible to creep up unseen behind those huts.

Ellis and Hartley had filled old flour-sacks with sand and placed them
along the parapet, on each side of the gun.  They were busy bringing up
more, and were quite happy.  "If only those huts were out of the way,
sir, nothing could get near us," Ellis said; and though I again implored
Mr. Fisher to burn them he still refused.  He took me to see the two
wounded Eurasians—one shot through the arm and the other badly slashed
about the head.  They were bandaged in very "shipshape" fashion, and
looked comfortable enough.

"Who did that?" I asked, pointing to their dressings; and when he told
me that Miss Borsen had looked after them, as she knew something of
"first aid", I envied them for a moment.

He had now only fifteen of the telegraph staff remaining, and, as he
said, none of them knew anything about fighting.  He was doubtful about
trusting rifles to the servants and telegraph employees, because these
were of all nationalities—Zanzibaris, Baluchis, Tamils, and various
half-castes; but he had collected the rifles strewn over the slope
yesterday when those fellows had been shot down—nearly a hundred of them
there were, of all patterns.  Very little ammunition had been found on
the dead bodies, and that, too, was all mixed up—Mauser, Mannlicher, Le
Bras, Lee-Metford, Martini—all in a hopeless jumble.  He promised to
have them sorted.

Then I was taken all round the outside of the loopholed wall, and
discovered—what I had not thought of before—that it was possible for an
enemy to crawl along the rocks on the eastern side—the right side
looking inland—without being seen, to clamber up them, and attack that
flanking wall without exposing themselves.  However, the man who
designed the wall must have realized this and had built it nearly
fifteen feet high, so that unless they brought ladders with them it
would be difficult to scale.  The cable-house—a little square building
into which the cable from Muscat wriggled out of the sea—stood isolated
on the rocks, and could be attacked at night with impunity.

Walking round the rear wall I satisfied myself that no attack could be
made from that quarter, because the rocks at the end of the peninsula
could only be reached in boats, and as the sea was always rough there at
this time of year a landing was out of the question.  The western
side—the one looking over the bay where the _Bunder Abbas_ was
anchored—was fairly safe, though here again a daring enemy might creep
round by the beach (where I had just landed) and attack from short
range.  However, so long as the _Bunder Abbas_ remained (or had
ammunition), and the nights were moonlit, this possibility did not worry
me.

Mr. Fisher kept on complaining of the few men he had left—fifteen all
told—which was a ridiculous number to protect all three of the
vulnerable sides; but I implored him to arm the servants and any of the
labourers he could trust, and gradually convinced him that this was
safe.

As we came back to the front side I saw that thirty or forty men were
already shovelling the breastwork back into the trench.  This pleased
me.

Then he took me through the door—covered with bullet marks and the dents
of rifle butts—as I wanted to see where best to make a defence should
the wall itself be captured.  I went all round the buildings, and came
to the conclusion that his own house would be the most suitable.  It was
strongly built; it had a raised veranda running round it, and was almost
overlooking the left-hand corner of the loopholed wall—the corner
nearest to the _Bunder Abbas_.  This was the house on the roof of which
the Maxim was already mounted, and from the parapet there it would be
easy to pick off any Afghans who had gained a lodgment on the wall
itself.  Another point in its favour was that the well was close to
it—in the rear.

I urged him to get sand-bags and pile them up round the veranda and in
the open door-ways or windows.  I also urged upon him the necessity of
bringing in food from the telegraph stores and also all the reserve
ammunition.  All my arguments could not convince him that this was
necessary, and he pointed out that, whatever happened, he could not
abandon the telegraph instruments in the other building.

"We must keep them working at all costs," he said stubbornly.

He had not said this many seconds before up came a messenger, followed
by an excited Eurasian "operator", to tell him that the overland wire to
Karachi had been cut again some fifteen miles out.

"That solves part of the difficulty," I said, smiling. "You cannot pass
on cable messages, so won’t want so many of the staff at work."

He too seemed relieved, and told me that half his fellows had been
lining the wall all last night and the other half working the
instruments.  "They can’t keep awake twenty-four hours out of the
twenty-four. Now they’ll be able to get a little sleep.

"Oh, I forgot," he went on; "a dhow which came in last evening brought
some passengers for Old Jask. They stayed here during the night, and are
waiting to see me at my office, though how they think I can get them
through I don’t know.  By the way, they brought a letter for your
gunner.  I’ve been carrying it about in my pocket.  Here it is," and he
handed me an envelope addressed in Arabic.  "You might give it him."

I caught sight of Miss Borsen coming towards us and evidently wishing to
speak to Mr. Fisher; so, as I did not want to worry her with my
presence, and had done all I wanted to do, I took the letter and went
down the slope to the dinghy and so back to the _Bunder Abbas_.

"Here’s a letter for you," I told the gunner.  "It’s not Jassim’s
writing this time."

He grinned as he read it.

"It’s from the governor of the Muscat fort.  He says that Jassim’s got
out.  I didn’t imagine he’d keep him there long after my back was
turned."

"Well, he won’t bother us here," I said, much more amused to think how
Mr. Scarlett’s dread of him had disappeared than alarmed at any possible
danger to myself.

For the rest of the morning and afternoon we kept a good look-out, in
case the Afghans made any move; though, except for a few small foraging
parties, they simply slumbered or smoked at the foot of the walls,
shifting round with the shade as the sun travelled westwards.

It was a great temptation to stir them up with a few shells; though, if
we had done so, we should only at the best have driven them out of range
and out of sight, and once out of sight we should not have been able to
observe their movements.  There was another reason—a much more pressing
one: we had none too much six-pounder ammunition.

An hour before sunset Mr. Fisher made a signal that he wanted to see me
again, and he came down to the beach to meet me.  The Afghans had sent a
messenger in to say that they would attack at dawn next morning with
twice as many men as they had had yesterday, and he wanted my advice.

"Of course it’s only bluff," he said nervously; "but I want you to
persuade my wife and Miss Borsen to go aboard the _Bunder Abbas_."

On the way up to the door in the loophooled wall he took me along the
trench to see how well his people had been working.  They had filled in
about a hundred yards of it, and were still busy.  Those wretched huts,
however, still stood there, right in the line of fire.

"Why the dickens don’t you burn them?" I said, really angry, and he was
muttering a half-apology when some noise behind me and a warning shout
made me turn round.

Not ten yards from me stood Jassim.  I knew him at once—how could I
forget him?—his face flaming with hatred, the veins of his neck standing
out; and in his hand he held a Mauser pistol levelled at me.

He fired, and instinctively I ducked, seized a spade which was lying at
my feet, and dashed at him. Mr. Fisher drew a revolver from his pocket
and I heard him fire.  Then I felt something hit my chest on the right
side.  It tumbled me over like a rabbit; but I was up again on one knee
in time to see Mr. Fisher fire a second shot and Jassim stagger back. He
still had those awful eyes fixed on me, glaring death, and as he raised
his pistol again I rolled into the trench to escape being hit a second
time.

Something filled my throat, and I spat up a lot of bright blood, and
felt dazed and foolish.  I was trying to get to my feet again when Mr.
Fisher came to me with a face as white as a sheet, jumped into the
trench, and made me lie back.

"There!" I said, spitting up more blood; "he got me there," and I put my
finger where the bullet had hit me.

I felt no pain whatsoever—only a peculiar half-drunk feeling—and tried
to sit up again; but this only brought on more coughing, and Mr. Fisher
pressed me down.

Then I knew that I should be no more use—only a burden to everyone.

I looked up at him apologetically.

"Get me aboard the ’_B.A._’; I shall be all right soon:" but the effort
of speaking forced more blood into my mouth, and I had to stop.

With a frightened expression on his face he bade me stop talking and lie
still.

"I’ll have you carried down," he said; "wait till we can get a
stretcher."

By this time there was a whole crowd of people round me, though I seemed
hardly to notice them; someone put my topee over my eyes, to shield them
from the slanting sun.

Presently, as if in a dream, I heard Mr. Fisher’s voice.

"He’s shot through the lung—the right side, thank God!" and someone
touched my wrist very gently; and although I could not see her, on
account of the topee over my face, I knew it was Miss Borsen’s hand. My
mouth filled with blood again, and everything became quite dark and
peaceful.

I opened my eyes, feeling most horribly weak, and not knowing what had
happened or where I was.

Opposite me were two parallel streaks of white light, and these seemed
to hypnotize me.  I could not move my eyes from them for a long time;
but gradually my brain pulled itself together, and my sense of
surroundings came back.  I was in a square room with shutter-closed
windows all round it.  Deep shadows on the whitewashed walls seemed to
come from a lamp behind me, and I was lying on a little trestle-bed.
Presently I realized that those two streaks of light were made by the
moonlight forcing its way in through cracks in one of the shutters, and
just below them I saw something white resting on a chest of drawers, and
recognized my own topee.

I noticed that I could hardly breathe; something seemed to be squeezing
my chest, and I put up one hand—very shakily—to find out what it was.
As I did this there was a rustle behind my shoulder, and a very small
white hand took hold of mine and put it back where it had lain, and Miss
Borsen’s voice, sounding ever so far away, told me to lie absolutely
still and not attempt to speak.

I felt so extraordinarily weak—just as if I had lost all control of
myself—that I obeyed without the slightest effort to resist.  I did try
to turn my head, but it seemed to be wedged on each side with pillows,
and a finger she placed on my forehead stopped me immediately.

I lay quite still, staring at the ceiling and the round patch of light
thrown on it by the lamp, until all that had happened came back to me.
I looked at my topee to make sure, and the hard luck of being knocked
over just when there was so much to be done made me so miserable that I
could not help groaning.

"You must not make the least noise or speak; you must not move your
hands or feet; it’s your only chance," Miss Borsen said, speaking from
the head of the bed: and her voice had such a soothing, hypnotizing
effect that I closed my eyes and seemed to float away into space almost
immediately.

When I woke again Mr. Fisher was sitting by my bedside.  He turned
quickly when my eyes opened, and he too said the same thing: "Lie
absolutely still, and don’t speak."

He saw by my face that I wanted to ask him something, and guessed what
it was.

"Jassim is dead," he said.  "I shot him."

"Poor devil!" I thought, and was sorry.

He then went on to tell me that Mr. Scarlett had been informed of all
that had happened, and had come ashore to see me whilst I was asleep,
and make all arrangements for the night in case the Afghans attacked.

"We are all ready.  Your two men (the signal-man and the man you sent
with the Maxim) and I are taking it in turn to keep watch down by the
fence all through the night.  The signal-man is there now, and half my
fellows and twenty of the coolies are lining the wall, so they can’t
take us by surprise.  The greater part of the trench is filled in, and
there is nothing more to be done until daylight.  I’ve wired to Muscat
to tell the political agent about everything, and of you being wounded,
and have asked him to inform the _Intrepid_, but she is not back yet.

"It’s nearly midnight now, and my turn for the wire fence.  Keep
absolutely still, and try to go to sleep until I come back."

He rose—his shadow was thrown on the wall as he bent over to lower the
lamp—and I heard him go out.

But sleep was now impossible; my chest was so tightly bandaged that I
could hardly breathe, and though I counted all the cracks in the shutter
through which the moonlight was showing, counted them time after time
until it was almost maddening, sleep would not come.

It seemed ages before I heard a very soft footstep creeping towards me,
and the lamp threw the shadow of a woman on the wall, and for a moment
the silhouette of Miss Borsen’s face.

For a second I had a great longing to ask her if she would forgive me,
but I still seemed to be under the spell of her orders not to speak or
move, and, fearful of seeing her, I closed my eyes.

She felt my pulse, lowered the lamp the slightest degree more, and I
heard her go out as noiselessly as she had entered.

After that the night dragged on somehow.  I seemed to be rather
delirious, and fancied all sorts of strange things.  At one time the
shadows on the wall took on the shape of old Popple Opstein, and I
thought we were sitting yarning on the little deck outside the cabin;
and at another they turned to Jassim, and I thought he was "coming" for
me again.  Then I thought I was once more trying to carry Miss Borsen
down to the dinghy, but my feet would not move, and Jassim was after us.
It was horrid.

With the first streaks of daylight I came to my senses again, and waited
and waited to hear the sound of firing and the yells of the Afghans
charging up to the loopholed wall.  I strained my ears to catch the
noise of the six-pounder, but all was still.  Gradually the light grew
stronger, people began moving about in the house, and presently, when it
was quite daylight—even though the shutters were closed—Mr. Fisher came
in with a joyous expression on his face.

"They’ve thought better of it," he said.  "They’re still down there, but
aren’t making a move.

"Don’t talk," he added as he saw I wanted to ask him something, and he
brought me a block of notepaper and a pencil.  He held the note-paper
whilst I wrote in a very shaky way: "Thirsty", for I was most terribly
dry.

He gave me some beef-tea of "sorts", holding the cup to my lips.  My
aunt, but it was good!  I could have drunk a bucketful.

I pleaded with my eyes for more, but he shook his head.  "Acting under
orders—Miss Borsen’s orders; can’t," he said, and, thinking to relieve
my mind, told me that his men were already at work on the trench.

He could only spare me a very few moments, but came in every now and
then throughout the day.

Ellis and Hartley occasionally put their heads inside the door to tell
me that everything was quiet, and Mr. Scarlett paid me a visit during
the afternoon. He was fearfully apologetic about my wound, and seemed to
think it was his fault entirely.  In case I wanted them he had brought
me a clean uniform and my dispatch-box with all my letters.

"I’ve been down the slope, sir, to have a look for that chap, Jassim,"
he said, "but I’m hanged if I can find him."

I was too weak to worry about this.

Mrs. Fisher visited me once and tried to read to me, but the effort was
too great for her nerves, so she did not stay very long.  Miss Borsen
never came near me, and it was the old butler or head boy who was my
most constant visitor, bringing me beef-tea and jelly, feeding me, and
trying to make me comfortable.

About sunset Hartley came in to tell me that several large bands of
Afghans could be seen winding their way down from the mountains in our
direction, and when Mr. Fisher came later to confirm this, I wrote on
the note-paper block: "Send women to _B.A._," because I fully expected
that the great attack must come next morning.

With very great difficulty he at length persuaded his wife to go aboard
the _Bunder Abbas_, but nothing would induce Miss Borsen to accompany
her.

"She’s got the idea into her head that she’s responsible for the two
Eurasians and yourself, and is not going to leave any of you till you’re
on your legs again," Mr. Fisher told me hopelessly.

That night was even more unpleasant than the first, but it did at length
pass, and as the daylight crept through the shutters no attack was
made—not a rifle was fired.  It was very strange, and I could not
understand it.

Perhaps an hour later Mr. Fisher came in, looking ghastly.

"We are isolated!" he cried.  "They’ve crept round by the rocks during
the night to the cable-house, cut the cable, and must have had a boat
helping them, for we cannot find the sea end.  I dare not send people
out to look for it; they’d never pick it up."

I wrote: "Try.  _B.A._ will help," and wrote a signal to Mr. Scarlett to
get up steam and go round to the east bay.

Mr. Fisher promised to try, but did not see how they could succeed, as
they had no proper grappling gear.

The cutting of the cable seemed to determine him to follow my advice
about preparing his house for any emergency.  All day I heard people
lumbering in and out, and the old butler, looking scared, told me that
they were putting sand-bags round the veranda and filling the upper
rooms with stores, the most portable of the telegraph apparatus, and
ammunition. They even carried sand-bags through my room and piled them
up on the balcony outside.

Ellis and Hartley supervised these preparations and kept me informed of
what the _Bunder Abbas_ was doing; and when, later on, I heard a good
deal of rifle firing and one or two rounds from her six-pounder, they
told me that the Afghans were sniping at the boat whilst it was trying
to grapple the end of the cable.

I could not help wondering whether this was very soothing to Mrs.
Fisher’s nerves, and I pictured her in the cabin with that six-pounder
going off just below her, and wishing that she had remained on shore.
At sunset they reported that the boat had returned, unsuccessful, and
that the _Bunder Abbas_ had steamed round to her former anchorage.

I now had not spoken for forty-eight hours, and had lain like a log all
the time.  I felt distinctly stronger, and no blood had come into my
throat and mouth since the early morning.

I slept fairly well that third night, and was awakened from a nightmare
by real shrieking and yelling, by the firing of hundreds of rifles
beneath the windows, and the tut-tut-tut-tut of the Maxim on the roof
above me.  A moment later came the comforting sound of the six-pounder
and the noise of the other Maxim aboard the "_B.A._".

Not a soul could I hear stirring in the house, and the feeling of being
left quite alone, without knowing what was happening and how things were
going, was almost insupportable.  A bullet, splintering a shutter,
flattened itself against the wall over my bed and dropped with a thud on
the floor, a shower of plaster following it, and some dropping on my
face.  Outside the wall of the room there was a sound as if men were
hammering on the stonework, and I gradually realized that these were
bullets, not hammers.

The horrid noises seemed to be drawing closer, and I thought that they
were growing louder away to the right, where those huts stood.



                            *CHAPTER XVIII*

                            *To the Rescue*


As I lay there on my trestle-bed, groaning at my miserable position,
more bullets came in through the shutters and brought down showers of
plaster from the wall behind me.

At last I could stand the strain no longer, and was on the point of
trying to reach the shutters and open them, so that at least I could see
what was happening, when Miss Borsen, white as a sheet, came in, and,
seeing me with one leg over the side of the bed, bade me angrily to lie
down and not move or speak.

I lay down, but had to speak to tell her to crouch on the floor, out of
the way of the bullets, and the effort made more of that blood come into
my mouth. Down I lay as flat as a pancake, and she huddled on the floor
too, because, whilst she was bending over me to wipe the blood from my
mouth, another bullet had smacked up against the wall and sprinkled her
with plaster.

She crouched there, her face twitching as the Maxim overhead rattled,
and the clamour and shrieking outside, coming from the direction of the
slope and barbed-wire fence, seemed to grow nearer and louder.

At last the appalling uproar sounded as if it were right under the
loopholed wall itself—almost under the windows of the house.  Ellis’s
Maxim stopped—stopping, I realized, because the loopholed wall now
screened the Afghans from its fire; but the Maxim aboard the "_B.A._"
fired more vigorously than ever, and six-pounder shells were bursting
rapidly, one after the other, quite close beneath us.

Miss Borsen had buried her face in her hands. Suddenly she raised
herself, and, with open mouth and eyes, listened.  The character of the
yells had altered; they were screams now, they were going away from us.
The attack was failing.

The Maxim on the roof opened again as the Afghans fell back from the
cover of the loopholed wall.  I heard Ellis and Hartley shouting
joyously, and knew they had got them on the run.

The second attack had been driven back.

Miss Borsen gave a great gulp and sprang to a shutter, opened it, and
looked out.  In a moment she had recoiled, covering her eyes with her
hands.

"They’re flying down the slope; those awful white heaps are growing near
the fence.  Oh God, it is awful!" she cried, and she burst into tears
and ran away.

Ellis’s Maxim ceased firing, and gradually all became quiet.

In perhaps half an hour Mr. Fisher ran in to see me—flushed and excited.
He stopped for a moment when he saw the blood-stain on my pillow, but
then burst out with: "We’ve beaten them off! we’ve beaten them off!
Thank God!  Now they’ll go!  I’m sure they’ll go!  The Maxim from the
_Bunder Abbas_ got them whilst they were crowded under the wall and
crumpled them up—crumpled them up—swept them down!"

Ellis came in too, grinning as he reported: "That little lot ’as gone
’ome—what was left of them, sir—’oping as ’ow you’re going on all right;
but we ain’t more’n ’arf a beltful of cartridges left, sir, that we
ain’t.  If it ’adn’t been for them blooming ’uts they’d never ’ave got
near ’arfway."

Mr. Fisher jerked out: "It’s no good burning the huts now.  They’ll go
back to the mountains to-night! I’m certain they will!  It’s no use
burning them now!"

He had been very enthusiastic about the slaughter and the terrible
punishment the Afghans had received, but when he came to count the dead
there were only thirty-two on the slope; and although that meant
thirty-two fewer Afghans, it was more than counter-balanced by a very
grave signal from Mr. Scarlett saying that he had fired forty-eight
rounds of six-pounder ammunition and eight hundred rounds from the
Maxim, leaving only thirty-five more six-pounder and three thousand
rifle and Maxim rounds on board. This meant, as I knew only too well,
that to repulse one more attack would leave the "_B.A._" practically
helpless to assist again.

I kept this knowledge to myself, and sent a signal to Mr. Scarlett to
come and see me and bring ashore with him another thousand rounds of
ammunition for Ellis’s Maxim.

A good deal of firing began again, as if to contradict Mr. Fisher’s
optimism, and I heard isolated shots, from a considerable distance, with
occasionally the smack of a bullet on the outer wall of the house,
though, as no one was with me, I did not know what was actually
happening.

Presently the gunner arrived, with a very long face. "I was careful as I
could be, sir, but you know what it is, and things looked so precious
ugly at one time that we had to fire fast.  It’s my belief they simply
did it a’ purpose, just to make us waste ammunition. They haven’t lost
heart over it either, for they’re skulking all over the place, down
among the trees round the Old Fort, and along the beach.  They potted at
me all the way from the ’_B.A._’, that they did. They are firing at
everyone who shows his nose outside the wall, and none of these here
people can go on with levelling the breastwork.  They’ve given that up
as a bad job and gone inside again.

"It’s a nasty bit of work this, sir, and the sooner I have you safe and
sound aboard the ’_B.A._,’, sir, the better I shall be pleased.  And the
little lady too; she ought to come and keep Mrs. Fisher company. Mrs.
Fisher, sir," he added, lowering his voice and smiling grimly, "tried to
come ashore again, but I locked her up in the cabin before I started,
and told Percy to shove her breakfast through the port-hole."

I smiled too, for I could quite imagine him doing this, and not wasting
any words over it either.

"It was the only thing I could do, for the cabin’s made of good steel
plate, and if she’d been left to wander round she might have been hit by
some of them bullets," he explained.

"I’m certain we shall find them gone to-morrow morning," Mr. Fisher
cried, coming abruptly into the room; "and if we don’t, the Muscat
people will know that the cable is interrupted and something wrong, so
will tell the _Intrepid_ as soon as she gets back from the coast.  We
shall have her here in no time."

"Do you know that we’ve only got enough ammunition for one more show
like this morning?  That’s a fact," Mr. Scarlett growled, turning
furiously on him. "This is going to be a regular siege; none of your
rushing and firing, packing up and going home again.  Them Afghans mean
to get inside here, and if we can’t stop them you can’t.  The sooner
everyone comes aboard the ’_B.A._’ safe and sound, and waits there for
the _Intrepid_—well—the sooner the better. This isn’t any darned
tomfoolery business, I tell you—twenty times I’ll tell you.  If your
chaps can’t stand a few bullets smacking among ’em down by that trench,"
he went on savagely, "they’d better get along ramming sand into more
sacks, bags, anything they can get hold of, and make this house
shipshape."

I don’t think that Mr. Fisher much cared about being spoken to like
that.

"If you can get any work out of them you’re welcome to try; I can’t," he
said sharply.  "They’ve been awake and working, off and on, for the last
thirty hours."

"Right you are, sir; you bet I will.  If I can’t do a bit of
slave-driving there is no one in the British Navy who can," and, taking
him at his word, Mr. Scarlett darted off.

He had hardly gone when Hartley ran in to say that a hundred or more
Afghans had rushed up the slope from the Old Fort, and behind the
sand-hills there.

"They’ve gone and ’idden among those blessed huts, sir."

Firing broke out again almost immediately, and bullets came thudding
against the wall outside my room.  Mr. Fisher darted away to line the
loopholed wall with his men, and Hartley, singing out: "They’re trying
to knock out the Maxim; Ellis and me must get more sand-bags round it,"
disappeared too.

I knew that if one lucky bullet pierced the water-jacket the gun would
be useless, and I lay there listening to Ellis and Hartley cursing, as
they dragged heavy weights across the roof over my head, and to the
patter-patter of bullets thudding against the outer wall and parapet.

Those chaps must not be allowed to stay down by the huts—that was
imperative.  If they got a firm footing there the others would join them
during the night, and they would be within a stone’s throw of the
loopholed wall.  Others could creep round at the foot of the rocks on
the east of the building and attack the wall on that side; we could not
stop them. Mr. Scarlett and Mr. Fisher both came to my room, and both
were of the same opinion.

"I’ll signal to the ’_B.A._’ to plug in a few shells till they see us
come out of the door, and Ellis and Hartley can work the Maxim, whilst
we rush down and drive ’em out," Mr. Scarlett said, his eyes glowing
with excitement.  What a change had come over him!

"And we’ll burn the huts whilst we’re about it," Mr. Fisher added in a
crest-fallen, disappointed, rather shamefaced manner.

The two of them went away to collect some men, and I heard either Ellis
or Hartley running down the stairs from the roof to join them.  Firing
went on vigorously from the direction of those huts.  I heard the buzz
of excited voices as people collected under the windows, somewhere near
the door in the wall, and waited to hear it opened and the sortie
commence. Presently "boom" came the report of the six-pounder from the
"_B.A._", and the Maxim overhead began rattling.  Then the bolts of the
door were thrown back, and I heard Mr. Scarlett’s voice yelling
hoarsely, "Come along," and the crush of people pressing out through the
door-way after him with rather half-hearted cheers.

Miss Borsen entered the room and stood listening. "They’ve left me all
alone," she said; "I am frightened," and the next moment, with a scared
face, was at a window looking down the slope.

"They are rushing down," she cried.  "Mr. Fisher and your gunner and the
man ahead of the others. A shell has just burst in the huts.  I can’t
see anyone firing at them.  Oh, Mr. Fisher has tumbled down! He’s up
again.  He’s catching up your gunner."  The Maxim overhead ceased
firing.  "Now they’re right among the huts.  The telegraph people are
nearly there—yes, they’ve got there too.  Some of them have cans with
them—paraffin cans.  There they go! there they go!  The Afghans are
bolting down the slope! Smoke’s coming out of the huts.  Why don’t they
come back?

"Now they’re coming.  Your gunner is helping Mr. Fisher.  He’s hurt; I
know he is.  I must go and see" and she ran away again.

The "_B.A._" fired a few rounds of precious Maxim ammunition, and by the
time all was quiet Mr. Scarlett had come to tell me, with a chuckle,
that "That little business is all done correct, sir.  Mr. Fisher got a
bullet through his left shoulder, but it ain’t done much damage."

Soon I heard the crackle of the flames and smelt the smoke from those
huts, so knew they would not bother us any more.

That bullet through his shoulder muscles (I think it broke off a bit of
bone there) seemed to alter Mr. Fisher completely.  When I saw him
next—rather pale, and with his arm in a sling—he had given up all
pretence of imagining that the Afghans would retire.  In fact it was he
now who suggested, feverishly, doing things to make the house ready to
stand an assault.  "But for goodness’ sake," he told me, "don’t let
anyone suggest abandoning the telegraph buildings or going aboard the
_Bunder Abbas_.  I won’t do so until the very last moment—I can’t—I
daren’t. If the Afghans got inside for even half an hour they’d wreck
the whole of the transmitting instruments, and it would be six months
before the cable would work again."

With Mr. Scarlett, Ellis, and Hartley to help him, the four of them
began to get things into order, divide the people into parties—those
they could trust with rifles into batches, under Eurasians, to man the
wall whilst the others rested; those for whom there were no rifles, or
who couldn’t be trusted with them, being set to work to complete the
defence and provision the house.

All the rest of that day they laboured; the house was turned upside down
and a litter of sand-bags filled up every aperture in the walls and
along the verandas and balconies.  Pillow-covers, blankets, sheets,
everything that could be made to hold sand was requisitioned—and I could
not help smiling when finally two burly nigger Zanzibaris dragged
through my room one of Mrs. Fisher’s dresses bulged out with sand and
threw it on top of a wall of other sand-bags blocking a window.  It was
a jolly good thing that she was safely out of the way, and I wished most
earnestly that Miss Borsen could be induced to go as well.

After the Afghans had been driven from the huts, and these had been
burnt to the ground, they remained quiet for the rest of the day.  Mr.
Scarlett returned to the "_B.A._", the sun set, there was a very
unpleasant half-hour before the moon rose sufficiently to give light,
and almost as soon as it did so distant firing began—a scattered
occasional shot every now and again, quite sufficient, however, to keep
everyone on the alert and nervous.  The old head boy brought me some
food and fed me.  He also brought me a lamp, for which I was very
grateful, as on account of the sand-bags in the windows the moonlight
could not enter, and it was almost completely dark.

This was, I think, the worst night since my wound; for the atmosphere of
the room was stuffy and smelly, hardly a breath of air came through the
blocked windows, rifle bullets occasionally thudded up against the
sand-bags, and with Mr. Fisher wounded I did not know who was carrying
on in command in case the Afghans attacked during the night.  Why they
didn’t Heaven knows.  If they had done so there was nothing to keep them
out; but I suppose that they would not depart from their usual habits.
At any rate they waited till dawn, when just the same awful din broke
out, and they made just such another rush up the slope.  The "_B.A._"
chipped in as she had done before, and eventually the attack recoiled;
but I had counted twenty-three rounds of six-pounder, so knew that for
all practical purposes she had none left—not half a dozen, anyway.

Mr. Scarlett almost immediately reported by signal—ammunition
remaining—four six-pounder, twelve hundred Maxim and rifle.  At the same
time Mr. Fisher, haggard and drawn, staggered in to tell me that
although the main body had been repulsed a large number had succeeded in
reaching the fifteen-foot wall on the east side and could not be
dislodged.

"They’re there now," he said hopelessly.  "We can’t touch them; they’re
firing up through the loopholes.  They tried to climb the wall, but I
got some of my men and your man Ellis to fire from the roof of an
outbuilding close there, and they’ve cleared them off. What shall we do?
Could the _Bunder Abbas_ steam round and drive them away?"  As this
seemed reasonable I wrote out a signal telling Mr. Scarlett to raise
steam at once and come round to the east bay.  But the "_B.A._" could
not move for at least two hours, and meanwhile Ellis and his few natives
remained on top of that outbuilding, lying down behind the parapet ready
to pick off any Afghan who attempted to climb the wall.  More ammunition
and some sand-bags were sent across to him to make his position more
secure. However, the Afghans were quite content to wait where they
were—under the foot of the wall—and made no offensive movement.

If they had done so the time might have gone by more quickly.  As it
was, it seemed an eternity before Hartley reported that the _Bunder
Abbas_ was under way.

Perhaps half an hour afterwards I heard her Maxim firing—at a great
distance seemingly—firing only a few of her precious rounds and then
ceasing.

It turned out that she had driven the Afghans away from the rocks near
the cable house, but owing to the contour of the ground she could not
reach the fellows under the wall itself.  She stayed there to prevent
any reinforcements joining them, and then had to come back hastily again
because more parties of enemy were taking advantage of her absence from
the west bay to creep along the beach there—the beach where we always
landed in the dinghy—to try to find a lodgment under the opposite wall
of the telegraph-station.

However, the Maxim on the roof kept those in check, and directly the
"_B.A._" appeared round the end of the peninsula they all fled back to
the New Fort.

One thing gave me much relief: we had not expended many rounds of
ammunition.

The situation was now alarming, to say the least of it.  If those
fellows stayed where they were there was nothing to prevent them
climbing the wall during the night, and Mr. Fisher explained (and I was
perfectly convinced) that if they did this most of our natives would
simply bolt.  The Eurasians might put up some sort of a fight, but there
were only eight of them now unwounded and they were almost exhausted.

We both realized that there were only two courses open: the first, to
abandon the telegraph-station and take refuge aboard the _Bunder Abbas_;
the second, practically to abandon the _Bunder Abbas_ and bring her
white crew on shore with their rifles and the few remaining rounds of
ammunition.

As Mr. Fisher absolutely refused to consent to the first, the second
plan was the only alternative.  I decided to do this.  First of all I
took the block of note-paper and wrote: "Miss Borsen must be sent to
_Bunder Abbas_"; but she, coming into the room at this moment, read what
I had written and shook her head. She said there was work for her to do
here and she wouldn’t leave it; she stamped her foot angrily when Mr.
Fisher implored her to go.

So I sent for Mr. Scarlett, and with my scribbled notes and Mr. Fisher’s
explanations we made him understand.

He was very furious, and "swung off" at Mr. Fisher for exposing everyone
to such risks, doing his utmost to point out the horrible consequences
which might happen if once the _Bunder Abbas_ was abandoned and escape
cut off, looking at me to back him up.

He felt that this second plan was more a disgrace to us than the
abandoning of the station would be to Mr. Fisher; instead, he offered to
bring ashore all the men he could spare, make a sortie, and drive the
Afghans away from that side wall just as he and Mr. Fisher had driven
them from the huts yesterday.  He would bring his men ashore during the
few minutes of dark after sunset (when they might hope to escape
observation), lead them round the west wall and the wall towards the end
of the peninsula, and then swoop along the eastern fifteen-foot wall
from the top end. The Afghans would never expect an attack from that
quarter, and whilst he was doing this he wanted Mr. Fisher (if his
damaged shoulder let him), Ellis, and Hartley, with as many men as
possible, to make a sortie through the door in the wall facing the
slope, to creep along the face of that wall to the corner, and thus
catch the enemy between two fires.

I, too, hated so much the idea of abandoning the "_B.A._" that I nodded
my head in consent, and, having made all the arrangements with Mr.
Fisher, he went back to the dinghy, though not before Mr. Fisher had
implored Miss Borsen again, unavailingly, to accompany him.  Not long
afterwards he made a signal that he had determined to bring all hands
with him, and that until they returned the "_B.A._" would be quite safe
at her anchor.

I only hoped that she would, and I lay there dejected in the extreme, to
think that now, of all times, I was helpless.  It was no use pretending
that I was not.  Even without Miss Borsen to assure me that my only
chance lay in remaining absolutely still, there was a funny feeling in
my chest that the least exertion would finish me altogether.  One or two
drops of blood had come into my mouth during the day, and I
instinctively knew that more was only waiting its chance.  It was an
extremely unhappy position to be in.

The remainder of the afternoon passed fairly quietly, and the dread of
the coming night seemed to make the hours of daylight fly very quickly.
Miss Borsen brought me some tea, and whilst she was in the room I
remembered some signal I wanted to make to Mr. Scarlett. But the pencil
had dropped off the bed and broken its point, so that it would not
write, and I motioned to her that there was a knife in my dispatch-box.
Whilst she was looking for it, jumbling among my letters and other
papers, out slipped that little velvet bow, the one which had stuck to
my button the night I had carried her over the swamp and made her so
angry.

She picked it up, grew red, and I thought she was very angry at being
reminded of the quarrel; because she shut up the box, said: "Bother the
knife; it isn’t here," and went away, sending in Hartley to help me with
the signal.

This added to my worries.

As dark came on—very completely in the room, because of the sand-bags—I
pictured the dinghy pulling to and fro to land Mr. Scarlett and the rest
of the crew, and had a horrid feeling that they ought never to have left
her.  I feared, too, that they had not done this unobserved, because a
good deal of firing broke out from the direction of the beach.  However,
there was no one to tell me what was happening, so I had to guess,
listening anxiously to the murmur of voices outside, below the balcony,
as Mr. Fisher and the others gathered near the door in the wall and
prepared for their sortie.

I could hear them filling the magazines of their rifles, occasionally
dropping a cartridge on the ground, and my ears were straining to hear
the bolts fly back and to hear them rushing out; but instead of this a
tremendous fusillade broke out down the slope, and the same yelling
which had always accompanied the previous attacks broke the silence.  So
fearfully excited was I that more blood came into my mouth, and
thoroughly frightened I lay flat, hardly able to breathe.  The noises
seemed to grow until they became one awful roar, dinning into my
ear-drums till they seemed to overpower my brain altogether, and I must
have lost consciousness.

I had a dim recollection of men running through my room, of rifles going
off, and then woke to the fact that rifles were being fired quite close
to me, outside on the balcony, their flashes lighting up the room, and
that from every quarter came the most fearful uproar.  People were
running backwards and forwards, up and down the stairs; Zanzibari
niggers came dragging sand-bags back through my room; the old butler,
without his turban, came and went without giving a glance at me; no one
seemed to take the least notice of me, and for some time I thought it
must be another of those nightmares and I should presently waken.

Then the uproar seemed to grow more distant; a red glow filled the room
with weird shadows, and what finally brought me to a realization that I
was actually awake was Miss Borsen’s hand sliding down to my wrist to
feel my pulse.

"Hush!" she whispered; "keep still; you’re all right now.  They’ve got
inside the walls and have gone off to burn down the other buildings. Mr.
Fisher is down below—most of the others too; we are safe for some time."

I remembered that Mr. Scarlett and all the rest of my men ought to be on
the outside of the wall, and wondered what had become of them.

"Mr. Scarlett?" I muttered, but she put a finger on my lips.  "Be quiet;
be still."

The niggers and servants must have torn away some of the sand-bags to
make better openings to fire through or to take them somewhere else, for
the room now was filled with a red glare.  The crackling noise of flames
seemed to grow more furious and closer; but above everything I heard
Hartley’s voice down below shouting orders.

It was a comfort even to know that he was there.

Then men began to climb the stairs outside the room, panting heavily and
running down again. Miss Borsen went out to see what they were doing.
She crept back, terrified.

"They’re carrying water up to the roof—the flames are so close.  It’s
awful—awful!" and she crouched on the floor with her hands over her
eyes.  She pulled herself together when Hartley—bleeding from a wound on
his head—rushed in to tell me that we were fairly safe for the present,
but that Ellis and a few natives on the top of that outbuilding, where
they had been all day, were cut off, and that no one knew what had
become of Mr. Scarlett and his party.  "What with the moonlight and
these ’ere flames from the mess buildings," he said, "it’s as light as
day now, and the Afghans won’t come out in the open.  They’re skulking
in the shadows under the walls, and daren’t run across the open spaces."

After this—for a time—there was but little rifle firing near us, and the
glare from the burning building died down somewhat.  Outside on the
balcony I could see the Zanzibaris there moving about in the shadow
behind the sand-bags and peering over them to look below.  Presently one
of them saw something to fire at, for he let off his rifle and called to
the others.  A regular fusillade broke out, and in the midst of it I
heard, to my intense relief, Mr. Scarlett’s stentorian voice roaring
out: "Stop that firing," and then shouting something in Hindustani.

Before I realized what was the meaning of this Miss Borsen sprang to her
feet and was out on the balcony in a moment, pulling the wretched
servants and Zanzibaris away from the sand-bags and calling out: "Stop!
stop!

"It’s Mr. Scarlett and your men climbing over the loopholed wall," she
cried.  "They are crawling over the corner just below us."

In a very few minutes Mr. Scarlett was standing in the room.

"We got caught on the ’hop’ that time, sir; they saw us coming ashore
and we had a fight for it. Managed to get up the slope near the wall,
but then had to fall back again.  Couldn’t make headway against them.
Jones was wounded again—badly this time.  Most of the chaps were knocked
about, so we dragged him back among the rocks and kept the Afghans off
till they cleared out up here to join in the loot.  We found the dinghy
on the rocks with her bottom stove in, so couldn’t send Jones on board,
and we’ve brought him along with us—dodged the Afghans and hoisted him
in over the wall.  He’s down below—pretty comfortable; but Moore’s
missing. No one’s seen him since we had the first ’scrap’, poor devil.
I hope he’s killed outright.

"Don’t you go fussing," he went on.  "There’s five of us, besides
Hartley and me, and we’ll pull you through—and the little lass too.
We’re just off to line the veranda and the sand-bags there till those
devils come at us again at daybreak.  They’ll come sure enough then.
I’m off now, sir."

He left me alone again, for Miss Borsen had slipped away directly she
had heard that there was another wounded man below, and she did not come
back.

To know that Mr. Scarlett and his men were safe and were on the veranda
below put heart into me; but the position seemed so desperate that I
wonder my brain didn’t throb itself out of my skull that night.  It
seemed to be trying to do so.  The noise of the flames had died down;
but scattered rifle shots rang out in the compound below every few
minutes hour after hour, and the room seemed to be so full of smoke that
I could hardly breathe.  The old butler, going out to the balcony with
food for the people there, gave me some water once, and I was very
grateful.

Towards dawn there was an almost complete lull, as if everyone was too
tired to go on shooting. Mr. Scarlett took this opportunity to come in
and tell me that, so far, the Afghans had not broken into the building
where the transmitting instruments were. They had to cross the concrete
tennis-court to get to it, and Ellis and his people had kept them out so
far.  "We’ve done our little bit too, sir," he added, quite pleased with
himself.

As dawn broke the Afghans first turned their attention to that
outbuilding from the roof of which Ellis had punished them so heavily
during the night.  Of course I could not see this, but heard the uproar
and the shooting, and in the middle of it Mr. Scarlett and Mr. Fisher
came in (his left arm bound to his side) looking very anxious.

"We’ll have to go along and bring Ellis out of it," the gunner said; "he
and his chaps can’t hold out much longer.  Don’t you worry, sir; we’ll
be back in a ’brace of shakes’."  Stooping, before he left me, he placed
a revolver on the chair at the head of the bed.  "If you want it, sir,"
he said, and I understood.

They both went away, and I knew that they were going to lead another
sortie across the compound and that open tennis-court.  I heard them run
down the stairs, heard the burst of cheering as they and others dropped
down from the veranda, whilst the natives still on my balcony crowded
away to the right of it and opened fire.

Almost immediately the noise of fierce hand-to-hand fighting came
through the windows, and I waited, tremblingly, to hear the cheers which
would tell me that Mr. Scarlett’s people were coming back with Ellis;
but, instead, the Afghans began yelling triumphantly, as if they were
getting the upper hand. I turned my head and saw Miss Borsen stagger
into the room, her face whiter than the dress she wore.

She stood still for a moment, listening, then saw the revolver, glided
across and steadied herself to pick it up and to open it.  She made sure
it was loaded, and then, in a broken voice, told me that Mr. Fisher, Mr.
Scarlett, and the rest had been cut off and forced back against the
telegraph building.

"The Afghans are flocking down here now, and there is no one left in the
house—only a few of the telegraph people down below, and they can’t do
it," she moaned.  Then she stood at the side of my bed and handed me the
revolver, saying, in a very low voice: "If the Afghans break in I want
you to kill me."

She looked me through and through as I took it, as though she was not
certain that she could rely on me; but then she seemed satisfied, for
she knelt down close to the bed, with her head just above the edge of
it, staring fixedly out to where the daylight grew and to where a
surging wave of roaring, savage yells seemed to be beating round and
against the whole house.

The Zanzibaris began coming back into the room from the balcony, grey
with fright, running, throwing away their rifles and looking for
somewhere to hide, taking not the slightest notice of us.

It was "all up" with us now, I felt sure, and I had to speak to her
before the end did come.

"Will you forgive me?" I asked.  "You know what for!  I’m sorry."

She put out a hand and touched mine, the one which held the revolver,
and said: "I have—for a long time."  Then she turned her head away.

There we stayed—for how long I do not know—and although every moment I
expected to hear the Afghans breaking into the rooms below us and
charging up the stairs, and knew what I should have to do then, I felt
quite happy.

Suddenly, among all the furious tumult and clamour below and all round
us, I heard, we both heard, another sound—the sound of cheering—cheering
loud and lusty.  All the noises seemed to die away before it; it grew;
nearer and nearer it came; it swelled through the windows, across those
sand-bags, in a continued shout of victory; rifle firing died down as
though by magic, then burst out again; those shouts of despair which we
knew so well by this time filled the whole of the compound, and Miss
Borsen, springing to the balcony, tore away a sand-bag, looked down, and
rushed back to me.

"The _Intrepid_!" she cried, fell on her knees, and sobbed as if her
heart would break.



                             *CHAPTER XIX*

                      *The Grey-eyed Lady Decides*


Dear old Popple Opstein was the first to find us, rushing up the stairs
two steps at a time, calling out my name, and bursting into the room,
his yellow hair standing up from his forehead like a parrot’s, and his
eyes staring out of his violet face.

Miss Borsen flung herself at him, clinging to his great sunburnt hands,
laughing and crying hysterically. She would not let him do more than
grip my hand, taking him away very quickly for fear the excitement
should start the bleeding again, although I imagined that if the agony
of that last half-hour had not done so nothing else would.

Presently she brought Nicholson, who came lumbering into the room, fat
and jolly as ever, felt my pulse, heard what she had to say about me,
and told me the same old thing: "Just you lie still, absolutely still,
and don’t speak".  He promised to come and overhaul me properly later
on.

"I’ve a terrible lot of jobs on hand now," he said.

He must have given orders for no one to visit me, because I was left
entirely alone, impatient to hear of all that had happened, and
listening to the heavy booming of guns—the _Intrepid’s_ guns, out at
sea—shelling the retreating Afghans.  At least I imagined that was what
they were doing.

In about an hour’s time the old head boy brought another trestle-bed
into my room, and, whilst I was wondering who was going to use it, Mr.
Scarlett was carried in, quite unconscious, his head swathed in
bandages.

Nicholson followed, and told me that he had had "the devil’s own whack"
with the butt end of a rifle, and there was no knowing what would
happen.

The reaction after the strain of the last four days was now very great,
and there was no disguising the fact that I was as weak as a cat.  I had
had no real sleep for at least four nights, and listening to the long,
slow, snoring noise coming from Mr. Scarlett’s bed made me drop off to
sleep too.  When I woke it was night, but by the light of the lamp I saw
Percy—a melancholy-looking figure in white—squatting on the floor at the
side of the gunner’s bed, with his eyes fixed on his hero’s bandaged
head.  He turned and smiled at me when I moved, but only for a moment,
turning again like some big faithful dog to watch the gunner.

For two whole days the only other people I saw were Nicholson, who
doctored me, and the head boy—his yellow turban once more as smart as a
new pin—who brought me food and fed me.

At the end of those two days Mr. Scarlett began to show signs of
returning consciousness, and Percy, who had not left him day or night,
wept tears of joy when his eyes opened and he asked where he was.

Popple Opstein was now allowed to come and talk to me.

From him I heard how the _Intrepid_ had been called away from Muscat, on
what turned out to be a wild-goose chase, after some dhow reported to be
loading rifles down the coast; how she had heard on her return that Jask
telegraph-station had been attacked in force and the telegraph cut; and
how she had come across at full speed.

"I’m almost certain Jassim was the chap who brought the news which took
us down the coast. We heard he’d shot you dangerously, and I put two and
two together.  My dear old chap, I was in the dickens of a funk.  The
skipper had the men all ready waiting to land; they were over the side
and in the boats almost before the anchor dropped, and we were only just
in time.  Your fellows were all pushed up against the side of the
building, with a crowd of chaps howling round them, and were getting the
worst of it, half of them laid out already. Another half-hour and it
would have been ’finish’."

He gave me a list of the casualties, and they were very severe.  Jones
had died of his wounds, and Moore’s body had been found on the rocks
close to the smashed dinghy, with three dead Afghans near him; so the
poor, irritating chap had made a great fight for his life.  There was
not a single one of the "_B.A._"’s who had not a wound of "sorts".

Mrs. Fisher had come ashore from the "_B.A._", but her nerves were so
completely shaken that she intended to go down to Karachi very shortly.
Miss Borsen was to accompany her.  Both of them visited me occasionally,
but always together, and I was longing for the day to come when
Nicholson would give me permission to talk, because I had much to tell
the little, sad, grey-eyed lady, and much, very much, to ask her.  At
last came the great day when I was allowed to sit out on the veranda and
talk—just a little—as long as I did not raise my voice.  By this time
Mr. Scarlett was very nearly his old self, or, rather, his new self,
once more; and Percy was so happy that we had to make the head boy kick
him—half a dozen times a day—to stop him singing to himself.  We now had
crowds of visitors, from Commander Duckworth, Mr. Fisher (his shoulder
nearly well), and Popple Opstein, down to Jaffa, clean and white and as
impenetrable as ever.  The one I wanted most was Miss Borsen, but she
seldom came, and then only with Mrs. Fisher.  As I recovered, so she
seemed to shrink from coming near me, and I counted the days before she
was to sail for Karachi in fear lest I should never have a chance of
speaking to her alone.

One evening, as Mr. Scarlett and I were sitting on the veranda, watching
the last glow of the sunset on the Baluchistan mountains, Popple Opstein
came bounding up the stairs and out to us.

"We’ve just got the news!" he cried excitedly. "There’s going to be a
great ’show’ here.  The Indian Government is sending a whole brigade
from Karachi, the Persian Government has ordered round the old
_Persepolis_ with a lot of troops, the flagship’s on her way from
Bombay, and we’re going to land a naval brigade—with guns.  There’s to
be a regular expedition into the mountains to punish those Afghans, and
who d’you think is going in charge of the guns? Why, you, old chap, you!
The skipper has just sent me along to tell you the great news.  The
Indian Government has asked for you.  Just fancy that!  It’s a reward
for collaring that caravan.  ’Nick’ says you’ll be as fit as ever by the
time everything’s ready to start.  I am so glad, old chap, and you bet
I’ll find some excuse for coming along as well, even if it’s only to
carry old Nick’s ’first-aid’ bag."

"What a ripping show!" I said, tremendously pleased, and Mr. Scarlett
came over to congratulate me, as pleased as I was.

My chum fidgeted about, and although it was now too dark for me to see
his face I knew that he had something else to tell me.

"Out with it!  What is it?" I asked.

Smacking his knees, he burst out with: "I’ve done it!  Old Martin, I’ve
done it!"

"Done what?"

"Don’t you know?  Can’t you guess?  Little ’Grey-eyes’ and I are
engaged—engaged!  What d’you think of that, old tongue-tied?  I’ve felt
it would come ever since we met her in the steamer coming out, and the
last few days have done the trick.  Isn’t it glorious?  She goes home
to-morrow, worse luck! but I couldn’t let her go without telling her,
and we’re to be spliced as soon as ever I get back to England.  You’ll
have to do ’best man’. You will, won’t you?"

It was dark.  I stuttered out how pleased I was, and he, too excited to
suspect anything, dashed downstairs again, singing lustily.

"D’you think you could manage to take me along with you, sir, when you
land in charge of those guns?" Mr. Scarlett asked me diffidently.

"I will," I told him.  "We’ll land together, and have another smack at
those Afghans—the treacherous brutes.  We’ll go back to the old ’_B.A._’
to-morrow morning, doctor or no doctor.  We can’t stay loafing round
here any longer.  I’m sick of being a cripple."

The night air seemed to have turned cold, so we went back into our
whitewashed room with its bullet marks on the wall behind my bed, and as
Mr. Scarlett lighted the lamp we heard Popple Opstein whistling "Two
Eyes of Grey" somewhere down the slope towards the beach.

"That used to be your tune," Mr. Scarlett said as he closed the
shutters; "d’you remember, sir—a while back?  It used to get on my
nerves at times; that it did!"





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to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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