THE PARIAH DOG
The color of the East, the mystery of the desert, a desperate battle among sand dunes, love, hate, and intrigue under the torrid heat of a Sudanese sky — all these are woven into this tale of heroic adventure.
NORMAN REILLY RAINE
A SERIAL IN TWO PARTS: PART ONE
THE glaring day melted into dusk, star-sprinkled and comparatively cool, and shadows deepened to purple in the twisting streets and sandy square of Tel-el-Rahib, a tiny, military outpost in the midst of the Nubian Desert. Oil dips flickered in amber and rose from behind the grilles and gaily painted shutters of narrow windows; prayer flags stirred gently about the silent mosque, and the high-pitched call to evening prayer had long since quavered to stillness. Tall, loose-robed tribesmen,
Arabs, Bedouins, and those whose wild, untamed eyes and unkempt hair proclaimed their Dervish blood, stood in liquid converse beneath the encircling walls, or crowded into recessed doorways to allow passage for heavily laden camel caravans as they started out on their long, night journey over the desert.
In the market place surrounding the wells, smoking torches blinked, then burst into flame, casting dancing light over the gaily canopied stalls beneath which squatted swarthy vendors of melons, dates, tobacco, and the keen, delicately-chased weapons of the Sudan. The murmur of voices mingled on the night air with the tinkle of nose-rings, bangles and silver anklets, as the Moslem women, no longer fearful of heretic eyes, let drop their spangled veils and bandied laughing repartee with their neighbors, in the subdued cadence of the East. On the flat roof of the officers’ mess two white men
lay stretched in long, rattan chairs. The senior, Captain Claude Elliott, D.S.O , M.C., a lean, powerful Canadian, with the smoke of a Turkish cigarette curling from thin, firm lips, and a skin the color and texture of sunexposed leather, was com mander of the Sudanese garrison. His companion and second-in-command was Captain George Farrell, a clean-shaven, weather-tanned Irishman, whose Celtic blood lent a humorous twist to his rugged chin and the devils of mischief to his friendly blue eyes. Upon his tunic, also, was the violet-and-
white ribbon of the Military Cross. A native servant brought drinks, and, placing them on a table between the two, noiselessly withdrew. As Elliott sat upright, one hand reaching for his glass, a thought arrested him and he remained for a minute, motionless, his keen, tired eyes fixed upon the luminous patch of light where sky and desert met, which marked where the sun had gone. Farrell, watching unobtrusively, noted the lines of worry which grooved him from his eyes to the corners of his clipped black moustache, and the droop of the wide, square shoulders.
“Here, old man!” he protested, cheerfully, “come out of it, and don’t be neglectin’ good liquor!”
Elliott flicked his cigarette in a glowing arc over the low stone coping and took up his glass with a smile.
“Here’s how!” he said, then, as he replaced his drink upon the table, “I’m damned glad you’ve come, George, you graceless, old rascal, even though I don’t seem to bubble over with mirth. I couldn’t have stuck it alone much longer, and fate has been good for once, and sent you to me, instead of a stranger . but, of course, the Colonel didn’t know we were old pals, or he’d never have let you come, eh?”
Farrell studied the end of his cigarette and hesitated a moment before replying.
“Suppose you tell me what’s been going on?” he suggested slowly. “I don’t want to force confidences, mind you, but I couldn’t help noticing, since coming here from regimental headquarters at Denbara two days ago, that something was out of gear in your relations with Colonel Wheatley. You may trust me, of course—and perhaps, between us, we can straighten things out.”
“Yes—I can trust you, thank heavens, so I’ll spill you the whole yarn and get your idea on what’s brewing. You know some of my past—antecedents, and so on—but I’ll start at the beginning. It’ll serve to get things straight in my own mind.
“I come from a little Alberta town, not far from the Montana border, and was riding range up to, and between my Varsity years. When war broke out in 1914 I left Valcartier Camp with the Canadians and went through the first few shows—St. Julian, Plugstreet, Ypres, and so on. The Imperial Government needed officers for service in the East. I volunteered and was commissioned in your old outfit, the Leinster Regiment, where we first met, and from there to the flying column. Wheatley, if you remember, was in a unit in the same brigade. One morning, during the advance to the relief of Kut-elAmara, we bumped into the Turks and the brigade came into action. We were supporting Wheatley’s mob, and when we pushed forward I came across him taking cover, alone, in a nullah. I thought he was scuppered at first, but he wasn’t—he was welshing. He has never forgotten that \ caught him at it—nor forgiven it.”
“That’ll be about the same time you were hit, eh?”
•‘Yes—the same day. I recovered and rejoined in time to have a fist in the Gaza show, where I copped it again, and put in the balance of the war along the Suez. After the Armistice a lot of fellows were scrapped, but I liked soldiering, and got a chance to join the forces garrisoning the Sudan, and twelve months ago was transferred to the Kordofan Camel Corps. I didn’t know, at the time, that Wheatley was in command. While in Cairo, awaiting
transportation to Khartoum, the riots broke out. With my customary luck I was laid out in front of Shepheard’s Hotel with a bullet through the neck.” He fingered a tiny blue scar, reminiscently. “While lying there, under a howling, fighting mob, a girl dashed out of the hotel, and, with the help of a dragoman got me inside and patched me up. The girl was Freda Wheatley, the Colonel’s niece and ward.”
“I—er, I know her. One of the best!” Farrell said, quietly.
“Ah!” Elliott glanced keenly at him. “She is, as you say, one of the best . the very best! We later became engaged—dependent, that is, on the Colonel’s permisson. He was in Khartoum on a visit to General Headquarters when I reported to him for service with the corps. I told him about Freda. He kicked up merry hell—for no reason that I could see, for I am not altogether dependent on my pay. I was at a rotten disadvantage in dealing with him— junior rank, and all that—but I didn’t let him ride me altogether. In fact—” the soldier smiled grimly—“I told him we’d be married, consent or not, and be damned to him!”
“Eh . . . oh, he toned down. Thinking of that morning before Kut, I suppose. Of course, I expected he’d have me posted to another regiment, but no such luck! Instead, I was sent along to this God-forsaken little hole. It has never been a health resort, but in the ten months I have been here, things have been getting steadily worse.”
Elliott arose and, going to the door of the roof marquee in which they had their meals, made sure that none of the house servants was within hearing. Then he returned and resumed in a lower tone, his eyes hard as steel.
“Under the leadership of a Bedouin sheik, the Emir Abdul Husuf, who came into this territory some time ago from the N. Bardei country up in the French
Sahara, there have been unending raids on our friendly tribes, with camel stealing, abduction of women and murder. Abdul Husuf’s got a lot of Dervish renegades with him, as well as some Hadendoas and Baggara Arabs, and they’re bad medicine, all round. They smashed up a camel caravan from Shekka and butchered the escort. I sent out a patrol under little Bobby Moffatt, whose place you have come to fill. We found Moffatt, poor devil, a week later, and buried what was left of him. I headed the search party on the lookout for survivors. There weren’t any. We were potted at all the way out and back, but Abdul Husuf wouldn’t close in because we were too many for him. We managed to knock off three of the swine, though, and that helped some.
“I made my report to regimental headquarters at Denbara. Instead of being backed up and given orders to go out and clean up on the Emir I was severely reprimanded for having sent Moffatt out, and Wheatley as good as said that I, personally, was responsible for Moffatt’s death. In addition, I was directed to let Abdul Husuf alone. It seems General Headquarters has information that the Bedouin is planning to set himself up as a second Mahdi. They want to give him time to get his rebellion well planned, then jump in and smash him for keeps, which, all things being equal, would be the proper procedure.
I happen to know, though, that this talk of engineering an uprising of the desert tribes is absolute nonsense.
First, his activities are too centralized, and second he has angered the very tribes he would propitiate if he wanted to stir ’em up against
“It looks, then, as if Colonel Wheatley is protecting this Abdul Husuf from motives of his own?”
“So it seems—but why?—to pay himself out on me?”
“Possibly . . but it hardly
appears likely that a man in his position would risk setting the whole of the Southern Sudan aflame simply to gratify a personal spite, does it?”
“Quite so—but whatever his reason, he’s doing me harm enough; not only to my career as a soldier, but with Freda, too.”
“What do you mean?”
“Ever since I received the order to let him alone, Abdul Husuf’s tribesmen have redoubled their dirty work. They even come up to our walls, at night, and squib off at my sentries. The local tribes, having so often complained to me without result, have lost faith in the garrison and are amalgamating. First thing you know there’ll be a bloody little civil war on that’ll take months to suppress. I am discredited at General Headquarters, I am sure, for not keeping better order—Wrheatley would see to that, for his influence is strong—and something of the feeling has been communicated to Freda. It seems she and young Moffatt were kids together, and some ugly, garbled version of that affair has got to her ears!”
The unhappy soldier arose and paced nervously across the roof.
“Mind you, George,” he continued abruptly, “I don’t think she has lost faith in me! Not that! She’s been true blue—but when she’s being constantly fed poison of that sort and I can’t set myself right without discussing official matters, or making out her guardian a scamp, it puts me in a queer position, doesn’t it?”
“What’re you going to do about it, then?” Farrell asked.
“I’ve already done the only decent thing and offered to chuck the engagement—at least until my name is clear again.”
“And . . .?”
“She’ll stick to me, she says.” ..
“Good old girl!” the other murmured. “Any plans for climbing out of the mess generally?”
“How the devil canl?” Elliott demanded" “I won’t ask for a transfer until I’ve had a showdown, either with Abdul Husuf or the Colonel, and if I stay with the game I’ll be framed, sure as hell! Result—kicked out of the army in disgrace, with not a dog’s chance to clear myself.” He subsided into his chair and lit a fresh cigarette, his strong brown fingers shaking with repressed anger.
“Hasn’t it occurred to you, old lad,” said Farrell, thoughtfully, “that the mere fact that you once caught him lying doggo, and that you want to marry his niece, would not be a cause, in themselves, for such prolonged and ugly vindictiveness?—that you might be only a pawn in a larger, more sinister game? Mind, I know nothing more about it than you do, but intuition—what you Canadians and Americans call a hunch—will often clear a fence that logic funks. It’s worth digging into, at any rate, and whatever Wheatley’s game is, two of us will be better able to scotch it, than you alone, perhaps.”
“There’s another point,” Elliott spoke abruptly. “Why did he let you come to Tel-el-Rahib, knowing that you were a pal of mine?”
“I didn’t exactly tell him we were pals,” Farrell replied
with a grin. “Let’s put it down as one of his peculiarities that, after a half hour’s conversation, with you as flie subject, he even encouraged my coming.”
“How did you know I was down here?”
“Oh, I’d been fiddling about on headquarters staff in Cairo since thè war and got fed up with it One evening, at a consulate dance, I was presented to Freda Wheatley, and in the course of conversation I mentioned the old regiment and your name came up. She saw' we had been rather thick, and me bein’ a likely sort of a lad for beautiful young ladies to confide in, mentioned that you w'ere in a bit of a bog.” Farrell laughed and stretched his arms. “So here I am, and it’s glad I am to be here, for all it’s a nasty little hole.”
“Do you mean that Freda asked you to come?” Farrell regarded him quizzically for a moment.
"You’re a dumb dog at times, Elliott,” he said at length. “Would you wait to be asked if you heard I was in a fix and playing a lone game against odds? I was transferred without much trouble, and when I got to Denbara I blarneyed the dear Colonel—more shame to me—and by the time I got through he was quite anxious that you should have the benefit of me valuable services.”
“Perhaps he has things stacked up against me so well that even a friend would have to admit my shortcomings. That would strengthen his hand in an investigation, remember.”
Farrell leaned across the table and caught his friend by the sleeve.
“Here’s another thing. He hinted that you were not doin’ too well at your job, but in such a sympathetic kind of way that I rather took a shine to the old bird until— well, until he intimated that I might send him a note, now and then, describing how you were getting on; all with a view to your welfare, of course—the blackguard!”
“To set watch on me, eh?”
“Practically that. I played his way, and let him understand, without actually promising, that I would, devil take him! Now aren’t I a kind, true friend to you?” He smiled broadly.
Elliott laughed. “You’re a double-crossing Irish scamp, my son, and I don’t know whether to punch your head or give you my job.”
“You can fill up me glass again, and that’ll be better than either.”
A gong boomed softly within the marquee, announcing dinner. As the friends rose they were joined by the two native subalterns of the garrison: Badul Halim, a well-setup youngster, with white, even teeth and perpetual merriment on his facile tongue, whom Farrell had met on his arrival at Tel-el-Rahib, and Abd-el-Rahman Osman, an older man, tall, dark of face, with the somber eyes of a desert dreamer and an infrequent smile; a soldierly figure, Farrell thought, with the row of service ribbons on his white mess tunic, and the grave friendliness of his manner. Rahman Osman had been absent with an escort, guarding the supply caravan from Denbara, and had returned but a half hour before.
Both Egyptians were educated cosmopolitans, and talked with the ease of men sure of themselves and with pride in their profession. Rahman Osman was a graduate of Alexandria, and his studious leanings were reflected in his conversation. Badul Halim was a product of Jesus
College, whose studies had been interrupted by the war. but he retained the undergraduate’s love of fun, and was an inexhaustible and amusing fount of the latest Cairene gossip and of what was on at the London halls.
Reinforced by Farrell’s good nature and bubbling Irish wit, which brought him into frequent tilts with the irrepressible Badul Halim, the meal was the most pleasant the mess had experienced in many weeks. Elliott’s cares had been reflected in his subordinates, and a feeling of repression ensued. This night, though, with the advent of the genial Irishman, the light spirits and good-fellowship of the old days, absent since the tragic death of Moffatt and his patrol, returned once more to the lonely, little desert post.
After dinner they sat together on the roof, smoking and chatting in the warm silence of the night, while, below the wall, a wandering beggar minstrel sang in a single haunting octave of the long-dead glories of the ancient Dervish Empire. Presently, Badul Halim, who was officer of the guard, left to make the round of his sentries. Shortly afterward Rahman Osman also arose and the.two friends again were alone. The moon came up and painted the night with splendor. Before them the desert stretched, still, mysterious, alluring in silvered infinity, containing only a few widely scattered oases, the microscopic dots of crawling caravans far over the rim, an occasional solitary camp of a nomad tribe, and weather-bleached camel ribs sticking through the sand.
A tiny clock in the mess chimed twelve—then one, and the ragged minstrel crawled to rest beneath the stalls of the deserted market place. Still the friends sat without movement, cigarette smoke weaving through their fingers, each filled with that inarticulate peace which fills men’s hearts when met, after absence, with comrades proved in the fires of war.
With the coming of Farrell, courageous, dependable, matter-of-fact, Elliott was uplifted. He had been too long in the desert; something of its fatalism, its mysticism, had crept into his blood. The worry of the past months was beginning to take toll. His two native officers he liked and trusted—so far as a white man can bring himself to trust those of alien stockbut always there was a mental reservation. They were not of his race; they were of the blood of the East, touched with the intricate psychology and involved motives of all Children of the Sun. Between white man and native, separating the Orient from the nations to the West, is a veil of ethical
incompatability which no Occidental ever fully can pierce Elliott had found it impossible to confide either in Badul Halim or Abd-el-Rahman Osman, despite his sincere regard for them, but with Farrell by his side returning confidence swept him in a flood of emotion, none the less tumultuous for being rigidly repressed. He turned to find the Irishman’s twinkling eyes upon him, and smiled.
“A penny . . ?” said Farrell.
“Eh? . . . oh, I was just thinking—what do you say to a whisky-soda before we turn in?” Elliott replied.
WRA.PPED in the stillness of the desert, Tel-elRahib slept undisturbed, except for the periodic challenge and relief of the Sudanese sentries posted about the encircling wall. The stars increased in brilliance, and the guard, secure in the passing of night, relaxed something of its vigilance. Presently a lean cockerel in the deep blue shadow of the mosque saluted the coming dawn Simultaneously, from far out on the desert, rose the longdrawn quavering howl of a pariah dog.
A dark-skinned corporal of the guard came to the main gate and stood for awhile, chatting idly with the sentry in low tones. Both failed to see a spot of deeper blackness that drifted swiftly over the desert face and was swallowed in the rise of a sand dune. Another followed, and another, until over a score had passed.
A needle of flame stabbed through the dark and the corporal sank against the wall, agonized hands clutching at his throat. Immediately, heavy firing opened up from hidden points all about the village. The sentry, in quick panic, darted toward the shelter of the gate and only to go down with a bullet in the back. Shadowy, camelmounted figures arose like colossi before the confused sentries, steel-pointed Bedouin lances drove home, and the marauders, their djebbas fluttering as the plumage of carrion birds, melted into the gloom to make swift onslaught at another point.
Lights blinked in the village and along the walls, and the frightened natives scurried about in confusion under the date palms of the square. The garrison turned out and mustered at the camel lines, where Badul Halim rapidly told off detachments to defensive points. All around the village, rifle flashes marked the positions of the raiders in the outer darkness.
Elliott and Farrell, in pajamas, raced down the narrow stairs of the mess, automatic pistols in their hands, and collided with Abd-el-Rahman Osman as he ran from his room, booted and dressed.
“It’s that damned Bedouin again!” Flliott snapped. “Rahman Osman, take thirty men, divide into two parties and make the round of the walls! George, you look after the Lewis guns at the bomb stores!”
They scatterd to their posts, Elliott shouting a warning not to pursue the tribesmen into the desert until their strength was known. The firing, heavily returned by the garrison by now, swelled into greater violence, then suddenly died away. The camel patrol under Rahman Osman poured through the main gate and, separating, padded swiftly about the walls, and, after re-uniting, circled again, more widely this time, but equally without result. The raiders had gone. As the Sudanese returned to the post there came, once again from far out on the desert, the mournful howl of the pariah dog.
A half hour later the four officers were gathered in the orderly room, with the pink of coming dawn staining the narrow window.
“This crowns it!” Elliott was saying savagely. “If I don’t get permission to go after him now, I’ll throw in my commission! Six killed and eight other casualties!” Anger overcame him.
“We found the bodies of three of the raiders,” Badul Halim remarked, “and they must have carried others off with them. They’re keen on retrieving their dead, you know.”
Elliott walked to the wall whereon hung a large ordnance map of the district, and studied it intently for a few minutes. Then he turned to his officers.
“There’s nothing else you can do now, you fellows,” he said, “so you might as well turn in. Better drop in here at ten o’clock this morning and we’ll map out a plan for roping in the beggars.”
Later in the morning the four met again and discussed a plan of attack, but, on the advice of his colleagues, Elliott determined to await a reply to his dispatch to regimental headquarters at Denbara before taking definite action. At four o’clock the answer came, in the form of a
heavy envelope and a personal note from Colonel Wheatley. Elliott opened the latter with a keen-bladed Baggara knife and read:
R.H.Q., Denbara, 12th July. “My Dear Elliott:
“I am sorry to hear of that unfortunate affair of this morning. Although, in the past, we have not always agreed upon the policy it was necessary for you to follow regarding the Emir, Abdul Husuf, I have sympathized with you as a man of action forced to remain passive under provocation. It was necessary, however, as forming part of the larger scheme of General Headquarters. This latest outrage has given us an excuse for drastic action. I have been in telegraphic communication with Khartoum and am happy to inform you that steps may now be taken. In separate enclosure you will find necessary authority to proceed against Abdul Husuf, and, needless to say, I wish you all good luck.
“In order that the plan of attack which you formulate may be in accordance with the General Scheme of Defence of the Sudan as prepared by General Headquarters I am enclosing also a copy of this Scheme. You will conduct your operations along the general lines laid down in that document. Let me impress upon you the paramount importance of secrecy and protection of this Scheme, which is, perhaps, the most vital paper in this country. Incalculable harm might ensue, should it fall into alien hands. Regard it, therefore, as strictly confidential, and exercise the greatest caution in its use and safekeeping.
“I hope the outcome of the action will give you the satisfaction you deserve. Let me have your report as soon as possible, and be assured the full support of the Regimentis yours if required. I believe, however, that the force at your command is sufficient to do the job. Again, good luck.
“Wheatley, D.S.O., “Lieut.-Colonel."
For a long time after reading, Elliott sat at his desk, deep in thought. Now that the way at last was clear for action against the Bedouin Emir he did not experience the jubiliation which the situation justified. The too cordial tone of the message and the sudden reversal of policy after long months of deliberate hostility filled him with distrust. He sought out Farrell, and over a cup of coffee in the latter’s room, read him the letter, omitting, however, all mention of the General Scheme. Farrell frankly was dubious.
“I don’t know what the devil to think,” he admitted. “This blow-hot, blow-cold business is beyond me. Anyway, you’ve got sanction to nail this Emir bloke, and that’s the main thing. Does our plan of attack of this morning still stand?”
“Yes—with certain modifications. I’m off to my room now to complete it. Tell the others to stick close to barracks.”
He entered his room and locked the door. After dinner that night the four soldiers, sat on the mess roof, grouped, notebooks in hand, about a map-spread table. Lightly, Elliott touched various points on the map as he filled out his plan of action.
“There’s to be no guesswork about this,” he said. “If we don’t pull it off first crack, the beggar’ll be away like smoke, down into the Dar Nuba country or some such place, and we never will land him. Now look—” and he indicated on the map with his finger, “sixteen miles north-west of here is a rocky hill called Jebel Salmi. It is about eighty feet high, and covered with jagged black rock, boulders and thorn bush. Almost at a right angle to its eastern flank is a narrow khor or dry riverbed about twelve feet deep, and extending this way for nearly two miles before it comes level with the ground. A man on a camel can get into the khor but he can’t climb out, except on foot, and even then only with difficulty. Got that? Right! Just here, then, well within the angle of hill and khor are El Gabu wells. That is where Abdul Husuf is camped with a large force of Bedouins, Dervishes, Hadendoas and Baggara Arabs, all of them experienced desert fighters, and well armed. That’s what your scouts reported, isn’t it, Badul Halim?”
“So much for the enemy, then. Now for our own force. You, Rahman Osman, as senior subaltern, will remain here in Tel el-Rahib to guard the post. Sorry to leave you out of the show, but it’s got to be. The attacking party will be commanded by myself, and we start at midnight, tomorrow. Before reaching the wells, you, Badul Halim, will take thirty-five men and strike ofi toward the khor. Ride along the bank until within a mile of the wells, dismount, and take cover as a reserve force.”
“Don’t I come into action, then?”
“Only on a signal from me, or if some unforeseen happening justifies it. Your job is to block the Bedouins if they make a break along the khor. The main body will continue on and take cover here, about a mile and a half from the camp. From that point a second party with two Lewis guns under Farrell will proceed north-west to within a mile from the western flank of Jebel Salmi, swing halfright and occupy that position from the rear, placing the guns to command the enemy camp. You should be in position by four-thirty, George.”
Elliott stopped for a moment and straightened, the lamp light gleaming on his shining tunic buttons and the vivid color streak of his service ribbons, then, sensing the keenness in the faces around him, he bent once more over the map.
“The utmost secrecy and silence will be observed. No talking; no smoking. We should all come into final attacking position at half-past four. Captain Farrell must be in position before we attack so he can cut off their retreat. At daybreak— that is, at five-fifteen sharp—Farrell will open fire with a Lewis gun on the Emir’s camp. That will be our signal to advance. You, Badul Halim, move up along the khcr to within effective distance if needed. When the movement of my force begins to mask the fire of the Lewis guns Farrell will move his men down the slope of Jebel Salmi, leaving one gun on top to command the field in case of need, and in that way, closing in together, we’ll catch them between hill and khor and—
“Crush ’em like a walnut!” broke in Farrell. Elliott smiled. “I hope so,” he said. ‘Oh-—and one thing more! Take Abdul Husuf alive, if possible; I dearly want an interview with that venturesome gentleman. That clear, everybody? All right.” “And another little drink wouldn’t do us any harm!” chanted Badul Halim, softly, amid laughter.
After the conference Captain Elliott went alone to the order room. Before entering he glanced carefully about him. Across the square, lights flared in the khawa-khana—the coffee shop—of AliAhmed-ben-Yusuf, wrinkled old warrior of the Black Jehadia, who, forty years before, had fought under Mohammed Ahmed against the English General, Hicks, and later followed the famous black flag of the Khalifa on the bloody field of Omdurman. His shop was a rendezvous of bearded philosophers and gaily-burnoosed younger blades, whose dark eyes, irrespective of years, flamed at the old man’s tales of war. The place was crowded with loose-robed, squatting figures, grouped about their bubbling narghileh, or drinking muddy Arab coffee. All well there! Beyond the square, lights glimmered behind narrow windows, and an occasional brass-studded door swung open to admit the light blur of a gliding figure. Thin-stringed music rode on the breeze that rippled over the flat housetops and the seller of chromatic sharab sighed the merits of his sticky confection to the cool night air. Tel-el-Rahib, living its normal evening life.
Satisfied that he was not being observed Elliott swung about and entered the orderly room. Then he opened the safe, a modern affair, too heavy to carry away and too complex for even nimble Arab fingers, and placed In it the precious copy of the General Scheme of Defence of the Sudan. No one had seen it; no one —not even Farrell—knew that he had had it: so he felt that it would be secure until his return from the expedition against the Bedouin chieftain. He spun the knob a few times, lighted a cigarette, and left the building. It was ten o’clock.
THREE hours later, the uneasy, muffled beat of a tiny drum, intense, implacable in its monotony as the pulse of fate, throbbed like a beating heart into ths desert night. Overhead was the goldglittering powder of stars; all about, the shrouded waste of the Nubian Desert with the breath of changeless centuries upon the drifted sand.
Crowning a low dune, in picturesque bulk against the sky, was a Bedouin tribesman, clad in a voluminous, striped burnoose, and astride a rangy, straddlelegged camel. Star light tipped the penanted head of a slender spear, and a modern magazine rifle rested across his knees as he sat, motionless, in an attitude of listening. Thus he remained, until the distant, quavering howl of a pariah dog caused him imperceptibly to stiffen. Then digging his skin-clad heels into his beast’s neck he wheeled, and with draperies fluttering, rocked swiftly over the sand drifts toward the sound of the beating drum.
After a time, a speck of flame—a campfire of dried camel dung under a group of date palms—came into view and he rode it down, skirting two circular depressions in the hard sand which marked the position of El Gabu wells. Sitting cross-legged about the fire, a dozen hooded and bearded figures exchanged soft talk and shared a scented water-pipe, which passed from hand to hand in the unhurried, imperturbable way of the East. The fire brought into high relief each black, impassive face in its frame of vividcolored djebba, and shone upon the broad silken waistbands, baggy trousers and cross-laced, antelope-skin boots of the desert nomads. Every man was armed.
The rider forced his camel to its knees, slid off and approached the leader, the Emir, Abdul Husuf, once a power under Osman Digna, but forced, since the downfall of the Dervish Empire, into command of his force of hybrid desert outlaws, owning no master, and selling his services to whichever of the hated white lords of North Africa promised most of fighting and of gain. The Bedouin leader was of majestic stature and dignity of form, with a sweeping black beard, and brilliant, deep-set eyes. He was not a young man, but the years had not detracted from the ruthless force in his commanding face. He wore a spotless white burnoose with a dulband of bright emerald, and carried a jewel-encrusted Taureg wrist-knife, as well as the heavy, broad-ended sword of the Sudan. On the approach of the rider he questioned shortly. The messenger made obeisance.
“May Allah protect thee, Scourge of the Unbeliever—the pariah hath scented carrion.”
“It is well. Back then, faithful one, to thy post. Mohammed Wahud! . . . Zahid Hossein! Insh' allah! Take thou each a follower, meet the stranger and fetch him hither!”
Two of the group at the fire sprang to their feet and meited from the circle of light, calling for their retainers. A minute later four camel-mounted figures were painted in barbaric silhouette upon the stars as they fled like wraiths into the deeper blackness of the desert. Abdul Husuf resumed his seat and again the narghile, with its perfumed smoke, went round. The tiny drum was stilled.
Ten minutes later the silent riders returned, in their midst the stranger, a tall, soldierly figure, wrapped to the eyes in a dark blue djebba of fine material rimmed with silver, over which was slung a heavy pistol holster, ready to his hand. His animal, a splendid cream-colored, racing camel, was without the usual ornate trappings of the desert tribesman. He rode until within the fringe of light, and, dismounting without kneeling his beast, in a manner that betrayed long practice, strode boldly to the fire and saluted the Emir writh palm to brow and breast.
“Sa-eedah, Abdul Husuf, Beloved of the Prophet!” he greeted sonorously. “May the sword of thy enemy be a lash to his back!”
“May the All-Merciful fend thee, Brother to the Oppressed!” the Bedouin returned, and made room for him to sit, cross-legged, at his left hand. As the stranger bent to take his place his djebba gaped at the breast, and the fire glanced for a second upon the crested buttons and khaki service tunic of a British officer.
For a time there was small talk, unimportant, courteous, interspersed with flowery Arabic compliments which the stranger used with consummate skill. Deep-versed in the etiquette of the desert, he knew better than to broach the subject of his visit until the amenities, well-defined as those of a Mayfair drawingroom, had been complied with. Coffee was passed and a narghile prepared for the visitor, which he gravely accepted, and, as he smoked, the rose light of the fire sketched, on a purple background, the exotic strippings of the tribesmen gathered around outside the council ring.
Abdul Husuf set his narghile, with its diverging twin stems, upon the sand at his feet, then turned his gaze to the stranger.
“The spring breeze kisses the young tree to blossom,” he insinuated, in the rich metaphor of the Arab.
“But first the gentle rain must fall, before it beareth fruit,” the other answered softly.
Abdul Husuf’s dark eyes gleamed in appreciation. Here was a fencer worthy of his steel.
“The shower is at hand—-if the bud showeth promise,” he returned.
Up to this time the tribesmen had avoided the gaze of the stranger, but, with this preliminary fencing, they concerted their eyes upon him. Under this silent battery he lost none of his cool assurance, although his replies to the Emir’s following remarks became hurried to the point of curtness—but there was need for haste, for the time was growing short. With a sudden change of tactics. Abdul Husuf’s keen eyes flashed upon the other as though they would bore through the motives behind.
“Hast thou, then, brought the magic key to thoughts that are locked in the vulture brains of the white infidels, oh Leader of Warriors?” he asked meaningly.
“And thou, Abdul Husuf—hast thou for me the promise of the golden shower which causes the fruit to spring?” the stranger countered.
“Listen!” said Abdul Husuf, and grasped the other’s wrist with strong, brown fingers that gripped like the jaws of a camel. “In Cairo, at the house of the agents of the Banque de I’ Indo-Chine is a certain sum upon which I and another agreed. That sum shall be handed without question to whoever shall present this!” He drew from the folds of his burnccse a small piece of folded paper and handed it to his visitor.
The stranger arose, examined it closely by the light of the fire, then, nodding satisfaction, passed to his camel and took from a saddlebag a bundle of dried dates wrapped in linen. This he broke open. Inside was a flat, small parcel, done up in strong paper, which he handed to the Emir. Abdul Husuf quickly scrutinized its contents, then handed it to one of his followers who bore it away.
The stranger plucked Abdul Husuf by the sleeve. “I have a word for thy ear alone,” he murmured, and they moved together to a spot some distance from the fire, and engaged in whispered conversation. When they returned to the council group the chieftain’s face was grim.
“Thou knowest the creed of the desert, Sidi Captain?” he growled. “ ‘Thy treasure, thy life and thine own honor shalt thou cast into the fire for the honor of a friend’—and a Bedouin will not bargain to stain the honor of any man. Thou art not tricking me? A panther may fight a lion; ’Tis only a pariah dog that slinketh out of the darkness to snap at the hand that nourisheth him.”
“ ’Twill cost thee nothing to take precautions, Abdul Husuf. Adding water never scorched cooking meat. Remember the man is thy enemy and mine—and a snake must be met with its own venom. To play thee false would crack me no fleas!”
“So be it! We shall be ready!” said the Bedouin shortly, and invited the other to resume his seat. The stranger declined!
“The moon sleeps yet time stands not,” he said. “I have nigh on two hours ride before me ’ere I regain the post, and I must return before the sands are whitened.”
“Thy words are wise ones— and by this night’s work thou hast earned the gratitude of—”
The stranger threw up a hand in warning, and glanced swiftly about him.
“Name no names, Abdul Husuf. A dead camel moveth not, yet is its presence smelled afar!”
A sardonic smile flickered in the grim shadows of the Bedouin’s mouth.
“Have no fear, Sidi Captain; there are no jackals among us,” he said quietly, and walked with his visitor to where his camel knelt, a grotesque blur on the rim of firelight.
Before mounting, the stranger held out his hand in farewell. The Moslem made no move to take it, but gazed steadily at him, unfathomable things in his keen, dark eyes. The other shrugged and mounted, and the beast heaved to its feet.
“May your wives grow large with men-children, Emir Abdul Husuf, and the blood of the Prophet grow quick in their veins,” he said, and swung his camel to the south-east.
“As we plant, so we pluck—and the All-Merciful will reward each according to his deserts!” the Bedouin replied enigmatically, and, as the traitor padded swiftly into the gloom, spat contemptuously after him. He remained motionless, an ebony figure in a sable void, until the high, wailing note of the pariah dog, drifting back across the desert told him that the stranger had passed the last of the outlaw’s hidden watchers, then he stalked back to the companionship of the campfire, and remained in earnest conclave until the finger of Allah lifted the eastern[sky.
CAPTAIN ELLIOTT stood in the doorway of Farrell’s room and adjusted bis holster. Farrell, sitting on his bed, buckled his boot-strap and slung on his haversack, water-bottle, map case and pistol.
“All ready for the picnic, Paddy?” Elliott asked with a smile.
“All serene, me boy!” Farrell grinned. “Something like old times in Mespot, isn’t it, when we were chasin’ Johnny Turk—or he was chasin’ us.” He snapped I opened his watch, examined it, and they clattered down the stairs together.
The square was full of shadowy, camelmounted Sudanese troopers, each wearing on his head, like a truncated chimney pot his regimental tarboosh with its jaunty green cockade. Badul Halim and Abd-elRahman Osman materialized out of the gloom.
“Everything is ready, sir,” the latter announced.
“Thanks, Rahman Osman. Badul Halim, have the men fall in outside the main gate and we’ll move off.”
A half hour later the expedition wound, in a long file, over the desert toward El Gabu, Elliott leading the column on his rangy-legged, cream-colored dromedary. All equipment had been examined so that nothing jingled nor made noise, beyond the scuffling pad of the camels’ feet.
The moon was bright, and cast dense
shadows on the sand, but scouts were thrown out to front and flanks. They traveled without incident for about twelve miles. Then Elliott held up his hand and the long train came to a halt. He rode back to Badul Halim’s detachment and ranged alongside that happy young warrior.
“Here’s where you branch off,” he said. “Don’t forget that Farrell’s got to have time to get into position with his guns.”
The Egyptian officer’s white teeth flashed “It’s lovely!” he laughed. “My first action! I wish, though, that I could be sure of having a hand in the actual scrap,” he ended almost wistfully.
“You’ll get a chance, most likely, before we’re through,” said Elliott, amused, and on sudden impulse laid his hand upon the other’s shoulder. “Away you go. now, old boy! Best of luck!” Badul Halim’s command struck north and dissolved into the night.
Two miles further on the commander halted again, and Farrell’s little Lewis gun party rode up from the rear.
“Your turn, now, George,” Elliott told him. “Keep well to the left until you flank Jebel Salmi. It’s not likely they’ve got anyone posted there, but if so, use the knife. We can’t afford a racket. Don’t forget the signal. All O.K.?”
“Fine!” the Irishman responded. “Here’s where you get a bit of your own back, eh, me lad?” He swung away.
After he had gone, Elliott dismounted his own force and allowed the men to rest* after placing listening posts well in front. The silence and loneliness of the desert became a thing almost tangible—something to be met with physical force. The Canadian was not a nervous man, but thestrain of anxious months had screwed his. nerves to a high tension, so that now,, under the rough warp of his longing tocome to grips, ran a thread of vague unease. Standing motionless beside his kneeling camel he turned his face to the north and strove to project his mental vision through the darkness toward the Emir’s camp. W’hat were they doing—that band of fanatic desert outlaws? Were they wrapped in their djebbas in peaceful sleep* or lying out on the rolling dunes, hawklike eyes burning into the south* and darkcheeks hugging their rifle stocks in wait for the first pale streak of dawn to reveal the enemy who marched against them im the night?
Mohammed Hassan, the Company Sergeant-major, came noiselessly to thecommander, his blacky war-lined face a dull blur in the uncertain light.
“The moon departs, Father of Courage,” he reminded in his liquid Arabic. Elliott glanced at his watch. Three-fiftyfive.
“Get the men mounted, Mohammed Hassan,” he ordered. “We’ll move up* now. Caution them against noise. No> coughing! No spitting! We’ll get in as; close as I think safe, then take open order on a front of seven hundred yards, dismount, and take cover.”
Again the file moved on, changing direction to the north. The utmost caution was observed, and even the soft, occasional grunt of a camel was awarded a vicious heel in the neck. Presently Elliott held up his hand and murmured to an orderly at his back. The man disappeared back along the column. Presently* it divided, opening to right and left until line was formed. The little fellaheen soldiers moved like clockwork. The order to dismount was passed along and each man selected cover for himself and beast. The force then composed itself to wait for daybreak and the signal shots from Jebel Salmi. Half past four.
The night was hot, with a dry trembling heat that hugs the arid expanse of the African desert, and the tiny breeze, which sometimes comes to temper the still air failed to awaken. The great plain brooded pregnant with the spirit of the fatalistic East. Elliott frequently consulted the luminous dial of his watch. Slowly the hands crept on. The eastern sky lost something of its opaqueness. The stars paled. Dissolving night became a deep, translucent grey, faint-flushed with pink, then full blush rose. To the north, a group of shadowy date palms etched themselves upon the purple hem of departing dark El Gabu Wells! Elliott unfastened the snap of his pistol holster. Ten past five.
The sun appeared as a golden ball, lighting the sky to hard, steel-blue, and the scene of attack was revealed—a plain of sand, stained by the dawn to a pale salmon, and stretching in unbroken sameness to th^horizon. Here and there, stark black rocks jutted through the desert face, their tiny crevices and fissures silled by powdered sand until they looked like the snow-drifted crags of diminutive mountains. Sand and sky—-and in the background beyond the date palms, growing every moment more sinister, rose the rugged crown of Jebel Salmi, rock-studded and covered with needle-toothed thorn bush.
Five-fifteen. Time for Farrell’s signal. Five-sixteen . . . five-seventeen . . . five-twenty! Jevel Salmi remained wrapped in the silence of countless ages.
Elliott’s worried eyes swept the grim rock; then, worming cautiously to the top of a dune he raised his head and surveyed the Bedouin camp. There were a score or more of rude, goatskin tents, but no sign of life. He backed down the drift. What the devil had gone wrong with Farrell? Had the Irishman—-? Suddenly he paused and the creases disappeared from his brow. Tat-tat-tat! . . . tattat-tat-tat!—the familiar chatter of a Lewis gun! Farrell’s signal!
He ran to his camel, giving swift orders. All along the extended line his men arose, hastily stretched their cramped muscles and, at a sign from their commander, mounted and swung forward in undulating order. Elliott, from a position close behind the centre of the line, watched the Emir’s camp for the slightest move. There was none. He swore deeply. Had the Bedouins cleared out, he wondered? Again came a Lewis gun burst from Jebel Salmi. Good old Farrell! Right on the job!
Approaching to within a quarter mile of the wells, Elliott halted his command and sent forward a patrol of a corporal and four troopers. Diminishing rapidly in contrast with the blank immensity about them, they worked their wayforward from cover to cover in a manner that reflected most creditably upon their trainers, and the broad face of Mohammed Hassan shone with pride. At one hundred yards from the wells the quintette halted and fired into the silent camp, then, greatly daring, ran forward under the palms. Like terriers they searched the tents, and combed the ground for some hundred yards about. Then they faced the waiting troops and raised their arms. Abdul Husuf had flown.
Blind passion scraped Elliott’s soul at the trick that Fate had dealt him, but, as he ordered the advance, not even old Mohammed Hassan, who was scanning his face with faithful, kindly eyes, guessed how keen was his disappointment. He halted his men at the rim of the camp and rode with a signaller to the deserted tents. Close to the wells he ordered his signaller to wag a message to Farrell on the height to report with bis force at El Gabu. The blue and white flags commenced to move with practiced skill.
Now that no action was imminent, the main force, impelled by curiosity, began to close in on the wells. As Elliott turned to wave them back a terrific burst of machine gun fire spat from the summit of Jebel Salmi. Instantly the air was rent with the screams of wounded men and camels, the beasts and their riders rolling in a kicking welter of blood and agony. Again the gun hammered and bullets swept like sleet through the mass of riders who were rushing to the aid of their comrades. Man after man went down until the plain was dotted with jerking figures that presently lay still. Through it all, the signaller, moving his arms like an automaton gone mad, stood with leg^ apart, getting his message across until, on the final letter, he was shot through the chest and dropped to earth with a grunt. Panic was imminent.
Elliott, stunned by the suddenness of the attack, and with his sun helmet carried away by a bullet, tried to rally his remaining men. He swung about and yelled for Mohammed Hassan but the brave old man had met a soldier’s death at the first volley. Responding, finally, to disciplined command, the Sudanese moved toward the cover of the dunes, bullets sending up spurts of dirt all about them, and finding an occasional billet. Before they could gain cover, however, they were raked by enfilade fire from a party of Baggara horsemen concealed behind the sandhills on the far side of the khor, and eight more men were knocked kicking out of their saddles.
In less than five minutes Elliott had lost more than half his force in killed and wounded.
He got the remainder of his men under
the protection of the dunes, but not with" out further loss from the Lew's guns on Jebel Salmi. By now, the Canadian’s mind was working with the swift precision of a machine. He had fallen into the trap he so carefully had laid for the Emir, Abdul Husuf.
Spending no vain thought upon those shapeless, khaki heaps that littered the camp and lay in the thin shadows of the date palms, he dispatched two messengers to Badul, Halim instructing him to join the main force with all speed, then gave his attention to the situation confronting him. When Badul Halim arrived, he decided, he would make a feint attack on the face of Jebel Salmi and, under cover of that, smash home with his main force up the rear of the western flank. Once the Lewis guns were out of action he had no doubt as to his ability to defeat the tribesmen. In the meantime he reorganized his fire units and succeeded in silencing, temporarily, the activity of the Baggara Arabs whose shots were whipping up the crest of their cover from across the khor.
Impatiently the Canadian awaited the result of his message to Badul Halim while less than five hundred yards away one of his runners turned unseeing eyes to the cloudless sky, beside the bodies of two dead camels, while his fellow left a trail of blood in the thirsty sand as he dragged himself, sorely hit, over the endless plain to his objective.
After a time the fury of the Lewis guns was checked, and Elliott, carefully raising his head, saw the white robes of the Baggara Arabs as they moved rapidly along the khor beyond the wells, then dipped behind a dune. Puzzled at this move, he swung his eyes to the right, and next minute, regardless of the heavy fire that his action drew, he leaped into the open, blowing frenzied blasts upon his whistle, for, riding like men possessed, Badul Halim’s command flashed from the screening shoulder of a distant sand heap and charged at a mad, full gallop toward the rock-strewn slope of Jebel Salmi.
JUST before dawn, Badul Halim and his followers, having reached their assigned position, took cover in a dip in the ground and there awaited developments. It was impossible to see the spot where the action was to take place, even after dawn, because of the conformation of the ground, so the Egyptian concentrated on watching for a signal from Elliott. The burst of Lewis gun fire from Jebel Salmi, although a few minutes later than agreed upon, was according to plan, and gave him no anxiety. His directions were to keep out of sight and under cover until needed.
As time passed and there was no abatement of the noise of battle, Badul Halim began to grow uneasy. It had been calculated that the main action would not last beyond twenty minutes or so. Now it was well over the half hour and the rattle and crack of rifle fire and the snap of the Lewis guns on the crest grew every moment more intense. Obeying the half-promptings of his perplexity, he made his way alone and on foot to a spot a few hundred feet in advance of his bivouac and from there surveyed the plain. It told him nothing; a stretch of sand shimmering in the early heat; clear sky; the rise of Jebel Salmi; the slender columns of the date palms at El Gabu; the flat, unechoing reports of the rifles, and—hello!—tiny dark shapes that lay scattered over the plain and were piled in confusion near the wells. Were they Bedouin or Sudanese?
Thoroughly alarmed by now, he hastened back to his command and, giving the order to mount, moved cautiously forward, unaware that he was in full view of the enemy force on Jebel Salmi. Suddenly a man on the left flank raised his rifle to attract attention. Badul Halim kicked his camel’s neck and the beast sped over to where his trooper, dismounted, was bent over the body of a Sudanese soldier of Elliott’s force. The man was ghastly with blood and clinging sand, but his eyes still held consciousness. Badul Halim slid from his camel and raised the trooper’s clotted head. His lips were moving.
“Quick, master ... for love of Allah! . . . the Sidi Captain killed . . . Abdul Husuf . . . Jebel Sal—” He retched violently then grew limp. Badul Halim sprang to his camel and barked his orders with the instant decision of the trained soldier. A minute later, he and his thirty-five men were rocking, as fast as their mounts could go, along the bank of the khor. Elliott dead—for so he misinterpreted the words of the dying messenger; Elliott—kindly, reserved, considerate of his juniors and with the genuineness of fine steel; the man whom the young Egyptian had regarded with the affection and secret hero worship of a younger brother; Elliott killed, and Abdul Husuf in possession of Jebel Salmi! Badul Halim’s dark eyes filmed, then grew hard with purpose.
Madly he urged his racing camels in a wide, dark line across the sand, undulating with the rise of the drifts. Hot passion surged through his veins. They were nearing the last of the protecting mounds and a few yards in front began the flat expanse which led past the wells of El Gabu to the foot of the rocky hill. The fierce, wild spirit of his long-dead desert forebears flamed through his fatalistic blood. Gone, now, the gloss of Cambridge —the veneer of the Occident—for the fiery souls of his warrior ancestors had entered the frame of the gallant Egyptian soldier. “Hai! hai! hai! hai!" he shouted, as he swept on at the head of his meagre force, and his troopers, kindling at his example, echoed “ Hai! hai! hai!”
Into the open, now. As they passed the wells a few bullets kicked up the yellow sand and a man pitched out of his saddle. More followed. “Hai! hai! hai!” No checking that impetuous onslaught. Faster and faster the straining camels. Thicker and thicker the whining Bedouin slugs. From the crest of Jebel Salmi streamed a hell’s breath of biting flame, and a murderous enfilade fire poured into the little force from the hidden Baggaras over the khor. Just as, an hour before, Elliott’s command had withered under that sighing scourge, so now the stouthearted warriors of Badul Halim littered the desert with their fallen bodies.
“Hai! hai! hai! hai!” Not a moment’s pause—not a backward glance. “Riding to battle the soldier of Allah looks not to the rear.” runs the creed of the Moslem fighting man. Berserk-eyed, teeth bared like a leopard’s in his dark face, on rode Badul Halim with the remnant of his men. The clatter of the Lewis gun grew deafening; bullets whipped through their garments, chukked into their equipment, emptied saddles, sent their beasts into writhing, squealing agony, and made the sand spurt at their impact, but the leader and his camel seemed belted by an impervious wall. Onward still, followed by a scant ten men. Another volley from the flank, red death from the hill-top and six left to ride.
“Hai! hai! hai! hai!” Two men and Badul Halim charging the slope of Jebel Salmi. A heavy fall and a cloud of whirling dust; another down—and before his body struck the earth the last remaining trooper pitched over his camel’s neck and sprawled, with twitching fingers, in the reeking sand.
Badul Halim, alone and on foot, emptied pistol in hand, scrambling upward over the pitted rocks, through the tearing thorns, vermilion flame before his staring eyes, seeing dimly through a bloody mist the bearded figure of his enemy standing with folded arms and pity in his glance, upon the bouldered crest; Badul Halim shouting, wild and clear, “Ed dbrmansur!” —the ancient battle-cry of the Mohammedan faith—charging straight through the crimson gates of oblivion into the tender arms of Allah; Badul Halim, lying dead, within a dozen feet of the snout of the spitting gun.
AS ELLIOTT, jumping to the top of ■ the sandhill, made vain endeavor to avert the Egyptian’s mad ride to destruction, a party of Bedouins rode from behind the western end of Jebel Salmi and scattered over the desert like bits of colored paper blown by the wind, then, wheeling suddenly into line, smashed down upon the rear of the Sudanese. The Canadian turned half his force about to meet the new menace, trying, at the same time, to provide covering fire for his friends. The Bedouins rode like furies, their voluminous garments streaming out behind them. They brandished their weapons in fanatic excitement and it was evident they meant to get in with the sword. Elliott held his fire until they were within a short range then met them with a blast of rapid fire that swept a dozen of the tribesmen and their mounts under the pounding feet of their fellows. The accuracy of the Sudanese effectively checked the ardor of the balance and they swung about to re-form, leaving their dead, like limp, discarded rags, upon the desert floor.
Time passed. Save for an occasiona crackle of fire from the height the Emir showed no eagerness to renew the fight, but Elliott knew that he was biding his time and resting his men while planning a second attack. As the day wore on the air grew stagnant and foul, and the wounded lifted their voices in querulous supplication.
At ten o’clock a slight bfeeze sprang up, coming over the plain in hot, stinging puffs, and driving with it a curtain of fine sand. The sky was dark on the desert’s edge and the atmosphere weighed depressingly upon the spirits of the beleaguered force. The wind was rising. The heat became blinding, overwhelming, in spite of the movement of air, and sweat poured from the hemmed-in men lying, without cover, in the baldness of the desert. Sand grains flew like a myriad galling insects, drying throats, scraping red-rimmed, tortured eyeballs, and penetrating the clothing to chafe the tender parts of the skin. The sun beat through a faint, pink haze.
Elliott, reading the familiar signs, laughed grimly to himself. As though insufficient of misery were packed into this scene of death and desolation a sandstorm was blowing up to destroy the last vestige of hope in the hearts of the valiant little band and to bury under its scorching fury the living and the dead. He looked around at the shining black faces of his men, and their courage, their confidence and loyalty to him, brought a lump to his throat and a prayer that he would not fail them. He smiled at them and was rewarded beyond measure at the quick response in the eyes of the dogged, lionhearted little troopers.
Tat-tat-tat-tat! The nearest Lewis gun again. Tok-tok-tok! The farthest one also spoke, and the steel-jacketed bullets flung dirt in his eyes and spilled the life of a sergeant. Tiny spirals of sand, picked up by the fingers of the wind, spun endlessly over the desert. Far on the horizon a great cloud rolled toward them, tumbling over and over like a gigantic billow, and a hollow booming deepened across the desert floor.
“Here come the accursed jackals, Sidi Captain!” said a trooper, and touched his officer’s sleeve. Fearing that the storm would cheat them of their prey, the Bedouins were returning to the attack. The waving djebbas of a hundred tribesmen debouched from the shoulder of Jebel Salmi, a frenzied, yelling mob, shaking their fists and mouthing the foulest curses of Islam, while at their backs towered the mammoth sand cloud like the wrath of the god of war. Wildly the outlaws rode, with the machine guns chattering in the reddening gloom like the insane yammering of devils intent upon slaughter.
Bravely, the little Sudanese met the shock, sighting with grit-filled eyes and pulling their triggers with the coolness and deadly ferocity of a forlorn hope. Standing to keep full grasp of the situation, Elliott had his wrist shattered by a bullet. He stemmed the flow with a handkerchief and continued to direct his men.
Driving their camels like men possessed, the Bedouins rode before the storm, their forms swelled shapeless with the snapping of their garments in the wind, but, mightier than they, and swifter, rode the colossal sand-cloud, overtaking them, stinging them, smiting them, blotting out land, sun and sky, rolling over and engulfing them and wiping them from view of the little band as chalk dabs are wiped from a slate.
Elliott, screaming to make himself heard above the tumult, told his men to look after themselves and make good their escape to Tel-el-Rahib, if possible, and immediately, with the lift of discipline, they scattered into the sandstorm. Even yet, with the mad swirl of lifted seas of sand all about, one of the Lewis guns continued to chatter. Elliott, seeking the cover of a dead camel, straightened suddenly upright with arms outfiung, swayed for a moment as a rain of blood poured from his opened scalp, then crumpled senseless to earth. Over his body and for untold miles across the desert, lost to time, and toil, and puny human strivings the tempest roared, like the blood-red mouth of hell bent upon the world’s destruction.
The second and concluding instalment of this story will follow in the next number of MacLean’s.