|Chapter I.||A Memorable Decoration Day.|
|Chapter II.||Into the Desert.|
|Chapter III.||A Night Attack.|
|Chapter IV.||Safid Pasha's Offer.|
|Chapter V.||A Duel to the Death.|
|Chapter VI.||In the Khartoum Prison.|
|Chapter VII.||Condemned to Death.|
|Chapter VIII.||An Unexpected Arrival.|
|Chapter IX.||A Terrible Discovery.|
|Chapter X.||The Chase on the River.|
|Chapter XI.||Bunbury's Tin Canister.|
|Chapter XII.||The Secret of the Island.|
|Chapter XIII.||Back to Khartoum.|
|Chapter XIV.||Arthur Falls Overboard.|
|Chapter XV.||Kidnapped by a Giraffe.|
|Chapter XVI.||Lost in the Forest.|
|Chapter XVII.||A Joyful Reunion.|
|Chapter XVIII.||A Thrilling Scene and a Terrible Surprise.|
|Chapter XIX.||Saved by an Enemy|
|Chapter XX.||Betrayed by a Match|
|Chapters XXI-XXXVI Continued in Part II:|
|Chapter XXI.||A Terrible Awakening|
|Chapter XXII.||A Wonderful Rescue|
|Chapter XXIII.||Arthur's Discovery|
|Chapter XXIV.||Godfrey's Sacrifice|
|Chapter XXV.||In Hostile Hands|
|Chapter XXVI.||An Interrupted Cannibal Feast|
|Chapter XXVII.||A Fight in the Village|
|Chapter XXVIII.||The Secret of the Subterranean Stream|
|Chapter XXIX.||The White King|
|Chapter XXX.||Nero's Warning|
|Chapter XXXI.||The Fight on the Fort|
|Chapter XXXII.||The Fate of the Balloon|
|Chapter XXXIII.||The Last Refuge|
|Chapter XXXIV.||The Secret of the Chunk of Gold|
|Chapter XXXV.||The Discovery of the Tunnel|
The White King of Africa
A burst of martial music far down in the street roused Arthur and Roden Fanshawe from a state of delicious drowsiness. They opened their eyes and glanced at the clock. Then, in hot haste, they flung off the bedclothes, and sprang out upon the floor.
"Nine o'clock;" exclaimed Roden. "Won't we have a scramble to get downtown? It means no breakfast, I'm afraid."
"It looks that way," admitted Arthur, in a rueful tone. The next instant he clapped his brother on the back, and laughed loudly.
"Don't you know that this is Decoration Day?" he added. "No work for us, old fellow."
"By Jove! so it is," replied Roden, half-angrily. "What a pair of stupids we are! The idea of forgetting a holiday!"
"And after talking so much about it last night," Arthur went on. "We hadn't quite decided what to do, though. Shall we' go down to Staten Island to see Jack Dare, or put in a few hours fishing on the Shrewsbury?"
"We'll decide that at breakfast," promptly answered Roden. "Stir yourself now,"
While our young heroes are dressing, a few words will serve to properly introduce them to the reader. Roden Fanshawe was nineteen years old, and Arthur was a year younger. They were tall, handsome lads, with ruddy complexions and dark eyes and hair.
For three years they had occupied these two small rooms on the top floor back of the Belgrade Flats, which palatial building stood near Broadway and Thirty-third Street.
Prior to that time their lives had been very much the same as that of the average son of prosperous New York parents. They had traveled extensively, and were well-educated and found [sic] of sport.
Traces of the past were visible in the handsome fittings and furniture of the apartments. At the present time Roden was bookkeeper for a downtown china house, and Arthur was clerk in a broker's office in Wall Street. With loss of wealth most of their youthful friends had dropped away from them.
With one exception they had no acquaintances in the building. They usually breakfasted in their own rooms, and lunched together downtown. After the day's work they dined at a restaurant around the corner from the Belgrade Flats.
Little did the brothers dream that this 30th day of May, 1893, was destined to be a memorable and red letter one --- a day to which they would always look back with thrilling emotions.
After a careful toilet they entered the front room, which overlooked an endless vista of the roofs and spires of upper New York. It contained oak and leather furniture, costly rugs, shelves of books, numerous photographs and articles of bric-a-brac, and a choice collection of guns, fishing rods, fencing foils, and other sporting treasures.
Roden lighted a gas stove, and soon had coffee and an omelet in course of preparation. Meanwhile Arthur covered a small square table with a white cloth, and set out china and silverware.
From a tiny ice-box he took a pat of butter and a can of potted cream.
"I'm nearly ready," said Roden. "The omelet needs one more turn."
"I'll do the lightning act, this time, old fellow," replied Arthur, as he pulled on his hat and sped through the hall to the elevator.
In five minutes he was back with a three-foot loaf of French bread under his arm.
"Guess what I've got," be exclaimed, as he sat down at the table opposite his brother.
"I'm too hungry to guess," said Roden, beginning to slice the bread. "Is it a letter?"
"Right, first time," and Arthur drew an envelope from his pocket. "Addressed to both of us at the Belgrade Flats," he went on. "Business card in the left-hand upper corner, as follows: 'Blackstone & Bacon, Attorneys at Law, Lincoln, Illinois.' What the deuce can they want?"
"Never heard of them," said Roden perplexedly. "By Jove! I wonder if Lincoln can be Uncle Martin's nearest town?"
"We'll soon find out," replied Arthur. But just as he was about to tear the envelope a loud rap was heard on the door.
"Come in," called Roden, and at once there entered an individual who deserves more than a passing mention. He was a tall, soldierly-looking man of about forty, with a bronzed face and a drooping yellow mustache. He was neatly dressed and had an unmistakable air of good birth and breeding.
Godfrey Congdon was an Englishman, and occupied a room on the same floor. The boys had known him for more than a year, and liked him very much, in spite of the mystery attached to his past life. He lived in good style on a monthly remittance from home, and that was the utmost he had ever revealed.
"Just in time for breakfast," said Roden. "Pull up a chair, Godfrey. Our banquet won't give you dyspepsia. "
"Thanks," replied the visitor, "but I've had my chop. If you don't object, I'll smoke, though."
Hearty assent being given, Godfrey filled a small bull-dog pipe and lit it. For nearly a minute he glanced keenly at the boys as he puffed out little wreaths of smoke, and crumpled a folded newspaper in one hand.
"I have something here that may concern you fellows," he said finally.
The boys dropped their knives and forks and turned toward him in surprise.
"Something that concerns us?" exclaimed Arthur.
"Possibly," answered Godfrey. "Perhaps I should have said nothing about it. However, it's too late now. Before I go any further I'd like to hear that little bit of family history you told me when we first met. I've partly forgotten it. If this request seems imperti nent, remember that I've good reasons for asking."
"Oh, that's all right," said Roden. "Only I can't imagine what you are driving at."
"I believe your father's name was Lucius Fanshawe," replied Godfrey evasively, "and he was an astronomer and explorer?"
The boys glanced sadly toward a photograph on the mantel, picturing a handsome bearded man in the prime of life.
"Our father was a well-known scientist," said Arthur. "He was an authority on botany, geology, astronomy, and all that sort of thing. Of course we remember him but dimly. After our mother died in 1876 he traveled in Mexico. In 1879 he went to Africa, leaving us and his property in charge of his best friend, a banker named Macpherson. He entered near Zanzibar with none but native attendants, and two years later he was killed in the far interior by hostile savages."
Arthur paused, overcome by emotion.
"Mr. Macpherson gave us a kind home," said Roden, taking up the thread of the story. "We attended the best schools in New York, and during the summer we always traveled. We have roughed it in Wyoming and the Adirondacks. In 1890, just when we were ready for college, Mr. Macpherson failed, and committed suicide. All our property was swept away with his, and we were thrown on the world. An uncle on my mother's side, named Martin Trant, very kindly came in from the West when he heard of our misfortune ----"
"He wanted to take us out to his farm in Illinois," interrupted Arthur, smiling at the recollection. "Our refusal angered him, and we haven't heard a word from him since he went home. That was two years ago."
"You see, we couldn't bear to leave New York," explained Roden. "At first we had a rough time of it, but finally some friends of our father got us our present positions, and now we are getting along nicely."
Godfrey took a long pull at his pipe, and slowly unfolded the newspaper.
"You never doubted your father's death?" he asked abruptly.
"Never," exclaimed both lads, starting to their feet.
"How could we?" said Roden. "Three negroes of the expedition came back to the coast with the news of the massacre. The authorities at Zanzibar were satisfied that it was true."
"What does this mean?" cried Arthur, taking a step forward. "You --- you don't mean to say----"
"Keep cool," interrupted Godfrey. "Let me read you a marked paragraph from a London Times that came to me this morning. Here it is. Now listen:
"CAIRO, EGYPT, May 18, 1893.
"Two days ago a fishing-boat picked up a sealed bottle in the Mediterranean, off the mouth of the Nile. When opened it proved to contain the following authentic message, scrawled on a piece of paper from the well known explorer, Captain Benstone, who entered Africa from the west coast two years ago, and from whom nothing has been heard since:
" 'Written at the junction of the White Nile and Sabat Rivers, on the night of the 10th of March, 1892.
" 'Myself and a score of trusty negroes are besieged by Arabs. My two white companions died of fever months ago. We cannot hold out longer than daylight. As I write the attack recommences. I trust this message, in a stout bottle, to the river, hoping it may some day be found. For the benefit of whom it may concern, I add that a white king is reported to rule over a tribe of cannibals three hundred miles to the southwest of this point. Natives who have seen him described to me his person, and said that he has power to make the sun hide its light. Can this mysterious man be the explorer Fanshawe, whose death was reported in 1881?As Godfrey stopped reading, the brothers clutched eagerly at the paper. They held it between them with trembling hands while they went over every word of the paragraph.
" 'Farewell forever to friends and England.
" 'HUGH BENSTONE.' "
"Thank heaven!" cried Roden. "Our father is alive."
Tears of joy ran down his cheeks.
"Yes, it is surely he," added Arthur. "He must have predicted an eclipse of the sun to the negroes. That is probably why they made him king, It is not the first time astronomy has saved lives in Africa."
"I am inclined to agree with you," declared Godfrey.
"By the way, Benstone was an old friend of mine, and that's why the paper was sent me. His location of the place is pretty nearly identical with the neighborhood in which the negroes reported your father to have been slain. I know something of Africa. In fact, I've been there."
"You?" exclaimed Roden. "You have been in Africa? And do you think our father could be rescued? Would you go with us to find him?"
"There is hope of finding and saving him, of course," replied Godfrey, "and nothing would please me better than to go with you. But you forget the enormous cost of such an expedition. I have nothing but my monthly remittance of thirty pounds."
"And we are no better off," muttered Arthur, in a tone of despair. "True, if we could find friends to advance the money--"
"Who would do so on such slight evidence?" interrupted Godfrey. "Though you and I may be convinced that this mysterious man is Lucius Fanshawe, yet the world will demand stronger proof."
Roden paced the floor in great agitation.
"It is maddening," he cried, "to think that our father must die among African savages for the want of a few hundred dollars. Arthur, something must be done. Let us appeal to all the friends we have known in the past."
Arthur did not reply. An instant before he had picked up the forgotten letter, and mechanically torn it open. As he glanced over the inclosure [sic], his face flushed and his hands trembled.
"Listen!" he cried, and in husky tones he read as follows:"MESSRS. RODEN AND ARTHUR FANSHAWE, New York.
"Gentlemen: Your uncle, Martin Trant, died a week ago, and left everything to you, with the exception of a small legacy to his housekeeper. As you know, he was unmarried. The estate consists of a farm, and other property, in the town of Lincoln. It would be well for one or both of you to come out here. Awaiting a reply, we have the honor to remain,
BLACKSTONE &: BACON.
As Arthur dropped the letter the sun seemed to shine with tenfold brightness into the little room. The faces of the lads beamed with wonder and happiness.
"This is a manifestation of Providence," said Godfrey.
"It is indeed," replied Roden. "Thank heaven, our father will be saved. The way is clear now."
"To think that the news should come at such a time," added Arthur. "I am sorry, for Uncle Martin. We misjudged him, Roden. He had a kind heart under his rough exterior."
"We will be grateful to him as long as we live," replied Roden. "It cuts me to the heart to think of his dying out there all alone."
"Well, we will make good use of his legacy," said Arthur. "Had we better go out?"
"I will start for Lincoln to-night," declared Roden. "You must stay here, Arthur, and arrange to have our positions vacated at once."
"Count on me for that," said Arthur. "No more toiling in Wall Street."
He took an atlas from the book shelves, and opened it on the table at the map of Africa.
"Will you help us, Godfrey?" asked Roden. "With you for a companion and guide, I feel that failure is impossible. You shall lay out the money as you think best."
"I am, with you heart and soul, my boys," replied the Englishman heartily. "And it shan't be my fault if we don't find and rescue your father. I have never spoken about my past, and I don't care to do so now. Only I will tell you this. I have been a soldier in my time --- and no private, either --- and I have led an adventurous life. I have seen Khartoum and the Soudan. I have been in the Cameroon's country on the West African coast."
He stopped abruptly, and walked to the table. "Look!" he added, bending over the map. "Here is the junction of the White Nile and Sobat Rivers, where Hugh Benstone has probably met his death, and three hundred miles beyond dwells this cannibal tribe. To reach the latter place we had better start from Suakin, on the Red Sea. That will give us a journey of a thousand miles."
"So much as that?" exclaimed Roden.
"Yes, but we will do it on camels, and with a strong escort. Suakin is an admirable place for fitting out expeditions."
"It looks nearer from the west coast," suggested Arthur.
"True," replied Godfrey, "but there are more difficulties on that route. Now that the Mahdi is dead, the Soudan is safer than formerly. See, we will head straight for the southwest, passing within a hundred miles or so of Khartoum, where brave Gordon was slain in 1885. But I won't deny that all this will cost money."
"We will spend every cent," declared the boys.
"And the hardships and dangers will not be trifling," added Godfrey.
"We won't complain," cried Roden. "We will dare anything."
"We are used to roughing it," said Arthur. "We are strong and healthy."
"Yes, I think you will both do," replied Godfrey approvingly. "Oh, it quickens my blood to think of treading African soil again."
He refilled his pipe and pulled an easy-chair up to the table. Then, for hour after hour, he and his com panions planned and discussed every detail of the great expedition. The day slipped by unheeded, and at six o'clock they went out to dine together.
That night Roden left for Illinois, and during his absence Godfrey and Arthur went on with the prepara tions. On learning the circumstances, the employers of both lads readily consented to release them at once.
Roden returned in a week. He had been able to sell, at a slight sacrifice, the property of Martin Trant. This yielded the boys the sum of fifteen thousand dollars, which they at once turned into bills of exchange on London. They had saved enough money for present expenses.
They stored their books and furniture, and sailed with Godfrey for Southampton on a fast ocean liner. The 20th of June found them in London. During the week that they spent here Godfrey rarely stirred from the hotel, except at night. He had allowed his beard to grow, and wore a pair of gold eyeglasses.
He assured the boys that his desire to avoid recognition was in nowise connected with crime or dishonor, and they had confidence enough in him to believe this.
Under Godfrey's instructions Arthur and Roden purchased a vast quantity of supplies --- arms, ammunition, clothing, and trinkets for presentation to native potentates. They also turned their funds into drafts on an English banking firm at Suakin.
Re-embarking at Southampton on the P. and O. steamship Calcutta, our three heroes had a swift passage through the Mediterranean, and thence into the Red Sea. On the 7th of July they and their stores were put off at Suakin, and they trod with strange emotions the soil of Africa.
Godfrey knew just what to do, and without him the boys would have been helpless. He appealed to the British consul, who secured comfortable lodgings for the party and gave them all the assistance in his power.
Suakin was a sunburnt town of white walls and squalid streets, garrisoned by English and Egyptian soldiers. A few years before it had been the scene of much fighting, but now the Soudan was lost to the English, and no man knew what was taking place beyond the coast line. Occasional parties of mop-haired, naked Arabs --- Fuzzies, they were called --- still ventured within sight of the fortifications. But a hostile gunshot was rarely heard.
The population of the town was mixed, and before a week ended, Godfrey had enlisted a band of twenty Arabs and Somalis under the leadership of two English-speaking Arab sheiks. The names of the latter were Khalifa and Mugdi, and they had formerly served in the Egyptian army at Khartoum.
The balance of the supplies were laid in, and serviceable camels were purchased for the whole party. Roden and Arthur practiced for several days before they could ride these awkward beasts with any degree of ease or comfort.
Up to this time no further word had been received from Captain Benstone, and no doubt as to his fate existed.
The English officers at Suakin admitted the possibility of Lucius Fanshawe being the mysterious white man in the interior. Though full of sympathy for the boys, they prophesied the failure of the quest and the death of all concerned in it.
But this failed to shake the resolution of our heroes. The latter had the consolation of knowing that the expedition was strong and admirably equipped. All that money could do had been done.
At daybreak on July 16th the start was made, God frey and his companions leading the way with Khalifa and Mugdi. On a swift trot the hardy camels, each burdened with a rider and a quantum of baggage, passed through the town, and clear of the fortifications, and on into the bleak and sandy wilderness.
And no one in Suakin expected a single man or beast to return.
Day after day the expedition wound across the desert. Overhead was the burning, cloudless sky. On all sides lay bleak sandhills, and patches of withered vegeta tion, and outcroppings of volcanic rock.
By night there were only troubled snatches of sleep for the exhausted travelers. The camp was constantly guarded in expectation of an attack, since prowling groups of savage Arabs --- some on camels and some on foot --- had been frequently seen.
Roden and Arthur endured these hardships without a murmur of complaint, nor did they show a sign of physical weakness.
"One would think you lads had been campaigning under a tropical sun for years," said Godfrey. "If you stand this stretch of the journey all right, you won't have much to fear from the rest."
The morning of the sixth day found the travelers pressing on more rapidly than ever, with Suakin nearly two hundred miles in the rear.
They hoped to reach the Atbara River by evening, since their supply of water was nearly exhausted.
Throughout most of the morning a couple of dark specks kept parallel with the expedition at a distance of two or three miles to the westward. These spies --- for such they probably were --- disappeared about noon.
Godfrey's face wore a very sober and thoughtful expression as he jogged along between Arthur and Roden, and the boys ventured to ask if he feared anything.
"Not exactly," replied the Englishman; "only there's a possibility, you know, that word of our coming has reached Khartoum before this. The Mahdi's successor, whoever that is, may send a party to intercept us.
"Well, we can fight," said Roden. "A score of rifles ought to clean out a hundred of these black fellows with their spears and swords."
"Ay; but how about a thousand?" muttered Godfrey. "Ten times that number cut Hicks Pasha and his command to pieces in 1885.
"Don't he alarmed, my lads;" he added. "A day's march beyond the Atbara will put us out of reach of these devils. What I suggested was only a possibility, anyhow. We have come safely through the most dangerous stretch of desert."
The boys felt easier in mind, especially when they saw that neither Mugdi nor Khalifa appeared to be worried.
For hour after hour the long troop of camels and riders went swiftly across the scorching sand. At any moment the shining river might appear in the distance.
But about midafternoon the anxious watchers saw, instead of water, a sight that filled every heart with weird alarm.
On a hazy bank of clouds straight to the southwest there suddenly appeared a horde of dervishes, mounted on horses and camels. They were two or threescore strong, and their long, frizzled locks and gleaming arms showed plainly.
The travelers involuntarily halted, and deadly fear became rife among the superstitious Arabs and Somalis.
"A mirage!" cried Godfrey. "I never saw a clearer one. Look, it is fading already."
As he spoke, the wonderful scene grew dim, and the clouds began to melt away.
With few exceptions the party understood the nature of a mirage. They knew that the picture on the clouds was a real photograph --- that the band of dervishes had an actual existence somewhere on the vast desert.
The result was what might have been expected. When the command to start was given, the Arabs and Somalis obstinately headed their camels the wrong way. Mugdi and Khalifa faithfully tried to check the mutiny, but their efforts seemed vain.
At this critical moment Godfrey rode clear around the malcontents, and cut them off from the rear.
"Have you lost your heads and turned cowards?" he cried, in fairly good Arabic. "The dervishes are somewhere behind us, and you would madly rush to meet them. If we turn back toward Suakin we are lost. Our only chance of safety is to push ahead and cross the river."
This was sound reasoning, and when Khalifa and Mugdi spoke to pretty much the same effect, the mutineers allowed themselves to be persuaded. They reluctantly turned around, and a moment later the march to the southwest was resumed.
But in spite of his triumph, Godfrey was solemn, and quiet, and his depression was shared by his companions. The boys kept a keen watch in all directions as the sandhills rose and fell under the hoofs of the camels. The sun dropped lower and lower, and just at twilight the barren and treeless shore of the Atbara was reached.
To the weary band this meant safety, and their spirits rose as they dismounted. Men and camels scrambled to the water, and drank long and eagerly.
But a disappointment proved to be in store. The broad river was several feet above its normal height; and its current ran swiftly.
"The ford is impassable now," declared Khalifa. "If we try to cross we will be swept a way and drowned."
"There have been rains in the mountains of Abyssinia," added Mugdi. "The flood may rise yet higher."
"No; it is going down," exclaimed Roden, who had been examining the edge of the shore.
"The lad is right " said Godfrey. "What think you, Khalifa?"
The Arab made a personal inspection, and reported that the flood was indeed decreasing.
"By morning we may cross in safety," he added.
"Then we must wait patiently, and make the best of the situation," replied Godfrey. "We are as safe here as we would be anywhere this side of the river."
Godfrey's opinion was neither disputed nor con firmed, though more than one face looked gloomy and sullen. Indeed, there was no alternative, unless to brave the certain perils of the surging yellow flood.
Luckily an admirable spot for a fortified camp was found near by --- a semicircular ridge of sand, six feet high and fifty feet in diameter. Its open side abutted on the river, so that no enemy could attack from that direction.
Part of the inclosure was reserved for the camels, and their loads were taken off and utilized to heighten the barricade of sand.
The evening meal was prepared without a fire, and eaten amid gloomy silence. Then Godfrey distributed a number of rounds of ammunition to each man, and posted three Arab sentries outside the camp.
The guard was changed twice before midnight. Up to that hour Godfrey had remained awake and watchful. Now, since the moon was up and shining brightly, he felt satisfied that the crisis of danger was past. So he stretched himself wearily beside his companions.
An hour later all but the sentinels were asleep. The whole interior of the camp was filled with the motion less forms of men and camels. Silvery moon beams shone aslant the water and the trackless desert.
Clump! clump! clump! At first the sound was very faint, owing to the flow of the river. Then it grew nearer and louder, until it was blended into a sort of muffled roar.
Now the half-stupefied sentries heard it, and after listening for a moment, its meaning dawned upon their skilled ears. Instantly they tumbled into the camp, uttering shrill cries of alarm.
Godfrey's hand roused Arthur and Roden with no light touch. They sprang to their feet to find a scene of indescribable turmoil and confusion raging around them.
"Your rifles, lads," cried Godfrey. "The enemy are coming. Keep cool, and show them a bold front."
The boys tried to obey, but their hearts throbbed loudly, and they felt a choky sensation in their throats. Was this fear? they wondered.
There was no time to analyze the question. The confusion was partly over now, and a grim line of Arabs and Somalis stood expectantly behind the barricade.
Suddenly a dusky horde of camels and riders came in sight on the crest of a sandhill two hundred yards to the north. Swiftly they rode down the short slope, fourscore strong at the very least.
Reaching the base, they dismounted, and the riders advanced on foot --- a bloodthirsty, yelling troop of dervishes.
Soon the defenders of the camp could make out the naked bodies, and the frizzled locks, and the great spears and double-edged swords. Over the heads of the fanatics waved several of the standards of the dead El Mahdi --- yellow flags stamped with cross and Koran.
The next instant Mugdi and Khalifa gave the order to fire, and the whole line of the rampart became a sheet of flame and smoke.
Arthur and Roden stood up and fired with the rest, regardless of Godfrey's command to keep low. In the excitement of the moment all symptoms of fear vanished. The baptism of battle found them as brave as old veterans.
It was a deadly fire that raked through the dervishes, leaving great gaps in the ranks. The parched sand drank greedily of life blood, and made a soft bed for dead and dying.
But the fanatics surged on until they were close enough to send a cloud of spears into the camp. Two Arabs and a Somali went down in front of the boys, and Arthur felt a rush of fleet air past his head.
Half of the missiles fell among the camels, and the entire herd stampeded out of the camp, uttering shrill screams of fright and pain. A daring Arab, who tried to stop them was mangled under their hoofs.
This incident went almost unheeded. The plucky defenders of the camp never wavered for an instant. They kept up a steady rifle fire from every part of the rampart.
Above the din rang at intervals the shrill voices of Khalifa and Mugdi. Godfrey seemed to be everywhere at once.
"Aim low," he cried. "Make your bullets tell. They can't hold out long."
But still the dervishes pressed on, yelling like so many fiends. With utter disregard of death they filled up each gap in their front as quickly as it was made. Nearer and nearer carne the mass of savage faces, and overhead still fluttered the bullet-riddled standards of the Faith.
A dense shower of spears cut down more than one brave Arab and Somali, and caused a partial cessation of the rifle fire. This was the signal for a furious rush on the part of the enemy.
Some must have had other weapons than spears and swords, for a pistol flashed at close range, and with the sharp crack Godfrey reeled and fell at the very feet of Arthur and Roden.
The next instant half a score of hideous dervishes had a foothold, on top of the ramparts. The camp was doomed.
At this critical moment, when they had just lost their brave leader, the defenders of the camp had good ground for despair.
Yet it chanced otherwise, for Godfrey's fall seemed to rouse them to a pitch of fury and valor.
Arabs and Somalis gallantly mounted the sand ram parts, and repelled the invaders with clubbed rifles.
Arthur and Roden scarcely heeded the furious hand-to-hand conflict that was raging in front of them. In bitter anguish of heart they bent over their prostrate friend, and called him by name.
"No use," groaned Arthur; "he is dead."
"But I can't find the wound!" exclaimed Roden; "and there is not a drop of blood."
Just then, to the amazement and delight of the boys, Godfrey opened his eyes, and staggered dizzily to his feet.
"What's wrong?" he muttered. "Ah! I remember now. There was a pistol shot, and I felt a stunning pain over my heart."
He unbuttoned his jacket, and pulled out a gold medal that was secured by a string around his neck.
"Look here," he added, and the boys saw that the medal was deeply indented and bent.
"It saved your life!" exclaimed Arthur.
"Yes," replied Godfrey; "the ball struck the medal and glanced off. I was stunned for a moment or two, but I feel all right now. Come on, lads; we can't skulk here any longer."
He picked up his rifle and dashed to the ramparts, followed by his companions. The arrival of the little party greatly cheered the defenders. The dervishes were pressing on as hotly as ever, and along the entire semicircle of the camp a desperate struggle was taking place at close quarters.
The night rang with fierce shouts, and the clash of steel, and the heavy thud of rifle butts.
The boys had no time to think of fear. With admirable coolness, they parried thrusts of spear and sword, and dealt deadly blows at the dusky bodies of the foe.
Yet it seemed only a question of time when the camp would be overpowered and its occupants cut to pieces. In overwhelming numbers the dervishes pressed on. Here and there an Arab or a Somali went down, stricken to death.
But just at the most desperate time, when the de fenders had begun to waver and fall back, curious intervention put an end to hostilities --- at least, temporarily.
It happened in this way: The camels, it will be remembered, had been left under a small escort at the base of the sand ridge. They had traveled many hours without water, and were intensely thirsty. They endured the tantalizing sight and smell of the river as long as possible. Then patience ceased to be a virtue, and they broke into a mad stampede.
As the herd came thundering toward the camp, the dervishes, having no desire to be trampled to death, abandoned the attack, and fled confusedly.
The screaming animals came almost to the ramparts before they swerved aside. Then they took a diagonal course for the river, and gained the shore about sixty yards up stream.
The affair was over in brief time, and the imperiled little band found themselves at liberty to breathe freely. This defense had cost them dear. Three Arabs and two Somalis lay dead, and almost as many were wounded more or less severely.
Outside the camp lay fully a score of dead and dying foes, and their groans of agony were heartrending.
Mugdi and Khalifa set the men at work to repair the trodden ramparts, and then a plentiful supply of am munition was distributed to all hands.
"We owe our lives to the camels," said Godfrey. "This won't save us from another attack, though."
"If we could keep the dervishes from coming to close quarters we would be all right," replied Arthur.,
"True," admitted Godfrey, "and that shall be our aim. We have taught the rascals a severe lesson, and hardly think they will be so valorous the next time."
The work of preparation went busily on, and, meanwhile, the enemy held aloof. The fluttering battle standards marked where a large number were congregated over by the hill. Others surrounded the vast herd of camels, and drove them slowly back from the river.
"They've got our camels, too," exclaimed Roden angrily.
"So they have," muttered Godfrey. "It can't be helped, lad. We'll be lucky to get out of this scrape with our lives."
In the face of the certain ruin that threatened the expedition, the boys cared little for worse evils. It was bitterly hard to have their hopes blasted at so early a stage of the journey.
Godfrey divined their thoughts, but be was unable to offer any substantial consolation. Indeed, he as sumed far more cheerfulness than he really felt. Past experience had shown him what was to be feared from the terrible "Fuzzies."
"Make ready," suddenly cried Khalifa. "The enemy are coming."
There was an instant sally to the ramparts, but the alarm proved to have only a partial foundation. From out the dark, huddled mass of the dervishes emerged a single figure bearing a fluttering strip of white cloth attached to a spear.
The envoy fearlessly advanced to within twenty feet of the camp. Then be paused, and the silvery moonlight showed him to he an Egyptian. He wore high riding boots, a scarlet fez, and a gray uniform slashed with red. His sinister, olive-colored face was shaded by a black mustache.
Godfrey leaned forward and took a long look at the stranger. Then he started back with a hoarse gasp of amazement.
"Safid Pasha!" he cried. "Is it really you? I thought you had perished at Khartoum with Gordon. I might have known better. Such black-hearted scoundrels as you can always find a loophole from death. To turn traitor was your natural destiny."
"As insolent as ever, Godfrey Candon," retorted the Egyptian. "I thought my pistol ball had found its way to your heart a little while past. But I can afford to be magnanimous to a defenseless foe ----"
"Enough of parleying," sternly interrupted Godfrey. "What do you want?"
"I have come to offer you liberal terms of surrender," replied Safid Pasha. "If you lay down your arms and submit, you shall go unharmed to Khartoum. There you will be given a chance to enlist under the new ruler of the Soudan --- ; the successor of El Mahdi, whom I have the honor to serve.
"Do you think to deceive me with such lies?!' cried Godfrey. "Rather would I trust to the mercy of a hungry tiger. Begone, scoundrel, or that white rag shall not protect you longer."
"You will change your tune ere long, my friend," said Safid Pasha mockingly. "A still larger force of dervishes are in my rear, and will arrive here before daylight. I will give you half an hour to decide. If you then refuse my terms not one of you shall escape.
With this the Egyptian turned on his heel and strode swiftly back to his companions.
The boys were curious to know the meaning of what had just transpired.
"Who is the fellow?" asked Roden.
"The most infamous scoundrel that ever went unhung," replied Godfrey. "When I knew Safid Pasha at Cairo in 1884, he was an officer of the Khedive's army. He picked a quarrel with me, and tried to assassinate me in the dark. Later on he went to Khartoum with General Gordon, and was believed to have perished there, when El Mahdi took the city."
"If he turned traitor at such a time his word is not to be trusted," said Arthur. "Do you think he is deceiving us about reinforcements?"
"I hope so," answered Godfrey. "Yet in this case he may be truthful. We are in a tight place, my lads, and no denying it. Were I convinced that Safid Pasha's offer was genuine, I would accept it, and trust to making our escape at the first opportunity."
"If he meant it why did he not make the offer before the attack?" suggested Arthur.
"Ay, that's what proves his insincerity" said Godfrey. "I am convinced that if we surrender we will be immediately cut to pieces. Our only chance lies in fighting our level best and holding out against a siege."
Godfrey managed to infuse his words with a ring of hope that partly cheered the boys. But they had an unforeseen element to reckon with in the shape of dis satisfaction among their own men. Safid Pasha's offer soon became the subject of angry dispute and wrangling among Arabs and Somalis.
They were quickly divided into two equal parties under the leadership of Mahdi and Khalifa, who held opposing views.
The former argued hotly in favor of surrender, holding that in case of a refusal all would ultimately be slaughtered by force of numbers.
Khalifa, on the other band, denounced Safid Pasha as a liar, and begged the men to refuse the terms and fight stubbornly.
Realizing the gravity of the situation, Godfrey threw his influence in the scale. But he could scarcely obtain a hearing, and his eloquence was wasted on the air.
From words the hostile factions came to threats, and rifles and pistols were brandished freely. The two parties fell back to opposite sides of the camp, and a bloody fight seemed imminent. But the crisis was reached when the fiery-tempered Khalifa strode forward and spat deliberately in Mugdi's face.
"By Allah!" he cried scornfully, "it were better for such a coward to turn hewer of wood and drawer of water. You have the heart of a dog."
At this deadly insult --- about the worst that can be offered an Arab --- Mugdi's visage assumed the ferocity of a tiger. With a scream of rage he whirled out a great two-edged sword and dashed at Khalifa.
But the latter was on the alert, and dodged the first blow. Then out flashed his weapon, and at Mugdi's second stroke there was the ringing clash of steel.
Now the combatants settled down to cool, determined work. A space was cleared around them, and on opposite sides stood the sympathizers of each, waiting the result with rapt attention. Godfrey and the two lads looked on from a little distance.
The fighters were well matched, and neither allowed passion to interfere with his dexterity. For a minute or two they dodged warily about, making infrequent and futile thrusts.
Then they came to closer quarters, and the clash of steel was incessant. Sparks flew at every stroke. As yet no blood was drawn. It was wonderful to see how each parried the cuts of his antagonist.
With breathless interest the progress of the struggle was watched. A number of the dervishes, quite unobserved, drew near enough to get a fairly good view. There could have been no better opportunity for an attack, but the enemy, strange to say, did not take advantage of it.
Except for the set of his lips Godfrey was quite impassive, but a very volcano of emotions was burning at his heart. He well understood the real significance of the duel, and the momentous results that hung upon it.
"They can't last much longer," he whispered to the boy. "See, they are growing reckless and excited. God grant that Khalifa will be the victor. Otherwise the tide will turn in Mugdi's favor, and immediate surrender to the enemy will be the result."
"Can't we stop the fight?" exclaimed Roden. "One of the two will surely be killed."
"Impossible," replied Godfrey. "If we dared to interfere our lives would pay the penalty. This is not a common fight, remember. It is a duel according to the Arab principles of honor."
"It is a horrible sight, anyhow," said Arthur, with a shiver of disgust. "If they don't finish quickly, Safid Pasha will be back for his answer."
"Yes," assented Roden, "the half hour must be up now, and --- oh! look! --- look there!"
At that instant Khalifa made so furious an onset that his adversary wavered, and was forced back a pace or two.
Then all that saved Mugdi was a spring to one side, and so dexterously and swiftly did he make it that his enemy's weapon struck deep into the sand. A low, eager murmur ran through the spectators.
Now Mugdi had the advantage, and he was quick as lightning to use it. With a ferocious cry he whirled around and struck at Khalifa. The latter, being off his guard, met the blow but feebly, and his weapon went spinning out of his hands.
For a fraction of a second the defenseless man confronted his terrible opponent. He would have sought safety in flight, but it was too late.
With merciless intent Mugdi swung his great sword on high, and down it hissed with unerring aim, cleaving its way into Khalifa's skull, and rending in two head, nose, and chin until it finally rested in the thick muscles of the neck.
Yells of blended rage and satisfaction burst from the witnesses of the horrid deed. A bloody fight seemed imminent.
Quick as Khalifa fell Mugdi sprang upon the body, and tore the reeking sword free from the wound. Swinging it overhead he turned mockingly to the supporters of the dead man, fearless of their hostile looks.
"What say you now?" he cried. "Are there more who court the same fate? Do ye still refuse to listen to the merciful words of Safid Pasha? Is death better than service under the standard of the Mahdi at Khartoum?"
There was a moment of hesitation. Not thus easily was the eloquence of Khalifa forgotten, though his mangled body lay on the sand.
But Mugdi was alive and defiant, and in the end he achieved a second victory. It came about just as Godfrey had said. The two factions mingled in friendly accord, crying aloud:
"Yes, let us surrender; let us trust to the mercy of Safid Pasha."
With bitter feelings Godfrey and his companions saw the destruction of their last hope. They knew it was useless to appeal further to the mutineers. Their blood boiled with indignation when a strip of white cloth was tied to a gun barrel and mounted on top of the ramparts.
The signal was at once perceived by the enemy, nor were they slow to understand its meaning. In ominous silence the horde of dervishes bore down upon the camp.
"Look," cried Arthur. "All will be over in a few moments. Are you sure, Godfrey, that Safid Pasha is not to be trusted?"
"I will answer for it with my life," replied the Englishman. "I know him only too well."
"Then there is indeed no hope," exclaimed Roden hoarsely. "If we must die, let us die bravely. I, for one, will not surrender to be butchered like these cowards who have betrayed us."
"Well spoken, lad," said Godfrey, "and if it comes to the worst we will do as you suggest. But there is a possible loophole of escape left --- a mighty slim one, though. Stick fast to your rifle and ammunition. This way now."
He led the boys carelessly toward the rear of the camp, past the heaps of baggage, at which they looked sadly and enviously.
They attracted little or no attention. In fact, their presence had been almost forgotten by the Arabs and Somalis, who were now swarming upon the ramparts and throwing their rifles toward the approaching dervishes.
Under cover of the confusion, the little party safely gained the river shore, and there halted for a brief moment in perplexity. In front was the enemy, and behind the swift, impassable tide. To right and left lay level tracts of moonlit sand, stretching away into the misty night.
"Looks blue," muttered Roden. There's no cover in sight anywhere."
"Not even a hump of sand," added Arthur. "Hullo! what's that?"
He eagerly pointed with one hand.
"Camels, by Jove!" Godfrey whispered excitedly. Sure enough, a little bunch of the quadrupeds stood by the river's brink, about one hundred yards up stream. Either they had been overlooked before, or had lately strayed from the main herd.
"There's a chance for us," Godfrey added. "There can't be less than four or five of the animals. If we can get to them without attracting observation we'll be all right."
"I'm game for a trial," whispered Roden.
"So am I," added Arthur.
"Here goes, then," Godfrey replied. "It's deuced risky, but it's that or nothing."
With a few hasty words of warning, he led his companions forward. As soon as they were clear of the rear wall of the camp, they bent nearly double and ran fleetly along the edge of the river.
A minute passed without bringing the dreaded sounds of pursuit. The chances of escape began to loom up brightly.
But just when the goal was nearly reached, the camels wheeled about, and dashed swiftly over the sand toward the main herd.
This was a truly disheartening blow. The fugitives stood still, and looked sadly after the retreating animals. They were too stunned even to speak.
They saw, by the bright moonlight, the horde of dervishes swarm over the ramparts into the camp. They heard the mingling voices of captors and captured. Then a shrill clamor and outcry warned them that they were losing precious moments.
"Since we have lost the camels we must trust to our legs!" exclaimed Godfrey. "That racket means we have been missed. They will be after us like bloodhounds."
Alas! the treacherous moonlight had already shown the three outlined figures to Safid Pasha and his followers. Out from the shadow of the camp sped half a score of eager pursuers.
The fugitives dashed away at full speed, but they were no match for their fleet-footed, half-naked foes. Nearer and nearer came the yelling "Fuzzies," bounding like antelopes over the sand: Godfrey was slightly in advance, and when a misstep sent him sprawling to the ground, his companions fell over him.
All three were quickly on their feet, but not to continue the flight. To die hard was the only thing left, so they wheeled grimly about in the face of the murderous negroes.
At a distance of less than ten feet they opened fire, jerking the triggers madly and desperately.
It was a grim satisfaction to see two of the wretches go down, biting the sand in their death agonies. A mist of powder smoke hid the scene, and then out of it leaped the yelling dervishes. But, strange to say, they showed quarter instead of glutting their swords in the blood of the hapless little party.
After a brief hand to-hand struggle Godfrey and his companions were disarmed and securely pinioned with thongs of camel hide.
They looked at one another in mute amazement, hardly able to realize that they were still alive.
For what terrible fate had they been reserved? There was no hopeful answer to the question in the ferocious -visaged faces of the dervishes. It was certain that they had not shown mercy by their own free will.
But the unexpected leniency was made clear a moment later, when Safid Pasha came hastily over the sand to the spot.
He uttered a few words to the dervishes that caused them to fall apart. Then he folded his arms, and sur veyed the prisoners with a pleased and mocking smile.
"You look discontented," he said. "Truly, misfortune has been yours this night, since your own followers turned against you. But at least you should be grateful to me for sparing your lives."
"Grateful?" exclaimed Godfrey, in a scornful tone.
"I know the value of your mercy, Safid Pasha. If you have spared our lives it is only to reserve us for a worse fate. Better had we died fighting."
"Yonder craven cowards would gladly exchange places with you," replied the Egyptian, pointing to the camp. "It is well that you slipped away from them. Behold the fate which they justly merit.
He drew a pistol from his belt and fired two shots in the air.
This was evidently a prearranged signal. Instantly a fearful hubbub arose from the camp. Yells of savage triumph and the dull crash of swords on flesh and bone mingled with agonizing and blood-curdling screams.
No words were needed to tell the tale. The dervishes had fallen upon the hapless prisoners, and were butchering them without mercy.
As the horrid carnage continued Roden and Arthur shuddered violently, and averted their eyes from the spot. They would have given much to be able to stop their ears.
The half-score of dervishes who had captured God frey and the boys became madly excited. They uttered exultant yells, and brandished their weapons. Only the presence of their ruler prevented them from speeding to join their comrades at the bloody work.
Safid Pasha stood calmly, still with an inscrutable expression on his face. He must have had a heart like a stone.
"Monster! Cold-blooded fiend!" cried Godfrey in a paroxysm of rage. "How can you let those defenseless men be slaughtered?"
"Silence, you dog," muttered the Egyptian angrily.
"No; I will speak," thundered Godfrey. "I denounce you for the devil that you are. Yet I expected that your lying promises would end in just this way."
"All is honorable in war," retorted Safid Pasha. "The new Mahdi has an army of thousands, and needs not this handful of renegade Arabs and Somalis. They are better dead. For you and your two companions I have other views ---- "
"No fouler deed was ever committed," broke in Godfrey. "Some day you will beg for the mercy that you now deny these poor wretches."
At this Safid Pasha lost patience, and his face turned dusky-red with anger. He bent forward, and struck Godfrey violently on the mouth.
"Another word and your tongue shall be torn out!" he cried. "I have had enough insolence. Drive me further and I will turn you and your companions over to the mercy of these ferocious fellows! They need no urging to hack you limb from limb!"
Godfrey realized that the Egyptian was in earnest. For the sake of the boys he kept his temper under control, and allowed the blow to pass unnoticed. But the set and terrible expression of his face showed that he would never forget.
Meanwhile the butchery in the camp had been hur ried along, and now a burst of triumphant cries told that the bloody work was over. The standards of Cross and Koran waved from the ramparts.
With a few words to his men, Safid Pasha hastened in that direction. The former instantly ordered God frey and the boy to their feet, and marched them off toward the ridge.
They passed within one hundred feet of the camp, now swarming with dervishes, and when they reached the herd of camels they were flung roughly down on the sand. Three of their captors squatted on guard near by.
A little later half a dozen tents of tanned skins were pitched, and in one of these the prisoners were placed.
"Safid Pasha seems to be very considerate of our comfort," said Arthur. "What do you think he intends to do with us?"
"I would like to know that myself," replied Godfrey. "You must not be deceived, however, by his mocking attentions. He will take us to Khartoum, and there we will probably be either executed or sold into slavery; and I don't know but what the former is preferable."
"Not to my mind," said Roden, with a shudder. "If we are allowed to live, a chance o, [sic] escape may turn up."
"There's a dim possibility of it," admitted Godfrey, in a despondent tone. "But it don't happen once in a thousand cases that a slave escapes from this part of Africa."
There was silence for a minute or two, while the brothers looked sadly at each other.
"Our poor father" groaned Roden. "Heaven help him!"
"We will save him yet " said Arthur hoarsely.
"Some day we will escape and make our way back to Suakin. We left enough money there with the English bankers to fit out another expedition."
At this point a dervish poked his ugly head into the tent, and made fierce gestures to indicate silence.
The prisoners deemed it wise to obey. They stretched themselves flat on the sand, and before long they fell into a troubled sleep.
They knew nothing more until they awoke with a start, to find that the tent had, been unceremoniously dragged from over them.
It was early morning, and the sun was sending a rosy glimmer above the flat horizon of the desert. Already the bustle of preparation for departure was going on.
The camels stood waiting, a number of them loaded with the valuable stores which Godfrey and his com panions had purchased with such care. The plundered rifles had been distributed among the dervishes.
Off toward the river the camp was in plain view, and with equal clearness a heap of bloody corpses could be seen inside the down-trodden ramparts. There the victims of Safid Pasha's perfidy were destined to lie, rotting and festering under the fierce sun, or making food for prowling jackals.
Safid Pasha moved calmly about, giving directions. here and there, or superintending the digging of a trench in which the dead dervishes were to be buried.
Only once did he so much as recognize the existence of the prisoners, and then it was to order a frugal breakfast to be taken to them.
They ate the coarse food with keen relish, and washed it down with water from their canteens.
Evidently the reinforcements of which Safid Pasha had spoken had a mythical existence. None appeared, at any rate, and before the sun was well above the horizon, the long column of dervishes and camels was moving swiftly up the shore of the Atbara River.
The prisoners had each an animal to themselves, and their position was near the center of the line.
The journey that followed need not be described in detail. Let it suffice to say that the camels were urged to their limit of speed and endurance.
After fording the Atbara River they trotted swiftly to the southwest for two days and a night, making brief and infrequent stops by desert wells.
It was close to evening when the dreaded and fanatical city of Khartoum was reached. It lay on a sandy spit of land formed by the junction of the Blue and White Niles.
From a distance of half a mile the boys saw the sun shining on the ramparts, the stretch of walls, and the far-reaching cluster of low, yellow houses.
In the center rose a great, square, flat-roofed building. This was the palace, and from its top, through many weary months, General Gordon had vainly strained his eyes down the sweep of the Nile to see the relief that never came.
Numerous big boats of broad construction were ferried across the Blue Nile in response to Safid Pasha's signals, and by sunset the weary travelers were filing through the streets of the town.
Godfrey and his companions were on the verge of exhaustion, and looked indifferently at the strange scenes around them.
Of course no white face was visible, nor had one been seen there for years.
Everywhere were dusky, merciless visages --- renegade Egyptian soldiers, the fierce dervishes of the Soudan, native traders from all parts of Africa, and troops of miserable, shackled slaves.
Through a shouting, yelling horde of spectators the cavalcade moved on. In the dusk of twilight it passed through the square, on one side of which stood the palace, and on the other the church of the Austrian Mission, where Gordon had met his death in the early gray of the morning of January 26, 1885.
Then down a narrow side street to the gloomy front of the prison, and five minutes later the captives were alone in a dark, foul-smelling cell.
They paid no heed to their surroundings then, nor cared much what their fate was destined to be. They dropped down on the coarse bedding of straw, and were almost instantly asleep.
It was past noon of the next day when they woke to a keen and troubled sense of their miserable plight. That they were not separated was to be thankful for.
During the long, monotonous days that followed, a little ray of hope took root in their hearts. They ap peared to be forgotten, for no one in authority came near their cell.
"Our fate is not decided yet," said Godfrey. "Possibly we may languish here in prison for years."
This prospect looked less black to his companions than to himself. Arthur and Roden felt confident that, if the boon of life was granted them there must be some chance of escape in the future.
A week passed by, and another began. The prison ers were well fed, but still no one came near their cell except the renegade Egyptian soldiers who had charge of the prison.
From one of the latter, who was disposed to be a little friendly, Godfrey learned that the new ruler of the Soudan was a Sheik of the Baggara Arabs --- a distant relative of the dead Mahdi, Mohamet Achmed.
The guard described him as being of a very savage and cruel disposition, and far more of a fanatic than his illustrious predecessor.
This the prisoners could readily believe, for the Mahdi was well known to have been a merciful man, and had he been able to save Gordon's life he would probably have done so.
On the morning of the tenth day of their confinement Godfrey and the boys were sitting side by side against the grimy wall of their cell.
They had just finished breakfast, and were discussing, for probably the fiftieth time, the chances of escape.
"It is too soon yet to lay plans," said Godfrey. "I'll admit, though, that it looks very much as if our lives were to be spared."
"And does that mean that we will be kept right here?" asked Arthur.
"It means that we will be sold into slavery at the first opportunity," replied Godfrey. "If we escape at all it must be from this prison. Money is powerful the world over, and we fortunately have our belts of gold still concealed on our persons. When the proper time comes ----"
He paused, and held up a warning finger. The boys listened, alarmed to hear a confused tumult from the lower floor of the prison.
A moment later the tread of many feet and the jangle of arms echoed along the corridor. Then the cell door was thrown open, revealing a group of Arab soldiers. Safid Pasha strode inside. His evil face wore a mocking smile of hate und triumph.
"Follow me, dogs!" he cried harshly. "Your time has come."
The white, frightened faces of the prisoners showed how sudden and unexpected was this blow. They understood the command as a summons to execution.
Godfrey was the first to recover self-control.
"Be brave, lads," he whispered. "Don't disgrace your flag."
The admonition was hardly needed. In this moment of despair, Arthur and Roden showed the genuine pluck and nerve that is the heritage of every young American.
They defiantly confronted Safid Pasha. Not a mus cle quivered, and only the pallor of their cheeks told of repressed agitation.
Between two rows of soldiers the captives marched out of the cell and down to the lower floor of the prison.
After a brief delay here, they passed out into the street, and thence on toward the square, followed by a dense and hooting crowd. A file of Soudanese soldiers before the palace seemed to indicate the place of execution.
It was a pleasing surprise then when Safid Pasha led the way into a vast room on the lower floor of the building.
An instant later, the prisoners were before the new Mahdi --- the present ruler of the Soudan, and the one time Sheik of the Baggara Arabs.
He was a powerful, bearded man, with a ferocious cast of features. He sat on a sort of platform, covered with cloth, and was surrounded by scores of armed dervishes and Egyptians.
"I think I know what this means," Godfrey whispered to his companions. "A proposition will be made to you, though I will not be included in it. You must either accept or refuse. It will be a hard choice, but I advise you, for the sake of your father, to accept life on any terms."
He had no opportunity to explain further, for Safid Pasha had just finished a conversation with the Mahdi. Now the former turned to the prisoners in the character of interpreter.
Godfrey was plied with questions concerning the state of affairs at Suakin and other points in Egypt, and on matters relating to England's intended policy with the Soudan.
To every one he returned an evasive and unsatisfactory answer, and he was so imprudent as to add that General Gordon's death would some day be avenged.
On this being interpreted to the Mahdi, he exhibited symptoms of intense rage, and, for a moment, he was inclined to order the prisoner's head to be struck off in his presence.
But he finally cooled down and spoke a few hasty words to Safid Pasha, who instantly turned to the prisoners with a malicious grin of satisfaction on his face.
"The Mahdi has spoken," he said. "You, Godfrey Congdon, will be beheaded in the Palace Square at sunrise to-morrow."
Godfrey heard the dread sentence of doom with un changed features.
"Foul-hearted dog of a traitor!" he hissed, in a low tone.
Safid Pasha flushed with rage, but he was powerless to resent the bitter words.
"The Koran commands that all heretics shall be slain," he said, glaring fiercely at the two lads, "yet the Mahdi is willing to grant you mercy. He bids you cast aside your false religion and embrace the true faith of Mohammed. On these terms he will spare your lives and give you positions of honor in the palace."
A most impressive silence ensued. Arthur and Roden looked eagerly at each other, and then turned to Godfrey, who quietly nodded his head.
Still the brave boys hesitated. It was a critical test that they were called upon to endure --- a test as severe as those by which the Christian martyrs of old were tried.
The choice rested with them. On the one hand was life --- and never had it seemed sweeter than now --- the prospect of escape in the future, of finding and rescuing their father, and of going back together to the dear American home.
On the other hand was the black end of every thing --- speedy and terrible death by Arab swords.
Yet in this supreme moment the boys held fast to honor. It was Godfrey's calm heroism that decided their choice and led Roden to cry bravely to Safid Pasha.
"Tell the Mahdi that I refuse his offer. If my companion dies, I die with him."
"And my answer is the same," said Arthur, resting one hand on his brother's shoulder. "Better death, Roden, than to deny God!"
A tear shone in Godfrey's eye.
"Stop, lads," he implored. "Think once again before you decide. Do not be persuaded to share my fate out of a mistaken sense of loyalty. Believe me, I shall die the happier for knowing that you will live."
But these words only steeled the brave boys to their resolution. They repeated their answer to Safid Pasha, who quickly interpreted it to his master.
The Mahdi's brutal face lighted up with something that was very akin to admiration. Then he pronounced a similar sentence to Godfrey's.
This was what Safid Pasha had most desired, and he could scarcely repress his joy and satisfaction.
"Allah is great!" he cried, turning to the prisoners. "His will be done! Vile heretics, you will die together just as the sun rises on Khartoum to- morrow morning."
A low murmur ran through the assembled audience. The news seemed to have reached the square, for a great shouting and yelling arose.
The boys turned a trifle paler. For a moment a mist swam before their eyes, and they felt faint.
A sharp gasp of surprise from Godfrey broke the spell; with an eager expression on his face he was staring across the room.
"What is it?" asked Roden.
Godfrey's eyes fell, and he looked at the lad with unutterable sadness.
"I saw a white face back by yonder doorway," he replied. "It is gone now."
"A white face?" exclaimed both boys incredulously.
"Yes," Godfrey asserted. "I am not mistaken. Though deeply bronzed, the features were European."
"Perhaps it is some one who may aid us," said Arthur.
"If we could only get a chance to talk to him," added Roden.
Godfrey shook his head.
"Don't build up false hopes, lads. It is best to forget the matter. No white man can be here other than as a foul traitor. It is some wretch, perhaps, who was tempted as we have been, and forgot God and loyalty."
At this point the guards laid hold of the prisoners and hustled them into the square. A hooting crowd followed to the prison doors, and when the wretched captives were locked in their cell they still heard the hoarse outcry through the thick walls.
They were too stunned and dazed to pay heed to anything. The balance of the day passed like a dream. They left their dinner untouched. Constantly before them was the vision of the square and the executioners.
Toward evening a keener sense of their impending doom roused them a little. In vain they discussed all sorts of harebrained measures for escape. They even examined the stout walls of their cell, and the one narrow, grated window.
About sunset Selim, the friendly-disposed guard previously mentioned, entered the cell with a jug of water and a platter of coarse cakes. As he hastened away be gave the prisoners a peculiar glance, the meaning or which they were destined to discover shortly.
"I believe the fellow pities us," said Godfrey.
"Come, my lads, try to eat a little."
"I can't," replied Arthur. "I'm not hungry."
"Nor I," added Roden. "I feel as though I would go mad. Look, the sun is fading. We have seen it for the last time. Oh! my father --- my poor father."
"Bear up, my lads," said Godfrey. "It will soon be over. Your father will join you in a better world than this. I know how you feel, for I, too, have dear relatives in England. And they will never know----"
He suddenly paused, and uttered a low, eager cry. From the bottom of the platter, where it had been con cealed under the cakes, he drew a crumpled bit of yellow paper.
"What is it?" exclaimed both lads.
"Wait," Godfrey whispered.
With trembling hands he unfolded the paper, and instantly his face flushed.
"Listen!" he muttered. "What do you make of this?"
Then he read aloud the following:
"Have you money or any articles of value on your persons? If so, give them to the guard when he comes again. Trust all to your unknown friend."
Arthur and Roden trembled with joy. They could hardly believe that they had heard aright. They took the message and eagerly examined it. The writing was bold and legible.
"Better destroy this," said Godfrey, putting the paper into his mouth and chewing it to a pulp.
"Thank God!" he added fervently. "He has raised us up a friend in the time of our need."
"Who can it be?" exclaimed Arthur.
"The white man whom Godfrey saw in the palace, of course," replied Roden.
"It must be," assented Godfrey. "But I must warn you, lads, not to build your hopes too high. The message is somewhat of an enigma. We cannot tell as yet what it will lead to."
"It must lead to escape," cried Arthur. "It must. And I feel it will."
"We shall speedily know the worst or the best," replied Godfrey. "We will follow instructions, and when Selim comes back ----.
"How fortunate that we brought money along," interrupted Roden, who was already fumbling for his belt. "We have between us five hundred dollars in gold."
"Of which a third is in my possession," broke in Godfrey. "Let us try that first. It may prove sufficient."
"Hush!" he added hurriedly. "We may be overheard. Try to eat your supper as calmly as though nothing had happened. Remember that there are other guards in the prison beside Selim."
With an effort the boys forced their excitement under control. They even managed to eat the coarse cakes with a relish.
A half-hour slipped by, while the prisoners waited in silence amid the deepening gloom. Their hearts thrilled when quick footsteps were heard in the corridor.
Selim unlocked the door and entered the cell He stooped and picked up the platter and the jug. Then he stood significantly still.
Godfrey, had previously removed his money belt. Now he opened the end, and poured a shower of golden coin into the guard's outstretched hand.
In the dim light Selim's dusky face shone with greed. Evidently what he had received was beyond his expectations.
He stowed the money away in his clothes, and lis tened keenly for a moment. Then he took a flat, broad package wrapped in paper from under his blouse, and let it slip noiselessly to the floor.
Without a word he glided from the cell, closing and locking the door.
Before Selim's footsteps had died away Godfrey seized the package and eagerly tore it open.
Roden and Arthur uttered low exclamations of de light as a coil of thin hempen rope and a short-bladed knife fell to the floor.
In the wrapper Godfrey found another message on a scrap of paper. It was very brief and concise:im is on duty until morning. At midnight the bell of the mosque, opposite the prison, will peal. When you hear it, pretend to be quarreling. This will give Selim a pretext to enter the cell. Then overpower him, and bind and gag him securely. Lock him in the cell and take his keys. In cell number 40, on the same floor you will find a trapdoor leading to the roof. Fasten the rope to the parapet of the rear wall, and descend to the ground. There a friend will be waiting. Destroy this letter.Godfrey re-read the note to himself. Then he crumpled it up, and began to chew it between his teeth. For a moment the prisoners were half-stupid with joy. They felt that escape was already assured.
"Won't Safid Pasha be furious if be finds us missing in the morning?" said Arthur.
"Don't count on safety yet," replied Godfrey. "The least hitch will spoil everything. Even if we get out of the prison, the town and its countless perils are still before us."
These words somewhat cooled the ardor of the boys. It was, indeed, best that they should not count too much upon escaping the Mahdi's sentence of death. Godfrey had not exaggerated the meshwork of danger. "The man signs himself Napoleon," said Roden, after some further discussion of the note. "That's a queer name."
"He is either a Frenchman or a lunatic," said Godfrey. "Perhaps both."
"But a lunatic could hardly have planned such a thing, or induced the guard to help him," argued, Roden.
"That's clever reasoning, my lad," Godfrey replied. "And I dare say you are right."
"It looks as though Selim would have the worst of it," said Arthur. "He won't find it easy to make suitable excuses to the Mahdi or Safid Pasha."
"He probably thinks that the gold will atone for any punishment he may receive," suggested Godfrey. "But that is his affair, not ours."
"By the way," remarked Arthur, "how does it happen that the cells are numbered in English characters?"
"It must have been done when General Gordon was ruler of Khartoum," Roden answered.
"No doubt that's the case," said Godfrey. "And now I would advise you lads to drop conversation. We had better wait in silence."
The boys heeded this piece of advice, and from that time on scarcely a whisper broke the quiet of the cell.
The monotony and painful suspense of those hours of waiting were beyond description. At intervals the footsteps of the guard passed the door.
Gradually the wonted sounds from the lower floor died away. Prisoners and officials were asleep. Of the former there were probably but few in the building, since offenders against the Mahdi usually went into slavery or to the sword.
When patience had reached its utmost limit, and Godfrey, and his companions were beginning to think that the midnight hour was long past, they were suddenly stirred to hope by the looked-for signal. The bell of the adjacent mosque began to peal in deep and solemn tones.
The prisoners listened anxiously until the last stroke died away in echoes over the sleeping city.
"Now," muttered Godfrey, and seizing Roden by the shoulders he began to drag him about the cell. Both made a scuffling noise with their feet, and uttered low, hoarse cries.
In the midst of this clever bit of acting the cell door was thrown open, and the dimly burning lamp in the corridor revealed the tall figure of the guard.
"Silence, dogs!" he cried, in a purposely loud voice. "Do you wish to taste the sword before the appointed time?" As he spoke he made two steps forward, and quickly Godfrey had him tightly by the throat.
Selim allowed himself to be handled like a child, and in a very brief time he was bound and gagged, and lying in a far corner of the cell.
Yet the time had been amply sufficient for a visitor to seek and gain admittance at the main door of the prison. Godfrey and the boys heard nothing of it, owing to the muffled noise that was made in overpowering and securing the guard.
Now, just as they were ready to leave, the sound of approaching footsteps fell on their ears. Godfrey's first impression was that Selim had betrayed them.
"Some one is coming, lads," he whispered.
The boys turned pale, and jerked out the revolvers they had taken from Selim.
"We won't be recaptured alive," muttered Arthur, gritting his teeth.
"Hold on," added Godfrey. "A bit of strategy may save us. Out of sight, lads, quick!"
Arthur and Roden hastily slipped behind one side of the doorway, and Godfrey posted himself on the other.
There was a look of grim resolve on his face as he grasped Selim's reversed rifle in both hands.
Closer and closer came the firm, steady tread. Now the footsteps paused just outside, and an instant later the bulky figure of Safi Pasha was projected fairly within the cell.
The Egyptian's eyes were momentarily blinded by the sudden change from light to darkness; and before he could see clearly, a stunning blow on the forehead from the stock of Godfrey's weapon brought him heavily to the floor.
Not a cry escaped his lips; not a limb moved. He lay in a limp heap as one dead.
Godfrey darted noiselessly from the cell, and in a few seconds he was back.
"All quiet," he announced, in an eager whisper.
"There may yet be time to carry out the escape."
"What do you suppose brought Safid Pasha here at such an hour?" asked Roden.
"Probably he wanted to make sure that we were safe," suggested Arthur.
"Well, he found out," muttered Godfrey, as he bent over the body. "He is only stunned, and I have half a mind to finish him. I have not forgotten the cowardly blow he gave me.
"No, I won't stain my hands needlessly with blood," he added. "And, beside, there is not a moment to spare. Some one will be sure to come in search of the ruffian or of Selim. We have safely accomplished the first step. Now for the next."
There was one thing to be done, however, before the prisoners could leave the cell. They cut off more rope, and bound and gagged Safid Pasha, then placed him alongside of Selim.
He was still unconscious, and an ugly, swollen lump was on his forehead. His only weapon was a sword, and this was not taken from him.
"Now, then, lads," whispered Godfrey.
He pushed his companions into the corridor, and closed and locked the cell door with one of the keys from Selim's bunch.
On the upper and lower floors all was quiet. As yet Safid Pasha's absence had not aroused suspicion.
Lest some of the nearby cells should be tenanted, the fugitives did not dare to speak as they crept noiselessly along the gloomy corridor.
Twenty feet straight ahead, then an angle, then twenty feet more --- and cell No. 40 was before them. Luckily it was as far removed as possible from the staircase, being in the very rear of the prison.
Godfrey tried one key after another. At the fourth trial the lock turned, and the door grated slowly open.
The dim light from the corridor shone into the cell, revealing a heap of rubbishy odds and ends in the way of rickety furniture and broken weapons.
"It's a regular storeroom," said Arthur. "This stuff must date back to Gordon's time."
"Hush! Not so loud!" warned Godfrey. "Wait here a moment."
He made his way noiselessly to the rear of the cell, and then beckoned the boys inside.
"It's all right," he whispered. "Here's a little iron ladder leading up to a trap in the roof. One of you had better ascend."
"I'll go," volunteered Roden.
"All right," assented Godfrey. "Don't make any noise, and be sure to test each rung before you bear your weight upon it."
Then he slipped back and softly closed the cell door. He could not lock it from the inside, so he put the keys in his pocket.
"Safid Pasha won't be at liberty in a hurry," he reflected, " unless the jailer has duplicate keys, or bursts the door open."
Meanwhile Roden had climbed to the ceiling. In spite of the darkness he found a rusty hook, and tore it from its fastenings by a couple of jerks. Then he slid the door back; and trembled with joy to feel the cool night air, and see the shining stars overhead.
He pulled himself out on the roof, and in a short time his companions were safely beside him.
After listening long enough to make sure that all was quiet beneath them, they softly closed the trap. Then they stood up, and looked eagerly in all directions.
It was a grand and peaceful scene that met their eyes. On four sides stretched the low roofs of the sleeping town, with here and there a twinkling light. The Palace Square --- place of dread associations --- could be plainly made out.
To the right and left flowed the Blue and White Niles, glimmering in the pallid light of a murky fragment of moon. Straight ahead to the north, where the two rivers united, the mightier stream began its eighteen-hundred-mile journey to Cairo and civilization.
Of greater interest to Arthur and Roden was the southward stretch of the White Nile, for somewhere near its remote headwaters they knew their father to be a captive among barbarous savages.
Indeed, they stared so long and earnestly that Godfrey had to recall them to the present.
"It won't do to linger here," he whispered. "At any moment our escape may be discovered. And bear in mind that our mysterious benefactor is waiting for us below."
Arthur approached the low parapet-which was only three or four feet away --- and thrust his head over.
"Do you see anything?" asked Roden.
"No, it's dark as pitch," was the reply.
"So much the better, lads," whispered Godfrey, who had meanwhile been knotting the hempen rope at intervals of a foot.
Now he secured one end to a buttress of the parapet, and let the other end drop down.
"I'll go first," he insisted, in spite of the protests of his companions, "Then I'll be on hand in case either of you should fall."
He secured the rifle to his back, swung over the parapet, and went quickly down hand over hand.
In a short time the boys heard a slight noise, and felt the rope grow slack. Arthur was the next to venture, and then came Roden's turn.
With a fast-beating heart he began the descent, slipping from knot to knot. The rope cut the palms of his hands, and several times he bumped roughly against the wall.
Suddenly the rope ended, and he found himself swinging in the air. Before he could realize what it meant, a pair of strong arms caught him by the waist and lifted him to the ground.
Godfrey and Arthur stood beside him, and to the right and left ran a dark and narrow passage, between high blank walls.
There was no sign of the mysterious stranger.
"He may have gone away, thinking that the plan had failed," whispered Godfrey. "We are behind time on account of Safid Pasha."
"Then we'll have to strike out for ourselves," whispered Arthur. "If we only knew which way was the safest, and ----"
The sentence ended in a little gasp of fright, for at that instant, and as suddenly as though he had risen from the ground, the tall figure of a man appeared beside the fugitives.
"Thank God that you have succeeded," whispered the stranger, in a voice that trembled with emotion, and which was unmistakably English. "I was beginning to despair. I feared lest Selim's courage would falter."
"No; Selim did his part well," replied Godfrey. "It was Safid Pasha who detained us."
In a few words he related the incident.
"That is truly unfortunate," muttered the stranger.
"I had counted upon a start of several hours. Now we are in imminent peril, and must lose no time. This way, my friends."
He led the party a few feet down the passage, and then turned into a dark and narrow archway that had no outlet. He quickly emerged with a huge bundle in his arms. He tore it apart, revealing four spacious Arab cloaks, and the same number of flowing white burnooses.
"Here are disguises that may save our lives," he whispered. "Slip them on at once over your clothes."
The fugitives hastily obeyed, and while so doing they stole curious glances at their unknown friend.
The dim light showed him to be a man of middle age, with dark eyes and hair, a tangled beard and mustache, and features of extraordinary ugliness. Indeed, he reminded the boys of Holly, the impish-looking character in Rider Haggard's "She."
When rigged out in his Arab costume he presented a truly formidable appearance.
,"Sir, you have saved us from a dreadful death," said Godfrey. "No words can express our gratitude. Surely, you are English, like myself?"
"Yes, I am an Englishman," replied the stranger hastily. "My name is Napoleon Bunbury, and I am by profession an aeronaut. This is no time to relate my strange story. Let it suffice to say that I have been a captive at Khartoum for six months. I should hardly say captive, for by pretending to be insane my life was saved, and I was allowed the freedom of the city. You must know that the Arabs, like the Indians of North America, look with pity on all of unsound mind. I played the part well, and thus was enabled to devise this plan for your escape --- and mine as well. Fortunately, I did Selim a service some days since, and he proved willing to return it."
"But could you not have made your escape long ago?" asked Godfrey..
"Yes, had I chosen to go by myself. But I needed companions to assist me in an enterprise of which I shall tell you more later. Your gratitude shall be put to a test possibly, in a trying way. Now let us be off. A boat, stocked with provisions and arms, is waiting at the end of the town."
This was glorious news to Godfrey and the boys, and they felt that their safety was already assured. As they followed their rescuer through the dark thoroughfare, they wondered vaguely what he meant by promising to put their gratitude to a trying test.
A faint doubt of his sanity still lingered obstinately in their minds. His uncouth appearance and pompous manner seemed to strengthen the suspicion. And what could have brought a professional aeronaut to Africa?
But, if Napoleon Bunbury was a lunatic, he was a most shrewd and practical one. He showed his intimate knowledge of the town by leading his companions through a maze of narrow and silent streets.
They were soon far from the prison and the Palace Square. On all sides slept hordes of bloodthirsty ruffians, but fortunately none of them woke up.
From the more populous quarters of the town came vague noises --- the rattle of arms, dull footsteps, of the bawling of drunken voices.. Now and then a cross street showed moving figures in the distance.
It was impossible to keep always in the darkness, for flickering street lamps and patches of moonlight often barred the way.
At such places the fugitives walked boldly and confidently, trusting to their Arab disguises to preserve them from danger.
Bunbury seemed to have something about his person that he was afraid of losing or breaking. He kept one hand constantly under his cloak. He avoided the walls of the houses, and was careful not to come in contact with his companions.
"He acts as though, he was loaded with dynamite bombs," whispered Arthur.
"He know what he's about, depend upon it," Godfrey replied, in a tone of mild rebuke.
Twenty minutes had now gone by, and the fugitives were still in the maze of dingy streets. It was owing to Bunbury's circuitous route that they were not already clear of the town.
"Have we far to go yet?" Godfrey asked.
"But a short distance," whispered Bunbury, turning partly around.
"I'm glad of that," muttered Roden. "If our escape isn't discovered yet, it soon will be."
The words had hardly left his lips when the report of a gun rang loud and sharp from the rear.
The fugitives stopped and looked at one another in mute fear.
Bang! bang! Two more shots rang out instantly. Then a bell began to clang like mad, and from all quarters of the town came a hubbub of shrill voices.
"All is discovered!" cried Godfrey. "Nothing but speed and pluck will save us now."
"Yes," assented Bunbury; "the town will be like a stirred-up hornets' nest in a moment or two. Run, my friends. We must elude the human bloodhounds. If all else fails there is still one resource left."
"To die like men," cried Godfrey, "and with our faces to the foe."
"No; not that," replied Bunbury. "I have here a deadly and terrible instrument ----"
The sentence was never finished, for just then a group of dusky figures tumbled out of the houses directly in the rear. With shrill cries that roused the whole neighborhood,. they dashed swiftly forward.
As yet they probably took the fugitives to be some of their own friends, but they were not long left in ignorance.
As Bunbury and his companions turned into a cross street, Roden tripped and fell. In rising to his feet he lost his cloak and burnoose, thus revealing his identity to the pursuing dervishes.
There was no further need of concealment now, and the others flung off their disguises in order to run the faster.
The little band sped like deer along the narrow street, driving before them half a dozen ruffians who had bolted out of doorways.
The dervishes in the rear fell back a little when Godfrey sent two rifle-balls whistling over their heads.
The town. was now in a state of alarm from end to end, and hundreds of throats blended in a roar that was like the breaking of surf on a rock-bound coast.
The fugitives dashed on, fearing every minute to be cut off and surrounded.
But fortunately they were near the verge of the town, and it was a glad moment when the straggling street ended, and they saw before them the open spit of sand that lies at the intersection of the two rivers.
Panting and exhausted they staggered on, and when they came within a dozen feet of the shining water the foremost of the yelling dervishes were close behind.
Bunbury stopped and threw up his arms in despair. "The boat is gone!" he cried hoarsely.
Yes, the boat was indeed gone. No trace of it was to be seen on the shore, or so far down the river as the eye could reach. Hope had turned suddenly to bitter despair. It was a terrible moment for the fugitives, and they nearly lost the self-control that had sustained them so long. They halted at the water's edge, and turned around. The dervishes were close behind, howling with delight at the way they had trapped their victims.
With a passionate exclamation Godfrey aimed his rifle and fired. One of the ruffians was seen to drop. His companions gathered around the body for a moment, and then fell back a few paces.
"They will soon be upon us," cried Bunbury. "Heaven help us! We are as good as dead men. It is doubly hard just when escape was no near."
"Is there no hope at all?" exclaimed Arthur.
"None, my dear brother," Roden hoarsely replied.
"Let us face the worst bravely."
"We will have a minute or two of grace," declared Godfrey, "if only there were a way to utilize it to our advantage. See, the group of dervishes yonder are waiting for a larger force to arrive. They don't care to risk their lives recklessly, for they know that we are tightly trapped and cannot escape. But I see no ray of hope. We must make up our minds to die like brave men."
"It will soon be over, then," said Arthur. "Look, here come hordes of the bloodthirsty ruffians."
The lad was right. A dark mass could be seen pouring out upon the sand from the mouth of the street. Hoarse and savage yells came floating on the night air.
Just at this critical moment Roden made a discovery.
"What is that?" he cried eagerly, as he pointed a trembling hand at a misty object that lay some thirty feet up the right shore of the sand spit, and was nearly opposite the waiting group of dervishes.
All eyes were turned to the spot.
"It's a boat," shouted Bunbury, "not our boat, but one that would do as well could we get possession of it."
"And why can't we?" demanded Arthur.
"Because the moment we rush in that direction the enemy will discover our purpose and cut us off," Bunbury replied. "We will be butchered instantly."
"That's where you're wrong," exclaimed Godfrey. "Instead of the boat being hopelessly out of reach, I think we can capture it by a clever stratagem, for the dervishes have evidently not yet seen it. This is the plan, comrades. We will dash straight at the ruffians, I shooting and you yelling as savagely as you can. Ten to one the dervishes will fall back, and then we will quickly turn aside, gain the boat, and push it into the current. "
"Hurrah!" cried the boys; "it will work like a charm."
"I think it will myself," exclaimed Bunbury, " but----"
"No time to lose," Godfrey interrupted. "Here come the rest of the mob, and we can't hope to drive them back. Are you ready? --- ; off we go, then. Look sharp, and don't lose courage."
With this the four desperate fugitives charged straight at their foe, yelling at the top of their voices. As he ran, Godfrey fired shot after shot, nor did he aim carelessly, for several of the swarthy ruffians were seen to fall.
Terrified with the death-dealing rifle-balls, and by the reckless daring of the little band, the dervishes actually did turn, and run back in cowardly confusion to join the nearby reinforcements.
"Now, comrades, for the boat!" Godfrey's voice rang loud and clear, and as his companions quickly swerved aside and sped for the shore, he followed at their heels, guarding the rear.
The boat was a rude flat, long, broad, and heavy, but it rested lightly on the sand. Bunbury was the first to spring in, and as Arthur and Roden jumped after him they heard the crack of rifles, and felt bullets and spears whistle by them.
On turning quickly to look back, they saw the horde of howling dervishes dashing toward the spot Godfrey had halted ten feet from the boat to face the enemy.
"Come on, Godfrey," cried the alarmed boys; "run for your life."
"The reckless fellow will be killed," exclaimed Bunbury.
But Godfrey knew what he was about. With uner ring aim he poured shot after shot into the midst of the dervishes, himself miraculously escaping harm from flying spears and musket balls.
Then, as the foe wavered and hung back a little, he turned, and gained the boat in three strides. With a shove of his muscular arms he drove it, into the current, and sprang over the gunwale with a flying leap.
"Down --- down for your lives!" he cried. "Lie flat on the bottom."
Bunbury and the boys at once obeyed the command, and Godfrey threw himself beside them. On and on swung the now rapidly moving craft, pitching and tossing in a manner that showed it to be in the embrace of a swift current. The air rang with hideous cries of rage, and showers of spears and bullets spattered the water on all sides.
But at length the tumult and the shooting grew fainter, and then ceased altogether. The trembling fugitives ventured to lift their heads above the gunwale, and then to sit up.
What they saw filled their hearts with a great wave of gratitude and joy.
In front was the broad moonlit bosom of the Nile --- the mighty flood formed by the junction of the two great branches. To right and left the misty outlines of the shore could be seen far away.
A quarter of a mile behind lay Khartoum and its spit of land. There was still some commotion, and lights were flashing here and there.
"We are clear of the ruffians at last," said Godfrey. "That's the closest shave I ever made. Ugh! I shiver to think of it."'
"It was you who saved us," replied Arthur, "and at the risk of your own life."
"We shall never forget it," said Roden, in a grateful tone.
"It was the only thing to do," Godfrey answered, "and I did it as well as I knew how. The rascals were neatly tricked, I admit. I'd give a good deal for a glimpse of Safid Pasha's face just now."
"Your wish is likely to be gratified before many hours have passed," said Bunbury, who had been gaz ing sadly and thoughtfully on the water. "Without means of navigating this boat we are little better off than we were before. There are fortunately no steamers at Khartoum, but there are plenty of other craft, large and small, and in these the Arabs will surely pursue us."
"And we can't hope to keep ahead of them long, even with the swift current?" asked Godfrey.
"It is only a question of time," Bunbury answered.
"And without poles or oars we can't reach either shore?" resumed Godfrey.
Bunbury shook his head.
"We are in mid-river," he muttered.
Godfrey pulled hard at his mustache, and gazed sternly upstream at the dark blotch that marked where Khartoum lay. Arthur and Roden sat side by side in the stern of the boat, made sad and silent by the storm-cloud of danger that seemed to be gathering over them.
"It is fate, my friends," said Bunbury. "We cannot avert it. Whatever Heaven wills, that must we submit to."
For an hour the boat sped swiftly down the broad Nile, and in that time there was but little conversation. The castaways sat in gloomy silence, straining their eyes over the misty waters. At length Godfrey called attention to a number of black specks that were visible in the moonlight far up the river.
"It has come at last," declared Bunbury. "They are boats full of Arabs, and they are moving swiftly."
"How soon will they overhaul us?" asked Arthur.
"Perhaps in an hour," was the reply.
Another hour of suspense and waiting for death! It was maddening to think of, and the fugitives paced restlessly up and down the flat, pausing now and then to note the progress of the hostile fleet.
Presently it was seen that two boats of unusually large size had crept far in advance of the others. They came on rapidly, and before the hour had passed they were only half a mile behind the fugitives, while the rest of the fleet seemed to be making scarcely any progress.
Bunbury now showed signs of great agitation. He paced to and fro in the stern of the boat, keeping his eyes fixed up the river, and holding fast to the mysterious object that was under his cloak. He was evidently disinclined to talk.
Nearer and nearer came the two boats, until it was clearly seen that they were long and rather narrow. Each was filled to the gunwales with armed dervishes, and was navigated by half a dozen pairs of strong oars.
Suddenly one of the boats seemed to ground on a shallow bar or a rock. It stuck fast for five minutes, and when it was finally dislodged, it was a quarter of a mile behind the other. This intervening distance was maintained as the two came swifty [sic] on in pursuit of the fugitives.
When the foremost boat was within a hundred yards, Godfrey raised his rifle and fired three shots in quick succession.
"That will show the fiends what sort of resistance they may expect from us," he muttered, as he noted the confusion among the dervishes.
A couple of shrill cries of agony rang over the water, and were instantly smothered by yells of rage.
The oars lay motionless for a short time. Then they rapidly beat the water again, and the boat came on.
"Don't shoot any more," said Bunbury. "It can't do any good."
"I know that," replied Godfrey, "but it's some satisfaction to get even with the ruffians before they put an end to us."
"It is barely possible that they won't do that, my friend," declared Bunbury, in a quiet tone that aroused the curiosity of his companions. "The situation is looking a little better, and I think that I can purchase our safety, though it must needs be at a sacrifice of human life. I deplore the necessity for it, nor will I act without your premission [sic]."
"What do you mean?" demanded Godfrey.
He and the boys stood around Bunbury, who gingerly drew from under his cloak a tin canister about eight inches long and four in diameter. It had a knob on one end, and in the other end was a ring.
"This my friends," said Bunbury, turning the strange object over and over in his hands, "is a bomb filled with the most terrible explosives known to science. It is one of a number that I manufactured while I was an inmate of the Mahdi's palace, from chemicals left there by General Gordon. The others were in the lost boat, but this one I fortunately kept with me."
"And how do you propose to use it?" asked Roden.
"You can destroy only one boat, and there are two almost upon us."
"And ten to one the bomb won't strike where it will explode," added Godfrey.
Bunbury smiled as he gently unscrewed the knob of the canister, and showed his companions the projecting end of a fuse.
"I will light this," he said, "and screw the knob tight. The bomb is waterproof, and when I tie a cord to it, and cast it under the Arab's boat it will explode."
"I see," exclaimed Godfrey, his face lighting up.
"Will the bomb explode also by concussion?"
"Yes, but that plan is too doubtful to try in the present ease." What I hope for is ' this. When the first boat is destroyed the second boat will almost certainly abandon the chase for fear of meeting the same fate. The rest of the fleet will also turn back, leaving us to cruise safely down the river. Of course the second boat may keep on, and then we are lost, for I have only the one bomb. But whatever we do must be done quickly. I await your decision, my friends."
"There can be only one answer," replied Godfrey. "Either we or the Arabs must die, and surely God gives us the right of preserving our lives."
"I am of the same mind," Arthur said. "Such bloodthirsty ruffians can scarcely be accounted human."
"That is true," added Roden, "and surely we have justice on our side. Yet it seems a pity ----"
"I will be as merciful as possible," interrupted Bunbury. "Stand back a little, my friends. The boat is very near, and I must make ready."
Yes, the foremost of the boats was now within thirty yards, and the fierce faces and gleaming arms showed plainly. The long oars dipped the water with rapid strokes. Evidently the dervishes believed that the fugitives had no more ammunition, and would submit to be slain without resistance.
The silence made the suspense almost unendurable as the boat glided steadily nearer. Arthur and Roden, standing on either side of Godfrey, watched the scene breathlessly, wondering whether death or freedom would be the issue.
Now but twenty yards intervened between pursuers and pursued. Bunbury, who stood waiting in the stern, measured the distance at a glance. Then he quickly drew a cord from his person and fastened one end to the ring in the canister, letting the slack line lie in coils at his feet.
With swift movements he produced a match-box, unscrewed the knob of the canister, scraped a wax vesta, and lit the deadly fuse. He screwed the knob on again, and held the canister in his right hand and the end of the cord tightly in his left.
Next he stood for an instant, watching and waiting.
His companions were greatly alarmed, fearing that he would hold the bomb too long, and let it explode in his hand.
The boat was now within forty feet, and the der vishes began to stir and rattle their arms expectantly. A tall ruffian in front, who plainly commanded, shouted out some loud words in Arabic.
"He is bidding his men take us alive, so that we may be executed in Khartoum," interpreted Bunbury. "Well, we shall see. Now watch."
With this Bunbury let drive the canister, which struck and sank a few feet in front of the Arabs' boat, and as the craft came directly over the spot he pulled sharp on the cord.
Instantly there was a most dreadful explosion that seemed to fling the river and the earth up to meet the sky. The fugitives had a glimpse of flying bodies and timbers as they were pitched dizzily to the bottom of their boat, which rocked in frightful convulsions.
They lay still for a time, fearing they knew not what, until Bunbury gave the word to rise. Then they sat up. The boat was still careening and tossing with great plunges, and all around were foam-crested waves.
Where the Arab craft had been was only a ghastly patch of blackened timbers, with living men clinging to the debris, and dead men floating with bleeding limbs and white, staring faces.
Arthur and Roden turned their eyes away, sick at heart, and Godfrey also was deeply moved.
"It had to be," Bunbury muttered hoarsely. "So far so good. Now let us see what will happen next."
There was not long to wait. As the fugitives drifted on amid the still raging waves the second boat came up to the scene of the disaster and stopped long enough to take the few survivors on board. Then it swiftly resumed the chase, its bloodthirsty crew howling like fiends.
"They are coming," cried Arthur.
"Yes," muttered Bunbury; "we have played our last card and lost. Nothing can save us now."
"It is maddening," exclaimed Godfrey. "These fanatics seem to be utterly fearless of death. How do they know that you have no more bombs? If only ----"
He was interrupted by a sharp cry from Roden, who was pointing to a black object about a quarter of a mile down stream and some fifty yards to the left of the boat's course.
At the first glance Bunbury became wildly excited.
"It's our lost boat," he declared. "It must have drifted away, and lodged on a mud- bar."
"Can we reach it in time?" exclaimed Arthur.
"We won't reach it at all, lad," was the bitter answer. "We will drift past it, and thus lose our last chance."
"But we won't, though!" exclaimed Godfrey. "I'm going to save you," and in a trice he had stripped off his clothes.
"This is madness," said Bunbury. "There are dangerous under-currents in the river-and crocodiles."
"I'm a good swimmer," was Godfrey's reply, "and I'll risk the crocodiles. Don't stop me. It's our only hope."
Before his companions could prevent him he had leaped overboard, and was swimming diagonally down stream with lusty strokes.
The boat was now rapidly drawing near, and Bun bury and the boys alternately watched it and the daring swimmer. They saw Godfrey safely gain the small craft, release it from the bar, and row fiercely back as he had come.
Now was the crisis, for the dervishes were within twenty yards and pulling hard at the oars. Arthur caught up Godfrey's rifle and fired twice, killing one of the oarsmen.
This caused slight delay and confusion among the enemy, and before they could recover Godfrey was alongside the fugitives.
They tumbled hastily into the small boat, which bad two pairs of oars, and Bunbury and Godfrey sent it spinning down the river with vigorous strokes, while Arthur and Roden lay crouched in the bottom.
The dervishes let drive a few spears and fired a couple of muskets. Then their boat and the abandoned flat faded from sight, and the sorely-tried fugitives felt that they were really safe at last.
Bunbury declared that there was no danger of the light little boat being caught by any craft that the Arabs Could send in pursuit. He let the boys take a turn at the oars, and while Godfrey pulled on his clothes, he overhauled the contents of the boat.
These consisted of a bag of biscuit and dried dates, guns, ammunition, and a box of bombs packed safely in cotton.
The food was greedily devoured, and then the fugitives rowed, hour after hour, through the moonlit night, alternately taking a turn at the oars, trying to snatch a few winks of sleep.
Morning dawned, and the hot sun beat down fiercely, but still they followed the current of midriver, between distant sandy shores, where no traces of human life was seen.
It was close to noon when they came opposite the upper point of a densely-wooded island that looked to be a mile long. A short distance off the lower point the wreck of a small steamer lay bleaching on a reef.
Bunbury looked at it with tear-dimmed eyes.
"A sad story hangs on that wreck," he said. "You shall hear it presently."
A little later he guided the boat into the fringe of papyrus reeds that surrounded the island, and at a spot about two hundred yards from the lower point.
Here all had to step out and wade, pulling the boat after them. The reeds and water presently terminated at a sandy beach, beyond which was a narrow and nearly obliterated path leading inward through bushes and timber.
Up this path Bunbury conducted his wondering com panions, and in a short time they emerged suddenly on a circular open space about fifty yards in diameter. All around it were tall palm trees, and on the south side stood a small, solidly built hut.
Bunbury crossed the clearing to the hut, pushed the door open by a hard effort, and led his companions inside.
Godfrey and the boys were amazed by what they saw. The room was of fairly good size, and it was nearly filled by a miscellaneous assortment of articles. Here were stacks of rifles, boxes of ammunition, and rows of scientific instruments; there, cases of biscuit, tinned meats and vegetables, and rolls of blankets.
. One side of the room was occupied by a huge wicker basket, big enough to hold half a dozen men, and the interior was filled by a bulky mass that could not be seen for the waterproof cloth that covered it.
"We are fortunate," said Bunbury, after making a short inspection. "The climate has harmed nothing; all is in good condition."
"But how did these things get here?" asked Arthur.
"I will tell you presently," Bunbury replied; "but first I wish to hear your story, my friends. I am sure it will prove interesting."
So they sat down on the cases, and between them Godfrey and the boys narrated all that the reader already knows --- what had brought them to Africa, and how unfortunate their expedition had been.
Bunbury listened intently.
"It is a thrilling story," he said, "as thrilling and sad as mine, which you shall now hear. We are truly companions in misfortune, and the strange part of it is that we came to Africa on nearly similar errands.
"As time is precious to us, I will speak briefly. I told you before that I am by profession an aeronaut, and have made many successful air trips from England and various points on the continent. Among my friends was a cousin of this Captain Hugh Benstone --- who figures also in your story --- and eight months ago he came to me and proposed that we should go to Africa, and try to find and rescue Captain Benstone by means of a balloon. At that time the message you have told me of had not been received, and the captain was supposed to be lost somewhere in the interior.
"The captain's cousin was a man of large means, and proposed to bear all the expenses. After some consideration I decided that the plan was possible if prop erly managed. So I agreed to it, and we pushed our preparations so rapidly that in a month we were at Cairo, provided with a new balloon, and all needful supplies.
"There were four in the party --- Ward (the captain's cousin), two friends of his who relished adventure, and myself. We chartered a steamer, intending to go to this very island, and there make the ascent.
"The end of our expedition was so sad that I cannot bear to speak of it, and will pass it over briefly. After a month's journey up the Nile, and when actually at our destination, the steamer was wrecked at night, on yonder rocks. When morning came we started to remove our supplies to the island in the steamer's small boat. After the first load or two we stopped to build this hut, knowing that we might be detained some days.
"During the next two days we brought everything here except our personal effects, and on the following morning all four of us started back to the steamer to get them."
Bunbury paused a moment.
"We were hardly at the steamer," be resumed, in a husky voice, "when a dozen boats full of Arabs came out from shore and surrounded us. We had no weapons, and my poor friends were butchered, while I escaped only by feigning madness. The Arabs evidently knew nothing of the stores on the island, for they started at once for Khartoum, taking me with them. There I remained a prisoner for six months, until the chance came to which we all owe our present freedom. And such is my story."
"It is a sad one," said Godfrey, "and we feel for you deeply."
"More than words can tell," added Roden. "You have indeed suffered."
"And what is the next step, now that we are here in safety?" asked Arthur, after a pause.
"Is the balloon in good condition?"
"As good as the day it was made," Bunbury answered, glancing at the wicker basket, "and there," pointing to a row of kegs, "is the material for making gas. I spoke of putting you to a test," he added "and now I will do so. In spite of the message in the bottle I believe that Captain Benstone is alive and a prisoner somewhere in Africa. I also believe that the white man referred to in his message is the father of you boys, and that we stand a good chance of finding both. Here is the balloon and all needed stores. The wind will bear us in the right direction. Will you accompany me on the quest --- on the air voyage over Africa?"
For a moment, as the possibilities of the proposed undertaking flashed upon them, Godfrey and the boys were speechless with delight.
"You will go, then?" Bunbury said.
"A thousand times yes," cried Godfrey. "It is a glorious plan."
"How can we ever repay you?" exclaimed Arthur, grasping the aeronaut's hand, "We owe you every thing now."
"But you must think calmly of what this means," replied Bunbury. "We will encounter dangers of all kinds. We are going among barbarous people and wild beasts. The balloon may blow up, or drop upon some lake, or leave us stranded in a trackless forest."
"No peril will daunt me in the search for my father," declared Roden.
" Nor me," added Arthur.
"Adventure of any kind is just to my taste," said Godfrey. "We are with you, Bunbury, for good fortune or bad."
"Let us hope for the best," Bunbury replied; "and now that the question is settled, we will set to work without further loss of time. First of all we will remove the things from the boat.
This was quickly done, and the dangerous box of bombs was placed in some bushes behind the hut. The kegs were brought out and ranged together in the center of the clearing.
"These contain a quantity of sulphuric acid and granulated zinc," explained Bunbury, as he opened the bungholes. "I will mix them together and pour on a large proportion of water. Then, by means of instruments that I have in the hut, a hydrogen gas will be generated fourteen and a half times lighter than atmospheric air."
After the acid and the zinc had been mixed, water was brought from the river, and poured into the kegs. Then the heavy mass of the balloon was brought out and spread apart, and the open mouth was arranged over the pipes that Bunbury connected with the kegs.
Now that this important work was done, and the gas was slowly but surely generating, the little party had leisure to think of other things. They ate a hearty meal and then sorted out from the hut what articles could be conveniently taken along. This depended entirely on Bunbury's knowledge.
Then they stretched themselves in the shade of the palm trees, and quickly were sound asleep. They did not wake until the sun was low, and by this time the gas had so inflated the balloon that it was bulged out beautifully, and had to be moored to the ground by strong ropes. Around its silken girth the aptly-chosen name, "Queen of Africa," could be read in crimson letters.
"Fortune favors us," said Bunbury "If all continues well, we shall be able to cut loose from the earth at sunrise to-morrow, and I see no reason to fear otherwise. Now, my friends, let us have some supper. I'm sure we are all hungry."
Cans of biscuit and meat were opened, and the fugitives made a hearty meal while the sung-low turned to twilight, and the twilight to the blackness of the African night.
Myriads of insects now came hovering around, and as it was not safe to drive them off by building a fire --- for fear the light would attract the attention of prowling Arabs on the distant shores --- there was little sleep for anyone that night.
Arthur and Roden, it is true, managed to doze a little bit on the floor of the hut, and were visited by thrilling dreams of the future which they devoutly hoped would not come true.
But Godfrey and Bunbury paced about all night long keeping a close watch on the balloon and the distilling gas, and giving them what attention was needed.
Morning dawned at last, and the Queen of Africa was seen distended to her full length, swaying high toward the tops of the palm trees, and tugging fretfully at the ropes that held her to the earth.
All was excitement and animation now, for Bunbury declared that a start would be made as soon as the preparations were completed.
First, a hasty breakfast was eaten, and next the kegs were removed to one side, and the basket-car was brought from the hut and tied by stout ropes to the body of the balloon.
Then the baggage and stores were placed inside, and a pretty good load they made --- arms, ammunition, blankets, brandy, provisions, the box of bombs, and lastly the apparatus belonging to the management of the balloon --- sand-bags, grappling irons, rope ladders, map, compass, barometer, and other scientific instruments.
"One thing yet, and we are ready," said Bunbury, who was standing by the mooring-ropes with a sharp knife in his hand. "We need a cask of water."
"I'll get it," volunteered Arthur.
He picked up a keg that Bunbury pointed out to him, and vanished quickly down the path in the direction of the river. Barely three minutes had elapsed when he came dashing back to the clearing, empty-handed, breathless, and with deadly fear stamped on his pale face.
Roden hastened to his brother, and caught hold of him.
"Are you hurt, Arthur?" he cried anxiously.
"No, he's only frightened," Godfrey exclaimed.
"Give him a chance to get his wind."
"What is the matter, my lad?" demanded Bunbury.
"Where is the keg?"
"I - I dropped it," panted Arthur. "We must start --- at once --- there is no time --t o lose. Arabs are coming --- in a boat. They saw me --- when I waded out --- to fill the cask. I couldn't help it."
As he spoke a couple of loud halloos were heard at a distance, and then a dull, rattling noise. The Arabs were evidently forcing their boat through the papyrus reeds.
It was a moment of frightful peril, and every face blanched. Danger to the balloon was most to be feared, since a spear thrust or a rifle ball would prove its ruin.
"It won't do to risk an encounter," cried Arthur, "though the Arabs are no more than a dozen in number."
"No; we must ascend before the devils arrive!" exclaimed Godfrey.
"Ay, that's the only chance," muttered Bunbury.
"Lively now! Up with the stuff."
In hot haste the great heap of luggage was tumbled into the wicker car. Bunbury rushed to the hut, and emerged with the box of bombs, which he stowed carefully away among blankets.
Then he sprang lightly over the side of the car, and was followed immediately by his companions.
At that instant a crashing noise was heard, and a hideous, frizzle-haired dervish appeared at the edge of the winding path. He was evidently somewhat in advance of the rest.
He caught sight of the balloon, and stared at it in comical amazement, forgetting the spear that was poised in his hand.
With a sharp cry, that was echoed by his compan ions, Bunbury whipped out a revolver and fired hastily.
The dervish stumbled on hand and knees, wailing shrilly, and then rolled over lifeless in the sand.
"Hurrah!" shouted Godfrey. "A good shot!"
"Here goes!" cried Bunbury, jerking a sharp knife from his belt. "We'll be up in a second."
Just then a second dervish appeared, who yelled horribly when he saw his dead comrade. He lifted his gun and took aim at the balloon.
Crack! It was Arthur's rifle this time, and the ruffian, dropping his weapon, spun around with a bullet through his right arm.
Hoarse shouting was heard in the thicket, but Bunbury had now severed both ropes that moored the car to the ground, and the liberated balloon shot lightly upward.
At the same time two dervishes came dancing into the clearing, yelling like fiends. A sand-bag, thrown by Bunbury, burst on the head of one, and filled the eyes of both with fine sand.
Thus emptied of part of its ballast, the balloon made a dizzy spurt, and the aeronauts, peering down, had a brief glimpse of howling Arabs swarming into the clearing, and were deafened by an explosion of musketry.
The fugitives were safe, and had nothing more to fear from their cruel foes. Bunbury, who was quite in his element, stood up, and calmly surveyed the dizzy prospect beneath him. Godfrey was less clear-headed, but he made a brave show of looking down. There was keen pleasure and delight in his face.
But Arthur and Roden were, to say the least, dazed by their strange and novel surroundings. They felt, as though they were whirling unsupported through space, and would presently strike somewhere and be dashed to pieces.
For a time they crouched in the bottom of the car, looking up now and then at the great bag of inflated gas, and the meshwork of the strong cords.
"Come, lads," said Godfrey. "You don't know what you are missing. This is the grandest sight that human eyes can behold. I would like to be an aeronaut for the rest of my days."
"They will soon become accustomed to it," added Bunbury kindly. "One always feels dizzy at the beginning. It is a rare novelty."
But the boys protested that they were not dizzy. Indeed, the feeling of insecurity was already wearing off, They were beginning to enjoy the unwonted motion, and the bracing upper currents of air.
They finally crept to the edge of the car, and being naturally clear-headed and strong-nerved, they were quickly able to appreciate and marvel at the view.
And what a view it was! No tongue or pen could have begun to do justice to its sublimity, its grandeur, its clear tracing of the geographical features of the earth.
The balloon was fifteen hundred feet in air, and speeding swiftly along in the teeth of a strong breeze. Straight underneath was the broad bosom of the Nile, now gleaming: blue and silvery in the early rays of the sun. To the southwest as far as the eye could reach, the river dwindled away to a tiny sinuous riband.
In the opposite direction the island where the ascent had been made was still in plain view, and on the edge of the reeds, off to the left shore, the boat from which the Arabs had landed could be seen.
It contained a solitary figure. The others were probably plundering the hut in the clearing.
On all sides was the vast African desert-yellow sand heaps, and ridges of volcanic rock, and scattered oases of green palm trees, fading and sloping to the farthermost line of the vague, circular horizon.
And overhead was the pale transparent blue ether, a boundless sea of air that seemed to invite the balloon and its daring occupants to soar still higher into the mystic realms of space.
All, even the stolid Bunbury, were strangely silent and impressed for a time, as though under a spell of enchantment.
Presently, when the island had grown dim, some black specks were discovered on the river about a mile ahead.
"More of our hospitable friends coming to look for us," said Bunbury, with a mocking laugh.
Sure enough, a little later the balloon passed directly over four long boats filled to the gunwales with armed dervishes.
When Godfrey leaned over the car and shouted, every black face was turned upward, and cries of super stitious fear and awe burst from every throat.
These quickly changed to yells of rage as the dervishes discovered that the air-ship held their hated enemies. A number of rifles were fired at it.
But of course the bullets were futile, and in brief time the balloon was far away from the boats and their occupants.
"We are dropping a little," said Bunbury, sitting down and glancing at his barometer. "We are now about thirteen hundred feet above the earth."
"Have we not an unusually heavy load on board?" asked Godfrey.
"Yes, exceedingly so," was the reply, "though the balloon is of extra large dimensions. The ballast will have to go before a great while, and later on we may be compelled to part with much of our luggage."
Bunbury produced a map and compass, and began to study them intently. For a time his companions watched the fleeting landscape beneath. The balloon was still following the upward course of the Nile.
"How fast are we traveling?" inquired Godfrey.
"About forty miles an hour," answered Bunbury, "and straight in the direction of Khartoum. But we may change that at any time. The upper air currents are of a very diverse and contrary nature. They never remain the same for any considerable length."
"How long ought the gas to last?" Roden asked. "The country of the Karibegs must be far away."
"The supply can be depended upon for two days, at least," Bunbury replied. "The balloon is fitted with, several modern inventions which prevent rapid exhaustion. In that time we can travel more than two thousand miles."
"Wonderful" exclaimed Godfrey. "It seems incredible that we can cover in forty-eight hours a distance that explorers have taken months to toil over."
"Yet it is true," said Bunbury. "Science is checked by nothing. Moreover, when our gas is finally exhausted, I have a device by which we can make a fresh supply -- of a much inferior sort, I admit and yet sufficient to float us on a short trip. It all depends on our finding certain materials."
"Will that be difficult?" inquired Godfrey.
"It depends on the nature of the country," responded Bunbury. "On a sandy soil we would be helpless, but in a timbered region----"
He paused suddenly, and waved his hand to the southwest."
"Look!" he cried, in an eager tone: "Yonder lies Khartoum !"
Bunbury was right, though his companions could hardly believe their eyes. Half a dozen miles away, where the river forked to right and left, on the misty horizon, a cluster of yellow roofs and domes was clearly visible.
Rapidly the balloon swept on toward the terrible and fanatical city. It would evidently pass directly over the center.
"We are dropping!" cried Arthur. "The river looks to be twice as near."
"You are right," calmly replied Bunbury, glancing at the barometer."
Eight minutes later the car was but four hundred feet above the water, and within half a mile of the town.
"This is madness!" exclaimed Godfrey. "We will fall into the bands of the dervishes again. They will pierce the balloon with bullets."
He reached for a sand-bag.
"Stop!" cried Bunbury. "Our ballast is too precious to waste needlessly. We are moving at a stationary altitude now, and will drop no lower."
"But the town," muttered Godfrey. "There is surely danger."
"No; we will skim over it too swiftly," Bun bury replied. "Keep out of sight as much as possible, and if you must peep down, show only your eyes and noses. The inhabitants will be so overcome by superstitious fear that they won't think of making any hostile demonstration."
Bunbury's advice was followed without dispute, though his companions felt far from satisfied.
The balloon was now over the end of the town, and when the aeronauts peeped cautiously from the car they were thrilled to see flat roofs and narrow streets, and groups of half-naked Arabs who were uttering shrill cries.
"Look! look!" suddenly exclaimed Godfrey, who was on the south side. "We are lost. Throw out the ballast, quick!"
Godfrey's companions instantly saw and understood, the cause of his alarm. A short distance ahead, and in line with the balloon's course, was the main square of the town. The palace lay on one side, and in front of it stood a file of twenty Soudanese soldiers, armed with rifles, which they were pointing upward in readiness to fire.
At a little distance were groups of dervishes, all gazing skyward in silence and awe. But the most inter esting figure was the officer in command of the soldiers. He wore a scarlet fez and blouse, and held a gleaming sword.
"It looks like Safid Pasha," muttered Bunbury.
"It is!" exclaimed Godfrey. "It is -- the scoundrel himself. He has discovered our approach, and is not to be deceived like his fanatical townsmen. He knows all about balloons."
"What harm can he do?" asked Roden. "We are four or five hundred feet above the town."
"His men are evidently sharpshooters," replied Godfrey, "and are armed with the best of rifles."
"That is true," said Bunbury, with a groan. "The balls will carry three or four hundred yards. The balloon can hardly fail to be pierced."
For an instant the aeronauts were thrilled with horror. They were now nearly over the fatal spot.
"If anything is to be done, it must be done at once," cried Godfrey, in a frightened tone.
"Look!" added Arthur; "they are going to shoot."
As the lad spoke, one of the soldiers took aim and fired. Then another shot, and another. They were evidently testing their powers.
Suddenly a bullet tore diagonally through the bottom of the car, and, narrowly missing Godfrey, buried itself in a can of tinned meat.
Bunbury grabbed up a sand-bag, but instantly dropped it.
"No time for that," he muttered. "We will rise too slowly. I must try the last resource."
He thrust his hand into the box of bombs, and drew one out. As he turned to the edge of the car, his companions peered anxiously over.
The square was now directly beneath. A few yards more would bring the balloon straight above the file of soldiers. They were firing intermittently. The danger was imminent. Bunbury dropped the bomb, and every eye watched the object as it swiftly descended.
It struck the ground in the center of a cleared space, and instantly there was a frightful explosion. The agitated current of air rushed upward, and caused the balloon to sway and toss.
When the smoke and dust cleared, the aeronauts had a plain view of the destructive effects of the bomb.
Dervishes and soldiers were fleeing in all directions, with fearful cries. Part of the front wall of the palace had been demolished, and amid the ruins lay a dozen dead or struggling forms.
Among these was one in a scarlet fez and blouse. The traitorous Safid Pasha had met a well-merited fate.
"He deserved it," muttered Godfrey. "This is the expiation of a long catalogue of crimes."
"I am sick of bloodshed," said Arthur. "I hope we are done with it now."
"Yes," replied Bunbury; "our wrongs have been amply revenged. In all likelihood we have seen the last of Khartoum and its fanatics."
As he spoke the balloon was passing over the prison, and five minutes later the town and its outlying sub urbs were fading in the distance.
The air voyagers now settled down to a peaceful and thorough enjoyment of their novel situation. For hour after hour they chatted, or discussed the future, while the balloon sped swiftly to the southeast.
By midday the Blue Nile and the sandy desert had vanished utterly. The landscape under the car was now varied in character -- fields of waving grain, green forests, densely-timbered hills, rich pastures, in which grazed herds of sleek cattle and goats, and scattered villages of conical huts, inclosed [sic] by hedges.
All these things could be seen plainly, for the balloon was but five hundred feet above the earth.
"We are passing over the province of Kordofan," said Bunbury, examining his map and compass. "Khartoum is nearly two hundred miles away."
His companions could hardly realize that they had come so far. They looked down with renewed interest.
A little later a populous town, built of sun- baked bricks, was skimmed over, and most of its inhabitants seemed to be Arabs.
Ten miles beyond a gang of shackled negroes were seen straggling along a forest path. The poor wretches uttered cries of wonder when they saw the balloon, and the Arab drivers fired muskets at it.
Godfrey and the boys were thrilled with indignation and pity. It was their first realization of the horrors of the human traffic of the Dark Continent.
"We are powerless to aid the poor creatures," said Bunbury. "The region hereabouts is the favorite stamping ground of the slave-raiders."
As the balloon sped on he lit the spirit lamp, and boiled some excellent coffee. With this the hungry aeronauts washed down a hearty meal of biscuits and tinned meat.
"Now you may sleep for three hours," said Bunbury, "while I keep watch. Then I will waken you, and, take a short rest myself."
Godfrey and the boys were not slow to avail them selves of this permission. They coiled up in the bottom of the car, and hardly were their eyes closed when con sciousness left them.
After what seemed but a brief time they were rudely awakened by a jerk at their arms, and Bunbury's commanding voice.
They sat up, rubbing their drowsy eyes, and as soon as they could see clearly they cried out with alarm and wonder.
The balloon was swirling and pitching on its course at a dizzy rate of speed. Above, and below, and on all sides were misty, blackish clouds, that hid both the earth and the sky.
Vivid flashes of lightning were streaking the gloom in every direction, and thunder was pealing angrily amid the heavens.
"I thought it best to rouse you," said Bunbury, whose face was very pale. "This storm came up suddenly, and overtook us before I had time to consider what to do."
"How long have we slept?" asked Godfrey.
"Nearly three hours. It is four o'clock in the afternoon, and we are still headed due southwest."
"And are we in danger?"
"'Yes," admitted Bunbury, "in very grave danger. A flash of lightning may set fire to us, or our balloon, filled with inflammable gas, may burst amid these violent electrical currents."
"Can't we throw out ballast and rise above the storm?" suggested Roden. "I have heard of that being done in similar cases."
"It is possible," answered Bunbury, "and another plan is to descend to the earth and tie up the balloon until the storm is over."
"That seems preferable," said Godfrey.
"Yes, unless the storm is raging as violently below as above," assented Bunbury. "However, we must take the chances and act at once."
He immediately pulled the valve-cord, and as the hiss of escaping gas was heard the balloon began to descend. The boys peeped .timidly over the edge of the car, but they saw only a dusky, impenetrable gloom.
"We are going down rapidly," said Bunbury. "We are now between three and four hundred feet above the earth, as nearly as I can calculate. If we could only see what sort of country lay beneath us----"
The, sentence ended in a sort of gasping cry. The balloon had suddenly encountered a far more terrible and violent storm-belt, that swept it away at frightful speed.
The car pitched and oscillated dizzily, and the great bag of gas overhead threatened to tear loose from the creaking ropes at any instant.
Forked lightning flashed, and thunder growled and rattled, and the surrounding clouds seemed the color of ink. It was a moment of terrible danger, and the aeronauts never expected to pass through the storm alive.
"Hold tight," cried Bunbury hoarsely. "I'll pitch some ballast over. We've got to ascend."
Arthur, who was by the edge of the car, imprudently rose to his feet in order to get near the center.
At that instant a furious gust of wind struck the balloon, and tilted the car at a sharp angle. The lad was pitched overboard like a flash, and vanished in the darkness with a fearful cry on his lips.
THE horror of Arthur's companions when they saw him thus snatched away from them was beyond description.
"My brother! my brother!" cried Roden, in heartbreaking tones. "God help him, he is killed."
With tears streaming down his face, the poor fellow clutched the edge of the car, and leaned far over, trying to peer into the gloom.
He might have shared Arthur's fate had not Godfrey pulled him back by main force.
"Bear up, Roden," he entreated huskily. "It is a terrible accident, but there is still room for hope. He may have fallen among high trees, or thick bushes----"
"Better let the lad face the worst," interrupted Bunbury. "His brother can hardly be alive, unless saved by a miracle. We were two or three hundred feet over the ground at least."
Godfrey made no reply. He leaned forward, and buried his face in his hands.
Roden's grief was pitiful to see. He threw himself flat in the bottom of the car, constantly calling his brother's name.
"I can't bear it," he cried. "To think that Arthur is gone forever! I don't care what becomes of me now."
In the meantime the balloon, lightened by so many pounds, had shot rapidly upward, still swaying and plunging in the teeth of the gale.
Bunbury sat like a block of carved stone, gazing ahead with a set and rigid expression.
Suddenly a gleam of light was seen, and an instant later the blue sky appeared above.
The balloon had actually risen to a higher altitude than the storm. Down below the earth was still hidden by dense clouds, through which lightning was flashing incessantly.
Roden crept forward, and clutched Bunbury's arm.
"We are leaving Arthur behind," he cried. "He can't be dead; I won't believe it. - Let us go down and hunt for him. If you don't, I will jump overboard."
Bunbury and Godfrey exchanged rapid glances. "How far have we gone since --since the accident?" asked the latter.
"Two or three miles -- possibly more," was the reply.
"And, if we descended to the ground, could we find the way back to the spot?"
"I think so. I know the right direction. But there is no use----"
"But it would be a consolation to -- to find the body," whispered Godfrey. "I hate to leave it to the wild beasts."
"As you will," replied Bunbury, shrugging his shoulders. "But I wash my hands of the responsibility. We are about to incur a tremendous risk. Instead of one body for the vultures to feed upon, there will probably be four."
With so pitying glance at Roden that belied his gruff words, he reached up and pulled the valve-cord.
The escaping gas sent the balloon instantly and rapidly downward. A moment later the blue sky had disappeared, and the car was again in the midst of the storm.
Roden seemed oblivious to his surroundings, but Godfrey and Bunbury made no attempt to conceal their fear.
The thunder and lightning were terrific, and for a time the furious wind threatened to tear the balloon into shreds.
Then there came a sudden calm, and almost instantly big drops of rain began to fall.
"I thought that would be the next thing," muttered Bunbury. "The cessation of the wind will make the lightning more severe and dangerous."
Roden crept to the edge of the car, and Godfrey kept a watchful eye upon him.
"Look! look!" the lad cried suddenly. "We are near the ground."
At this his companions peered down, and they were surprised to see beneath them the misty outlines of what seemed to be a surface of waving reeds.
The balloon was still one hundred feet in air, and driving along swiftly.
Again Bunbury pulled the valve-cord, and the car dropped sixty or seventy feet. Then he tossed over one of the grappling lines, with a huge iron hook on the end.
Anxiously the aeronauts awaited the result. For several minutes the line was seen to skim rapidly over the reeds and bushes, stirring up multitudes of birds and small animals.
Then, with a tremendous jerk that nearly upset it, the balloon hung stationary amid the rain and lightning. The grapnel had found tight lodgment.
The rope ladder was quickly dropped over, and several feet of it dangled on the ground.
Roden was the first to climb down the dizzy, swaying structure, and his companions followed as soon as he reached the bottom.
Bunbury's first act was to examine the hook. He found it caught firmly in a stout sapling. The balloon dangled motionless overhead, exposed to the constant and blinding electrical flashes. The rain was falling lightly.
"Come on!" exclaimed Roden eagerly. "Which way do we go?"
He glanced around him at the expanse of dry, parched grass and bushes that extended on all sides as far as the eye could reach.
"I'll take the lead in a moment," replied Bunbury; "but there is no hope of finding the lad alive if he fell two hundred feet into a place like this.
"And I want to warn you now," he went on, "that if the wind rises in our absence the balloon will be carried away. Moreover, it may take fire at any moment from the lightning."
Roden looked supremely indifferent to these dangers.
"We must find Arthur," he said hoarsely. "We must!"
"Well, we'll try it, lad," replied Bun bury, "though it's like hunting a needle in a haystack. But we've forgotten the rifles. We can't start without them."
"I'll get them I" exclaimed Godfrey. "It won't take a minute."
He seized the rope ladder, and had just planted his feet on the first rung when there came a frightful flash of lightning and a deafening clap of thunder.
"That surely hit somewhere near," muttered Bunbury.
"It did," cried Roden. "Look there!"
He pointed to the southeast, and his companions were horrified to see a streak of red flames and smoke curling upward about twenty yards distant.
The lightning had evidently caused the conflagra tion, and to make matters worse, a strong breeze suddenly rose from the same quarter.
In less time than it takes to tell, the angry flames had spread right and left, and were sweeping with a dull roar straight toward the balloon.
"We must leave at once," cried Bunbury. "Quick! or we are lost."
"My poor brother," exclaimed Roden. "Can we get back to him again?"
"I am afraid not," said Godfrey. "He is beyond the fire, and the wind will blow us farther away. You must face the worst. There is still your father to live for."
"I forgot that," said Roden, bursting into tears. "Oh, poor Arthur!"
He reluctantly climbed the ladder, followed by Godfrey and Bunbury.
As they entered the car and looked down they saw a monstrous giraffe, which had evidently been lying in concealment near by, rise up in front of the leaping flames, and plunge madly forward.
Bunbury drew a knife, and severed the grappling line with one stroke. At that identical instant the long- necked animal butted against the rope ladder, and ran his head through the rungs.
The balloon, which had begun to rise, was checked with a jerk that fairly stood the car on its side. Godfrey lost his balance, and pitched out head first. His horrified companions saw him grab at the ladder as he fell.
He caught one of the rungs about ten feet from the ground, but it broke in his hand, and he dropped, straddle-wise upon the giraffe's back.
Then the frightened animal gave a plunge that freed it from the meshes, and instantly the balloon shot up like a rocket, and was whirled off to the northwest almost in an opposite direction to its former course.
As Bunbury and Roden leaned over the car they saw the giraffe, with Godfrey clinging tightly to its neck, galloping madly away from the hissing flames.
Then the balloon mounted into the storm-clouds, and the earth was swiftly blotted out.
And now we must return to Arthur, and see how he was faring while his companions were having such an adventurous time.
When the lad pitched out of the car and plunged downward through empty space, it seemed but a brief time until he struck something soft with tremendous force. Then he dropped still farther, and felt a dizzy stunning pain.
After that there was a blank, and when consciousness returned he found himself wedged in the fork of a tall, bushy tree.
He remembered what had happened, and his heart sank to realize how little chance he had of finding or being found by his companions.
But his born pluck kept him from utter despair. He first satisfied himself that no bones were broken. Then he pulled himself free from the fork of the limb, and climbed a little higher into the tree, whose slender crest rose twenty feet overhead.
The storm was raging around him, and the misty air contracted his view. But he could see, in a short radius, the top of what appeared to be a dense and lofty forest.
"The first thing," he decided, "is to reach the ground."
So he worked his way down the trunk from limb to limb, and, after what seemed a painfully long time, he found the bushy tops of other and smaller trees within reach.
Trusting to these, he made more rapid progress, and finally encountered a stout, swinging vine, down which he slid to the ground.
He now, stood in deep gloom, surrounded by dense jungle and timber. No rain reached him, though he heard it pattering far overhead; nor could he see but a faint reflection of the lightning flashes.
"That tree I fell into must have been more than two hundred feet high," he, muttered, glancing up, "and I don't believe the balloon was very far above it. I've had a mighty narrow escape, and I ought to be thankful I live. But what to do next -- that's the question."
As he stood in puzzled hesitation, a loud, angry roar rang in his ears, and a monstrous lion, with sweeping, tawny mane, started out of the grass only a few feet in front of him!
The appearance of the beast was so unexpected that Arthur's limbs trembled under him, and he felt giddy with fear. For a few seconds he gave himself up for lost.
The lion was probably equally surprised. His angry attitude was evidently due more to his having been roused from a nap, than to hunger.
He roared again, and squatted low, swishing his tail from side to side. He was about to spring.
Just then Arthur remembered something he had read in books of African travel -- an oft-tested expedient for terrifying wild animals. That was his last chance, for his only weapon was a pocket knife.
He drew a long breath, and uttered a loud, unearthly sort of yell, with the full force of his lungs.
The lion instantly turned tail, and bounded into a dense clump of bushes, twenty feet away, which concealed him from view.
Arthur was overjoyed at the success of his stratagem. Had he been wise, he would have followed up the advantage with a second yell.
Instead of that, he wheeled around, and dashed off at full speed. As soon as he was beyond the compara tively open glade, he found traveling extremely rugged and difficult.
In the first place, the gloom was so intense that he could see only a few yards in front. Overhead was the matted canopy of the forest, and underfoot were trailing vines and thorny scrub bushes, and tall spear-grass, with edges like a razor.
The lad struggled on for five minutes or more, reckless of scratched or lacerated limbs, and then he paused to listen. Far above him was the patter of rain and the muffled pealing of thunder.
Suddenly he heard another sound that struck terror to his heart -- a deep, angry roar, at no great distance behind. Next followed a crashing noise amid the bushes.
There was no doubt now that the lion was in pursuit, and Arthur fled for life as fast as his legs could carry him.
But he soon realized that he must speedily be overtaken. He constantly bumped into trees, or sprawled headlong over vines and rotten stumps.
Nearer and nearer came the hoarse roars, and the threshing of undergrowth as the great beast bounded through.
Arthur's breath came short and quick, and his heart began to beat like a trip-hammer. Already he felt, in imagination, the agony of being torn limb from limb.
Suddenly, as he reached a more open part of the forest, an animal of great bulk and size rose up a few yards in front of him, and uttered a puffing, snorting noise. It was too dark to tell the nature of the beast.
With a yell of terror, Arthur swerved to one side, and plunged into a deeper part of the forest. He be lieved at first that he now had two foes on his track.
But a minute later, as he was desperately cleaving his way through a tangled mass of obstructions, he heard a great hubbub and scuffle in his rear -- ferocious roaring and snarling, mingled with screams and grunts.
He knew instantly what had happened. The lion had given battle to the strange beast, and a desperate combat was waging.
"I'm well out of it, anyway," he reflected, as he pushed on. "That big creature must have been a rhinoceros, or an elephant, or possibly a buffalo. I hope they'll wind up the fight as the Kilkenny cats did."
"But the lad's elation quickly gave way to grief and perplexity. He had to face a very bitter truth. His friends and brother were gone beyond all hope, and he was left to his own resources. It sickened him to think that they were probably a hundred miles away by this time.
His sturdy heart and pluck were all that kept him from despair. Indeed, he did not dare to think calmly of the full horror of his situation. That he was without food or arms, in the depths of a great African forest -- these were quite sufficient evils for the present.
As he made his way forward, starting and trembling at every sound around him, he had but one fixed resolve in mind. He knew that night must be close at hand, and he wanted to get clear of the unknown evils of the forest before dark, if that were possible. He felt vaguely that the open country would offer better chances of safety, and less of danger.
So he plodded on manfully, in no wise daunted by the rugged difficulties of the way, though they were such as might have exasperated and foiled a tried explorer.
He scarcely felt fatigued, or the stinging pain of his scratched hands and legs; scarcely noticed that his clothes were hanging in shreds and tatters.
The rain and, thunder had ceased now, and on all sides he heard the distant cries of prowling beasts. Now and then, the shadowing outline of a snake glided away before him, or a frightened bird fled, with shrill clamor and fluttering.
Worst of all, the dim light faded, and the gloom of night fell with tropical rapidity. When it was quite dark he began to despair, but he pressed on as well as he could, for an hour longer.
Then he realized the necessity of seeking shelter for the night, and he had already begun to poke about in search of a suitable tree to climb, when his eyes caught a glimpse of yellow light through the foliage.
To make sure that it was not an illusion, he advanced some distance. Suddenly, the tall grass and scrub fell away a little, and he saw, twenty feet ahead, the red reflection of flames dancing amid a cluster of big trees. At the same time he heard the faint sound of voices.
His first thought was that his friends had descended in the balloon, with the intention of seeking him. The conviction thrilled him with joy and excitement, and he did not pause to consider its improbable side.
He dashed heedlessly forward and wormed through the trees until he stood on the verge of a little clearing. Then he paused, smitten with horror, and enraged at his own stupidity.
A dozen powerful, half-naked negroes sat ill a circle mound a blazing campfire. Some wore waist-clouts of lion and leopard skins, and some greasy tunics of blue cotton. Their hair was bushy and frizzled, and their ferocious faces were of the most cruel and degraded type.
They were evidently out on some sort of an expedition for close by lay arms in profusion -- bows and arrows, spears, knotted clubs, and wicked looking knives.
But the one fact in particular which appealed the most to Arthur's sense of fear, was the joint of meat which hung over the fire, and from which the savages were tearing off hunks. It had a frightfully suggestive resemblance to human flesh.
All this the lad saw in a brief glance, and quickly he realized what would be his fate should he fall into the clutches of such degraded ruffians.
Then, before he could turn and slip away, a crackling twig betrayed his presence, and every eye was turned upon him. With blood-curdling yells, the savages grabbed their weapons, and sprang to their feet.
Like a flash, Arthur wheeled, and sped away in a direction at right angles to his former course. As he ran blindly among prickly thorns and jagged speargrass, he heard fierce yells and rushing feet in his rear. The savage pack were in hot chase.
The lad kept a clear head, though he knew only too well what little chance he had of outdistancing his foes -- savages, born to junglecraft and speed.
On and on he went, colliding from tree to tree, and stumbling at every few yards. Louder in his ears rang the fierce cries and the rustle of the tall grass.
At last a pale gleam of light danced ahead of him, and he staggered, panting and breathless, to the brink of a broad and mighty river.
Overhead was the starry sky, and far across the swift, calm water was the murky outline of the farther shore.
With one hand pressed to his throbbing heart, he ran along the water's edge for half a dozen yards, while each step brought his relentless pursuers nearer.
Then, oh, glad moment! He saw a rude, narrow boat resting partly on the sand. With an effort that taxed his strength to the utmost, he shoved the craft out upon the swirling current, and sprang in.
As the distance to the shore widened with a rapidity that seemed to assure escape, he saw the dusky savages bound from the trees with awful yells.
A shower of weapons hurtled through the air, and Arthur felt a dizzy blow on the head. He reeled down in the bottom of the boat, and everything grew black.
It would be difficult to describe Godfrey Congdon's state of mind as the panic-stricken giraffe whirled him away at a furious speed in the teeth of the flames.
Mingled with a realization of his peril was a keen sense of the ridiculous, and he was tempted to laugh. Never was man mounted on a stranger steed.
As the reader will remember, Godfrey had clasped the long neck with both hands as soon as he fell straddle- wise upon the animal's plump, striped back.
It was an instinctive act of self-preservation, but be regretted it an instant later, when he looked up and saw the balloon vanishing among the storm-clouds.
Thus abandoned involuntarily by his companions, he was confronted by two evils, of which one or the other had to be accepted.
To remain in his present position would be courting unknown perils and disaster, but, on the other hand, if he threw himself to the ground, he was almost sure to be caught by the flames, which were spreading right and left behind him, and sweeping forward with wonderful rapidity.
He saw all this in one swift, mental glance, and quickly his resolve was made. He would stick to the giraffe, if possible.
It was not an easy task, for the terrified animal tried every possible device to shake off his rider. He wagged his long neck to and fro, and shook his spine, and kicked his heels high in the air -- all the time bounding at a tremendous pace, over the scrub and grass, and snorting savagely.
But Godfrey was not to be got rid of. He only wrapped his hands the tighter, and dug his heels firmly into the glossy flanks.
By and, by the giraffe became more accustomed to the weight on his back, and settled his legs to a trotting lope, that covered ground incredibly fast.
After running a mile or more, he turned at right angles, and sped parallel with the line of flames until he was far beyond them.
Half a dozen miles in all had now been covered, and Godfrey began to think of abandoning his strange steed. Every limb and muscle ached from the strain, and the lack of a saddle was painfully in evidence.
While he was cogitating how best to accomplish his purpose, the problem was unexpectedly solved. The giraffe gave a snort of terror and suddenly swerved around.
The jerk unseated Godfrey, and broke his clasp. He turned a somersault in the air, and landed, head first, in a clump of tall grass.
He arose to his feet, feeling dizzy and badly shaken, and looked for the cause of his tumble.
It was quickly seen. The giraffe was galloping madly away, and twenty feet behind him was a beautiful panther, bounding lightly over the scrub in pursuit.
Godfrey watched the two animals until they were dim in the distance. Then he mounted a hillock near by, and took a leisurely survey of his surroundings.
The storm was over. The rain, and thunder, and lightning, had ceased. The clouds were rolling apart, and through a rift near the horizon, the setting sun shone brilliantly.
This gave Godfrey his bearings, and in the clearing atmosphere he saw, hitherto invisible, landmarks start out distinctly.
To the north, the grassy plain stretched indefinitely, and in that direction, the distant fire was creeping, far back to the west.
Possibly half a dozen miles to the south he saw a shining band, that his trained eyes told him must be a river of considerable volume; beyond it lay the verge of a lofty forest.
The eastern horizon was bounded by a rugged chain of mountains, through a gap in which the river could be finally seen to disappear. The gap looked to be a dozen miles away, in a straight line.
Having completed his survey, Godfrey sat down on the hillock and pondered over a good many things. His stout heart was far from despair. He had a grain of fatalism in his nature, and never had it stood him in better stead than, now.
He examined his personal effects, and found a small knife, a pocketful of biscuits, a match safe, a flask containing a few drops of brandy, and a revolver, with one chamber loaded.
"Things might be worse," he reflected. "Bunbury and Roden will certainly do all they can to find me. I don't see the balloon, so the chances are that they have landed somewhere, and will be back this way after a while. If they can't do that, they will probably depend on a change of wind to carry them over the old ground.
"But meanwhile, I've got to reach the river for I'm burning with thirst. After I've had a good drink, I'll eat the biscuit. Then I'll fill the flask, and tramp back to this hillock. It's just the place to build a fire, and if Bunbury and Roden drift along they'll see it.
As Godfrey rose to his feet the sunset glow faded, and the cool dusk of twilight fell swiftly. He went briskly forward, keeping his revolver handy, in case of an attack from wild animals.
His thoughts dwelt sadly and bitterly on Arthur's fate. He believed that the lad was dead, beyond a shadow of doubt, and that it would be useless to search for the body.
On and on he went, through the shadowy and starlit night, guided in his course by the distant glow of the still burning fire.
The night was two hours old when he drew near the river, and now the howling and splashing of wild animals, who had come down to drink, compelled him to alter his course a little.
He kept to the eastward until the ominous sounds had grown indistinct, and then headed for the river.
As he parted the reeds at the water's edge, and stooped eagerly down to drink, he was startled to see a dusky object coming toward him out in the stream at a distance of thirty feet.
Suddenly there was a splash and a crunching noise, and the object partly vanished under water.
Godfrey had just made the discovery that it was a boat, when a head and a pair of arms splashed vigorously for the shore.
As the swimmer came within ten feet of the bank, he touched bottom, and began to wade. Slowly his body rose from the shallowing water.
Godfrey whipped out his pistol, cocked it, and stood up, exposing himself to full view.
"Hold on there!" he said, loudly. "Who are you?" The stranger started, and reeled backward. Then he plunged forward to the shore, crying out, in a voice that shook with joy:
"Godfrey! Godfrey! is it you?"
"Arthur! thank Heaven!" shouted Godfrey, clasping the lad in his arms.
For a, moment, the brave fellows, were speechless with emotion; they forgot all else but the fact of their happy reunion.
Then they sat down in the reeds, and Godfrey briefly narrated the thrilling events of the past two hours.
Next Arthur told of his wonderful escape when he fell from the balloon, and of the adventures he had subsequently encountered in the forest.
"After I pushed off in the boat and was hit by a club," he concluded, "I don't remember anything until I found myself drifting down the river. There was a big lump on the back of my head, and I felt pretty bad. I had sense enough to paddle with my hands for this shore. It was slow work against the current.
"Then, when I did get near, the boat struck a rock, and the rotten bottom went like paper. I had to swim for it, but the cold water did me good, and I feel all right. I haven't any idea now how far I drifted."
"It doesn't matter much," replied Godfrey, after he had taken a long drink. "It was Providence that brought you and me together, and I feel it in my bones that we're going to get out of this scrape. We'll go back, to the hillock, and build a roaring fire, and it's ten to one Bunbury and Roden will drop along after awhile -- either on foot or in the balloon."
"Dear old Roden!" said Arthur. "Won't he be glad to find me alive?"
"He won't be much gladder than I was," answered Godfrey, in a suspiciously husky voice. "Here, put this down your throat."
He made Arthur drink what little brandy was in the flask, and then he filled it up with water.
As they rose to their feet, and glanced carelessly up and down the stream, they saw a sight that shattered their peaceful sense of security, and filled their hearts with chilling fear.
The moon was now up, and less than a quarter of a mile to the westward, where the river's channel narrowed, the silvery light shone on a group of dusky figures, wading out from the opposite shore.
"The negroes!" cried Arthur. "they have followed the boat, and seen me land. Now they are coming across."
"That's about it, lad," muttered Godfrey. "Yonder is a fording place. Still I doubt if they actually saw you reach the shore."
"There is just one chance of escape," he added. "We must wade downstream in the shallow water, so as not to leave any tracks. It would be madness to strike across the plain, for there are sandy spots where our footprints would show."
"It's a good plan," replied Arthur. "The negroes may think that I am drowned when they find the half sunken boat."
"Hardly that," said Godfrey, "but they will likely waste time in tracking my steps backward. At first, they won't suspect our ruse."
"And suppose we don't succeed in throwing them off the trail?" Arthur questioned anxiously.
"Then we've got to push for yonder mountains as fast as we can travel," answered Godfrey. "It's the only place where we can find any sort of shelter. Come, lad, we're losing precious time."
With a hasty glance at the bloodthirsty blacks, who were now breast-deep in midchannel, the fugitives waded several feet into the water, and splashed downstream over the pebbly bottom.
In this tedious manner, they traveled fully half a mile; crouching low under the overhanging fringe of reeds. Then they ventured out of the water, and as they planted their feet on shore, they heard savage cries ringing faintly in their rear.
As the rain and mist blotted out Godfrey and his giraffe, the balloon, now with only two occupants, ascended rapidly to a great height. Soon it left the storm belt, and the sunny, blue sky was seen overhead.
Bunbury and Roden were stupefied by this second misfortune. Instead of keen sorrow, they felt a sort of dull despair. Their sensibilities seemed to be numbed. At that time they would have cared little had the car upset and pitched them to the ground.
For some minutes they stared with unseeing eyes at each other, and into the surrounding blue ether.
Higher and higher rose the balloon, until the atmosphere was rare and biting.
At length Bunbury roused a little from his lethargy, and looked pityingly at his companion.
"The balloon is not ascending now," he said. "We are keeping an even altitude, at a height of nearly three-quarters of a mile. What a day this has been! Only this morning we were hundreds of miles away on the island below Khartoum. Since then, we have lost your brother and my brave fellow-countrymen, and now are speeding far out of our course."
"Out of our course?" exclaimed Roden, with a sudden show of interest. "Which way?"
"Straight northwest," replied Bunbury. "The wind has changed since the storm."
"Then it means that we will never reach the country of the Karibegs," said Roden, in a tone of bitter despair. "What have we done that we should encounter such misfortunes?"
"Hush, lad!" protested Bunbury. "We are in the hands of Providence. All may come well yet."
"My brother will not come back to life," said Roden. "A little while ago, I felt that I could bear even that, because there was a chance of finding and saving my father -- something to live for. Now, poor Godfrey's gone, and every minute is taking us farther away from where my father is a prisoner. It is hard -- bitterly hard.
"But our luck may shift around to good luck before we are many hours older," answered Bunbury. "The storm is over, and were it not for the twilight, we could see the earth. Within the next twenty-four hours the wind is likely to veer in all directions. It may bring us directly back on our old course."
"And then we will find Godfrey?" exclaimed Roden, in a brighter tone.
"Very likely, lad, I don't think he will come to any harm. He has sense enough to roll off the giraffe when he is out of reach of the fire."
"But why not descend now, and go back to look for him?"
"That would be impracticable, for two reasons," replied Bunbury. "In the first place, night has fallen, and an attempt to land would be extremely dangerous. In the second place, we have already traveled some miles. Look! even from so great a height, the burning scrub is not visible."
"Yes, you are right," assented Roden. "I understand. Our only chance, then, is a change of wind?"
"Exactly. And that we are reasonably sure to have before many hours."
"I hope Godfrey will be found," said Roden, who was beginning to share his companion's views, "and I still have a faint hope that Arthur is alive."
"Banish it, lad," replied Bunbury kindly. "Banish it at once. Believe me, I speak for your own good."
"I know you do," said Roden. "I appreciate it, but it is hard to realize that he is dead. Poor Arthur!"
There was silence for a time. With a wan, haggard face, Roden stared into the black night.
"This won't do," said Bunbury at length. "We are entirely too high up. Breathing is absolutely difficult."
He pulled the valve-cord, and let the gas escape at intervals until the balloon had dropped to within a thousand feet of the earth, the surface of which could now be vaguely seen.
Then he prevailed upon Roden to eat a meager supper, and after that was over, the two wrapped themselves in blankets, and settled down in the bottom of the car, to enjoy what comfort was possible under the circumstances.
They were not in a mood to talk. Bitter and melancholy were their reflections as they whirled on through the night, listening to the singing of the breeze and the creaking of the strained cords that held the balloon fast to the car.
From time to time Bunbury glanced at his instruments, or took a peep at the misty earth.
Finally Roden dropped off to sleep, overpowered by sheer weariness and grief. He stirred and tossed con stantly, as though under the spell of troubled dreams. It was many hours later when he finally awoke, and sat up.
"Arthur! Godfrey!" he cried, looking around him. "Where are they?"
Then, with a bitter pang, he remembered.
"I forgot," he said. "I thought they were here. Is it morning yet? Has the wind changed?"
"The day will dawn in half an hour," replied Bunbury, "and the wind changed shortly after midnight, though not in just the right quarter."
"What then?" asked Roden.
"From the west, lad."We are now traveling east, with a fair prospect of an early veer around to the southeast or southwest."
This was good news, and Roden felt more cheerful as he rubbed his drowsy eyes.
"You have slept nearly the entire night," continued Bunbury. "Now we will have some biscuit and tinned meat, and a cup of hot coffee, to stimulate us for the events of the day."
"But you have not slept," said Roden, in a tone of self-reproach.
"'I don't feel the need of it," was the reply. "I am as fresh as you are."
In a short time Bunbury had the coffee boiling on the spirit-lamp, and breakfast was eaten with a keen relish.
By then a streak of dusky gray light was visible on the eastern horizon, and as the aeronauts leaned over the side of the car, they saw presently a sight that caused them to forget their grief and anxiety.
The gray streak widened and spread until it gave way to a ruddy glow that drove the shadows off the face of the earth, and revealed a wonderful panorama of forests and plains, mountains and streams, as far as the eye could reach.
Then the great African sun came over the horizon, and the balloon skimmed along in the face of its hot, scorching rays at an altitude of five or six hundred feet.
"How far distant is the place where we lost Godfrey?" asked Roden.
"In the neighborhood of two hundred miles," Bunbury replied. I mean in a straight line. It is far more than that by the way we have come. We are moving slowly now. The wind will make a southerly turn by and by, mark my words."
A little later Roden called his companion's attention to a broad river, several miles ahead. Another good-sized stream could be seen pouring into it from the eastward.
Bunbury produced a pair of field-glasses, and took a long look. Then he lowered them and eagerly consulted his chart and compass.
"The Nile!" he exclaimed. "The great White Nile! And yonder tributary stream surely must be the River Sobat. It was at the junction of the two that Captain Benstone was besieged when he wrote his last letter."
"Then the country of the Karibegs is only three hundred miles to the southwest!" cried Roden.
"Exactly; unless I am mistaken in the locality. But we shall soon know."
Ten minutes latter the balloon soared across the White Nile, and as it came near the opposite shore, Bunbury let out enough gas to bring the ground within thirty feet.
Then he cast a grappling line overboard, and the hook speedily caught in a clump of thick scrub. The rope ladder was lowered, and the aeronauts descended. They now stood within fifty yards of the junction of the two rivers.
Bunbury led the way through tall grass and bushes, that were intersected by a multitude of. well- trodden paths, as though the locality was a drinking resort for wild beasts. He and Roden had revolvers thrust in their belts.
Presently they emerged from the bushes on a sandy triangle, close to the water. Here they were con fronted by horrifying and unmistakable evidence that the spot was indeed the scene of Captain Benstone's last stand.
Trace of a rude fortification, made of sand and scrub, were yet visible. Both inside and outside the broken ramparts were white and shining skeletons, all that was left of the besieged and besiegers who had perished.
Empty cartridge shells were scattered about in profusion, and here and there lay broken guns, and a pistol or two. But there was nothing else. A great heap of charred embers showed that the worthless luggage of the ill-fated party had been burnt by the victors.
Bunbury and his companion gazed on the scene of desolation and bloodshed with thrilling emotions and fiery indignation.
"I can imagine what happened here five months ago," said Roden. "Poor Captain Benstone! He must have died fighting."
"I'm not sure that he died at all," replied Bunbury, who was poking among the dry bones. "In fact, I'm positive that his remains are not here. Look, lad, every skeleton has attached to it either a girdle of cotton cloth or a white burnoose, which proves that the besiegers were Arabs and negroes combined. Benstone's force were negroes, and he was the only white man. But there is no skeleton here in uniform -- none that can be Benstone's."
"Then what could have become of him?" asked Roden.
"He either escaped or was held prisoner," replied Bunbury, "and the latter is most probable. I have a strong conviction that we shall find and rescue him before many days have passed. But come, lad, we have lingered too long in this uncanny place."
Sick at heart they turned away, and entered the bushes. When they had gone more than half the distance back, Bunbury suddenly uttered a low cry, and clutched Roden's arm in a grip like iron.
"Down, lad," he whispered hoarsely. "Down for your life. Of all our misfortunes, this is the worst."
The warming command was so sudden and unexpected that Roden stood as one dazed for an instant, and Bunbury had to drag him forcibly down.
"What is it?" exclaimed the youth, in a low tone.
"Is the balloon gone? Are we in danger?"
"Lift your head a little and look," was Bunbury's hoarse reply. "Be very careful."
Roden slowly raised his eyes to a level with the top of the bushes, and what he saw struck a chill of dread and despair to his heart.
On the space under the balloon stood a dozen fierce-visaged Arabs, wrapped in dingy white cloaks, and with rifles strapped over their backs. They had taken hold of the grappling line, and were hauling the car slowly down. Their exclamations of wonder could be plainly heard.
"We'll be in a nice fix if we lose the balloon," said Roden. "How would it do to go boldly up and demand it? The Arabs might not molest us, for they look like the same sort of fellows one sees at civilized places on the coast."
"That's the worst of it," replied Bunbury. "These are slave-raiders, and they hate all white-men like poison. It would never do to trust to their mercies."
He hesitated a moment, as he crouched down in the thicket, and then his brow knitted with a sudden re solve.
"I'm going to try a desperate thing," he added, "but it's our last chance, and if we fail, we can't be much worse off than we are now."
"What is it?" asked Roden.
For answer, Bunbury lifted his revolver, and fired three rapid shots in the air.
"This way, lad," he whispered. "Quick! we must make a detour. Stick to my heels."
They turned at right angles to the path, and dashed into the bushes. They sped noiselessly and swiftly on, describing a half-circle, and finally they headed for the balloon, the top of which had been visible all the time. On the verge of the clearing, in which the grappling line had been moored, they paused, and peeped anxiously through the interlaced bushes.
The situation, as revealed to them in the first glance, was simply this: All but three of the Arabs had van ished in the direction of the pistol shots, which was ex actly what Bunbury had intended his ruse to accomplish.
Those left behind were hauling hard at the grappling line, and the car was now within six feet of the ground.
"Those fellows are cowards at heart," whispered Bunbury. "A bold rush will give us possession of the balloon, and then we must take our chances with flying bullets.
"Will we shoot?" asked Roden.
"Yes, but not to kill," Bunbury replied. "Fire over their heads."
At that very instant, and before the hidden watchers could show themselves, a strange thing happened.
One of the three Arabs, a thin, scrawny fellow, became entangled in some way with the coils of the grappling line. In his struggles to get loose he jostled his companions roughly, and they lost their hold of the line.
The balloon rose instantly, and brought to with a jerk as the grappling-hook held fast to the bushes.
The Arab went up at the same time, for the line was noosed under his arms. There he dangled, close below the edge of the car, and more than twenty feet above the ground.
He yelled in a shrill tone as he swung to and fro, but his companions were seemingly too dazed and stupid to try to help him. They stood still, and looked up, shouting loudly and making signs.
"That's one less to deal with," exclaimed Bunbury. "Come on, lad; I have an idea that I think will pull us safely through."
With Roden at his side he dashed out of cover, and the moment the two Arabs on the ground caught sight of the white strangers, they fled, with alarmed cries, in the direction taken by their companions.
But they stopped on the verge of the thicket, and unslung their rifles with hostile intent.
Bunbury's shrewdness and quick action prevented bloodshed. He thrust his revolver into his belt, bidding Roden do the same. Then he held up both hands, and pointed to the yelling figure dangling in midair.
The two Arabs understood. Believing that their companion was to be rescued, they lowered their rifles.
Banbury and Roden instantly seized the rope ladder and began to ascend. They tried to appear cool and unconcerned, though their hearts were beating wildly.
They gained the car, and climbed into it. Together they hauled hard on the line until the balloon descended far enough to allow them to reach the Arab. With some difficulty they extricated him from the noose and pulled him into the car.
He was in a pitiable state of fright and weakness. He trembled all over, and could hardly breathe. Evidently the strain of the tight rope had squeezed him severely.
Banbury let the balloon rise to its full limit, and at that instant the remainder of the Arabs, nine in num ber, broke from the thicket into the clearing. With hoarse yells, they unslung their rifles and prepared to fire.
It was a critical moment, but again the danger was averted by Bunbury's quick wits. He knew that to cut the balloon loose under such circumstances would be fatal.
So he whipped out his revolver, and pointed it at the prisoner, making signs that a bullet would be his por tion unless he should instantly command his companions not to fire.
The frightened wretch comprehended, and promptly obeyed. Creeping to the edge of the car he leaned over, and shouted a few words in a husky tone.
The Arabs suddenly lowered their weapons, and crept a little nearer. Anger and awed perplexity was visible on their cruel faces.
Bunbury's grim expression relaxed to a half smile.
"I think we're going to have plain sailing now," he said calmly. "Level a pistol at the fellow, lad, and don't let him shout, or grab for any of our weapons."
Roden obeyed, and just then Bunbury jerked in the rope ladder with one hand, while with the other he drew a knife and severed the grappling line. A second later he flung over two sand-bags, and the balloon shot upward and was caught in the breeze.
The prisoner uttered a wild yell of terror, and crouched in the bottom of the car, with clasped hands and chattering teeth. But he became silent as soon as Roden made a threatening movement with the revolver.
The Arabs down below shouted ferociously, but they were plainly unaware that their bullets could have brought the balloon to the ground, and they were afraid to shoot at the car for fear of hitting their companion.
The balloon sped on and on at an altitude of seventy or eighty feet, and the baffled and yelling foes were soon out of sight in the bushes.
"That was the neatest thing I ever saw," said Roden in a tone of admiration, as he began to breathe freely again.
"Yes, it was pretty cleverly managed," admitted Bunbury. "The odds were fearfully against us. But at this rate, we'll run short of grappling lines. We've lost two already.
"I hope we won't have to make any more such hasty ascents," said Roden. "What are you going to do with the prisoner? Take him along?"
"Hardly, lad, though I would give a good deal to be able to turn him over to the English authorities on the coast. No; we'll drop down after awhile, and put him safely on the earth. Come to think of it, we owe him a sort of a debt of gratitude, for----"
Bunbury suddenly paused, and looked around him, with eager eyes.
"I can't be mistaken," he added joyfully. "Lad, the wind has certainly shifted, and in just the right quarter, too. We are heading southwest."
"To the southwest?" cried Roden. "Hurrah! hurrah! We will find Godfrey again."
"About as much chance of that as of finding a needle in a haystack," reflected Bunbury, but he did not put it into words.
However, the wind had really changed, and in a short time the balloon was skimming back across the Nile, several miles south of where it had formerly crossed."
Bunbury pulled the valve-cord, and let a small quantity of gas escape.
"We'll land on the other shore," he explained. "I want to give our prisoner a chance to get back to his companions."
But the necessity of making a descent was precluded by something that unexpectedly happened a minute later.
As the balloon dropped to an altitude of forty feet the Arab, who, of course, did not understand the intentions of his captors, caught a glimpse of the nearby water through a small hole in the bottom of the car.
Before Bunbury or Roden could prevent him, he sprang to his feet, and leaped madly into midair. They looked over the edge of the car in time to see him strike the water head first, and vanish.
An instant later he came to the surface, and swam for the shore, with easy strokes.
He had reached shallow water, and was wading within twenty feet of the bank, when the balloon, now high in the air, passed clear of the Nile and skimmed swiftly over the treetops to the southwest.
The day was yet in its infancy, for the sun had mounted scarcely an hour's span above the horizon.
It is now time to return to Godfrey and Arthur.
The reader will remember how they sought to elude the bloodthirsty negroes by wading half a mile down the shallow edge of the river, and how, when they ventured to take to the shore, they heard faint shouting in the distance.
The meaning of these cries might be interpreted in two ways. Either the savages were giving vent to their disappointment at being outwitted, or they had just discovered the trick that had been played upon them.
Godfrey inclined to the former supposition.
"'The rascals are whooping and howling because your disappearance is too hard a nut for their stupid brains to crack," he said. "They don't believe you are drowned, or they wouldn't make any racket at all."
"Then what are we going to do about it?" asked Arthur. "Will it be safe to stay here, or to cut across the plain to that hillock you spoke of?"
"Not a bit of it, my boy. Our wisest plan is to tramp a few more miles down the river, before we talk of resting."
"All right, if it's got to be," replied Arthur, with a weary sigh. "But I'm pretty near played out, and my stomach feels like a bag of wind."
"I don't wonder," Godfrey replied sympathetically. "I wish I could infuse a little of my strength into your tired limbs. You shan't go hungry, anyhow. Here, eat these while you're on the move."
He took the hard biscuit from his pocket, and gave them to his companion.
"Thanks," exclaimed Arthur. "Did you keep any for yourself?"
"No," Godfrey answered promptly. "The fact is, I -- I ate mine. I'm not a bit hungry." It was too dark to see the palpable' confusion in his face, and Arthur was satisfied.
He devoured the biscuits greedily, as he trudged at Godfrey's side down the reedy shore of the river.
There was silence behind them now, and they pushed hopefully on for fully an hour, covering perhaps three miles in that period.
Suddenly Godfrey stopped and held up a warning finger.
"Hark! what was that?" he said.
As he spoke a dull, thunderous sound came echoing on the still night air -- a sound that made the fugitives start and shiver. A clamor of shrill voices followed, and again all was silence.
"That," declared Godfrey, "was the roar of a wounded lion. I know it well. The negroes roused the brute while following our track, and have no doubt despatched [sic] it with spears."
"Then we are discovered," exclaimed Arthur hoarsely.
"Yes, that's it. And the fiends are less than a mile behind. We must push for the mountains."
"Is there no other way?" cried Arthur. "Can't we try wading again?"
"That won't work," replied Godfrey. "We must make a dash for the mountains in a bee-line. It's that or capture. Keep a stiff upper lip, my boy. We'll baffle these black rascals yet."
"Go ahead," Raid Arthur. "I'm game to the last."
Then the race began -- a race for life and safety against far more desperate odds than the fugitives dreamed of. By the light of stars and moon they could see the black bulk of the mountains staining the eastern horizon.
"What's the distance?" panted Arthur.
"Half a dozen miles at most," Godfrey replied.
"Breathe through your nose as much as possible, lad."
They went on for an hour, scarcely speaking during that time. They ran steadily, not at full speed, but on a jogging trot. As much as possible, they reserved their strength for a time of greater need.
They followed the line of the river, heading straight through grass and reeds, and leaping or wading the inlets and tributary brooks.
At frequent intervals they stirred up wild animals that had come down to drink -- elephants, leopards and small deer. These were even more scared than the fugitives, and lost no time in seeking the shelter of the thickets.
There, was no sign or noise from behind, but this was far from indicating that the negroes had abandoned the chase.
"They are dogging our steps like bloodhounds, lad," said Godfrey. "There is safety for us only in the mountains, where the hard ground will conceal our tracks. We have not far to go yet. Brace up."
"I'm doing my level best," replied Arthur, "but it's tough work."
A little later the mountains loomed up very close. The river seemed to narrow at the gorge, for its waters could be heard crashing and roaring in the distance.
On each side a great peak towered toward the sky, apparently several thousand feet in height.
Just where the swelling foothills began, the fugitives were checked by a swift and shallow stream, two or three yards wide.
"This comes down from the mountains," exclaimed Godfrey. "I have an idea, lad. We'll follow it as far as we can, and thus give our pursuers something to puzzle about for a time."
So they entered the stream, and waded rapidly along its torturous and upward course, clambering from reef to reef, and alternately splashing through pools and shallows. The cool water, surging against their weary limbs, refreshed and strengthened them surprisingly.
Higher and higher they mounted, until, at the end of another hour, they were well above the base of the mountain, and nearly a mile beyond where the range was split in two by the river.
Straight ahead the torrent now came flowing from a narrow gorge, hemmed in by gigantic walls of rock.
"I don't like the looks of that place," said Arthur, coming to a halt.
"Nor I," answered Godfrey. "It will be best to turn off here."
Involuntarily he glanced on both sides of the stream, and to the left he saw a black triangular hole on the top of a sloping ledge of rock. The spot was about twenty feet up, and was clearly marked by a shaft of silvery moonlight that penetrated the foliage overhead.
Arthur made the discovery at the same time. "Look!" he cried, "it must be a cavern."
"You're about right, lad," replied Godfrey. "It's a rare streak of luck. We couldn't wish for a safer hiding-place; give me your hand."
But Arthur refused assistance, and easily climbed up the sloping ledge behind Godfrey.
They crept into the mouth of the cavern, and sat down to rest. Not a sound could be heard, except the distant roaring of the river. Evidently there was no enemy near.
"The wet places left by our feet are drying already," said Godfrey. "If the negroes follow us this far -- which I doubt -- they won't suspect that we have climbed up here. They will probably follow the stream on through the gorge."
"And after they have gone past, we can go back to the plain," suggested Arthur.
"Yes, unless a better plan offers," replied Godfrey, who had been moving his hand to and fro. "Have you any matches, lad?"
"About two hundred wax vestas," was the reply. "They are in a waterproof case, and each one will burn a minute."
"That's good," said Godfrey. "Strike a light."
Arthur produced the box, and scraped a vesta on his belt buckle.
As the blaze flared up, Godfrey uttered an eager exclamation.
"I thought so," he said. "Look! the floor slants upward, and here in the center is a sort of a trough washed out by the flow of rain water. This proves that the cavern has an outlet -- perhaps far up on the mountain. Our best plan will be to push on through and so make sure of eluding the negroes."
He had hardly spoken when a shrill halloo echoed on the night air, from far down the stream, and an instant later a chorus of answering shouts was heard at a still greater distance.
CONTINUED IN PART II
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