In the Mahdi's Grasp, by George Manville Fenn.
A young army officer has been captured during the wars in Soudan, and is being held as a slave in the stronghold of the Mahdi. For years it had been thought that he was dead. His friends in London decide to go and try to rescue him. One of them is a well-known and proficient surgeon. They arrive in Cairo, and proceed on down into the Soudan, where they get in contact with an influential Sheikh. They establish themselves by doing many cures, where it is possible, and gradually work themselves nearer and nearer to the place where they estimate the missing Harry to be. Eventually they are able to make contact. Harry breaks his own arm in order to be brought to the surgeon, or Hakim, for a cure.
Eventually they are able to escape with him, but to do so they have to run right through a battle. They had brought out with them a personal manservant, at his own request, and he had been in a semi-disguise, by staining the skin a very deep colour. This very nearly results in his being killed on the battlefield through which they are escaping.
An informative book, quite a long one, in a good Manville Fenn style, which is well-known for sustained tension.
IN THE MAHDI'S GRASP, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
IN WIMPOLE STREET.
Sam—or, as he liked to be called, "Mr Samuel," or "Mr Downes," holding as he did the important post of confidential and body-servant to Dr Robert Morris, a position which made it necessary for him to open the door to patients and usher them into the consulting-room, and upon particular occasions be called in to help with a visitor who had turned faint about nothing—"a poor plucked 'un," as he termed him—
To begin again:—
Sam, who was in his best black and stiffest white tie, consequent upon "the doctor" having company to dinner that evening, had just come out of the dining-room of the dingy house in Wimpole Street, carrying a mahogany tray full of dish covers, when cook opened the glass door at the top of the kitchen stairs, thrust her head into the hall, looked eagerly at Sam, as she stood fanning her superheated face with her apron, and said—
There was a folding pair of trestles standing ready, and Sam placed the tray upon them, raised a white damask napkin from where it hung over his arm, and was about to wipe his perspiring forehead with it, when cook exclaimed sharply—
"Forgot," said that gentleman, and he replaced the napkin upon his arm and took out a clean pocket-handkerchief, did what was necessary, and then repeated cook's word—
"Did they say anything about the veal cutlets?"
"No," said Sam, shaking his head.
"Nor yet about the curry?"
"No. And they didn't say a word about the soup, nor half a word about the fish."
"My chycest gravy soup, ar lar prin temps" said cook bitterly, "and filly de sole mater de hotel. One might just as well be cutting chaff for horses. I don't see any use in toiling and moiling over the things as I do. Mr Landon's just as bad as master, every bit. I don't believe either of 'em's got a bit o' taste. Hot as everything was, too!"
"Spesherly the plates," said Sam solemnly. "Burnt one of my fingers when the napkin slipped."
"Then you should have took care. What's a dinner unless the plates and dishes are hot?"
"What, indeed?" said Sam; "but they don't take no notice of anything. My plate looked lovely, you could see your face out o' shape in every spoon; and I don't believe they even saw the eighteen-pen'orth o' flowers on the table."
"Savages! that's what they are," said cook. "But they did eat the things."
"Yes, they pecked at 'em, but they was talking all the time."
"About my cooking?"
"Not they! The doctor was talking about a surgical case he had been to see at the hospital. Something about a soldier as had been walking about for three years with a bit of broken spear stuck in him out in the Soudan."
"Ugh!" grunted cook, with a shudder of disgust. "That was over the veal cutlets," said Sam thoughtfully.
"And what did Mr Landon say? He ought to have known better than to talk about such 'orrid stuff over his meals."
"Him?" said Sam, with a grin of contempt; "why, he's worse than master."
"He couldn't be, Sam."
"Couldn't? But he is. Master does talk about live people as he does good to. Mr Landon don't. He began over the curry."
"Made with best curry paste too, and with scraped cocoanut, a squeeze of lemon, a toemarter, and some slices of apple in, just as old Colonel Cartelow taught me hisself. Talk about throwing pearls! And pray what did Mr Landon talk about?"
"Ugh!" ejaculated cook. "I saw some of 'em once, at the British Museum; but never no more! The idea of bringing a mummy on to a dinner-table!"
"Ah," said Sam, "it's a good job, old lady, that you don't hear all that I do."
"So I suppose," said cook, with a snort. "And he calls hisself a professor!"
"No, no, he don't, old lady. It's other people calls him a professor, and I suppose he is a very clever man."
"I don't hold with such clever people. I like folks as are clever enough to understand good cooking. Professor, indeed! I should like to professor him!"
"Well, master's no better," said Sam. "Look at the trouble I have with him to keep him decent. If I didn't watch him he'd put on anything. I can't even keep a book out of his hand when I'm cutting his hair. Only yesterday he gives a duck down to cut the leaf of his book just at an awk'ard moment, and of course in goes the point of the scissors."
"Serve him right!" said cook.
"And what do you think he said?"
"Oh, don't ask me."
"Nothing; and I dabbed the place and put a bit o' black court-plaister on his ear, and I don't hardly believe he even knew of it."
"I'm not surprised," said cook indignantly. "Them two read and read till they're a pair of regular old scribums. Anyone would think they were old ancient men instead of being—How old is master?"
"Six years older than me."
"And you're six-and-twenty."
"And a fine, handsome man too."
"Thankye, cook," said Sam, smiling.
"Get out! I don't mean you. Master. How old's the professor?"
"Oh, he's thirty-five," said Sam, in rather a disappointed tone.
"And looks it," said cook. "Well, I wish he'd go abroad again to his nasty grave-digging in the sands, and then praps master would have decent people to dine with him. Oh! There's the front bell."
Cook dived down into the lower regions, and Sam opened the folding inner doors to go and answer the street door bell, frowning the while.
"Wanted for some patient," he muttered sourly. "I do wish people would have their accidents at decent times."
On the other side of the dining-room door Doctor Morris, a thoughtful-looking man of goodly presence, and the better looking for a calm ignorance of his being handsome, was seated opposite to his thin, yellow-skinned, and rather withered, nervous-looking old college friend, both partaking slowly of the good things the doctor's domestic had prepared for them, as if it came perfectly natural to them to follow out the proverbial words of the old Greek philosopher who bade his pupils, "Live not to eat, but eat to live."
As Sam had truthfully said, they had been talking very learnedly about their investigations in the particular branches of science which they had followed up since their old school and college days when they had begun their friendship, in company with another companion, missing now; and the doctor had said, with a far-off look in his large dark eyes—
"No, Fred, old chap, I don't want to settle down here yet, because I know how it will be. Once I regularly begin, the practice will completely swallow me, as it did the dear old dad. People came from far and wide to be treated by him, and he had hardly an hour to call his own. Of course I shall be glad to do the same, for it's a duty to one's fellow-creatures; but I want to leave it all to old Stanley for another two or three years while I travel and see more of the world. I should like to go with some army if I could."
"Yes," said his guest, "I see; as a volunteer surgeon."
"Exactly; the experience and confidence I should gain would be so great. After that, here is my place, and I could relieve Stanley till he retires, which he says he shall do as soon as I like to take the old practice fully in hand."
"Hah! Yes, Bob," said the visitor. "There's nothing like travel— seeing foreign countries, with some special pursuit to follow. I'm like a fish out of water now, with all this trouble in Egypt. Oh, hang the Khalifa, or Mahdi, or whatever they call him!"
"That's what a good many people would like to do," said the doctor drily.
"Like to? I should like to do it myself," cried Landon, with his yellow face flushing. "The wretch, the impostor, the cruel, heartless brute! Poor Harry Frere! as handsome, manly, true-hearted a gentleman as ever breathed."
"Hah, yes!" said the doctor, sighing. "Don't talk about it, old fellow. It makes me miserable every night as it is."
"Miserable? Yes, for if ever friend was like a brother poor old Harry was. He had only one fault in him, and that was his blind faith and belief in poor Gordon."
"No, no, not fault. You know what I mean; but it is so pitiful to think of. Only the other day we gave him that dinner on his appointment to his regiment in the Egyptian army, and he is off to Cairo. Then the next thing is that he goes on the expedition to join Gordon up the country."
"And the next news," said the doctor sadly, "is that he and all with him have been massacred, fighting in poor Gordon's defence."
"Horrible! Horrible!" said Landon passionately. "So bright, so brave a lad, with, in the ordinary course, a good manly career of fifty years before him."
"Think there is any possibility of his having escaped after all?" said the doctor, after a pause.
"Not a bit, poor lad. I was red-hot to go up the country somehow or other last year when I was about to investigate those buried tombs of the Ra Sa dynasty. I wanted to give up the search for those mummies and the stores of old incised inscriptions."
"Yes, and you applied for permission," said the doctor.
"Like an idiot," said Landon angrily, "instead of keeping my own counsel and going without saying a word. I might have found poor old Hal a prisoner, or a slave, or something. But what did the authorities say?"
"That they were quite convinced that there were no survivors of the last expedition, and that they must debar your proceeding up the country."
"Debar!" cried Landon, with a peculiar laugh. "Splendid word for it. Bar, indeed! Yes, and they politely bundled me out of the country just when I was on the scent of some of the most wonderful discoveries ever made, connected with the ancient Egyptian civilisation."
"You must wait a few years, and when the country is settled try again."
"I was willing to give up further researches then, but they wouldn't let me go in search of poor Harry."
"Their belief was that the attempt would be fatal."
"But they did not know; I was the best judge of that. See what a knowledge I have of the people and their language. I believe I could have gone anywhere."
"That was young Frank's belief."
"Yes, but that was different. The boy did not know what he was talking about. He'd have been murdered before he had gone fifty miles up the country."
"It was very brave and true of him, though."
"Of course," said Landon, "and I should have risked taking him with me if I could have obtained permission. But perhaps it was better that he should stick to his chemistry."
"Yes," said the doctor, with a sigh, "and that you should have been sent home."
"Nonsense! I say it was a disgraceful thing that a scientist like myself should be so treated."
"But the result is that Harry's brother is safe at home, Fred, and that I have not lost another companion."
The doctor stretched out his hand to his rather excitable friend, who grasped it directly.
"That's very good of you, Bob, old fellow. Thank you; but I felt it bitterly not being allowed to go in search of poor Harry."
"Yes, but so did Frank."
"Of course, poor boy. He would. Ah, well, I tried my best. I feel it, though, and I am very miserable doing my work in the museum instead of in Egypt amongst the sand. I suppose the upper country will become settled again."
"Sure to," said the doctor, "and in the meantime why don't you go and try Nineveh or Babylon?"
"No; I can't take up an entirely fresh rut. I must give years upon years yet to the sand-buried cities and tombs of Egypt. Ah! what an endless mine of wonders it is."
"Yes, I suppose so."
"With everything so preserved by the drifting sand."
"But the ruins of the Tigris and Euphrates must be equally interesting."
"They can't be."
"But look here: you can't go to Egypt now, and you could to Nineveh. Have a trip there, and I'll go with you."
"You will, Bob?" cried Landon excitedly.
"I will, Fred, on my word."
"Then we will, Bob," said the professor enthusiastically. "We'll start and—No, we won't. Egypt is my motto, and much as I should like to have you for a companion, no, sir, no. As the old woman said, 'Wild horses sha'n't drag me from my original plans and unfinished work.' I must get back to the sand. I'd give anything to be there digging."
"Humph!" ejaculated the doctor. "After all, it is a nasty, ghoulish business: moleing in the old tombs and unrolling mummies."
"It may seem so to you, but to me it is intensely interesting. Besides, much as you condemn it, this is the only way to find out the history— the manners and customs of the people two and three thousand years ago."
"The bell!" exclaimed the doctor. "I hope no poor creature wants me to-night."
"So do I," said Landon, "for my own sake as well as for his or hers. I wanted a long chat with you as soon as this tiresome dinner is at an end."
"Hark," said the doctor. "Some one has come in. Yes, I'm wanted, and— Hullo, Frank, my dear boy, how are you?" he cried, as a youthful-looking young man, who appeared flushed and excited, threw open the door without waiting to be announced, and strode in, to nod to first one and then the other.
"Why, there is something the matter!" said the doctor quickly. "You want to see me?"
"To see you? Yes, of course," said the young man shaking hands hurriedly. "No, no, not professionally. I hurried on to Old Bones, but the servant said he had come to dine with you, so I jumped into a cab and made the fellow canter here."
"Then you have come for a snack with us. Wish I'd known, and we'd have waited. Sit down, my lad. Why didn't you come sooner?"
"Dinner?" cried the young man, ignoring the chair, and beginning to stride up and down the room, swinging his arms excitedly; "don't talk to me about dinner!"
"Very well, little man," said the professor, smiling; "but don't jump quite out of your skin."
The newcomer turned upon the speaker sharply, and stopping short stood pointing at him.
"Hark at that fellow, doctor," he cried. "That's Old Bones all over. He's as cool as one of his dry mummies. Why, my news is enough to make any fellow with a heart jump out of his skin!"
"Sit still, Bob," said the professor quietly; "the boy has made a discovery."
"Yes, a discovery," cried the newcomer—"a discovery!" and he brought his hand down so heavily upon the dining table that the glasses jumped.
"That's it," said the professor; "metaphorically speaking, he has been pouring sulphuric acid upon the carbonate of lime of his composition, and all this effervescence is the consequence. He'll be better soon. Now, Frank, boy, what is the discovery—something that will set the Thames on fire?"
"Have you got a good appointment as chemist, Frank?" said the doctor.
"Discovery—appointment!" cried the young man, with his voice breaking from the emotion he felt. "Something a thousand times better than either of those. It's the news of news, I tell you—Hal!"
His two hearers sprang to their feet and rushed at him excitedly, each seizing a hand.
"What about him?" cried the doctor.
"Not dead?" shouted the professor.
"No—no—no!" cried the young man wildly, and then his voice thoroughly broke, becoming almost inaudible as he tried to declare his news.
"I can't bear it," he panted; "I can't bear it. Morris—Landon—don't take any notice of me—I've kept all this in for days, and now—now—Oh, tell me—is it true, or am I going mad?"
The young man sank heavily into the chair to which his friends helped him, and then he lay back quivering, with his hands covering his face, while the doctor made a sign to his companion and went hurriedly into his consulting-room, where he turned up the gas and then opened a cabinet, from which he took down a stoppered bottle and a graduated glass, into which he carefully measured a small portion, half filled the glass from a table filter, and then hurried back into the dining-room.
"Drink this, Frank, my boy," he said.
"No, no; let me be. I shall soon come round."
"Drink this, my lad," said the doctor sternly; "it is for your good."
The young man caught the glass from his friend's hand, tossed down the contents, shuddered, and then drew a deep breath, pulling himself together directly.
"I'm better now," he said. "It has all been such a shock, and I've been travelling night and day."
"Where from?" said the doctor, so as to give the young fellow time for the medicine to produce its effect.
"Berlin," was the reply.
"Berlin? That accounts for it. I was wondering why you had not been here. I thought you were in Paris about some mineral business."
"I was there, but I heard some news about—about poor Hal."
"Indeed?" said the professor, growing excited now.
"Yes, it was from a gentleman who had escaped out of Khartoum."
"Go on, my lad; go on," said Morris.
"Yes, yes, I can go on now," said the young man calmly. "Don't think any more about what I said."
"No, no, of course not, Frank, my lad," said the doctor; "but pray speak out. Landon and I are suffering pain."
"Of course, and I've travelled night and day as I told you, so as to bring you the news myself. This German gentleman has been a prisoner ever since Khartoum was taken by the Mahdi, and only managed to get out of the place in disguise six months ago."
"Yes, yes," said the doctor excitedly, and the professor took up a carafe and made it rattle against a glass as he hurriedly poured out some water and drank it with avidity.
"He knew poor old Hal well by sight, and spoke to him twice, and heard who he was. He was alive, and seemed to be well the last time this gentleman saw him; but he was a miserable slave in irons without the slightest prospect of getting away."
"Hah!" exclaimed the doctor, dropping into a chair and beginning to wipe his forehead.
"Oh!" groaned the professor, sinking back in his chair, but only to become excited directly after, as he turned upon the bearer of the news.
"But he's alive, Frank, boy! he's alive!" he cried, in a peculiarly altered voice.
"Yes, thank Heaven!" said Frank Frere softly; "he is alive."
No one spoke for a few moments. Then the professor began again excitedly—
"Look here," he cried, "both of you; that German sausage is a fool!"
The others turned on him with wondering eyes as if they doubted his sanity, a notion quite pardonable from his manner of speaking and the wild look he had given himself by thrusting both his hands through his rather long, shaggy black hair, and making it stand up on end.
"Well," he said sharply, "what are you two staring at?"
"Well, Fred," said the doctor smiling, "I suppose it was at you."
"And pray why were you staring in that peculiar way at me? Here, you answer—you, Frank."
"I was staring on account of the sausage," said the young man, sinking back in his chair and laughing aloud.
"Here, Bob," said the professor excitedly, "what have you been giving this fellow—ether? It's too strong for him. Got on his nerves."
"Nonsense," said the doctor, joining softly in their young friend's mirth. "What makes you think that?"
"Why, you heard. He doesn't know what he's talking about—staring on account of the sausage!"
"Well, that's why I was looking at you so hard."
The professor stared now in turn, passed one hand across his forehead, stared again, and then said gravely—
"I say, you two, has this glorious news sent you both out of your minds?"
"No," cried both heartily. "It only sounded so comical and so different from your ordinary way," continued the younger man, "when you called my German friend a sausage."
The professor's face was so full of perplexity that in the reaction after the pain of the sudden good news, his friends began to laugh again, making the clever scientist turn his eyes inquiringly upon the doctor.
"Well, it's a fact," said the latter. "You did."
"What!" cried the professor indignantly. "That I didn't! I said that German gentleman was a fool."
"No, no, no," cried Frank, half hysterically. "You said sausage."
"Frank, you don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes, I do," cried the young man. "Sausage, sausage, sausage."
The professor drew lines horizontally across his forehead from his eyebrows to the roots of his hair, and shook his head slowly and piteously at the speaker.
"Well, really, Fred, old fellow," said the doctor, "I must take Frank's part. You certainly did say sausage. I suppose it was suggested by the common association of the two words, German sausage."
"Humph!" ejaculated the professor slowly; "suppose then I must. German silver—German band—German tinder—German sausage. But I meant to say German gentleman, upon my word."
"Nobody doubts you," said Frank; "but why did you call him a fool?"
"Oh! for saying that Harry couldn't escape. Do you both mean to tell me that an Englishman, and such an Englishman as our Harry Frere, couldn't do what a German has done?"
"I don't," said the doctor, bringing his fist down upon the table. "Come, Franky, lad, what have you to say to that?"
"Hah!" sighed the young man sadly, "it is easily accounted for. My German friend managed to gain the confidence of the Khalifa from his knowledge of Arabic, and was freed from the chains he first wore. Poor Harry was wearing heavy irons up to the day when my new friend left."
"Oh!" groaned the professor, "that's bad, that's bad. Frank, boy, I beg your German friend's pardon. He isn't a—"
"Sausage!" put in the doctor quickly.
"A fool," said the professor, shaking his fist playfully at his old school-fellow. "Well, I feel ten years younger than I did half an hour ago, and this settles it at once."
"Settles what?" said the doctor.
"Settles what!" cried the professor, in a tone full of mock disgust. "Hark at him, Frank! Settles this, sir," he continued, flashing his fierce eyes upon the doctor, clenching his fist menacingly, and shaking his shaggy hair. "I'm off back to Egypt as soon as ever I can get a berth in a steamer, and then I'm going right up the country with tools in every pocket on purpose to file off those chains."
"Bravo! bravo!" shouted the other two.
"An Englishman in chains," continued the professor, gesticulating like an orator, though as a rule he was one of the quietest of men, "and of all Englishmen in the world, our Harry, the merriest school-fellow, the heartiest undergrad, and the truest friend!"
"And brother," said Frank softly.
"Yes," cried the professor excitedly, "and brother, that man ever had. The brother we three have mourned as dead for years, but who lives—as a slave."
"Britons never shall be slaves," cried the doctor solemnly.
"Never!" said Frank through his teeth, and with a look of stern determination in his eyes which meant more than words could have expressed.
"Never!" cried the professor, bringing his fist down with such a crash that this time a large goblet leaped off the table, was smashed upon the floor, and the next moment the door was thrown open and Sam, the doctor's butler, as he called himself, looking white with anxiety, rushed into the room, to stand staring wildly from one to the other.
This quelled the professor's excitement at once, and he dropped back in his chair and began mopping his face.
"What's the matter, Samuel?" said the doctor sternly.
"That's what I've come to see, sir," cried the man piteously. "I did stop in the hall, sir, in aggynies, waiting to know. First in comes Mr Frank when I opens the door to him and hits me in the chest hard, just like a patient as has got rid of the strait w. Into the dining-room he bangs, before I could announce him, and without a bit o' pollergy, slams the door after him. Then master goes into his consulting-room in a hurry and comes back with a something to exhibit, looking as he always do when there's anything serious on; and ever since it's been getting worse and worse, and you never rung for me, sir. Fancy my feelings, sir! First s'posing as it was fits with Mr Frank, sir; then it seemed to be you, sir; and then the professor went on, having it worse than either of you, sir, till it got to the smashing of my glass, and I couldn't bear it no longer."
"No, no, of course you couldn't, Sam," cried Frank; "and you must know at once. It's news, Sam—glorious news—the best of news. My brother is alive after all!"
"What!" cried the man. "Mr Harry, sir?"
"Yes, alive, Sam—alive!"
"What, him as was dead, sir?"
"Yes, alive, I tell you."
"What, him as was killed out in the Soudan—our Mr Harry, sir, as we give the dinner to in this very room, when he made that speech as I stood and heared to the very end?"
"Yes, Sam; yes, yes!" cried Frank, as excited now as the man, who now dashed at him and seized him by the hand and shook it with all his might.
"Then—then—then," he cried. "Oh, Mr Frank—oh, Mr Frank—oh, Mr Frank!"
Dropping the young man's hand, he seized the professor's and shook at that for a few moments, before rushing at his master's, to pump that wildly up and down before dashing to the door, flinging it open, and yelling—
"Here! hi! cook! Mary! everyone! He isn't dead after all. Hooray! hooray! hoo—"
From a tremendous emphasis and sonorous roar over the first hurrah, Sam made a rapid diminuendo to the first syllable of the last, which trailed off and would have died away but for Frank, who, touched by the man's show of devotion, finished it heartily, and led off with another cheer, in which the others joined, the shouts having an accompaniment in the pattering of feet upon the floor-cloth of the hall.
Sam's fit of exaltation was over, and he stood shamefaced and troubled, wiping his damp hands upon the white napkin.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he said humbly. "You see, I knowed Mr Harry so well. He was always such a gentleman to me, and it was such an upset when he died that—that now he's come to life again, sir, it seemed like making a man forget himself, sir, and—"
"Show that he felt a genuine attachment to our very dear friend, Samuel," said the doctor quietly. "Thank you. My friends thank you too, for we know it was all perfectly sincere."
"Hah!" said the professor, as the door closed. "I always liked your Sam, though as a bit of a linguist I must say that sometimes his use of the Queen's English does rather jar upon my feelings."
"But his heart's in the right place," said Frank warmly.
"And a good heart too. But as we were saying when he burst into the room, Britons never shall be slaves, and I'm going back to Egypt after all to file off those chains."
"That's right," said the doctor warmly, "and just what I knew you would say. You are a man, Fred, who has found out things that have puzzled a good many—"
"Better ones," said the professor modestly. "Well, I have."
"And you've made out many an Egyptian hieroglyphic in your time."
"Yes, and I hope to find out more," said the professor.
"And will," cried Frank.
"But," said the doctor, "you are forbidden to go up the country—by the English and Egyptian authorities; and the Soudan is in the power of a savage and cruel impostor, who vows death to the white. How are you going up there to use those files?"
"Hah!" said the professor gravely; "whenever I have a difficult problem to solve I always put on my old red fez and have a thorough good think, and then the way seems to come."
"Yes," said the doctor, while Frank listened eagerly to what was said, "but—"
"Yes, but—" said the professor, taking him up sharply. "We've got our news, thank Heaven! and that's enough for to-night."
"And you can't put on your old red fez," said Frank, "because—"
"Exactly," said the professor; "because it is at my rooms in Fountain Court."
"Good morning, Frank, my lad," said Doctor Morris, shaking hands upon the young man entering his study. "Ready for business?"
"Ready, yes," was the reply, made with feverish haste. "Am I late?"
"Late? No," said the doctor, glancing at the clock on the study mantelpiece. "Half an hour before the time."
"Oh, nonsense; that thing's wrong. Ever so much slow."
"Don't you insult my clock, my boy," said the doctor. "It keeps as good time as any one in London. It's you who are too fast. Keep cool, my lad, keep cool."
"Who can keep cool at a time like this?" said Frank impatiently.
"You, if you try. Surgeons have to. Important work requires cool heads."
"I'll try," said Frank briefly.
"Fred Landon was right last night in putting matters off till this morning, so that we could all have a good night's rest."
Frank looked quickly up at his brother's old school-fellow with something like envy, as he sat there softly stroking the great, dark brown beard, which flowed pretty well all over the breast of the heavy blue dressing-gown, tied with thick silk cords about his waist, and thought what a fine-looking specimen of humanity he was; while the doctor at the same time scanned the rather thin, anxious face before him and mused to himself—
"Poor Frank! the boy looks pulled down and careworn, and this has completely upset him. I must take him in hand a bit. He has been working too hard, too, over his chemistry."
Just then their eyes met, and Frank coloured a little, as if self-conscious.
"I was afraid Landon would be here first," he said hurriedly, "and that you would both be waiting for me."
"You ought to have known him better," said the doctor, laughing. "Fred Landon never is first at any meeting. I always allow him an hour's latitude."
"Oh, surely he will not be late this morning?" cried Frank anxiously.
"I hope not; but he may be. Of course he meant to be punctual, and I have no doubt he got up and breakfasted extra early; but anything takes off his attention—a book, a drawing, a note about Egypt—and he forgets everything else. You should have called in the Temple this morning and brought him on."
"Of course! I didn't think of that. Here, I'll go and fetch him at once."
"No, no; give him time. Perhaps he will have been thinking so seriously about poor Harry, that for once he will be punctual."
"Here he is!" cried Frank excitedly, as a thundering knock was heard at the front door, and he sprang up in his anxiety to go and open to their friend himself.
"No, no; don't do that," cried the doctor, smiling. "Sam would be disgusted."
"Oh, I can't stop to think about Sam's feelings now," cried Frank hurriedly.
"But you must keep cool. Look here, Frank, you are eighteen, and pretty well a man grown."
"What has that to do with it?" said the lad impatiently.
"Only this," said the doctor gravely; "we want manly action now, and you are as impatient as a boy of twelve."
At that moment the professor entered the room, hooked stick in hand, and with his hat on, closely followed by the doctor's man, who stood with one hand held out and a puzzled look on his face, staring at the visitor, whose dress looked shabby and aspect wild, the want of what fashionable young men term "well grooming"—to wit, shaving, hair-cutting, and shampooing—making him appear ten years older than his real age.
"Good morning, dear boys," he said, shaking hands warmly, and without taking off his hat. "Well, what is it?"
He turned sharply upon Sam as he spoke.
"Your hat, sir," said the man hesitatingly.
"Well, what about it? It's mine, isn't it?"
"Yes, sir; of course, sir. I thought you'd like me to take it and hang it up."
"Then you thought wrong," said the professor, and he so thoroughly stared Sam out of countenance, that the man shrank from the fierce frown and backed out of the room.
"Just as if a man can't do as he likes with his own hat," said the professor, with his face relaxing, as he crossed to one of the easy chairs, wheeled it forward, sat down, and then slipped off his hat, thrust his hand inside, whisked something out, and placed hat and stick under the table, before, with a good deal of flourish, he drew a very dingy-looking old scarlet fez over his starting black hair, with the big blue silk tassels hanging down behind, and settled himself comfortably by drawing up first one and then the other leg across and beneath him, a la turque.
"There," he said, with a pleasant smile. "This chair isn't so comfortable as the sand of the desert, but I must make it do. Now I'm ready for business. What's the first thing to be done?"
"To make arrangements for your start at once," said Frank sharply. "You will sail for Egypt, and make your preparations for going up the country, and I shall go with you."
"Oh, you've settled that, have you?" said the professor, turning upon the speaker, and pulling the fez a little more tightly on, for his stiff hair had a disposition to thrust it off. "You two have been busy then, eh, Bob?"
"Certainly not," said the doctor; "not a word has been said of this before."
"That's right," said the professor. "Are you aware of what it will cost, Frank?"
"No. A good deal, no doubt; but I have all that money to come when I am of age, and there is Harry's. There ought to be no difficulty about the executors advancing what is required."
"Bob and your humble servant being the said executors," said the professor. "Of course not; but I did not mean money, Frank, I meant life. It would cost yours."
"Well, I am ready to spend it," said the youth warmly, "so long as I can save my brother's."
"Hah!" sighed the doctor.
"That's very nicely spoken, Frank," said the professor, leaning forward to pat the young fellow on the arm, "but it's all sentiment."
"Yes, and we want hard, matter-of-fact stuff. Now look at me."
"Well, I am looking at you," said Frank, half angrily.
"What do I look like?"
"Do you want the truth?"
"Of course, my boy."
"Well, you look like a Turk hard up in London, who has bought a second-hand suit of English clothes that don't fit him."
The doctor threw himself back and roared with laughter, while the professor joined silently in the mirth and then sat wiping his eyes, not in the least offended.
"Well done, Frank!" he said. "You've hit the bull's-eye, boy. That's exactly how I do look; and if I went to Cairo and put on a haik and burnoose, and a few rolls of muslin round this fez, speaking Arabic as I do, and a couple of the Soudan dialects, I could go anywhere with a camel unquestioned. While as for you, my dear boy, you couldn't go a mile. You'd be a Christian dog that every man would consider it his duty to kill."
"I must risk that," said Frank stubbornly.
"Must you?" said the professor. "What do you say, Bob?"
"I say it would be madness," replied the doctor emphatically.
"Stick—stark—staring madness," said the professor. "I, who have been out there for years, and who can be quite at home with the people, should have hard work to get through by the skin of my teeth."
"And you would not get through, Frank," said the doctor decisively. "This business must be carried out wisely and well."
"What would you do, then," said Frank impatiently.
"Make application to the Foreign Office at once. Diplomacy must be set to work, and failing that, force."
"Oh!" cried Frank, in a despairing tone; "why, it would take years to get that slow machine to work, and all that time wasted in correspondence and question and answer, while poor Hal is slaving away yonder in chains! Oh, Morris, what are you thinking about?"
"Acting in the slower and surer way," replied the doctor firmly. "This can only be done with coolness. We know that Hal is a prisoner out yonder, and we must apply to Government to get him free."
"Humph!" ejaculated the professor.
"Hah!" cried Frank. "You don't agree with this, Landon?"
"Of course not. Bob Morris is as clever a chap as any in London at cutting people to pieces and putting 'em together again; but over Egyptian matters he'd be like a baby. Mine is the plan."
"To get your head cut off," growled the doctor.
"Well, if I did," retorted the professor, "that would beat you. Clever as you are, old chap, you couldn't get that to grow again. Look here, Frank, you side with me. I'll go at once."
"And take me with you?"
"No, my boy, I—will—not," said the professor decisively. "Be sensible, and take what is really the best way. I am not bragging when I say that I am one of the most likely men living to carry this business through."
"Oh, we know that you are not bragging," said the doctor. "You mean right; so does Frank. And now let me say this. The first thing last night that I thought, was that you, Fred, must go, and that I would go with you."
"Impossible," said the professor shortly.
"Yes, I thought it well over, and dearly as I long to go and help poor Hal, I am obliged to confess that it would be impossible."
"Hear, hear," said the professor; "just as impossible as for Frank to insist upon going with me to stick his head into the lion's mouth, get it bitten off, and spoil my plans as well. Once more, it is impossible for either of you two to go; so be sensible and help me to get off, and trust me like a brother to help and save our brother in distress."
"I will," said the doctor firmly. "Now, Frank."
"I won't," cried the youth.
"I ask you as a brother," said the doctor.
"Yes, as a little brother—as a boy whom you look upon as wanting in manliness to help at a time like this. Both of you cry impossible. I'm much younger than either of you, but surely I've got some brains. Always up to now, and it was the same when poor old Hal was with us, you three treated me as if I was your equal, and it made me feel older. But now, when there is quite a crisis in my life, and I want to prove to you that young as I am I can be manly and help to save our poor Hal from the clutches of these savage Arab fiends with their cruelty and slavery, you combine to fight against me, and it is impossible—impossible."
"Humph!" grunted the professor, shaking his head at the doctor, who shook his in turn.
"You talk too much, Frank, lad," said the latter, in an injured tone. "Do be cool, and think a little. I'm sure you would see then that you are wrong. What we want in this is calm matter-of-fact planning."
"No, we don't," said Frank impatiently; "we want a good plan, of course, but we want plenty of pluck and good manly dash. Impossible, you both say, because each of you has his own pet plan, one of you for Government interference, the other for going alone in disguise, and consequently you combine against me for one of you to carry out his."
"Well, and if you cannot propose a better ought you not to give way to us?"
"No," said Frank, "because it would be horrible to settle down here at home, thinking of that poor fellow's sufferings. How do you think I could ever get on with any study? I should go out of my mind."
"But look here, Frank," said the doctor.
"I can't look there," said Frank. "I can't reason with you two. I want to act; I want to be up and doing, so as to feel that every day I am a little nearer getting poor Harry free."
"That's quite reasonable, Bob," said the professor, slowly and thoughtfully. "But I say, Franky, my boy, I don't want to be obstinate; I don't want to hinder you if you can suggest a better plan. We only say that so far your ideas are impossible. Come, now have you any other plan?"
"Yes," said the lad excitedly. "Brother Hal is sitting out there in chains, looking longingly year after year for the help that does not come, and eating his poor heart out with despair because those to whom he should look for help do not come."
"That's all true enough," said the doctor sadly.
"But the question is," said the professor, holding out one hand and apparently putting down every word he said with the other: "How—are— we—to—help—the—poor—boy?"
"Let's all three go," said Frank hotly.
"Oh!" ejaculated the doctor.
"That's more and more impossible still," cried the professor.
"No, it isn't," cried Frank. "I have a plan in my head now that would answer if it were properly done. I haven't been out in Egypt like Landon here, but ever since poor Hal got his appointment I've read up the country till I'm regularly soaked with it."
"Can't be," said the professor, smiling grimly. "Moisture's too scarce when you're away from the Nile. You may be gritty with it."
"Never mind about that," said Frank. "I know one or two things about the people, and I know this—there is one man who is always welcome among them and their sufferers from fever and eye complaints and injured, and that is the doctor—the surgeon."
"Eh?" ejaculated the professor sharply, looking up. "Yes, that's true enough, boy."
"Well," said Frank, pointing, "there he is—the Hakim—the learned physician and curer of all ills. Look at him now in that dressing-gown, with his big, long beard, and that handsome, calm appearance. Doesn't he look as if he could cure anything? Just suppose him sitting cross-legged in a tent now, with a big white turban on; what would he look like then?"
"An impostor!" cried the doctor angrily. "Frank, the good news has swollen your head up till it has cracked."
"That it hasn't," cried the professor sharply, "and you would not look like an impostor, sir. Well done, Franky. I say he'd look like what he is—a splendid specimen of a man, and as good a doctor and surgeon as I know of. Impostor, indeed! I should be ready to punch the head of any scoundrel who dared to say so. Bravo, my boy! The great Frankish physician—the learned Hakim travelling through the country to perform his cures."
"Yes," cried Frank; "and performing them too."
"To be sure," said the professor, growing excited. "The news of his cures would spread through the land, and the people would welcome him, and he could go anywhere. Here, I say, Bob, this plant's coming up."
"You're as bad as Frank," said the doctor angrily. "You both take my breath away. What! me go masquerading through the Soudan, dressed up as a mock doctor?"
"Mock doctor be hanged!" cried the professor; "where's the mockery? The people out there suffer by scores and thousands from eye complaints and other evils, and as to the number you meet with who have been chopped and speared and shot—why, the place teems with them. Couldn't you do them good?"
"Well, of course I could," said the doctor thoughtfully. "I should say that with antiseptic treatment one's cures would seem almost marvellous to the poor wretches."
"Of course they would. I doctored scores myself when I was out there," said the professor. "Now, look here; I mean to go out there, of course, and I shall take you with me, Bob."
"No whatting. You've got to go; that's settled. You're the great Frankish Hakim, and I'm your interpreter. You can't speak a word of Arabic. There's no imposture in that, is there?"
"Oh, no; I can't speak a word of Arabic, but as to the doctoring—"
"Look here, Bob; you'd be doing these people good, wouldn't you?"
"Well, then, there's no imposture there. We'll go right up to Khartoum, together with our servants, and get the poor boy away. That's settled, so you had better lay in your stock of ointment-pots, bottles, plaisters, and pills."
"Well, I'm beginning to think I'm dreaming," said the doctor.
"But you are not," said the professor, and he turned to Frank, who was excitedly listening to all that was said. "Now then, my boy," he said, "we've settled that; but I can't see that by any possibility you could come with us."
"I can," said the lad eagerly. "You talked about having servants with you."
"Yes, blacks," said the professor. "It would not do to take white ones."
"Very well, then, I'll go as a black."
The doctor and the professor turned upon the speaker sharply, and fixed him with their eyes, as if doubtful about the state of his mind, gazing at him in silence, till he laughed merrily.
"I have not lost a slate or tile," he said. "I am quite what Morris calls compos mentis."
"No," said the doctor sharply; "I'll be hanged if you can be, Frank, my lad."
"And so say I," chimed in the professor. "How in the world can you go as a black?"
"Bah!" cried Frank.
"What does Baa! mean?" said the professor. "Black sheep?"
"Nonsense! Ask Morris if it would not be as easy as easy to tinge one's skin to any depth, from a soft brown to black."
"Won't do," said the professor. "You'd dye your face, neck, and arms, and some time or other you'd be caught bathing."
"Not much chance for bathing out there when we were away from the Nile, eh?"
"Well, having a sand-bath; and then they'd see that the rest of your skin was white."
"Oh, no, they wouldn't," cried Frank. "I should do as that amateur did who wanted to play Othello properly—black myself all over."
The professor took off his fez, laid it upon his knees, and with both hands gave his shaggy hair a vicious rub, which, however, did not disorder it in the least, seeing that it was as rough as could be before.
"Yes," said the doctor; "he has an answer for all objections, Fred, old fellow."
"Yes, yes, yes," cried the professor, putting on his fez again, and making a vicious dab at the tassel, which was tickling his neck, but subsided quietly between his shoulders after it had done swinging. "He has something to say to everything. Too much talk. It wouldn't do. The Baggara are as keen as their swords: they'd see through it directly."
"Then I'd dye it blacker," said Frank.
"Oh, the colour would be right enough, boy," cried the professor, "but that's what would let the cat out of the bag."
"What do you mean?"
"That tongue of yours, my lad. Your speech would betray you directly."
"Oh, no, it would not," said Frank. "Mutes are common enough in the East, are they not?"
"Oh, yes, but—"
"Well, I would not talk."
"Pooh!" cried the professor contemptuously. "You wouldn't talk? Why, you've got a tongue as long as a girl's. You not talk? Why, you'd be sure to burst out with something in plain English just when our lives were depending upon your silence."
"Urrr!" growled the young fellow angrily. "Give me credit for a little more common-sense. Do you think, with the success of our expedition and poor Hal's life and happiness at stake, I couldn't make a vow to preserve silence for so many months, and keep it?"
"I do think so," said the professor, clapping one hand down upon the other. "You would find it impossible. What do you say, Bob?"
"Humph!" grunted the doctor.
"Come, there's no need for you to hold your tongue," cried the professor petulantly. "Say something."
"Very well, I'll say something," replied the doctor: "I don't know."
"Yes, you do. You know it's impossible."
"No," said the doctor thoughtfully; "I know it would be very hard, but seeing what a stubborn, determined fellow Frank is, I should not be surprised if he succeeded."
"Hurrah!" cried Frank. "There, Landon."
"Bob ought to know better," cried the professor. "It's impossible— that's impossible—the whole business is impossible. Can't be done."
"Well, I don't know," said the doctor, taking both hands to his beard and stroking and spreading it out over his breast, where it lay in crisp curls, glistening with many lights and giving him a very noble and venerable aspect. "I'm beginning to like that idea of going as a learned physician."
"Oh, yes, that's right enough," said the professor. "There's no imposition there. The Arabs would have nothing to find out, and their suspicions would be allayed at once. Then, too, you could humbug them grandly with a few of your modern doctors' tools—one of those double-barrelled stethoscopes, for instance; or a clinical thermometer."
"To be sure," cried Frank. "Modern Magic—good medicine for the unbelieving savages. An electric battery, too; and look here, both of you: the Rontgen rays."
"Ha, ha!" laughed the doctor, and making his beard wag with enjoyment. "Yes, that would startle them. White man's magic. Fancy, Fred, old chap, a wounded man with a bullet in him, and I at work with my black slave, Frank, here, to help me, in a dark tent, while I made the poor wretch transparent to find out where the bullet lay."
"Yes, or broken spear-head," said the professor eagerly. "I say, Bob, there'd be no gammon over that: the savage beggars would believe that they had a real live magician come amongst them then."
"Yes, ha, ha! wouldn't they? I say, old fellow, I'm beginning to think it ought to be worked."
"Worked, yes," cried Frank excitedly. "I could take a few odds and ends from my laboratory, too, so as to show them some beautiful experiments— fire burning under water, throwing potassium on the river to make it blaze; use some phosphorescent oil; and startle them with Lycopodium dust in the air; or a little fulminating mercury or silver."
"H'm, yes, you might," said the professor thoughtfully. "You could both of you astonish them pretty well, and all that would keep up your character."
"But of course it's all impossible, isn't it?" said Frank, smiling.
"H'm! I don't quite know," said the professor slowly.
"Look here," said the doctor rising, to seat himself upon one end of the hearthrug, where he began trying to drag his legs across into a comfortable sitting position, but failed dismally; "I'm afraid I should never manage this part of the business. My joints have grown too stiff."
"Oh, nonsense," said the professor sharply; "it only wants a little practice. Look here."
He plumped himself down upon the other end of the hearthrug quite in the native manner, and seemed perfectly at his ease, while Frank sat watching them both with his eyes twinkling in his delight.
"You can't do it in those tight trousers. You want good loose, baggy breeches, knickerbockery sort of things. Oh, you'd soon do it.—That's better."
"Yes," said the doctor dubiously; "that's a little better; but these trousers are, as you say, too tight. I tell you what I'd do, Frank," he continued, perfectly seriously, "I'd have my head shaved clean, and keep it so."
"Bravo!" cried the professor excitedly. "Splendid! Your bald head over that grand beard and a very large white turban of the finest Eastern muslin, twisted up as I could twist it for you, would give just the finishing touches. Just spread the skirts of that dressing-gown a little."
Frank sprang to the task, and in arranging the folds uncovered one of the yellow Morocco slippers the doctor happened to be wearing.
"That's good," cried the professor excitedly. "Fetch those sofa cushions, Frank, and put them so that he can rest his arm upon them. Good! Now a pipe. Here, fish out my stick from under the table. That's right," he continued, as Frank placed the stick upside down in the doctor's hand, with the ferrule near his lips and the hook resting on the floor, turned up like a bowl.
"Well, I am!" cried the professor, drawing his legs more under him, and nodding at his old school-fellow seated opposite at the other end of the hearthrug. "Franky, boy, he looks the very perfection of a Turkish doctor now, while with the real things on and his head shaved, and the turban—Oh, I haven't a doubt of it, he'd humbug the Mahdi himself if he were alive. I haven't a bit of fear about him. Sit still, old man.—As for myself, I should be all right; when I get out there I feel more of a native than an Englishman. It's you who are the trouble, Franky, for I confess I am coming round."
"I shall get myself up perfectly. You may depend upon that," said the lad confidently, "and all through the voyage out Morris will coach me up about bandaging and helping him in ambulance work, so that I may get to be a bit clever as his assistant."
"Yes, yes, yes, that's all right," said the professor impatiently. "It's not that which bothers me. Look at Bob. I can see him in his part exactly. Nothing could be better; but I can't see you at all."
"Why? Set your imagination to work."
"I am, my dear boy; I am. It's working till my brain's beginning to throb; but I can't see you, as I say."
"But why not?"
"No shape; no form. You're too skinny. A young nigger ought to be plump, and shine like butter."
"Well, I'll oil myself," said Frank, laughing as much at himself as at the doctor seated a la Turque so solemnly upon the hearthrug.
"But your hair, Frank, my boy. It's brown and streaky. It ought to curl up more tightly than Bob's beard."
"I'll put it in paper every night, and dye it at the same time as I do my skin."
"H'm! Well, perhaps we might work it that way. If we can't, we must shave your head too."
"Barkis is willin'," said the young man readily. "As to the sitting— look here: won't this do?"
He seized the tongs from the fender, took a live coal from between the bars, dropped down sitting upon his heels halfway between the pair, but outside the hearthrug, and completed the Eastern picture in Wimpole Street by resting upon his left hand and making believe to be holding the live coal to the bowl of the Hakim's pipe.
"Bravo! Splendid!" cried the professor. "A tableau vivant, only wanting in colour and clothes to be perfect in all its details, and then—"
And then the group remained speechless in horror and disgust, for they suddenly became aware of the fact that Sam had silently entered with a letter upon a silver waiter, and had stopped short close to the door, to stand staring in astonishment at the living picture spread before his eyes. These seemed starting, while his brow was lined, the rest of his face puckered, and his mouth opened, at the same time his muscles relaxing so that the silver waiter dropped a little and the letter fell upon the soft carpet with a light pat which in the silence sounded loud.
THE NEW RECRUIT.
For a few moments the picture was at its best, actors and spectator looking as rigid as if carved in wood or stone.
Then all was over, the doctor dropping the stick and scrambling up; Frank putting the tongs into the fender, Sam stooping to pick up the letter from the carpet, and the professor tearing his fez off his head, to dash it on the floor.
"Hang it!" he cried angrily; "destroyed the illusion! There, it's all over, Frank. I can't see it now."
"Beg pardon, sir. Letter, sir," said Sam stiffly, and he was as rigid as a drill sergeant, and his face like wood in its absence of all expression, as he stared hard over the waiter at his master, whose fingers trembled and cheeks coloured a little as he took the missive.
"Ahem!" said the doctor uneasily, and Sam, who was about to wheel about and leave the room, stood fast. "A—er—er—a little experiment, Samuel," he continued.
"Yes, sir," said the man quietly.
"Er—errum—Samuel," said the doctor; "the fact is, I—er—we—er—we do not wish this—that you have seen just now—talked about downstairs."
"Suttonly not! sir," said the man sharply, though the moment before he had been chuckling to himself about how he would make cook laugh about the games being carried on in the study.
"Thank you, Samuel," said the doctor, clearing his throat and gaining confidence as he went on. "The fact is, Samuel, a confidential servant ought to be trustworthy."
"Suttonly, sir," said Sam.
"And hear, see, and—"
"Say nothing, sir, of course. You may depend upon me, sir."
"Thank you, Samuel. Well, after what you heard last night you will not be surprised that we have decided to go out to Egypt at once in search of Mr Harry Frere."
"Not a bit, sir. Just what I should expect."
"Exactly, Samuel. To go up the country means, you see, the necessity of dressing ourselves like the people out there."
"Yes, sir; much better for the climate."
"And that is why we were, so to speak, going through a little practice."
"Suttonly, sir. Quite right. And about luggage, sir. What shall I get ready?"
"Ah! That requires a little consideration, Samuel. I'll go into that with you by and by."
"Very good, sir. But I should like to ask one question."
"Certainly, Samuel," said the doctor gravely; "what is it?"
"Only this, sir. When do we start?"
"When do we start?" said the doctor, staring. "My good man, I did not propose to take you."
"Not take me, sir?" cried the butler, staring. "Why, whatever do you think you could do without me?"
The doctor stared blankly at his man, and then turned to the professor.
"Ah! No hesitation, Morris," said the latter sharply. "I haven't quite come round yet regarding both of you, though matters have altered me a good deal during the last five minutes; but with regard to this last phase—the idea of taking your servant—that really is quite out of the question."
"I beg your pardon, sir," said Sam seriously; "I don't think that it would be right for master to think of going without me."
"Well, Samuel, I must own," said the doctor thoughtfully, "I should miss your services very much."
"You couldn't do it without me, sir," said the man sternly. "I shouldn't like you to attempt it."
"Look here, Doctor Morris," said the professor angrily, "do you allow your servant to dictate to you like this?"
"Well, you see," said the doctor, "Samuel has always been such a good, attentive fellow, and taken so much interest in his work, Landon, that I feel rather puzzled as to whether this is dictation or no."
"It aren't, sir, really," cried Sam appealingly. "Is it, Mr Frank?"
"Well, no, I don't think it is," said the young man. "I take it that Sam is only anxious to go on waiting upon his master."
"That's it, sir. Thankye, Mr Frank. That's it, but it ain't all. If you three gentlemen are going on your travels to find and bring back Mr Harry, it seemed to me that I'm just the sort o' man as would be useful. I don't want to make out as I'm a dabster at any one thing, gentlemen, but there ain't many things I shouldn't be ready to have a try at, from catching one's dinner to cooking it, or from sewing on buttons to making a shoe."
"Look here, Sam, you can shave, I know," said Frank, "for you've shaved me several times."
"Well, sir," said the man, with a queer cock of the eye, "I've soaped and lathered your chin, and I've run a razor over your face, but I don't think I found anything to scrape off."
"I call that mean," cried Frank; "just when I was putting in a word for you. I'm sure there was a little down on my upper lip and chin."
"Oh, yes, sir, just as if you had had a touch with a sooty finger; but down don't count with me in shaving; it's what comes up bristly and strong."
"Well, leave my beard alone," said Frank. "Look here, could you shave a man's head?"
"Ask master, sir," said the butler with a grin, and Frank turned to his brother's old companion.
"Oh, yes, he has shaved the heads of patients for me several times," said the doctor. "He's very clever at that."
"I say, Professor Landon," said Frank, turning to him, "do you hear this? The Hakim ought to have his barber, and you know what important folk they are in the East."
"Humph! Yes," said the professor thoughtfully; "there is something in that. Barbers have become grand viziers, and in such shaving countries a barber is held in high respect. He would be all right there. But no, no, I cannot be weak over so vital a thing as this. Just think, you two, of the consequences if through some inept act on his part he should ruin all our prospects."
"Me, sir?" cried Sam excitedly; "me ruin your prospects by committing that there act as you said! I wouldn't do it for any money. Take a oath before a magistrate or a judge that I wouldn't I don't even know what it is."
"Oh, you'd do your best, I believe, Sam," said the professor.
"I'm glad you do, sir," said the man, who was almost whimpering. "It sounds hard on an old servant to be thought likely to do what you said."
"But look here, my lad; we ought to do all that is wanted for ourselves, excepting such little jobs as we could set the Arabs to do."
"Arabs, sir? The Arabs!" cried Sam. "Oh, I don't think much of them. I've seen 'em. That lot as come over to London seven years ago. Bed-ridden Arabs they call theirselves. They could tumble head over heels, and fire off guns when they were in the air; but you gentlemen want a good honest English servant, not a street tumbler and accryback."
"Tut, tut, tut! listen to me," said the professor. "Do you know what the desert is like?"
"Can't say I know much about it, sir, only what I read in Mungo Park's travels. Deal o' sand, ain't there?"
"Yes," said the professor, "there is a deal of sand there, and no houses, no butlers' pantries, no kitchens."
"Well, sir, if I made up a box with half a knifeboard for a lid, and my bottle o' blacking, my brushes, and a leather or two and the rouge for my plate, I daresay I could get on."
"Bah-h-h-h!" snarled the professor. "Why didn't you add a big stone filter, a plate-rack, and a kitchen boiler? My good man, you're impossible."
"I ain't, sir, 'pon my word. You mean I should have to make more of a shift. Well, of course I would."
"Look here, then, I grant that you can shave. You can make a fire, boil water, and cook?"
"Can I, sir?" cried the man scornfully. "I should think I can!"
"Can you cook kabobs?"
"What's them, sir—Egyptian vegetables?"
"Vegetables! Hark at him! Did you ever hear of Kous-kous?"
"Can't say I ever did, sir; but look here, I'll buy 'Cookery for the Million,' and I'll soon learn."
"Oh, you're improving!" said the professor sarcastically. "Here, I'll try you on something else. Could you ride and drive a camel?"
"What, one of them wobbly, humpy things at the Zoo? I never tried, sir, but I've seen the children have rides on them. I could soon manage one o' them, sir. I'd try an elephant if it came to that."
The professor shook his head disparagingly, and Sam gave Frank and his master an imploring look, which made the former take his part. "Look here, professor," he said quietly; "really I think it might be managed," and Sam's long face shortened.
"Managed! Do you think we shall do what we propose if you and Morris take your valets?"
"There is going to be a black slave in the party," said Frank, "and I do not see why the Hakim should not have a barber who is a white slave."
"Humph!" ejaculated the professor, in a regular camel-like grunt, and he set up his back after the manner of that animal.
"Would you mind going as a slave, Sam?" asked Frank—"the Hakim's slave?"
"Not a bit, sir, so long as Mr Hakim's going to be one of the party. Me mind being a slave? Not I. Ain't Mr Harry one pro tempenny? I'm willing, sir, willing for anything. I don't want no wages. I want to go."
"And you shall go, Samuel," said the doctor firmly. "I'll talk the matter over with Mr Landon."
"Thankye, sir, thankye," cried the man joyfully. "And I beg your pardon, Mr Landon, sir; don't you take against me because it's going against you. I'm willing to do any manner of things to make you gentlemen comfortable all the time."
"I believe you, Sam," said the professor. "There, I give way."
"Thankye kindly, sir!" cried the man excitedly.
"But look here. It is only due to him that he should be told that we are going upon a very dangerous expedition. We shall have to travel amongst people who would think it a meritorious action to cut our throats if they had the merest suspicion that we were going to try and rescue Mr Harry Frere. Then we shall have the risks of fever, dying from thirst, perhaps from hunger, and as likely as not being taken prisoners ourselves and made slaves—are you listening, Sam?"
"Hearing every word, sir. But I say, sir, is it as bad as that?"
"Honestly, my man," said the professor solemnly; "it is all that and worse, because we shall have to cut ourselves adrift from all Government protection and trust to our own wits. Now then, my man, do not hesitate for an instant—if you feel that you cannot cheerfully put up with peril and danger, and dare every risk, say so at once, for you will be doing your master a good turn as well as us."
"Are you gentlemen going to chance it all?" said Sam quietly.
"All right, gentlemen, then so am I, and as soon as ever you like."
"Hah!" ejaculated Frank, who had been watching the play of the man's countenance anxiously, and he crossed to Sam and shook his hand, making the butler's face glow with pride and pleasure combined.
"Now then," said the professor, "one more word, Sam. It is of vital importance that you keep all this a profound secret. From this hour you know nothing except that you are the Hakim's servant till we have left Cairo. After that you are the Hakim's slave, and you hold him in awe."
"Of course, sir," said Sam, with his face wrinkling with perplexity. "I'll hold him in anything you like. I won't say a word to a soul. I won't know anything, and I hope Mr Hakim will be as satisfied with me as master has always been."
"And you think I have always been satisfied with you, Samuel?" said the doctor, smiling pleasantly.
"I think so, sir," replied the man. "I've been some years in your service, and you're a gentleman as will always have everything done as it should be."
"And you never found fault with me yet. And I will say that a better mas—"
"No, you will not," said the doctor quickly. "That will do."
"Certainly, sir," said the man, looking abashed.
"You like the doctor as a master, then?" said Frank, with a twinkle of the eye.
"Like him, sir!" cried Sam.
"Well, I think you will like your new master quite as well."
"I hope so, sir. I'll do my best. Shall I see him soon?"
"Of course," said Frank. "There he is. The Hakim, Doctor Morris—the learned surgeon who is going to practise through the Soudan."
"Oh-h-h!" cried Sam, with his face lighting up. "I see now, gentlemen."
"But remember," said the doctor sternly, "the necessity for silence has begun, so keep your own counsel, which will be keeping ours."
"Now go and begin putting together the few things you will require on our voyage and journey."
"Remembering," said the professor, "that we must take only the simplest necessaries. I shall have to overhaul every man's bag after you have brought it down to the lowest state. There, Sam, I agree to your going fully, for I believe you will not let us repent it."
"Thank you, sir. Shall we go soon?"
"Within forty-eight hours if it can be managed. Give me my hat and stick. I'll go at once and see if berths are to be had on a P. and O. boat. You two will begin getting absolute necessaries together in the way of your professional needs, not forgetting your instruments and chemicals, Frank. Take all you said. They will be heavy and bulky, but they will pay for taking. As for me, as soon as I have settled about the boat I will get my own few things together and see to the arms. I have a pretty good selection of Arabian weapons. What more we require can be obtained in the Cairene bazaar."
Time works wonders, they say; so does money in able and experienced hands.
The professor's were experienced hands, and he had ample funds at his disposition. The result of his inquiries that morning was that he found he could by starting the next night catch the mail which would bear him and his friends, travelling night and day, to Brindisi—for southern Italy, where the mail steamer would be waiting to take them on to Ismailia. Then in a few days from starting they would have changed into the not very efficient Egyptian railway, to be set down within sight of the pyramids on the borders of the mighty desert, with the south open to them, if all went as they had arranged, for their journey in search of the prisoner gazing northward and hoping still that help might come and his captivity and sufferings at last be ended.
It is wonderful what energy will do.
Now that the plans had been decided upon the professor worked like a slave. Long experience had made him an adept. He knew exactly what outfitters to go to, and when there what to select, and it was wonderful how little he deemed necessary.
"You see we hardly want anything here, Frank, lad," he said. "Some things we cannot get out there, but the majority of our necessaries we must buy in Cairo, and quietly too, for if it got wind that we were going upon such an expedition we should be stopped."
"I suppose so."
"But I can manage all that. I have an old friend or two, sheikhs who will do anything I ask, and supply me on the quiet with followers and tents and camels. For they love me as a brother, and you shall hear them say all sorts of sugary flowers of speech. They will bless me, and say that it is like the rising of the sun upon their tents to see my noble visage once again. They will kiss the sand beneath my feet in the warmth of their attachment, and do all I wish for shekels, Franky, all for shekels."
"But can you trust them?" said Frank.
"Certainly. They will keep faith, and be ready even to fight for us if the odds are not too great, and the shekels are duly paid. There, I don't think we need trouble about anything more, after the two leather cases are packed with the conjuring tricks and physic of the learned Hakim and his slaves. The sinews of war will do the rest. Hah! I am glad we are going into the desert once again. We must get to Hal as soon as possible, and somehow scheme to get him free, but you must curb your impatience. It will be all express till we reach Cairo—all the end of the nineteenth century; but once we are there, excepting for the civilisation of that modern city we shall have gone back to the times of the Arabian Nights and find the country and the people's ways unchanged. And do you know what that means?"
"Pretty well," said Frank; "crawling at a foot's pace when one wants to fly."
"That's it; just as fast as a camel will walk."
Those hours of preparation passed more quickly to Frank than any that he could recall during his busy young life, and over and over again he despaired of the party being ready in time, so that he could hardly believe it when the carriage-door was slammed, the whistle sounded, and the train glided out of the London terminus with the question being mentally asked, Shall we ever see the old place again?
Then sleepless nights and drowsy days, as the party sped through France and Switzerland, dived through the great tunnel, to flash out into light in sunny Italy, and then on and on south, with the rattle of the train forming itself into a constant repetition of two words, which had been yelled in the tunnel and echoed from the rocky walls of the deep cutting—always the same: "Save Harry! Save Harry!" till Frank's brain throbbed.
Then Brindisi, with the mails being hurried from the train to the noble steamer waiting to plough the Mediterranean and bear the adventurers south and east for the land of mystery with its wonders of a bygone civilisation buried deeply in the ever-preserving sand.
And now for the first time Frank's brain began to be at rest from the hurry of the start, as he lay back half asleep in the hot sunshine, watching the surface of the blue Mediterranean and the soft, silvery clouds overhead, while the doctor and the professor sat in deck-chairs, reading or comparing notes, but all three resting so as to be ready for the work in hand.
It was one glorious evening when Frank was leaning over the side gazing forward towards the land that they were soon to reach, and where they would give up the inert life they were leading for one of wild and stirring adventure, that the young man suddenly started out of his dreamy musings, for a voice behind him said softly—
"Beg pardon, sir." Frank turned sharply round. "Don't mind me speaking, sir, I hope?"
"No, Sam," said Frank, rousing himself and speaking in a tone which plainly suggested, "Go on."
"Thankye, sir. Don't seem to have had a chance to speak to you in all this rumble tumble sort of look-sharp-or-you'll-be-left-behind time."
"No, we haven't seen much of one another, Sam."
"We ain't, sir, and I don't know as I've wanted to talk much, for it's took all my time to think and make out whether it's all true."
"Yes, sir. Seems to me as if I'm going to wake up directly to find I've been having a nap in my pantry in Wimpole Street."
"Hah! It has been a rush, Sam."
"Rush, sir? It's wonderful. Seems only yesterday we were packing up, and now here we are—down here on the map. One of the sailors put his finger—here it is, sir, signed Jack Tar, his mark, for it was one of the English sailors, not one of the Lascar chaps. That's where we are, sir."
Sam held up a conveniently folded map, surely enough marked by the tip of a perspiring finger.
"He says we shall be in port to-morrow, and have to shift on to the rail again, and in a few hours be in Cairo on the River Nile."
"That's quite correct, Sam," said Frank, smiling; "and then our work will begin."
"And a good job too, sir; I want to be at it. But my word! it seems wonderful. Me only the other day in my pantry, Wimpole Street, W., and to-morrow in King Pharaoh's city where there were the plagues and pyramids."
"And now hotels and electric lights, and the telegraph to communicate with home."
"Yes, sir, it's alarming," said Sam. "Pity it don't go right up to Khartoum—that's the place, ain't it, sir?"
"So as we could send a message to Mr Harry: 'Keep up your spirits; we're on the way.'"
"Ah, if we could, Sam!" said Frank, with a sigh.
"Never mind, sir; we're not losing much time. But who'd ever think it! I used to fancy that foreign abroad would look foreign, but it don't a bit. Here's the sea and the sky looking just as it does off the Isle o' Wight when you're out o' sight o' land; and only when we saw the mountains with a morsel of snow on their tops did the land look different to at home. I suppose it will be a bit strange in Egypt, though, sir, won't it?"
"Oh, yes. Wait a few hours longer," said Frank, "and then you'll see."
Sam came to him the next night when they were settled in the European hotel, where the professor was welcomed as an old friend.
"I've put out all you'll want, sir," said the man. "Is there anything else I can do?"
"No, Sam; I'm just going to bed so as to have a good night's rest ready for work to-morrow. Well, does this seem foreign?"
"Foreign, sir? Hullo! there's another of 'em."—Slap.—"Missed him again! Have they been at you yet, sir?"
"What, the mosquitoes? Yes. I just brushed one off."
"They seem to fancy me, sir. I expected they'd be great big things, but they're only just like our gnats at home."
"Indeed! What about their bite!"
"Oh, yes, they bite sharper, sir. I expect it's because they're so precious hungry, sir. But foreign? Oh, yes, this'll do, sir. It's wonderful, what with the camels and the donkeys. My word! they are fine 'uns. I saw one go along cantering like a horse. Yes, sir, this'll do. But I suppose we're not going to stay here long?"
"Only till the professor can make his preparations for the start, and then we're off right away into the desert."
"Right, sir; on donkeys?"
"On camels, Sam."
"H'm! Seems rather high up in the air, sir. Good way to fall on to a hard road."
"Road—hard road, Sam?" said Frank laughing. "If you fall it will be on to soft sand. There are no roads in the desert."
"No roads, sir? You mean no well-made roads."
"I mean no roads at all; not even a track, for the drifting sand soon hides the last foot-prints."
"Why, how do you find your way, sir?" said Sam, staring blankly.
"Either by the compass, as one would at sea, or by trusting to the Arabs, who know the landmarks."
"And sometimes by the camels' bones," said the professor, who had entered the room unheard. "Plenty of them die along the caravan tracks. But I daresay we shall find our way, for there is the big river which marks our course pretty well, if we were at fault."
"Thankye, sir; you'd be sure to know," said Sam hurriedly. "I was only asking Mr Frank like so as to pick up a little about the place."
The man asked no more questions, but made the best of his way to his own room.
"Come down and out into the grounds, my lad," said the professor. "The doctor's sitting in the garden having his cigar."
"I was just going to bed."
"Yes, but come with me for an hour first. I've an old friend waiting to see me, and I thought I'd bring you down."
"I don't want to meet his old friends," thought Frank impatiently. Then aloud, as he followed: "Of course you will say nothing about the object of our visit here?"
"Trust me," said the professor quietly.
"Is your friend staying here?"
"Yes; he comes here regularly at this time of year, expecting to meet old visitors to Egypt."
"I see," said Frank drily. Then to himself, "I wish he was at Jericho. I can't talk about anything now but the desert."
As they descended into the prettily lit-up hall and went out into the garden among the palm trees, the scene was attractive enough to fix any newcomer's eyes; but Frank could see nothing but a long wide stretch of desert country, at the horizon of which were a few palms overshadowing dingy, sun-baked mud buildings, houses formed of the brick made of straw now as in the days when the taskmaster-beaten Israelitish bondmen put up such pitiful plaint.
"Where is the doctor?" said Frank.
"Over yonder on that seat," replied the professor, as they were going down a sandy path towards a group of palms. "Ah, there's my friend."
Frank looked in the indicated direction, but he saw no English visitor. There was a stately looking turbaned figure, draped in white, standing in the dim shadowy light among the palms, and he seemed to catch sight of them at the same moment, and came softly forward, to stop short and make a low obeisance to each in turn.
"Well, Ibrahim, how are you?" said the professor sharply.
"His Excellency's servant is well and happy now, for his soul rejoices to find that the dogs told lies. They said his Excellency would not come to El Caire until the war was over, and the Mahdi's successor—may his fathers' graves be defiled—had gone back to the other dogs of the far desert."
"Oh, yes, I've come again. Frank, this is Sheikh Ibrahim, of the Dhur Tribe. And look here, Ibrahim, this is my friend and brother, Mr Frank Frere."
"And my master," said the Arab, with another grave and dignified reverence, speaking too, in spite of the flowery Eastern ornamentation, in excellent English. "His Excellency has come, then, to continue his search for the remains of the old people?"
"Hah!" cried the professor, "that's right. Now let's understand one another at once. No, Ibrahim, I have not."
"Not come, Excellency?" cried the Sheikh, in a disappointed tone, and his hands flew up to his long flowing grey beard, but he did not tear it, contenting himself with giving two slight tugs.
"No, not come to explore."
"But, your Excellency, I and my people have found a fresh temple with tombs, and deep in the sand where no one has been before."
"Yes, and you know too that the authorities have given strict orders that no expeditions are to be made right out in the desert on account of the danger?"
"It is true, O Excellency," said the Arab, with a sigh, "and I and mine will starve. We had better have been driving our sheep and goats here and there for pasture far away yonder, than waiting for English travellers. All who are here go up the river in boats. There are no journeys into the wilds this year. I have been stopped twice."
Frank glanced at the professor, and saw that his eyes were glittering as he spoke in a low tone.
"Yes, Sheikh," he said; "it is very ill for you, and it is bad for me. There are those stones cut into and painted that we left buried in the sand."
"Yes, Excellency; hidden safely away, waiting for your servants to dig them out. Why not let me gather my people and let us go so many days' journey out into the wilderness and carry them off, before some other learned traveller to whose eyes all the mysteries of the past are like an open book shall come and find them?"
"That would be bad, Ibrahim," said the professor slowly.
"It would break thy servant's heart, Excellency," said the man. "Look here, Excellency. It is forbidden, but my people are away there to the south with the tents and camels, and their Excellencies might come and dwell with us in the tents for days, and then some night the camels would be ready—the poor beasts are sobbing and groaning for burdens to bear and long journeys into the desert—and some moonlight night they might be loaded with their sacks of grain and skins of water, and no one would know when we stole away into the desert to where the old tombs are hidden. Then the treasures could be found and brought away by his Excellency's servants, who would rejoice after and have the wherewithal to buy oil and honey, dhurra and dates, so that their faces might shine and the starving camels grow sleek and fat upon his Excellency's bounty."
"Ah," said the professor slowly and dubiously, as Frank listened with his heart beating fast, while he held his quivering nether lip pressed tightly by his teeth; "you think that would be possible, Sheikh?"
"Possible, your Excellency?" said the man, in an earnest whisper; "why not? Am I a man to boast and say 'I will do this,' and then show that I have a heart of water, and do it not?"
"No," said the professor slowly; "Sheikh Ibrahim has always been a man in whom my soul could trust, in the shadow of whose tent I have always lain down and slept in peace, for I have felt that his young men were ready with their spears to protect me, and that their father looked upon me as his sacred charge."