A STORY OF EGYPTIAN
ILLUS'D BY CHAS SHELDON
Under the Rebel's Reign Copyright 1900 Charles Neufeld ———————————————————————————————————
I. A QUARREL AND A FIGHT 1
II. DOWN THE DANUBE 12
III. A SURPRISE AND A REVELATION 24
IV. THE PARTING OF FRIENDS 35
V. HELMAR TO THE RESCUE 45
VI. A TIGHT CORNER 59
VII. A GOOD SAMARITAN 68
VIII. AN ENCOUNTER ON THE NILE 83
IX. THE REIGN OF TERROR IN ALEXANDRIA 94
X. THE MEETING OF FRIENDS 106
XI. A MYSTERIOUS MESSENGER 117
XII. THE NEW OCCUPATION 131
XIII. HELMAR PROVES HIS METAL 144
XIV. THE REGIMENTAL COOK 154
XV. ON PATROL 164
XVI. WE MEET AGAIN 178
XVII. HAKESH THE PRIEST 193
XVIII. BEHIND PRISON BARS 205
XIX. THE ESCAPE 215
XX. ARABI PASHA 225
XXI. TO CAIRO AGAIN 237
XXII. HORROR 249
XXIII. IN THE HANDS OF THE PHILISTINES 261
XXIV. A FRIEND INDEED 272
XXV. NAOUM PLANS 284
XXVI. A DASH FOR LIBERTY 297
XXVII. ACROSS THE DESERT 308
XXVIII. MEETING OF FRIENDS AND CAPTURE OF ARDEN 322
XXIX. TO DEATH OR GLORY 334
XXX. CAIRO SAVED AND HELMAR'S REWARD 346 ———————————————————————————————————
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS PAGE
"His eyes rested on the motionless figure of an Arab standing in the centre of the room" Frontispiece
The Duel 1
A visit to the Pyramids 11
Camping on the banks of the Danube 12
Type of Egyptian 23
The accident on the Danube 24
"As the leader made an attempt to get over the bough, Helmar swung his heavy club at him" 27
Helmar in Alexandria 35
Type of gipsy 44
The man-hunt in the slums of Cairo 45
A pair of pistols 58
The capture of the spy 59
"Just as a hideous black wretch rushed at him, he fired point-blank" 66
A Good Samaritan 68
On the look-out 83
"Presently the firing re-commenced, and Naoum gave orders to attack" 90
Helmar seeking shelter for the night 94
View of the city 105
In the Consul's office 106
An Egyptian water-carrier 116
A hot pursuit 117
"Trapped, by Heavens!" shouted Helmar 124
A patriarch 130
Watching the looters 131
Sword and Fez 143
The task accomplished 144
"At last the gun reached the top" 151
Helmar and the cook 154
Death of Brian 164
A mounted patrol 177
Face to face 178
"And how do you propose to drag me from here if I do not choose to go?" 181
A Dahabieh 192
Helmar felled the Egyptian to the ground 193
Hustled into prison 205
"Pull and shake as he would, the iron seemed to remain firm in its socket" 211
A race for life 215
Helmar before Arabi 225
Arden's agent at work 237
Breakfast brought into prison 249
In the place of torture 261
"He was already beyond crying out. All sense of feeling had left him!" 270
Under friendly care 272
Arden's disguise discovered 284
The guide leads the way 297
The flight over the plain 308
The fight in the desert 319
The meeting of Osterberg and Helmar 322
To save Cairo! 334
"They rode straight for the citadel" 344
The Sphinx 345
Approaching the city 346
Helmar's gratification 362 ———————————————————————————————————
A QUARREL AND A FIGHT
The Debating Society of the Koenigsberg University was sitting. The subject for the occasion was of a trivial nature, but lent itself to keen and heated argument. The whole afternoon had been occupied with the speeches of the minor lights of the society, and now only the two opposing leaders remained to make their closing speeches before the division took place.
Young Osterberg, the leader of the "Ayes," rose to his feet. His remarks were sound and clear, and his arguments, to many, conclusive. After he had occupied the attention of the assembly for nearly twenty minutes, he sat down amidst the plaudits of his own side, to await the speech from the leader of the Opposition.
At that moment a voice, distinctly audible above the buzz of conversation that followed, spoke in a loud, unpleasant tone, evidently intended for the whole room to hear.
"'Tis a pity certain positions are not filled by fellows capable of thinking and arguing logically. Such rot I have never before listened to. Come, Maurice, let us go to the club rooms, we shall find better entertainment there." And the two men rose from their seats and moved towards the door.
Before they reached it the voice of the President stopped them, and in sharp, incisive tones called them to order.
"Such words," he said, "are against the rules of the society and must be withdrawn, or the laws which govern the Association will be enforced and the speaker's name struck off the list of membership."
John Landauer, the man who had uttered the offensive words, turned on hearing the President's mandate. With flashing eyes he glanced in the direction of Osterberg.
"My words may have been untimely as uttered in this room, and for that I apologize; but my opinion of the last speaker, friend Osterberg, remains the same, and what I am not allowed to express here I shall take the earliest opportunity of doing elsewhere."
He turned, and, followed by the youth he had addressed as Maurice, left the room.
An ominous murmur went round the room as the door closed behind them, and an air of suppressed resentment pervaded the place. One and all felt that an insult had been offered to Osterberg, an insult which they knew, since he was a theological student, he would be unable to respond to in the customary manner. However, the expression of the young student's face, usually so kindly, indicated that the altercation had not yet ended.
As soon as the debate was over, a general adjournment to the club followed. Osterberg was one of the first to reach it.
He found Landauer playing billiards with his companion Maurice. Stepping up to him, he eyed him sternly from head to foot.
"Thank you, Landauer, for your opinion of my ability," he said, evidently with difficulty repressing a desire to indulge in personal violence, "it was a plucky remark of yours. Had I been studying for other than the ministry, you would not have dared to give it utterance. Bah! I appreciate a man, but you are a coward!"
Landauer turned fiercely on the speaker.
"Coward? It is not I who am the coward! I do not take shelter under the cloak of the ministry, which forbids duels. You are the coward," he went on, stepping towards him and snatching his cap from his head, "and I challenge you to prove my words false!"
As he spoke he flung the cap on the ground at Osterberg's feet, and defiantly awaited the outcome of his action. The challenge was a customary one amongst the students. The snatching Osterberg's cap from his head was the greatest insult Landauer could have offered him, and the bystanders wondered how it would be received.
For a moment the young theological student stood as if in doubt. His lips twitched with indignation. There was no cowardice in his nature, but he knew the rigorous laws which governed his studies. On the one hand, if he refused to accept the challenge, the stigma of cowardice would stick to him all his life, and on the other, he would have to give up his profession if he should have a scar inflicted under such circumstances. Human nature conquered, and he was about to return insult for insult, when a firm, strong hand was laid on his shoulder.
"One moment," said a voice, in passionless even tones, "I have something to say to our friend here."
The speaker calmly strode up to the bullying Landauer, and, with his open hand, struck him across the face.
"You wish to quarrel? Very well, now is your opportunity. You have insulted not only our friend Osterberg, but the Debating Society of which I am a member. These things cannot go unnoticed. Apparently you selected Osterberg as a butt for your insults, knowing that, from the nature of his studies, he could not retaliate in the usual manner; but such cowardly bullying shall not be passed over, you shall account to me for your caddish behaviour."
The challenge was so startlingly sudden, that Landauer had no answer ready to give, but with rage and mortification expressed in every feature he fumbled in his pocket for a card. At last he drew one out, and with all the bombast he could summon on the spur of the moment, he scribbled the name of a friend upon it, and threw it on the table.
"You shall hear from me to-morrow," he cried, between his teeth.
His opponent smiled as he picked the card up; then, with the same deliberation, he replaced it with one of his own.
"Good," he said. "This is my affair now, and——"
"I'll give you a lesson, Mr Helmar, that you won't have time to forget." And Landauer, flinging his billiard cue on the table, strode from the room.
"Well done, Helmar!" "Good luck to you!" and such-like exclamations of approval filled the room as the door closed behind Landauer. Some of the students, however, blamed Helmar for what they termed his foolhardiness in interfering. But the majority applauded his action, and wished him every success.
Landauer was well known to be an expert swordsman, and had been victorious in several duels. Helmar, on the other hand, was entirely unknown in the use of the weapon, and was naturally pitied by his comrades. But the students admired bravery, especially when in a good cause. In this case they unanimously condemned Landauer's conduct in selecting Osterberg for the object of his assault.
"The fellow's a bully, whatever else he is, and no doubt thought his insult would go unchallenged. But there, the thing's done now, and I do not regret my action in the least. He must get satisfaction from me, if he wants it."
George Helmar was a quiet youth, of studious habits. A young man of seventeen, he had the reputation of being a hard worker, and had none of the quarrelsome spirit such as his adversary possessed. The thin, determined face, with its square jaw and keen grey eyes, the great loose shoulders and powerfully developed limbs might have told more careful observers than his fellow-students that underneath that calm exterior a latent power existed, which Landauer had best not underrate.
He had been brought up in the country, where his father practised medicine. There all his leisure had been spent in manly sports, riding, running, shooting, fencing; all these things he had gone in for as a boy, with the result that the town-bred Landauer, though an expert swordsman, was not, as regards physical training, to be compared with him.
Helmar hoped at some future date to succeed his father in his practice, and to that end had worked hard, using, as a matter of fact, the University recreation rooms and grounds very little. It was, therefore, not strange that his companions should doubt his ability to meet his adversary with any chance of success.
It is often small things that alter the course of a man's life, and so it was with Helmar. What he thought to be but a mere incident in his career turned out to be the cross-roads of his existence.
During the time which elapsed before the duel, he pursued his studies in the same indomitable fashion, considering but little of his chances, assuring himself only of the justness of his cause.
His friend Osterberg, however, was greatly concerned, and passed many sleepless nights weighing the possibilities of what might happen. Although he was to become a clergyman, and duelling was forbidden him, he nevertheless had plenty of fight in him, and many times wished that he could relieve his friend of the self-imposed risk he was taking on his behalf.
Landauer, on the other hand, had too much of the vanity of the bully to cause him any uneasiness. He was confident of his own superiority over Helmar, and discussed his inevitable success wherever opportunity arose.
The day at last arrived, and early in the morning the combatants met at the appointed place. Doctor Hertz was in attendance, and as the two young men stripped and stood grasping the hilts of their swords, he eyed them critically.
Landauer he passed over with a glance, his neat, lithe figure was quite familiar to him, he knew his powers to a fraction, and was perfectly aware that he would give a good account of himself.
With George Helmar it was different. He had never seen him before—it was his first appearance in the duelling world. The doctor's critical glance quickly turned into one of admiration. The tall, loose figure, though perhaps not beautiful in an artistic sense, pleased him greatly. Helmar's back and chest were ribbed with beautifully developed muscles, while his long, sinewy arms hung loosely at his sides, their very pose indicating to his practised eye their perfect suppleness.
The old doctor liked what he saw in the new candidate, and a grim smile played over his face as the word of command was given.
The spot was a solitary one. The common that had been selected was well away from the University, and admirably adapted to an encounter such as this. The trees in the background sheltered the combatants from observation in one direction, but for the rest the common lay open and uninviting, and the chill morning air blowing across it made the onlookers think longingly of their beds.
Notwithstanding this, every eye was riveted on the duellists. No thought of the fact that probably one of the men would be carried lifeless from the spot detracted from their interest in the encounter. They loved a fight, it was their nature; and, rain or snow, wind or hail, they would watch it to the bitter end.
At first the two young men fought cautiously, their heavy sabres flashing and glinting in the morning light as they thrust and parried with lightning rapidity. Later on Landauer seemed inclined to attack, and his blows on Helmar's weapon rang out in quick succession. Acting purely on the defensive, the latter parried the onslaught with an ease that puzzled and angered his opponent, until incautiously he fell into the trap by redoubling his attack. Helmar had reckoned on this. He hoped soon to tire the bully out, and a faint smile passed over his face, as with a head parry he stayed a terrific blow from his fiery antagonist.
Whether it was the smile, or a sense of caution previously unheeded, is doubtful; but Landauer evidently saw his mistake and endeavoured to remedy it by defensive tactics. It was too late. He had already begun to tire, while Helmar was still fresh. Seeing his opportunity, the latter pressed his advantage with the utmost cleverness. Without giving his opponent time to recover, he came at him with a rapidity that fairly astonished everybody, never wasting any power on a stroke which he knew would be parried. Sparks flew from their swords, as with the agility of a swordsman only in the highest stage of training he fought, bearing his opponent back with his lightning thrusts.
It was a fine sight. The whole thing seemed little more than play to him, while his antagonist was already breathing hard and showing signs of fatigue.
In the third round Helmar received a slight wound in the face, and the sight of the blood made the onlookers think that he was tiring too. But they didn't know their man. He had a big reserve of power which, as yet, he had not exerted; but he knew the game was in his own hands, and was prolonging the bully's punishment.
Suddenly Landauer made a ferocious attack, and in doing so for a moment drove the other back. His advantage was but momentary, for in an unguarded moment he had left himself badly open. With no real intention of doing him very serious harm, Helmar lunged out, and his sabre passed down Landauer's right cheek to his left shoulder, and he fell back on the grass with a terribly ugly wound.
The duel was over, and the bully punished. The spectators rushed to express their admiration to the victor and congratulate him on his success, but he would have none of it, and hurriedly went to the assistance of his late foe.
The doctor examined the wound and looked very grave. In response to his inquiries, he told Helmar that he could not yet express an opinion, but the case was serious, and the wounded man must be at once taken to the hospital.
Helmar turned to his friend Osterberg.
"Come," said he, "this place is hateful to me. If I have killed him I shall never forgive myself." He put on his coat and went back to his house.
DOWN THE DANUBE
After the duel Helmar endeavoured to return to his studies as before, but it was with a sore heart and a disturbed mind that he applied himself to his "Materia Medica." Each day he anxiously inquired after the wounded man, each night in the quiet of his room he prayed earnestly that Landauer's life might be spared.
Charlie Osterberg was now his constant companion, and tried by every means in his power, but without avail, to cheer his friend and distract his mind from the gloom and despondency that had taken hold of him.
It was on the evening of the fourth day since the duel, young Osterberg, after a visit to the wounded man, returned hastily to George's rooms.
Helmar looked up as his friend entered.
"Well, what news? No, never mind, I read it in your face," he said, as he noticed Charlie's pallor and troubled face. "He is dead?"
Osterberg shook his head.
"Not as bad as that, thank God, but I fear he cannot live. Dr. Hertz was there when I arrived, and before I left, he said the patient was rapidly sinking, and that it was only a question of forty-eight hours; but," he added hurriedly, as he noticed the horrified expression of the listener's face, "he also told me to say to you that, should he die, you will in no way be blamed. You cannot be held responsible. Had you not wounded him, he would probably have killed you."
His friend paid no heed to these consoling words, but, resting his face on his hand, gazed out of the window lost in deep thought.
Receiving no reply, Charlie stepped towards him, and, laying his hand gently on his shoulder, said—
"Cheer up, George, this affair is through no fault of yours. If anybody's, the blame is mine. I should have known better than to have noticed his words, but——" And he broke off with a troubled look in his eyes.
"No, no, Charlie, no blame attaches to you or, for that matter, to me. According to the duelling laws of the country we are in the right—it isn't that. You don't understand."
He paused for a moment, then suddenly looked up into the anxious young face at his side.
"Charlie, are you very keen to remain here and continue your work?"
"I ought to," he replied doubtfully. "My parents have been so good to me and are so anxious that I should do well in my examinations. But why?"
"The thing is as plain as daylight," said Helmar, as if arguing with himself. "I cannot ever face my people again. How would it be possible for me to go to them with blood on my hands? No, a thousand times, no! I am a homicide morally, no matter what the law may countenance. It is a barbarous custom, and one in which I can see no right. Oh! why did he not kill me?" And he turned despairingly to the window.
Osterberg endeavoured to interrupt him, but he turned fiercely on his friend.
"No, do not speak, my mind is made up. My studies are broken, I can never return to them again. My associations are distasteful, and I must get away. I shall go and leave it all. Go where I am not known. Yes, I shall go out into the world with the brand of Cain on me!" And he shook off Charlie's kindly touch, and paced up and down the room.
For a moment or two the silence was only broken by the sound of Helmar's rapid footfalls. Presently Charlie spoke.
"You asked me, just now, if I were anxious to keep on with my work. What did you mean?"
"Nothing, nothing," replied Helmar hurriedly. "I was wrong. What I do in the future must be by myself. I will bring no further trouble on those I love."
Charlie's eyes brightened, and his face broke out into a smile.
"I am going away, too. I realize that there is too much human nature in me for the Church. Why not let us go together? I don't mind where it is, anywhere will do for me. What do you say? Egypt, Japan, India, or America, it's all the same."
Helmar paused in his walk, and looked hard at his young friend.
"Do you mean that, or is it the outcome of what I said?"
"I mean every word. My mind is as fully made up as yours, and, if you will let me, I will throw in my lot with yours. There is but one thing I ask; Mark Arden, my old work companion, wants to go with me, and I have agreed. May he accompany us?"
"Certainly, the more the merrier," replied Helmar, his face lighting up as the prospect of getting away grew brighter. "But we must discuss ways and means. I intend to start to-morrow morning. Money with me is a little flush just now, and to-night I intend to realize on all my books and instruments, which will add a bit more. You and Mark can do the same, and we'll leave for Vienna by the first train in the morning, and then down the Danube on to Constantinople, at which place we can decide our ultimate destination. How does that suit you?"
"Admirably," said Charlie. "I will go and tell Mark." And he turned to leave the room.
"Meet me here at ten to-night, and, in the meantime, sell all your superfluous property, and tell Mark to do the same."
All the final arrangements were settled that night. One pawnshop, at least, did a good trade, and when the three adventurers at last turned into their beds, it was with the knowledge that all the world was before them, with a totally inadequate capital to see them on their way. Health, strength, and inexperience is a grand stimulant to hope, and the three young men only looked on the bright side of the future.
Helmar knew very little of Mark Arden; he had met him a few times with Osterberg, but he had no idea of the man's character. This, however, did not trouble him. In his open-hearted, manly way he trusted to his friend's judgment. In this he was wrong. Osterberg was a simple fellow, believing good of every one, and Mark, with a tact born of a scheming mind, had fostered this trust in him, carefully keeping hidden any of his doings which might open his friend's eyes. His object, so far, was not quite clear even to himself, but when it was settled that they were to journey together, he realized the benefit of what he had done.
He was a peculiar fellow; not absolutely bad, so far as was known, but with a character capable of developing in accordance with whatever surroundings in which he found himself. His main object in life was self. He cared nothing for study, although he was decidedly clever, and he saw in this adventure a means of starting out on a career where his own innate smartness might be given full play, and very likely earn for him a fortune. How he succeeded we shall see.
On the second day Vienna was reached. The excitement of this plunge into the world of adventure was still upon them. Helmar and Osterberg had written to their respective parents explaining what they had done, and giving their reasons for their actions. Mark Arden had carefully abstained from leaving any trace of his whereabouts, he had made up his mind to await developments.
Many suggestions were offered as a means of reaching Constantinople, but Helmar, who was looked upon as the head of the expedition, passed them all by as being of too expensive a nature, and kept to his original plan of securing a boat and doing the journey down the Danube. He argued it was cheaper and more in accordance with the adventurous career they proposed. By this means they would harbour their little stock of money, and as both Mark and Charlie possessed little more than would carry them to Constantinople, the plan was adopted.
Their object now was to secure a boat, and they at once set about finding a boatman who could supply this need. Mark knew Vienna well, and acted as pilot in their search; but for a long time they were unsuccessful. None of the boatmen wished to sell their craft, and, as hiring was of no use to the adventurers, they had to search elsewhere.
"I think we have interviewed every boatman on the river," said Mark. "The only thing to do now is to visit an old boat-builder I know of in another quarter of the town. He deals in second-hand craft, and is very likely to be able to accommodate us."
"Right you are," said Helmar. "Lead the way, and unless he is a Shylock I dare say we shall be able to strike a bargain with him."
The three friends proceeded at once to the place, and they found the old man busy painting a canoe he had just built. He looked up as they entered, and, recognizing Mark, nodded familiarly.
"Good-morning, Jacob," said Arden. "Nice little craft that. Built to order?"
"Yes," replied the Jew, eyeing his visitors narrowly. "But vat can I do for you?"
"Well, look here," put in Helmar, "we want a small single sail boat. Not a new one—anything will do. We are going for a trip down the river, but in case of accidents we want to buy it. Can you find us one?"
"Ach, mein tear young frients, I have de very ting, but how much vill you pay?"
"We are not particularly flush," said Mark, who was appointed chief haggler. "Where's the boat, and how much do you want for it?"
"De poat is in de water, but I vill hab it prought to de landing-stage for you to zee."
A boatman was sent out to bring in the boat in question, and after a careful scrutiny the trio of adventurers decided it would do, and determined to purchase it, if they could get it at a fair price.
The process of beating the Jew down was no easy task, but Mark seemed quite equal to the wiles of the Israelite, and eventually the bargain was struck, the purchase effected, and the money handed over.
"It's all right enough," said Mark, as they waited whilst the old Jew went to his office to write out the receipt; "the old man is a hard nut to crack, but he's honest, and the boat that he has sold us looks all he has represented it."
Old Jacob soon returned, and the boat was duly handed over.
For the next two or three hours the process of stocking the craft with provisions was gone through, and it was late at night when everything was in readiness for the start. The three companions slept aboard, and at daylight the next morning cast off their moorings and started on their career in the world.
When they said good-bye to Vienna, it was a bright spring morning, and their feelings were in accord with the fresh appearance of the world. No thoughts or anticipations of how their varying fortunes might be marred troubled for one instant their youthful minds. Their hearts were full of hope and the overweening vanity and self-confidence of their years. The East, to them, was paved with gold. Troubles looked like the necessary things to be combatted fearlessly to reach the success that must await them beyond; life, indeed, was one rosy, golden, glorious dream. The stern realities were to come: when their fortitude would be tried, when all that was manly, or otherwise, in them would be brought out, and they would show of what manner of stuff they were made.
The first two or three weeks of the journey passed uneventfully, the wind was in the right direction, and they glided smoothly along the waters of the great and glorious Danube.
Just as the sun was sinking one night towards the end of the third week, they found that the river passed through a dense forest, and decided by way of a change, instead of passing the night in the boat as they had done up till then, to moor her to the bank, and, under a canopy of thick bush, sleep on the bosom of mother earth.
Helmar at once steered for the bank, and the party landed. Drawing the boat up out of the water, they pitched their camp and prepared their evening meal.
When they were seated round their fire, the conversation turned upon their plans for the future.
"We had better decide now," said Helmar, "as to where we shall make for when we reach Constantinople. Let's hear what you have to say, Charlie."
"Whatever you propose will do for me. Mark, here, prefers Japan, but I am not altogether sure that it will be best."
"Oh, yes, it will be," broke in Mark, in decisive tones. "There's a future in Japan second to none. The chance for enterprise is great there, and, besides, if a man has anything in him he can worm himself into Government circles, and that means a fortune."
"Personally I'm in favour of Egypt," said Helmar, quietly. "Japan no doubt is promising enough, but if you only stop to think for a moment, Mark, you will realize that your capital is not sufficient to carry you there." And he eyed the other keenly.
"Of course my capital isn't large, but I understood we were working on a common purse, and you, Helmar, have ample."
"True enough," said Helmar, looking up the stream towards the rosy sunset, "but I am not going to waste it all on travelling. We shall need something to keep us until we get work."
"Oh, very well," said Mark, shrugging his shoulders in a discontented fashion. "Then I suppose as you want us to go to Egypt, that will have to be our destination; but, I can tell you, I didn't expect this sort of thing."
"Perhaps not," replied Helmar, quietly. "But I'm not a fool, and intend going wherever our means will carry us best. Eh, Charlie?" turning to Osterberg.
"You're right, it's no use wasting our capital. Hark! what's that?"
The three men listened intently. There was the sound of voices not far from where they sat.
"By Jove, we must be near a road," said Helmar, as the sound grew louder. "I'm going to reconnoitre."
"No, no, let me go!" said the other two in a breath.
Without waiting for reply they darted off into the bush, and Helmar was left to himself. For some moments he gave himself up to surmising the origin of the sounds he now heard distinctly. As they came nearer he could distinguish the language in which the voices spoke, and with an exclamation of anxiety, he recognized it.
"Gipsies, by Jove! There'll be trouble if they come across those fellows," he muttered. "I must go and find them."
There was reason for his anxiety. In these parts the gipsies were practically brigands, and would rob and even murder without the least compunction. In recognizing the language Helmar had realized a danger for which he had in no wise prepared. He wondered if they had discovered the camping-ground. Suddenly he thought of the fire, and feared the smoke from it might have betrayed their whereabouts. However, in case it had not, he was determined to guard against such a possibility, and immediately poured some water on it.
Looking round, his eye chanced on a heavy branch of a tree, which had been brought in for fire-wood; breaking a substantial limb off it, he quickly trimmed it into a heavy club.
Giving one last look round he slipped off his coat, and, armed with his formidable weapon, darted into the bush, following in the footsteps of his companions as best he could.
A SURPRISE AND A REVELATION
Helmar had not proceeded more than fifty yards when his worst fears were realized. He had dodged his way along the tortuous footpath until, nearing an open space, he saw ahead of him his companions surrounded by a small group of dusky, evil-looking men.
"Gipsies!" he exclaimed, and counted six of them, all armed with heavy sticks, and with knives stuck in their belts. Their voices were raised to a high pitch, and, jabbering in infuriated tones, they flourished their weapons in the faces of their two prisoners.
Helmar stood gazing at them for a few seconds. Suddenly he saw one of the men, judging by his size the leader, step up to Mark and make as though to search him. The instant his hand touched him, Mark's fist shot out like lightning, and striking the fellow on the point of the chin, felled him to the ground.
This was the signal for a general melee. George caught a glimpse of steel as the men closed on their victims, then without waiting for anything further, he gave one ringing cheer, and bounding into the open, brandished his club aloft as he dashed into the struggling mob.
The suddenness of his attack for an instant paralyzed the would-be murderers, and ere they had time to recover, he was laying about him with all the power at his command. In a moment two men fell, and as their heavy sticks slipped from their hands, Mark and Charlie seized them and ranged themselves at Helmar's side.
The fight now waxed furious, the odds were heavily against the adventurers, and the issue looked doubtful. The noise had brought another man on the scene, and Helmar saw that to save themselves he must resort to strategy.
Singling out one man, he attacked him with such agility and force that he gradually beat him back from the rest. The new-comer seeing this, went to the fellow's assistance and endeavoured to stab our hero from behind. George, however, was not to be caught napping. Redoubling his exertions and by constantly dodging he kept his adversaries in front of him, until, at last, he succeeded in dealing the man a terrible blow on his shoulder.
Down he went with a crash, and the other, fearing a similar fate, fled precipitately into the bush. Helmar now turned to see how his companions fared.
The odds here were three to two, and his friends were keeping the men at bay. Without a moment's hesitation, George rushed into the fray, and, setting to work with a will, quickly stretched one of the gipsies out, whereupon the others beat a hasty retreat.
"Quick, boys, make for the river before they come on again! They haven't done with us yet! Follow me!" And he led the way into the path by which he had come.
Mark and Charlie needed no second bidding, but followed as swiftly as their legs could carry them. They were not a moment too soon, for as they disappeared into the bush, the brigands, further reinforced, again appeared on the scene.
It now became a question as to whether they could reach the boat in time to get it into the water before the enemy were upon them. Helmar calculated this as he sped along, and quickly realized that the task would be hopeless. Calling to his friends, he told them to run on and launch the boat, and he would join them as soon as it was accomplished.
"But," said Charlie, "you cannot face them single-handed. Let Mark go to the boat, and I will remain with you."
"No, no, run on for your lives and mine. When the boat is launched, keep her a few yards out from the bank and wait for me. Hurry up; here they come."
Thus exhorted, Mark and Osterberg ran on without further demur, and Helmar followed them until he reached the edge of the camping-ground. Here he seized the bough from which he had broken his club, and flung it across the pathway, and stood waiting the approach of the brigands.
In a moment the leader came up, and, seeing the resolute Helmar awaiting him on the other side of the barrier, he paused. It was only momentary, however, and as the rest of the gipsies joined him, the whole party, now six in number, rushed at the solitary defender.
In that momentary pause, however, Helmar had heard the crunching sound of the boat sliding into the water, followed by the welcome shout of "all right" from his friends. He intended to hold the men at bay for just a few moments longer, so as to give his companions time to get well into the stream. The charge of the gipsies in a body was evidently intended to overwhelm him by numbers. As the leader made an attempt to get over the bough, Helmar swung his heavy club at him, and the fellow fell back. Then, seeing another clear his obstruction to his right, and not having time to defend himself from his attack, he flung his trusty weapon at him and, turning, ran towards the river. Without pausing to see if he was pursued, he plunged headlong into the river, and struck out from the shore.
Everything had worked beautifully. As he came to the surface and looked round, he saw the boat at a safe distance from the shore, and he swam quickly towards it. Reaching it his companions quickly hauled him aboard, and, looking towards the bank, he saw the brigands standing at the water's edge wildly gesticulating and shouting execrations at the top of their voices.
"They seem pretty wild," ventured Osterberg, as the boat quickly widened the distance from the shore, "you just came in the nick of time, George; I believe they intended killing us."
"Yes, you fellows should have waited, instead of rushing off as you did to see who they were. Confound it, I've lost my coat, to say nothing of cooking utensils; however, it's all over now. We've had a lucky escape; I hope it'll be a lesson."
They quickly set sail, and decided to keep on their way all that night rather than risk such another encounter. Mark said little about it, except to bemoan the fact that they would in future have to sleep in the boat, a proceeding which had become particularly distasteful to him.
After this the journey went on without incident. They passed the cataracts in safety and on to Belgrade, at which point they encountered a series of rapids. The river here was shut in by lofty hills on either side, and was strewn with rocky shoals of limestone, crystalline, and granite, so that the greatest care had to be observed in navigating them. After many anxious hours, the last of these was passed and they began to near their journey's end.
Altogether they had been a month in their little craft, and the monotony of it all, in spite of the beautiful scenery and picturesque country through which they passed, was beginning to tell on the voyagers. They were becoming irritable and pettish. Mark Arden had on several occasions made himself particularly disagreeable—airing his views as to the wanton waste of time which their journey had been, in no very measured terms.
"What did you expect?" asked George, on one of these occasions. "Did you think we were going for a picnic? Or did you think some one would pull us along? It's no use complaining now. Look at it in a philosophical light. See what a splendid experience it is for us! It will harden us for what may be in front of us."
"But it's such a dreary journey, no change, no variety, no amusement," grumbled Mark.
"I'll admit it's a bit of a grind," chimed in Charlie. "But what change and variety is got out of it falls to you. You have your own way about provisions, and what is more, you always have the pleasant journey into the villages to obtain them. Besides which, you frequently have the distinction of entertaining the company," he went on, in a jocular way. "For instance, I think it was as good as a play to see you yesterday with your rod, trying to catch our breakfast. If I hadn't been on the look-out, you'd have had George by the eye instead of the fish by the gills."
"You shall try your hand at it to-morrow, and we'll see what a figure you'll cut," he said almost irritably.
George got a little annoyed at this, and did not hesitate to show it.
"I'm sure," he said, "we've given you all the best of it. The whole fact of the matter is, you are discontented already and ought to be back at the University, where you can get everything done for you. I'll tell you what it is, if you are going to make any more fuss, you'd better leave us and go back. I'm sick of it."
"You needn't get in a huff," Mark replied, half apologetically; "a fellow couldn't help feeling the dreariness of this journey. There's nothing but this constant sitting in a boat and drifting down the river."
"Well, what more do you want?" said Charlie. "I'm sure I don't mind. This is a sort of paradise to what we shall probably have to go through."
"I'll tell you what we'll do," said Helmar suddenly; "we are all a bit tired of the river. The next decent town we come to we'll get out and take the train on to Varna. How'll that do?"
His proposal was met with delight by both of his companions, and the surly Mark even cheered up. The thought of getting away from the boat overjoyed him, and he grumbled no more.
Their journey, however, was to end sooner than they expected. They were fast nearing a big town when the wind, which was blowing very hard, suddenly changed its direction. As they rounded a bend in the river, it came down with a rush, and before they could throw their sail over to the other tack the boat capsized, and all three were struggling in the water.
Helmar was the best swimmer, and endeavoured to seize the boat, but it was swept along at such a rapid pace that he was unable to do so, and as he was about to follow it up a cry from Mark recalled him.
Turning, he saw his companion entangled in some of the loose ropes trailing after the boat.
It was with difficulty he extricated him, and by the time he had done so Mark was so exhausted with his struggles that the pursuit of the boat had to be abandoned, and the three made for the shore.
Everything but Helmar's money was lost, and as they sat on the bank, shivering in their wet clothes, they gazed ruefully after the rapidly disappearing boat.
"Well," said Helmar in resigned tones, "you've got your wish, Arden, we must now find another means of conveyance, and in the meantime you will get a chance of stretching your legs."
Arden didn't reply, and the trio got up and walked towards the distant town. Night was already closing in when they reached it, and cold, hungry, and tired, they hurried to the first inn that presented itself.
Their clothes had almost dried on them, and so without bothering to have them put to the fire, they had supper and went to bed. The next morning at Helmar's suggestion they took the train to Varna on the Black Sea, determined, from there, to take ship to Constantinople.
At Varna it became necessary for Helmar to change some of his money into Turkish currency.
"I want you to get this money changed, Mark," said he, when they alighted from the train; "you are better able to do it than I, I do not understand the ways of these money bureaux. There is sure to be one somewhere handy. While you do this, Charlie and I will seek an hotel, and then return here and await you."
He handed Arden some notes as he spoke, carefully counting them out to him lest he should make a mistake.
"The exchequer is getting low," he went on, as he saw his companion pocket them; "that is half of my all, and is just sufficient to see us all three to Constantinople."
"Is it as bad as that?" said Mark, looking keenly at Helmar as he spoke. "It's not a very lively look-out for us. Well, I'll meet you here in a couple of hours' time. I dare say by that time I shall have succeeded in changing them, and you in finding a suitable hotel." And he turned to go.
"Yes, we'll be here in the ticket-office when you return," Helmar called out after him; "don't be longer than you can help."
As soon as he had gone, Charlie Osterberg and Helmar left in search of quarters.
"This is the queerest place I was ever in, Helmar," said Charlie, as they turned into a narrow, unevenly-paved street. "These buildings all look as if they were about to collapse—and don't they look dirty!"
"Eh? What was that you were saying?" replied his companion. "Oh, yes—the houses—'m, I dare say they aren't over-clean. I say, Charlie, I'm half sorry I sent Arden with that money, somehow I wish I'd gone myself."
"Why, what do you mean? He'll change it right enough."
"Oh, yes, he'll change it right enough—but——"
"Oh, nothing. Do you know, I don't care much about him, he's such a grumbler," he broke off lamely.
Nothing more was said, and after a long hunt they at last discovered a hotel suitable to their means. It was a dingy-looking place, but, as Helmar said, "they couldn't live in a palace." Having struck a bargain with the proprietor they returned to the railway station in search of Mark.
The ticket-office seemed quite deserted when they entered. One dim light illuminated the room, and they glanced round for their friend. There was no one there—evidently he had not yet succeeded in his task.
"Let's go and wait outside," said Helmar, "the heat in here is stifling. I expect he's had a more difficult job than we anticipated."
The two friends strolled from the office and sat down on a bench just outside. They had not been there for more than a minute, when a boy, dressed in half-European and half-native costume approached.
"Excellency waits for his friend?" he asked in hesitating tones.
Helmar eyed the youth up and down.
"Well?" he said at last.
"I have paper—what you call letter!"
He handed a dirty envelope to Helmar, and bowing low, waited for the expected douceur.
The letter was addressed to Helmar in Mark's handwriting. He tore it open and rapidly scanned the contents.
"The scoundrel!" he cried, and flung the letter to Osterberg.
THE PARTING OF FRIENDS
Charlie picked up the letter and read it out.
"I could not continue the journey as we have been going on. I did not want to rob you of your money, but you gave me the opportunity of borrowing sufficient to take me where I wish to go. At some future date I will return it with interest. Good-bye, and good luck to you. We shall meet again some day.
Having read and re-read the brief note, Osterberg silently returned it to his friend. His face wore a troubled expression, and, as soon as Helmar had paid the messenger, he burst out into a torrent of invective.
"The lying scoundrel! Oh, George, I am so sorry I asked to bring him. It is all my fault—and I thought him honest. I can never forgive myself!" And the boy broke off, choking with anger and vexation.
"Never mind him," exclaimed George, placing the letter carefully in his pocket. "Some day, no doubt, we shall find him, and then—well, we shall see! In the meantime, I have still enough, with care, to take us to Egypt, and then we must trust to luck."
They went to their hotel, sadder and wiser youths. The thought of Mark's treachery weighed more heavily on them than either cared to acknowledge. George, with the independence of character essentially his, was the first to throw the unpleasant feeling off. They were sitting in the little room they had rented, their frugal meal finished and thoughts of bed already possessing them. Suddenly Charlie looked over to his friend.
"George, I'm going to stop in Constantinople for some time."
"Why," exclaimed Helmar, "whatever for?"
Charlie paused for a moment before answering.
"It's no use beating about the bush. You have scarcely enough money for yourself, and I've made up my mind that I will not sponge on you. I've thought it all out, and do not think there will be any difficulty in what I intend doing. You know I speak French and English well. My intention is to find employment in one of the banks, or big commercial houses, in Constantinople, and remain there until I have saved sufficient money to join you."
"You'll do no such thing! It was agreed that you should share with me all that I have, and I want you to come. Now, don't be foolish," as Charlie shook his head, "you must come!"
"No, old fellow, I will not—at least, not yet. My mind is quite made up, so it is no use your frowning. I shall accept your hospitality as far as Constantinople, and then, for a few weeks, we must part."
Helmar argued and tried to persuade, but all to no purpose; young Osterberg was as determined as he, and, on this particular point, nothing could move him. At length it was decided that they should journey, on the morrow, to Constantinople, whence George should sail at once for Alexandria, leaving his young friend at the Turkish capital.
The following morning they went aboard the little coasting vessel, and were soon on the last stage of their journey together.
On the way the two friends made the acquaintance of a doctor, who, discovering that Helmar was a medical student, took a keen interest in them. The medical man was an English army surgeon, and notwithstanding the difference of nationality his fancy was taken by the young adventurers, and, by the time they reached their destination, he had succeeded in discovering their intentions.
During the voyage Helmar had been very useful to his new friend in assisting him in the case of one of the passengers who had been taken ill, and, in return, Dr. Frank Dixon determined to try and do something for him. One evening they were sitting in the cabin, talking.
"Didn't you say our young friend here," said the doctor, indicating Charlie, "was going to remain in Constantinople if he could find employment?"
"Yes," answered Helmar, with a grimace, "much against my will, that is his intention."
"And a very laudable decision, too. I think it would be a great shame for him to let you spend what little money you have on anything but your own wants. Now, I may be of some help to him. I happen to be an intimate friend of the manager of one of the banks, and can give him a letter to him which, I feel sure, will secure him employment."
"You are awfully kind," broke in Charlie. "If you could do so, without troubling yourself too much, it would save me a good many hardships, but I should never be able to thank you sufficiently."
"Tut-tut," said the doctor, smiling at the eager young face before him, "it is nothing; besides, why should I not help you? I like your independent spirit, and feel sure you will not betray my confidence in you. Let me see, to-morrow we shall arrive. I'll tell you what to do. Array yourself in your best, and I will write the letter to-night and give it you before we land. I hope it may bring you the luck you deserve. As for you, Helmar," he went on, turning to the other, "you go on to Egypt. It will not be long before I am there too; we are bound therefore to meet, and then perhaps I may be of use to you. And now, good-night. I am going to turn in."
The friends wished their benefactor good-night, and retired to their berths.
In the morning they drew into the dock. The doctor, true to his promise, furnished Osterberg with a letter to the bank, to which place he at once proceeded. Helmar accompanied him to see how he fared.
Their luck was in, the letter secured Charlie a berth as corresponding clerk, and Helmar, satisfied with his friend's success, went at once to the shipping office and took his passage to Alexandria.
The boat started at three in the afternoon, and so the two friends spent their time in obtaining some new clothes for Osterberg, and generally fitting him to enter upon his clerical duties. As the time approached for Helmar's departure they made their way to the quay.
"I cannot say how long I shall stay in Alexandria, Charlie," said Helmar, "but I shall let you know of my movements. In the meantime, letters addressed to the Post Office will find me."
The warning bell rang, and George hurriedly shook his companion by the hand.
"I shall not be long in following you, old chap," said Charlie, pressing his friend's hand. "Give me a few weeks, or even a month or two, just long enough to get a little money together, and I'll be with you. Good-bye, and good luck."
Helmar ran up the gangway. Reaching the deck, he turned and waved his hat while the moorings were cast off. Charlie stood watching the receding boat until it was out of sight.
"There goes the man who has thrown up everything for me," he muttered, with a pained expression in his eyes. "I don't think he'll ever regret it. The greatest object of my life shall be to repay him tenfold!" And he turned away into the town.
George Helmar did not pace the deck, as most modern heroes do, for his passage was steerage, and there was very little deck for him to promenade. Just at first he was low-spirited, he felt the loneliness of his own company, everything seemed different without the bright companionship of his friend beside him. He felt keenly leaving Europe, and all the associations of the land of his birth. He was going to a country of which he knew nothing; he was about to face adventures, the outcome of which it would be impossible to anticipate. He might do well for himself, or on the contrary he might be a failure. All these things passed through his mind in the first few moments of depression that followed his departure, as he found himself cooped up in the unpleasant quarters of the steerage passengers.
He was a man of strong determination, however, and quickly threw off his despondent mood, and busied himself with plans for the future. He pictured no glorious El Dorado in the country to which he was journeying—he was much too sensible. He was aware that he would have to work, and work hard, for whatever he was to make.
One fact he had not passed idly by. He knew that trouble was brewing in Egypt; what it was he was not in a position to know. He had heard, vaguely, that at any moment fighting was likely to occur, and, if so, no doubt he would be in its midst; the very word "War" held out a world of hope to his adventurous spirit. In such times, he knew, there were no end of opportunities for the bold spirit, and, such being the case, he had no intention of letting any such chances pass unheeded.
Thoughts of his father and others he had left behind frequently recurred to him, and he wondered what they would say of his doings. At last he decided to write to all those whom his departure had affected, and tell them everything as it had occurred. This done, he felt more at his ease, and he gave himself up to the enjoyment of the lovely sea air as the vessel sped through the smooth, blue waters of the Mediterranean.
At last land was sighted, and in a short time Helmar put his foot on Egyptian soil.
The quay was thronged with a motley, dirty crew, evidently gathered there to await the arrival of the boat. The air was filled with the yelling and chattering of Arabs and negroes. The crowd was composed of all sorts of porters, hawkers offering their cheap wares for sale at exorbitant prices, dirty donkey boys with their wretched "mokes" looking even more starved and miserable than their owners. The dresses were of many kinds, and in a great variety of colours, from a dingy white to a bright scarlet. Close-fitting gowns and tunics, long, highly-coloured flowing robes, turbans, or semi-European clothing, with the usual Turkish fez, were scattered about in great profusion, and Helmar was glad to jostle his way through them to rest his eyes from the dazzling mixture. The many different tongues that caught his ear, as he made his way through the crowd, confused him terribly. Greek, Italian, French, English, Arabic, Turkish, and Persian, all shouting at once, as it seemed to him, jarred on his nerves, and he wondered if this pandemonium went on all over the town.
Making his way from the docks, he wandered about from place to place in search of quarters.
Failing to find what he wanted, he looked about for some likely-looking Europeans to whom he could appeal for guidance. He was chary of his countrymen abroad, and it was some time before he came across the man he desired.
He was recommended to a certain Greek's house, and, after what seemed an interminable day, he found to his satisfaction that here he could make himself more or less comfortable.
The next morning he set about finding work of some sort. He wandered about from street to street, gradually becoming more and more keenly interested in all he saw. First the inhabitants, then the buildings, attracted his attention. He watched the movements of the picturesque Egyptians, and was so taken with what he saw that, unconsciously, he found himself following them. This brought him again into the lower quarters of the town. The streets in this neighbourhood, whatever their redeeming charm, were certainly not to be recommended from any hygienic point of view, the smell being so bad that he quickly lost his interest in the wily native and hurriedly retraced his steps. Reaching the great square, the "Place des Consuls," with its masterful statue in the centre, he realized that the day was wearing on, and, instead of looking for work, he had been "doing" the city as a sightseer.
"This will not do," he thought. "I cannot spend the whole day without result, my cash will soon give out. Cairo seems to my mind to be the place I want, this is too near the sea. Ah, yes, Cairo, Cairo!" he went on aloud, "that surely would suit my purpose better. Why not go there at once, while I have money enough to pay my way?"
Once the thought possessed him it quickly became a fixed intention, and he hurried back to his room. Here he settled with the Greek, and then left at once for the railway station.
The express was about to start, so purchasing a ticket he got aboard, and in a few moments was on his way to Cairo.
HELMAR TO THE RESCUE
The third-class carriage in which George took his place was not the comfortable, up-to-date compartment to be found on European railways. At first glance it appeared to be more like a cattle-truck than anything else, except that it lacked the white-washed walls and healthy smell of such places.
The "pen," as he designated it, was filled with a contingent of all classes of people, Egyptians predominating. The majority were squatting on their haunches on the floor, regardless of those who wished to move about, in an attitude reminding one for all the world of the "Dusky Red Man" of America holding a "pow-wow."
Apparently this was the class principally catered for by the railway company, for George had observed before entering the train that the greater number of the carriages were labelled "third." In place of windows, these fearful and wonderful structures possessed iron bars placed horizontally along each side, still further likening them to cattle-vans.
Amidst such cheerless surroundings Helmar slunk into a corner, whence he could observe the country through which the train passed. After leaving Alexandria the scenery became so interesting that he forgot the condition of the cars, forgot the whining crowd of mendicants, women and children, traders, etc., who were his fellow-passengers; he even forgot the noisome smell of the place, so taken up was he with the curious and novel scenes presented to his wondering gaze.
The train sped past countless small villages, with their miniature dwellings around which gambolled little black, naked Egyptians, whose life apparently was a frolicsome pleasure. The larger towns, such as Kafr Dowar, Damanhour, Tarraneh, El Wardan, with their monuments and minarets, presented the aspect of busy cities. Then on again, with the Nile on one side and the desert stretching further away on the other. As the journey neared its end the Arabian mountains came into view, whilst on the right, over the muddy banks of the river and across the plains, he saw the everlasting Pyramids.
In this way he passed the weary hours of the journey, until at length he saw in the distance the Mokhattam hills, at the foot of which nestled the great Cairo he was bound for.
His feelings when he first set foot in the city were mainly of intense relief at leaving the unwholesome car he had been travelling in; then, as he gazed admiringly at the Oriental buildings around him, they changed to those of satisfaction that he had reached the spot at last, where there was a reasonable possibility of making a start in his career for fortune. He looked upon the idea that had first induced him to leave Alexandria as an inspiration.
He was not long in finding quarters, rough, it is true, but compatible with the means he was now reduced to. What little money still remained to him he calculated might, with care, last him a week, and, if he did not find work, at the end of that time he would be absolutely penniless.
These conditions having occupied his attention for a time, he set about his quest for work at once. He had but vague ideas of how to conduct his search, but instinct told him that his best tactics would be to discover merchants of his own nationality, and try them first.
With this object he walked about, carefully observing every business house he came across. His wanderings took him through the broad streets of the mediaeval quarter and along the principal boulevards until he reached the main street. Here he found what he sought—the European shops.
He was not long before he came upon a German bookseller's, and, with his customary rapid decision, he entered and asked for the manager. The clerk to whom he addressed himself led the way to an inner office, where our hero was confronted with a little fat, bristly man, with a keen though kindly face of undoubted Teutonic type. Without pausing to consider his words, he plunged into the object of his visit.
"I have just come from Europe, sir, and want work. Can you assist me?"
"That depends," he answered quickly. "What can you do? Where do you come from, and what recommendations have you?"
"I have no calling but that of medicine," replied Helmar with a sinking heart. "And I come from the Koenigsberg University. As for recommendations, I have none."
"Um! Not much to apply for work with," grunted the little man. "But tell me," he went on, "you are a countryman of mine, and, if possible, I should like to help you. Why did you come out here?"
Helmar then told him his whole story, disguising nothing; even going so far as to tell him who his father was. The little bookseller listened patiently to all he had to say, and at the conclusion of his narrative rose from his chair and came towards him.
"Your story seems to me a straight one, and you appear to be an open-hearted young man. I'll see what I can do for you. You say you speak and write English and French?"
"Yes," replied George anxiously, "tolerably well."
The man left his office for a few moments.
Presently he returned. "I have a large catalogue to make out, which requires a knowledge of two or three languages. It will take three weeks or more to compile. If you like to undertake it, it will be a means of keeping you until you can find something better. We are not quite ready to start yet, but present yourself here the day after to-morrow, and you can begin your duties. How will that suit you?"
George gratefully accepted the offer, and left the shop delighted with his good fortune.
As he hurried along towards his quarters, it seemed to him that he was walking on air. His wildest anticipations had been more than realized. He had never for one moment expected that his first effort could have possibly met with such success, and he wanted to laugh aloud. He knew nothing of catalogue-making, but no doubt, he thought, it required but a little common-sense, and he felt he possessed that. At any rate he had undertaken it, and would go through with it now.
On the appointed day George started his new task, and found it not only easy but congenial work. The many books in various languages attracted him further than their covers and titles, and he filled up all the odd and spare moments he could afford in studying many of them, particularly the Arabic ones. And so the days passed. In the evenings he wandered about the neighbourhood as far as Boulak, admiring the palaces of the Khedives, and watching the steamboats and dahabiehs arrive and depart for the Nile. At times he would stray further afield to the great Pyramids, and stand motionless with astonishment before their towering stone wonders. His first sight of the sun setting behind them, casting a golden-reddish glow all around, amazed and allured him so much that he made frequent visits to the same spot at the same hours.
But he wanted to see as much as he could during the next few days, for he could not tell what would happen after his catalogue was done. He therefore visited the regions of every-day commercial life; the carpet bazaars decorated with their Oriental manufactures of all colours; the Khan Khalili, wherein the Persian, Spanish, Jewish, and Turkish merchants offer for sale their stock of jewels, silks, brass-work, etc.; the silver bazaar, where the finest filigree work is pressed upon prospective buyers. He brushed shoulders with shoe-sellers, the pistachio-sellers, and the water-carriers, who assure all who choose to listen that theirs is "Water sweet as honey! Water from the spring!" and in a commanding voice invite you to "Drink, O faithful! The wind is hot, and the way long!" but not without the necessary piastres first.
During these few days George saw and learnt a good deal of Cairo, but he had not learnt quite sufficient of its manners and streets.
The day came when the catalogue business was finished, and his employer promised to find him some other occupation on the morrow. George was quite pleased with himself, and started off for another of his rambles.
For a while he was quite heedless of the direction he was taking, busily building castles in the air as fast as his thoughts would allow him; but he was brought to earth with a run as the fact dawned upon him suddenly that for the first time he had lost his way. He was in the densest part of the native quarter.
The evening was rapidly closing in, and he looked about for some one to direct him. Not a European face could he see anywhere. The street in which he found himself was filled with a chattering mob of natives, the houses formed one continuous line of small, poky stalls, where evil-looking Egyptians, Turks, and Arabs were offering their worthless stock for sale.
Hurrying along, he wandered through a labyrinth of streets, all more or less similar, until he became so confused that in despair he appealed to one of the native vendors.
His efforts to discover his whereabouts from this man were futile. The Egyptian was unable to understand him, and the fellow's jargon was quite unintelligible to Helmar. In desperation he continued his way; the prospect of spending the night in wandering through the city being anything but pleasant to him. Night was fast closing in, and he was apparently a long distance from his destination.
Suddenly, as he turned into an almost deserted street, he saw ahead of him a man dressed in European costume, and he increased his pace to overtake him.
To his annoyance, just as he was about to come up with him, the stranger turned into a squalid house, and Helmar was left to rail at his ill luck outside.
Realizing that there was nothing to be gained by going on, he thought he might as well wait in the hopes of the man coming out shortly. He was really feeling very uneasy; the neighbourhood was filthy, and the quietness of the street depressed him.
Sauntering quietly up the street, his attention was unexpectedly drawn to the figure of an Arab emerging from a house on the opposite side. It was now growing dark, and Helmar was quite unable to distinguish the fellow's face; but his furtive movements made him a little curious, and his interest in the man became riveted. He saw the Arab looking sharply along the street from end to end, and, apparently satisfied with his survey, quickly draw back into the shadow of the doorway. Helmar's curiosity now grew keener, and so engrossed was he for the time in the man's stealthy movements that he forgot the real object of his waiting. Consequently he failed to observe that the European had come out of the house he had a few minutes previously entered. Suddenly the figure of a crouching Arab darted from the shadow and walked swiftly and silently up the street.
Looking up the road in the same direction, Helmar was astonished to see the European he had been waiting for hurrying along at a rapid pace, fast disappearing in the gloom of the deserted slum.
The street, except for the two men in front of him, was now quite deserted, and our hero quickened his pace for fear of losing sight of his quarry.
The native had crossed the road, and was now running along with silent footsteps some distance ahead of him. Suddenly, as the fellow passed under the light of a dingy lamp, Helmar caught the glint of a long curved knife he was carrying in his hand.
"Hallo!" he muttered, "there's crime afoot!" and dodging on to the sandy road he hurried on. The European in front was walking leisurely along, totally unconscious of any danger that might be threatening him.
George began to fear something serious was about to happen. The stealthy footsteps of the Arab, his long knife, the pace with which he was overtaking the man ahead, looked decidedly unpleasant.
Ten yards only separated one from the other, while thirty or more separated the Arab from George. Could he get sufficiently near to warn the stranger?
Despite the roughness of the road, Helmar slipped his shoes from his feet and hurried along with all possible speed. A couple of yards only now separated the two men in front of him, and George had yet a few yards to go before he could come up with them.
He was about to shout a warning when something seemed to attract the European's attention. Turning, he came suddenly to a standstill, and the pursuing Arab charged into him. For an instant the gleaming knife poised in the air, but, ere it had time to fall on its intended victim, George reached the struggling pair, and, with the swiftness of a hawk, he seized the upraised arm in an iron grip. Exerting his great strength to its utmost, he gave one terrific wrench and the would-be assassin was forced to his knees, while his shining blade fell clattering to the ground.
Helmar's assistance was only just in time; another moment and the assassin would have accomplished his work. The freed stranger turned at once to aid his preserver. He saw the native struggling to release himself from George's terrible hold, and feared lest the man should escape. There was no need, however, George held the fellow with the greatest ease.
"Steady! Hold that end a minute.... That's it. Now tie it tight ... pull ... hard. Good. I think we've got him safely this time—the villain!"
These and other ejaculations were the only words passed between the two men as they secured their prisoner with the folds of his own sash. When this was accomplished, the stranger turned to Helmar and held out his hand.
"You have saved my life, sir," he exclaimed, in English. "I cannot thank you sufficiently, but it is best not to remain here. If you will still further assist me in conveying this man to the police quarters, we shall then have time to become acquainted."
As he finished speaking, he looked round sharply as if expecting a fresh attack from another quarter. George noticed his glance and looked inquiringly at him.
"You do not understand," went on the stranger, in answer to the look; "this attack is part of a plot—there are others. Come!"
Without demur, George assisted in dragging the unwilling prisoner along, and in a few minutes they reached the police head-quarters. Here they disposed of the Arab, and turned into a private room.
Helmar was struck with the air of authority his companion displayed as soon as the police station was reached, and, consequently, was not surprised when he introduced himself.
"My name is Inspector Childs, chief of the detective department of Cairo. Who may I have the pleasure of thanking for my preservation?"
George gave his name, and the two men shook hands again.
"It seems to me the most providential thing that you should have been in that neighbourhood to-night," said the inspector, eyeing the young man keenly. "But perhaps you are a stranger in the city, and perhaps you do not realize the danger of walking in the native quarter, after dark, just now."
"You are right; I did not know there was the least danger. The fact is, I am a stranger in the country, having come direct from Germany for the purpose of earning a living. I had really lost my way, and was following you to ask for guidance. I have been here but a few days."
"Ah, a living, eh!" said the inspector, repeating his words musingly. "Then I presume you have got nothing definite on hand just now." Suddenly he seemed to rouse himself. "You have rendered me the greatest possible service this evening; I shall be glad to help you in some way. Have you any particular profession or choice in the means of earning the living you speak of?"
"None whatever. I have been doing a small job, but that is finished now—in fact, I was returning from my place of employment when I saw you. The work was nothing very great, but I was glad of it as a start, and have been promised some further temporary employment by the same man."
"If you are not bound to him I can offer you something perhaps a little more profitable with the police staff here. Of course the progress you make will depend on yourself."
"I should be glad to accept anything that offers me a future. The work that I have been doing has only been given me to keep me going until I can find something better. If you think me capable and can offer me something more permanent, I should be delighted. What would my duties consist of, and when would they begin?"
"Your work would begin at once, and it would consist of general police duties; as for your capabilities, your exhibition of resource and action to-night is quite sufficient recommendation. What do you say?"
"You are very kind. I shall not hesitate to accept any position you consider me fitted for. I will write to the bookseller to-morrow and tell him."
The inspector paused for a moment, tapping his desk with his knuckle, as if endeavouring to make up his mind to what use he could put George.
"I have a very ticklish affair on to-night—an affair of so much risk that I hardly like to ask you to take part in it as a start. But if you care to," he went on thoughtfully, "I am quite willing to take you with me, although I quite meant going alone. But you must decide at once."
"Make your mind easy," exclaimed George, his eyes glistening at the prospect of adventure. "Whatever it is, if you think I can be of assistance, I am with you."
The inspector eyed the keen, eager face with approval.
"So be it, then! Here, put this in your pocket," he said, handing him a revolver. "We will start at once."
A TIGHT CORNER
Following his new friend, George left the office. The spirit of adventure was fully upon him, and with his hand in his coat pocket, he gripped the weapon the inspector had given him, speculating in his mind as to what was the object of their night's work, and how their expedition would result. Evidently it was an affair of importance from the hesitation of the officer to enlist his services; instinctively he felt there was danger ahead.
Their direction again lay towards the low quarter of the city, and Helmar noted the familiarity and ease with which his guide wound his way through all the lanes, blind alleys, and courts that had so confused and puzzled him.
"I had better explain to you," said the inspector, after a few moments' silence, as they threaded their way along the narrow, dirty, evil-smelling streets, "what we are about to do. Being a stranger in the country, you probably are not aware that for some time past, meetings of a revolutionary character have been going on in nearly all the towns in Egypt. The fountain head of this movement is as yet undiscovered, as also is the ultimate object. Of one thing the authorities are assured, and that is, there is some terrible secret danger threatening the country, and the duty of our department is to watch, and, if possible, stop the work of this organization."
"Of what are the authorities afraid?" asked Helmar, as he listened with keen interest to his companion's explanations.
"I can't quite say. My own opinion is a native rising. There are several big Pashas the Government would not trust as far as they can see, and, for my part, I think nothing is more likely than that one of these should head a rebellion against the power of the Khedive."
"I see; and our work to-night is in connection with one of these meetings?"
"Exactly. The meeting is to be held at one of the lowest dives in the city, and its locality I have only to-night discovered; in fact, that was the business I was engaged upon when your timely aid saved my life."
"I see," exclaimed George; "but that attempt on you shows that these people are aware of your movements. The probabilities are that even now we are being watched."
"Precisely; notwithstanding the silence and deserted appearance of these streets, I have no doubt that a lynx eye has been upon us from the moment we left the station. The object of our journey is to discover, if possible, whether the meeting takes place, and, if so, who passes in or out of the building. Our danger is in being discovered. Should their sentries or spies find us out, we shall probably have a rough time."
A grim smile spread itself over the inspector's keen face as he finished speaking, and he looked at Helmar to observe the effect of his words.
"Well, if it comes to a fight, I have little doubt that we can give a good account of ourselves," he replied. "For my part nothing would give me greater pleasure than to try conclusions with some of the cowardly assassins."
"No doubt you will have your wish. It is the duty of a police-officer not to avoid trouble if he finds it."
They were now nearing the outskirts of the town. The streets were wider and cleaner, long, open spaces stretched between the houses, and the reeking atmosphere of the native quarter gave place to the fresh air of the open country. There was no moon to guide them, and they had long since got beyond the limit of the city lighting.
Suddenly, in the middle of one of these long, open spaces, the officer caught hold of his companion's arm, and stopped in an attitude of keen attention.
"Not a word!" he whispered, after a momentary pause. "We are followed. Come, drop down here, under this bush, and don't move till you see what I do. Shush!"
The pair lay down and pushed themselves as far under the bush as possible. Here they were within reach of the foot-walk they had been travelling, and yet entirely screened from observation.
So far George's untrained ear had discovered nothing, and he marvelled at his companion's sharpness, but before they had been there a minute, he heard the soft patter-patter of bare feet coming along the path. The officer squeezed his arm to impress silence upon him, and then, raising himself, he tucked his feet under him ready for a spring. The footsteps came nearer and nearer.
George felt a quiver of excitement pass all over him as he waited; every nerve was strained to its utmost tension, and it was with difficulty he repressed the desire to jump out of his hiding-place.
The footsteps were now nearing at a run, evidently the spy thought he had lost his quarry, and was anxious to see what had become of them.
Suddenly the figure loomed up in the darkness, and just as it came abreast of the bush, the officer bounded from his place of concealment. Before the man could so much as cry out he had gripped him by the throat, and brought him down to the ground.
George was hardly a moment behind his chief.
"Quick, gag him with his turban!" said Childs. "There is no time to lose."
While the inspector held the man, Helmar unwound the turban and bound it round the fellow's mouth. Then cutting the spare end off, he secured his hands behind him. The man's sash was useful in binding his feet, and, thus trussed, they threw him under the bush.
"I calculated on this," said the officer. "Had we not secured this fellow, the meeting would have been warned, and we should probably never have escaped with our lives. Come along, he is safe for a while, and we can now continue our journey without fear of observation."
"But," said Helmar, "how is it that this nigger came to follow us—who put him on your track?"
"Ah, I see you don't understand. There are spies all over the town, and the police movements are watched. I, in particular, never leave the office but I am followed by one of these thieving, murdering Arabs."
The inspector now altered his direction, and they returned towards the town. In a few minutes they approached a dingy-looking house standing well back from the road. The place stood in its own grounds, and over the door was a sign which George failed to understand. At first glance there appeared to be no indication of occupation—the house was in complete darkness.
Before they came up to it, the officer made a detour and reached the ground at the back.
"That is the house," said he in a whisper. "It is one of the most infamous gambling hells in the city. You can see no lights because all the shutters are closed, and no doubt there are blankets over them; but—holloa, there's a light shining through that window!" he went on, pointing to one that had just come into view as they reached the garden.
The two men now climbed over the fence, and, dropping into the shrubs on the other side, cautiously neared the building. Telling George to remain where he was, the inspector crawled right up to the window, through the shutters of which a stream of light poured.
Watching him eagerly, George saw him place his hand on the sill and peer through the crack. The moments slipped by, and his eye remained glued to the crack. Suddenly there was a rustle in the bush close by. It passed unnoticed, for George had eyes and ears for nothing but what his chief was doing. Again there was a rustle, this time more pronounced. Still it remained unnoticed.
The inspector suddenly left the window, and the next moment rejoined his companion.
"Well?" whispered Helmar, anxiously. "What news?"
The inspector's face was very grave, and his tones, as he answered, were full of import.
"The best—or rather, the worst. I recognized two people there, one a trusted member of the official staff, and the other a man who has been suspected for a long time. We had better get back—there is nothing more to be done to-night, I have seen all I wish to. To-morrow—we'll wait until to-morrow."
As he finished speaking, he turned sharply round and peered into the scrubbly bush behind them.
"What is it?" asked Helmar, his hand slipping to his revolver unconsciously.
"Did you hear anything?" asked his companion. "By Jove, there's some one on our track. Come along, we'll get out while we have a whole skin."
Leading the way out of the shrubs they made for the fence. The night was particularly dark, and the air was so still that the light sound of their footsteps became ominously loud. The inspector was convinced that there was some one in the garden watching them, and their only chance of safety was by taking to the open instead of returning as they came, through the scrub. At last the fence was reached.
"Up you get, youngster!" whispered Childs. "Look well before you drop on the other side."
George sprang on to the top and looked over. At that moment he heard a terrible cry behind him. Glancing round, he was just in time to see the glint of a long keen blade, and the next instant the inspector fall to the ground with a groan.
Without a moment's hesitation, George dropped from the fence to his assistance. He drew his revolver, and, just as a hideous great black wretch rushed at him, he fired point-blank. Down fell the man across the fallen officer, and then, as if by magic, half-a-dozen wild-looking figures appeared all round him.
There was no mistaking their intention. With a yell of fury they rushed on him. Helmar was as cool as if anything but his life depended upon the issue. As the nearest of the Arabs approached, he dropped him with another shot, then turning with an astonishing quickness of the eye brought another to his knees. It was, however, his last shot, for, as the man fell, his knife which had been upraised, struck him on the wrist, lacerating it terribly; his revolver fell from his nerveless grasp, and he was at the mercy of his antagonists.
For a moment or two he struggled furiously with the remaining three, but the contest was too uneven. The assailants were armed with long, keen knives, and Helmar had now nothing with which to defend himself.
In those moments he realized the futility of his efforts, but he meant to sell his life dearly, and struck out with his left to such purpose that for a second the savages drew back. It was, however, but a momentary lull, and with a combined rush they overwhelmed him.
For one brief moment he struggled fiercely, then he saw one of his assailants raise a long narrow blade—the next instant it fell, and, with a sickening sensation, it struck him in the shoulder. He struggled to release himself, and then, without a single cry, sank to the ground.
The sound of the firing and the cries of his assailants had roused the neighbourhood, and just as the murderers were about to finish their work a crowd approached, and they precipitately fled. It was a mixed and villainous crew that first reached the spot after the departure of the murderers, mainly consisting of natives; but there was a sprinkling of Europeans of doubtful repute, and they quickly gathered round the two inanimate bodies.
A GOOD SAMARITAN
When Helmar woke again to consciousness, it was with no idea either of the lapse of time or any recollections of what had occurred to him in the meantime. Beyond being able to turn his head slowly from side to side, he was unable to move, and a terrible feeling of lassitude and weakness nipped all inclination in that direction.
The room in which he found himself was squalid and gloomy, and, as his dull, inquiring gaze wandered over his surroundings, he endeavoured to realize where he was. The effort was more than he was equal to, and, closing his eyes, he relapsed into a calm, dreamless sleep.
In that first dawn of consciousness he had failed to see the silent figure at his bedside—a figure which, had his gaze rested upon it, would probably have troubled his weakened mind and stayed his peaceful slumber.
The moment his eyes closed, the figure silently rose and glided noiselessly from the room. Presently it returned with a glass containing a steaming potion. Setting it down, it bent over the bed and gazed long and earnestly at the sleeper. A look of satisfaction came over its grim and wrinkled face as it resumed its vigil at the bedside.
When next the sick man awoke, a tiny lamp was shedding its dim rays over the dingy apartment. This time the figure at once approached the sufferer and held the glass to his lips. Too weak to resist or even care what was happening, he silently drank. The blood instantly coursed more rapidly through his body, and he felt refreshed and stronger. Watching the look of intelligence come into his eyes, the figure put the glass down and spoke to him in excellent French.
"You feel better now?" she asked.
"Yes," he replied in a faint voice, as though trying to recollect something. "I have been ill, haven't I?"
"Very ill," was the response.
"Who are you?" he asked, after a pause, "and where am I?"
"I am Mariam Abagi," she answered quickly, "and you are in a house at Gizeh. I am what you call a Syrian Arab. But do not worry—you are too ill yet to think or talk; wait until you are better," and she silently left the room.
For a moment or two Helmar tried to understand and recall something of what had happened, but all seemed so dim and misty that he had to give it up, and at last, becoming drowsy again, fell asleep.
Mariam Abagi was a woman of unusual character for her caste. She was married to a German who was disliked and suspected by the natives. They looked upon him as a spy, a traitor come from Europe for some evil purpose, and eventually did away with him. Mariam was a really good woman, and resented the deed bitterly. Naoum, her son, never saw his father, but inherited some of his good business qualities, and all his mother's kindness of heart. So when he had found Helmar in distress after the affair with the inspector, he instinctively went to his aid, and, finding him still alive, did not hesitate to take him to Mariam at once. On discovering Helmar's nationality, and learning how he too had fallen foul of the treacherous natives, she showed great regard for him, which gradually developed into strong affection, and her kindness knew no bounds. Her son shared the feelings of his mother, and the two, as will be seen, proved to be great benefactors to Helmar.
During the next few days he made more rapid progress toward recovery. Each time he saw the patient nurse, he endeavoured to extract from her the meaning of the position in which he found himself, but without success—she would tell him nothing. He began to get a hazy recollection of a fight, but how it came about, and with whom, he could not recall.
What puzzled him most was this old woman. She was tall and gaunt, of the Arab type, and her face was lined and wrinkled to such an extent that it was impossible to tell whether its expression was kindly or otherwise. When his strength grew and things became clearer to his mental vision, he determined to have an explanation.
Late one evening as the woman came in with the lamp, he broached the subject.
"Mariam," he said abruptly, as she was about to leave the room, "come here. I am strong now, and I want to talk to you. Now tell me all about it. How did I get into this plight? And how came I into this house?"
She eyed him keenly for a moment, then walking over to the bed sat down beside it.
"My son brought you here; you were wounded in a fight with Arabs in Cairo."
"Ah, yes," he said thoughtfully. "There was a meeting and we went to stop it. I remember something of it now. Where is the police inspector?"
"Yes, dead," she repeated.
George did not answer. He was thinking hard. At last he spoke again.
"Am I not in Cairo, then?" he asked in astonishment.
"No, you are in Gizeh, a little distance from the city. Cairo is in such a state of tumult at the present time, it would be impossible to keep you in hiding there after the part you took with the police. So my son brought you here to me for safety."
"How long have I been here?" he asked.
"Since that affair with the police officer," Mariam answered.
"Yes," said George, after another long pause, "I can see it all now; we were set upon. But how did your son find me?"
"He was with the crowd who went round at the noise of the fighting. The people thought you were killed, and so left you. But my son, Naoum, he loves not people of this country, and he saw you were not of them, so he stayed and discovered you were still alive. He is a good man is Naoum, and a dutiful son; he knows my feelings towards your countrymen, and he brought you to me here. I love the men of Europe, therefore I help you. Mariam Abagi does not love all and would not help many, but you are young to die."
As she finished speaking, a troubled expression passed over her parchment-like face, and she sat munching her lips, blinking at the flickering light. Helmar sighed and shifted his position uneasily. The keen black eyes were turned on him at once.
"But I can never repay you," he said. "You don't understand; I am a stranger—I have no money."
The old woman's eyes flashed in a moment, but fortunately she was in such a position that he could not see them.
"I require no money," she said, sharply. "I have enough for my wants. I do not this for gain," and her jaws shut with a snap.
George saw that he had made a mistake and endeavoured to remedy it, but only plunged the further into the mire.
"Yes, yes, I know, you are very good, but I cannot let you do this for me without——"
"Peace! You mean well, I know, but I will not listen. Your troubles are not yet over. It will be sufficient reward to me that you get away from this place without being killed."
"How do you mean?" he asked, failing to grasp the woman's meaning.
"Ah, I forgot, you do not know. The country is now in a critical position, and Arabi Pasha is at the head of the army. The excited and corrupted citizens are stirring up strife, and menacing all the Europeans and any one else who had, or is supposed to have had, any connection with the hated government, and Arabi has nearly lost power over the mob. It is kept secret that you are here, and so you are safe for the present! But I do not know how long this safety will last. I have some power, and my son is powerful too, but that may not avail us long, and then you will have to fly. Have no fear, however, I shall watch, and, at the first warning of danger, will provide for you."