The Message (Louis Tracy)/Chapter 11
When Warden came to his senses he found himself lying in impenetrable darkness. A half–formed belief that he was blind impelled him to put his hands to his face. Then he awoke to realities. His wrists were bound tightly, movement was painful and almost impossible, yet he seemed to be strapped to something that moved. By using his eyelids he soon succeeded in convincing himself that his eyes were uninjured, but the cold sweat of fear induced by that first horrible suspicion revived him more speedily than any stimulant. Straining his cramped limbs to test both his bonds and his injuries, he was not long in reaching a fairly accurate estimate of a disastrous plight. His head and left shoulder were stiff and sore, and he believed he had been rendered unconscious by a blow that caused a slight concussion of the brain. There was a bitter taste in his mouth which he recognized as poppy–juice, a preparation of opium widely used in Northern Africa as a soothing tonic. This, in itself, was somewhat reassuring. It suggested a crude effort to revive him. Again, though tied hand and foot, he was lying comfortably, and the irregular swaying motion which puzzled his waking thoughts was quickly explained by the shuffling of sandals and the occasional grunting comments of the men who carried the palanquin, or litter, in which he was pent.
But how account for the darkness? Turn and twist as he would, there was no glimmer of light, and the most closely–woven fabric that ever left a loom could not altogether shut out the rays of the tropical sun rising over Morocco when last he saw its beams. Then a gust of cool air blew in on his clammy cheek through a slit in the litter–cloth, and the astounding knowledge that it was already night was forced on him. Now, he was almost certain that he suffered from no injury grave enough to entail fifteen or twenty hours of complete insensibility, and the only reasonable conclusion was that he had been drugged.
That was a displeasing explanation of the taste of poppy–juice, but he felt too sick and weary to care very much what strange hazard had brought him to his present state. It sufficed that he was a captive, that the Water Witch would sail without him, that he would be discredited in his service for missing an appointment of the utmost importance. These ills were obvious. No matter what other misfortunes the immediate future might have in store, his visit to Hassan’s Tower had proved unlucky in all save its direct object, the recovery of the ruby.
Perhaps even that slight recompense for these positive evils had been taken from him. His revolver was gone, and the chisel, as he could determine by rolling a little from side to side. Probably his pockets were emptied long since. He tried to raise his body ever so slightly, but failed, yet he fancied he could feel the pressure of the ring against his ribs. And in fact it was still in his possession, for those who had robbed him, though they unfastened his waistcoat to learn if he wore a money–belt, had missed the hidden pocket. He was deadly tired. The nauseating drug with which he had been dosed was still powerful enough to render him almost incapable of reasoned thought. After the effects of the first thrill of restored vitality had passed, he listened idly to the pattering feet and muttered talk of his bearers. Then he resigned himself to fate, and fell asleep.
When next he awoke he was still in the palanquin. But the curtains were drawn apart, it was daylight, and a Moor was unfastening his bonds. The man spoke to him in a jargon that was incomprehensible. Warden sat up. He felt cold and stiff, and a twinge of pain in his shoulder drew from him a stifled exclamation in English.
The Moor spoke again. This time it was dimly discernible that he was asking in execrable French if Monsieur wished to eat and drink. Warden answered him in the same language.
“Why am I here?” he said, glancing round a rough camp pitched in the shade of a grove of tall trees.
“You must address the ever–to–be–honored Nila Moullah. I am only a servant,” was the reply.
“I am not French,” began Warden, “I am an Englishman.”
The man growled an oath in Arabic, and repeated the request about food. It was useless to question him.
“What is on the menu?” said Warden, with a wry smile.
He was not to be starved, it seemed. Perhaps some explanation of his present predicament would soon be forthcoming. At any rate, his wits would be clearer after a meal. He had eaten nothing during twenty–four hours at the lowest reckoning. He saw now that a new day was well advanced. The trees opposed a dense screen to the sun, but that luminary was high in the heavens, and he was sure he had not dreamed of the night journey in the palanquin. A dozen Moors, all armed to the teeth, lolled on the grass or sat on the gnarled roots of trees in the glade that sheltered the bivouac. At some little distance there was a palanquin similar to his own, save that its trappings were more gaudy, and the bearer–poles were painted a bright blue. The curtains were closed, but the color of the paint, added to the title of the moullah to whom the Moor referred him for information, accentuated a notion slowly taking shape in his brain. He had not forgotten the extraordinary being who gazed at him so threateningly from the top of the tower. It was a fair assumption that the man had dropped a stone on him at the very instant he took the downward leap that would have secured his safety. Was he a prisoner in the hands of this fanatic? And for what purpose was he brought into the interior?
That he was far away from the coast was determined by many signs. The keen, invigorating mountain air, the hardy types of trees and shrubs, the absence of the myriads of insects that would have made a grove on the plains a place of anything but rest at that hour—these things were an open book to one accustomed to life in the jungle. He reflected bitterly that if he had practised the first rudiments of the scout’s art the previous day, he would now, in all likelihood, be on board the steamer. Then he remembered the ring, and pressed a hand to his breast while ostensibly rubbing his injured shoulder. Yes, it was there—the one article left him. Watch, money, revolver, even a handkerchief and a box of matches, were stolen, but the ring remained. He wondered dully how the Blue Priest would have accounted for the piece of tattooed skin—with its Arabic–Latin quotation from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews and its Portuguese announcement of the secret hoard of Hassan’s Tower—if it had happened to be in his pocket. But it reposed in a portmanteau in his cabin, together with the canvas bag containing the gourd. When he was missed, would the skipper examine his baggage to discover some clue to his identity? If so, that weather–beaten tar’s remarks when he looked at the face of M’Wanga, one–time king of Benin, would be interesting.
The Moor came back with a dish of pillau, chicken stewed with rice. It was exceedingly appetizing. Some coarse bread and a bowl of goat’s milk completed a meal that was almost sumptuous. He ate heartily, and his spirits rose with each mouthful. The nondescript warriors who formed his escort paid little heed to him, even when he rose and stretched his limbs in a stroll round the palanquin. A man unacquainted with native ways might have drawn a favorable augury from their indifference—not so Warden, to whom it gave sure proof that his escape was deemed impossible.
At a little distance was a larger gathering, mainly servants and coolies. Here, too, were tethered some camels and hill ponies. The strength and equipment of the party betokened a much more serious purpose than the capture of a stray European; yet he seemed to be the only prisoner; the others were Moors, Arabs, and negroes, the soldiers and hangers–on of a fighting caravan.
A croaking voice from behind the curtains of the gaily caparisoned palanquin suddenly brought the armed Moors to their feet. One of them, who spoke good French, bade Warden come nearer, the litter–cloth was thrust aside, and the blue man of the Hassan Tower was revealed. Huddled up at the back of the cramped conveyance, he looked more like a strange beast than a man. If his appearance was forbidding when seen in Warden’s upward glance from the base of the tower, it was positively repulsive at this nearer and more leisurely point of view. The dye applied to skin and hair gave him a grotesque, almost maniacal aspect. His elfin locks were matted. His face and limbs had a peculiarly dead aspect, since the blue pigment had dried in dull scales that counterfeited the leathery surface of a mummy’s body. The sunken black eyes, gleaming out of bloodshot sockets, alone told of life. He reminded Warden of some cannibal ju–ju man from the trackless swamps of Nigeria. That such a loathsome creature should command the fearful respect of several distinguished–looking Mohammedans would be inconceivable were it not for the hush that fell on them when they heard his voice, and the alacrity with which they obeyed his order to produce the Giaour.
Now, the singular fact that the two men who had spoken to him used the French language was not lost on Warden. It argued that they and their companions hailed from the Sahara border rather than the coast. If that were so, his capture was a fantastic mistake. They could have no possible grievance against him. A germ of hope sprang up in his heart, but the Nila Moullah soon destroyed it.
“Bid the Frank do homage,” he grunted in Arabic.
“Kneel!” said the interpreter.
“I am rather stiff in the joints,” said Warden, speaking composedly, “but I shall be glad to sit down and talk with the distinguished moullah if that is agreeable to him.”
He squatted on the ground, but two men seized him roughly and tried to force him to his knees. He resisted with a mad fury that was more creditable to his pluck than to his intelligence—yet there are indignities that cannot be borne, and this was one. Though handicapped by a crippled shoulder and the enervating effect of the drug, though he was grappled with before he could rise—and the Moors were men of bone and sinew—he fought so fiercely that both of his assailants were prostrate at the same time as himself. A coward’s blow ended the unequal tussle. A heavy whip cut him ferociously across the eyes, and half–blinded him, and he was flung violently face downward in front of the Blue Man, who muttered:
“Let the Kaffir dog lie there till he learns obedience.”
Thinking he was subdued, the Moors relaxed their grip. Then Warden sprang to his feet. If death were at hand, in dying he would at least rid tortured humanity of an oppressor. But the Nila Moullah seemed to guess his thought, and shrieked to his guards that they should hold fast the Nazarene. They pinioned his arms again, and the French–speaking Moor asked him why he had dared to disturb a place made holy by the presence of the moullah.
Nearly incoherent with pain and anger, Warden managed to answer that he had done harm to none, that he was not even a resident in Rabat, having landed at the port little more than an hour before he visited the Tower.
“Ah, he is not one of the accursed brood at Rabat? So much the better! They will fall like ripe pears at the time of plucking,” snarled the occupant of the litter.
Since the words were Arabic, Warden understood, but the instinct of self–preservation bade him conceal the fact. Nevertheless, he forced his lips to utter a dignified protest.
“I am an Englishman,” he said, “and my disappearance will be reported. Inquiry will be made—it is known that I went to the Hassan Tower—and your large caravan cannot travel without exciting comment. You will certainly be pursued and attacked, whether I am living or dead. Yet I am not vindictive. Set me free, bring me back to Rabat in time to join my ship, and I shall lodge no complaint against you, nor claim my money and other belongings.”
“What sayeth the unbeliever?” demanded the moullah.
He was told, with fair accuracy, and seemed to find humor in Warden’s words.
“Slaves do not parley with their masters,” he announced, grinning vindictively at his captive. “Tie him in the litter. If he speaks, gag him. To–morrow he can carry a load with the rest.”
It needed all of Warden’s philosophy to keep him from going mad during that dreadful journey across Morocco. The Nila Moullah’s orders were literally obeyed. After the second day’s march, when sixty miles of hilly country intervened between Rabat and the caravan, the Englishman was deprived of his palanquin and became a beast of burden. Still, he lived, and was fed, and he prayed that he might retain his reason. The belief that he knew no Arabic enabled him to gather some scraps of information. The Blue Priest of El Hamra was preaching a new jehad, but, unlike others of his kidney, he was a born organizer. Instead of stirring up a minor rebellion which would be snuffed out either by the Sultan of Morocco or by one of the European powers, he was gradually making himself known throughout the length and breadth of the land. In his own stronghold of Lektawa, on the very confines of the Great Desert, he was building up an army of fanatics. Meanwhile, his repute was such that he levied heavy contributions in money and kind on the more fertile seaboard provinces. When the time was propitious he would descend on Morocco, enslave or kill every Christian, loot every port, and establish himself another Mahomet. Till then, he was content to pose as a saint.
Such a programme is nothing new in the Mussulman world. Since the inspired camel–driver of Mecca was rapt half–way to Paradise in his coffin, nearly five hundred mahdis have each and all claimed to be the one, true, and much–predicted “holy man” destined to lead Islam to complete victory over Christendom.
These impostors are infinitely worse than a pestilence. They resemble it in their unexpected outbursts and phenomenal areas of activity, but they scourge Moslemin mankind with a virulence unknown to cholera or small–pox. It was Warden’s grievous misfortune that he had blundered into Hassan’s Tower while the Blue Man of El Hamra was meditating an attack on the purse of the faithful of Rabat, and the chance thus offered of securing a Christian captive to grace the prophet’s return to Lektawa was too tempting to be neglected.
Fate oft chooses her victims with savage recklessness, but Warden felt, as he crossed the Atlas Mountains by way of the Beni Musa pass, that some influence more far–seeing than fate was leading him along the path trodden by Domenico Garcia after the ruby was hidden in the tower. He had no manner of doubt that the Portuguese artist and pirate was taken into the heart of Africa by this very route. The belief sustained him in those too frequent moments when sheer weariness of spirit whispered of self–destruction. He refused to end his sufferings in that way. If rabid fanaticism could sway a whole Mohammedan race, he, at least, placed his trust in a higher and holier creed. Not till grim death bade him lay down his arms would he abandon the struggle. Never a day passed that he did not plan a means of escape, but every scheme promised failure, and he did not mean to fail, for failure meant death. So he trudged on manfully, his only friend a stalwart negro who spoke the Hausa language, and ever the road led to the southeast—to the desert—to the great unknown land.
His boots gave out; his clothes were torn to rags; he was compelled to adopt the garments and many of the habits of those with whom his lot was cast. But he kept the ruby safe, for none thought of searching him now, and he was given a certain measure of liberty once the Atlas range was passed. Towns and villages became more scattered. The country was so wild that any attempt to travel by other road than the long–established caravan track would mean easy re–capture. To go back was equally impossible. Every community in the Nila Moullah’s own territory was gratified by the spectacle of a Giaour among the Mahdi’s train. The people would crowd round him, and jeer at him, for no better cause than that he was one of the hated white race. Many of them had never before seen a white man, but that did not count—they cursed him roundly for the sake of the legends they had heard of the arrogance with which the Prophet’s followers were treated by Nazarenes in their own lands.
Warden bore this contumely with infinite patience. He knew that the desert folk were repaying some of the wrongs their ancestors had endured from generations of Portuguese and Spanish freebooters. But at least he laid to heart the knowledge that he could never return by the way he had come unless he were still a slave. He would be recognized instantly, and clubbed to death like a mad dog. Despite his hardships, he was soon restored to perfect health. The winter season, such as it is in the Sahara, was approaching. The air was invigorating, and the rough food, mainly grains and fruit, was wholesome and nutritious. Yet, when Lektawa was reached, his case looked desperate indeed. Day followed day, and week followed week, without any prospect of relief, and he became more and more a mere appanage of the Nila Moullah’s household. It was just when hope itself was yielding to numb despair that the sought–for opportunity presented itself. It came like a meteor falling from the midnight sky, and Warden, ever on the watch, was ready to avail himself of the light it shed on his dark calvary.
Some Mohammedan festival had led to a good deal of revelry and gormandizing when Warden, at the close of a tiring day, found his negro friend sitting at the door of his hut in an attitude of deep dejection.
“What has happened?” he asked.
The man, moved by the familiar accents of his native tongue, gave way to tears. His plaint was common enough in communities ruled by a truculent savage of the moullah’s type. His daughter, a finely–built girl of fifteen, had been spoken of by some parasite, and she was summoned forthwith to the despot’s seraglio. Now, the negro, who belonged to one of the numerous Hausa tribes, while ready enough to enlist under the prophet’s banner, was far from gratified by the prospect of becoming his holiness’ father–in–law. A doubtful privilege at the best, it was shared by many, and a goodly number had been beheaded to prevent further unpleasantness when the lady failed to recognize the moullah’s attractiveness as a husband. Moreover, the Hausa girl herself rebelled against her lot, and was nearly wild with terror at the thought of it. Warden could hear her sobbing inside the hut, while her father muttered his anger to one whom he knew instinctively he might trust.
Somehow, Warden felt that his chance had come. He dared all in the next instant.
“Were in I your place,” he said, “that dog should never claim my daughter. I would kill him first.” The Hausa shivered with anxiety. What would be his fate if others were aware that he even listened to those bold words without denouncing the man who uttered them.
“You know him not, Seyyid,” he said, and the fact that he used the word for “master” to a slave showed how deeply he was stirred. “He is invulnerable and far–seeing. He reads men’s thoughts; he can kill with a look. Even you, a Nazarene, could not resist him.”
“That is what he tells the fools who choose to believe him. I was made a prisoner because a stone struck me insensible. If he is so powerful, why did he hide me in a litter until he was far from Rabat? Now attend to me, Beni Kalli. I shall save you and your daughter if you do exactly as I bid you.”
The man raised his eyes. Here was a new tone in the Christian who had endured insult and blows with meekness, except on that solitary occasion when the Blue Priest ordered him to kneel before him.
“Speak, Seyyid. At least I shall not betray you,” he muttered.
“You must get me some Arab clothing which I can put on in your hut when it is dark. Then I shall take your daughter to the moullah’s house. At that hour he will be alone in an inner room, and the fact that I bring the girl will procure me admission——”
“But you will be discovered at once. How should a man be an Arab who speaks no Arabic?”
“Do I not?” laughed Warden, going off instantly into the sonorous language of the desert. “I can accomplish that and more, Beni Kalli, if you follow my plan.”
The Hausa sprang to his feet in amazement.
“Master!” he cried, “you know Arabic better than I, who have lived here many years.”
He thought the Nazarene was a wizard. Thenceforth he was ready to fall in with any proposal he made. Warden’s scheme was feasible. Beni Kalli, afraid to be skeptical, yet only half convinced at first, quickly saw that its very daring commended it. Moreover, time pressed. He must either sacrifice his daughter or adopt some such heroic alternative as that suggested by one whom he already recognized as a leader of men. Immediate decision was called for. To defy the Nila Moullah’s will meant simply that the malcontent would be beheaded forthwith.
“I am between the lion and his prey,” said Beni Kalli valiantly. “So I face the lion. Have it as you will, Seyyid. I am at your command.”
His proverb was well chosen. Never did people in dire straits adopt bolder strategy than that which Warden had in mind. He had often weighed it and found it practicable, but hitherto it had proved impossible owing to the secrecy with which the prophet surrounded his daily life. When traveling, the Blue Man usually remained in his litter. At Lektawa he gave audience unseen. None could gain admission to his compound without stating their business and revealing their identity; he lived alone and hidden, like a spider in the dark recesses of his murderous web. Now that safeguard, previously unsurmountable, vanished by reason of the girl’s presence. For the rest, Warden relied not only on his own audacity, but on the assured cowardliness of a crafty tyrant.
There is an hour in the desert—the hour following sunset—when night wraps the earth in blackness as in a pall. It is due to the rapid fall in temperature and the resultant condensation of surface moisture taken up by the air. But it soon passes. If there is a moon, the landscape becomes a radiant etching in black and silver; even when the moon is absent, the light of the stars makes traveling safe. Therefore, the time at Warden’s disposal was limited. So many shrewd eyes watched the Nila Moullah’s dwelling that if success were to attend the coup it must be carried out during the forty minutes of darkness.
And there was much to be done in that brief period. As soon as the rapidly advancing gloom permitted, Warden and the girl crossed the open space in the center of which stood the moullah’s abode. The Englishman was so bronzed by exposure to the elements that the hood of a burnous was scarcely needed to conceal his face. The young negress, a comely statue of ebony draped in white cotton, was so terror–stricken that she offered the most serious obstacle to Warden’s project. But that could not be helped. He depended on her to draw those ferret eyes off himself for the one precious moment he needed. After that, he trusted utterly to his own resources. There was no trouble at the entrance to the compound. The guards were Moors recruited from the seaboard provinces, well–paid hirelings whom the Blue Man could safely order to kill any obnoxious members of his own tribe. Were they Arabs, they might have suspected Warden’s accent, but the patois they used was almost unintelligible among the desert folk. So Warden spoke with a harsh distinctness.
“Go, one of you,” he said, “and tell the glorious successor of the Prophet that the daughter of Beni Kalli awaits his pleasure.” The chief man among the guards came forward and peered at them. His glance fell on the shrinking form by the side of this stalwart Bedâwi.
“’Tis well,” he said. “Even now the Holy One asked why she tarried. Who art thou, brother?”
“What, then, must the renowned son of Mahmoud suffer further delay?” cried Warden, even more loudly.
He risked a good deal, because some true Arab might be within earshot, and there are gutturals in the nomadic language of Northern Africa that no European throat can reproduce.
But his fearlessness was justified. A snarling voice reached them where they stood.
“Bring the girl hither,” it growled, and the two were allowed to pass instantly.
Warden’s heart throbbed a little faster as he half dragged the cowering negress across the courtyard. She knew what was going to happen, and had been coached as to her behavior, but she was only a child, and her fear was great for her father and herself. She could not believe that this gaunt Christian, the man whom she had seen working daily among the Nila Moullah’s slaves, could really accomplish the task he had undertaken. So she whimpered with fright, and would have run back shrieking if Warden had not caught her arm and whispered a few words of encouragement.
The prophet’s habit of concealing himself as much as possible from his adherents was now more helpful than a hundred armed men. He was supposed to pass day and night in meditation. None had ever seen him eat or sleep. To carry out this pose he seldom appeared from behind the thick mats which veiled the front of the room he occupied.
A lamp was burning within. When Warden lifted a corner of one of the mats, he saw a grotesque and ghoulish–looking figure seated cross–legged on a praying–carpet. Two red–rimmed, glittering black eyes gazed fixedly at him, and a hand sought under a cushion for a weapon, since none dared to pass that screen without direct instructions. Warden turned quickly, and pushed the girl forward.
“Beni Kalli was slow in fulfilling your wishes, O worthy of honor,” he exclaimed, bowing low yet advancing the while, and never relaxing his grip on the unhappy negress. Her manifest reluctance explained his action. The Blue Man appreciated the rough ways of an Arab.
“There are means to make him speedy,” he chuckled, rising.
That was what Warden wanted. In raising himself, the moullah was momentarily off his guard. In the next instant he was lying with his face on the floor; a strong hand was across his mouth pulling his head back until his neck was almost dislocated, while the blade of a sharp knife rested most suggestively across his throat.
“Turn the lamp low,” said Warden to the girl. His voice was quiet and reassuring, but she was so completely unnerved that she nearly put out the light, which would have been awkward. Happily, she avoided that blunder.
“Now listen, you dog!” muttered Warden, slightly relieving the tension on the Blue Man’s spinal column. “Do as I bid, and I shall spare your life. Say but a word, utter the least cry, save as I direct, and your head will leave your miserable body. Do you understand, sug?”
He used the concluding epithet purposely. It is more opprobrious in Arabic than its English equivalent “cur.” It showed how fully he was the victor in this unexpected strife, and he emphasized the warning with a more decided pressure of the sharp blade in the region of the jugular vein. The moullah could not have been more at his mercy were he manacled. He was flat on the ground, sprawling with arms and legs like some ugly frog, and Warden’s right knee was jammed in the small of his back. There was naught to be done but yield, and, when permitted to speak, he murmured humbly that he would obey.
“Say ‘Seyyid,’ you swine!” said the Englishman.
“Seyyid!” gurgled the other.
“Pay heed, then,” continued Warden, with a grim earnestness that left no doubt in his hearer’s mind that he would not hesitate to slit a throat if need be. “The least alteration of my commands shall forfeit thy life. Call the leader of the guard, and tell him to summon hither Beni Kalli, who is to be admitted alone and without question. Tell him also to bring into the compound the three best camels you possess, with store of food and water for a journey. Beni Kalli is to come at once, and the camels are to be ready within ten minutes. Shout now—he will hear thee.”
Thus far, the conditions did not sound onerous, and the Blue Man complied with them to the fraction of a syllable. An anxious, heart–searching five minutes followed. Warden did not fail to impress on the quaking wretch in his grasp that he was receiving more clemency than he deserved, and warned him sternly against ever again treating a European with contumely. He could feel the thrill of mortal terror that shook the moullah when he learnt the identity of his assailant.
It was good that the tyrant should know what fear was, yet the time passed with leaden feet until Beni Kalli, more than doubting that the Seyyid’s scheme had failed, lifted a mat and thrust an awestricken countenance within. The girl uttered a cry of relief at the sight of her father, but Warden silenced her with a word.
He nodded to the Hausa, who immediately began to tie the moullah’s legs and arms with leather thongs, using the wholly baffling slave–knot, which must be cut ere its victim can be freed. Soon the whining plaint of camels roused from their accustomed sleeping–place was audible. The animals were led into the courtyard, and their attendants received the dreaded moullah’s exceedingly curt order that they were to be handed over to Beni Kalli, his daughter, and the Arab, Abdul ben Izzuf, for a journey which they were taking on his business.
And that was the last word the Blue Man of El Hamra ever uttered. Warden, it is true, kept his promise, and left him gagged and bound, unable to move or utter a cry, but otherwise uninjured. He lay there all night and all the following day, and his views concerning Nazarenes must have been most unedifying. After sunset it occurred to some one that even a prophet might fall ill. One who was in some sense his confidant and disciple volunteered to look behind the screen, when he could obtain no answer to his repeated requests for an audience. He was greatly shocked at seeing his revered teacher’s plight. In fact, he thought the moullah was dead. Most amazing thing of all, the famous blue robe had vanished. Its disappearance suggested that the time was ripe for the advent of a new prophet, and he proclaimed loudly that the Nila Moullah had been slain in a combat with the devil. To make sure, being of decisive habit, he planted a dagger firmly between the Blue Man’s shoulder–blades. Although the corpse was warm when the guards came running at his outcry, none dared touch the body of one who had wrestled with Satan. It was evident at least that the disciple could not have trussed his spiritual guide so thoroughly in a few seconds, and the theory of diabolic agency was confirmed thereby.
Affairs became lively in Lektawa for a week or two. Several would–be prophets died suddenly before order was restored and a new régime was firmly established. It was no man’s affair to discover what had become of the Nazarene slave or Beni Kalli and his daughter, so no effort was put forth toward that end. Had the fugitives known the outcome of their bold deed they might have spared themselves much anxiety. But that could not be. They fled along the caravan route that crosses the Western Sahara, and looked ever for the dust of a pursuing kafila. The Blue Man of El Hamra was in their thoughts, waking or dreaming, and many a league separated them from Lektawa ere their fear abated and they gave heed to the troubles that lay in front rather than to the vengeance that might be rushing on them from the rear.