It was quite evident that the man
wanted something; but Captain Kettle did not choose
definitely to ask for his wishes. Over-curiosity
is not a thing that pays with Orientals.
Stolid indifference, on the other hand, may earn easy
But at last the man took his courage
in a firmer grip, and came up from the Parakeet’s
lower deck, where the hands were working cargo, and
advanced under the bridge deck awnings to Captain Kettle’s
long chair and salaamed low before him.
Kettle seemed to see the man for the
first time. He looked up from the accounts he
was laboring at. “Well?” he said,
It was clear the Arab had no English.
It was clear also that he feared being watched by
his fellow countrymen in the lighter which was discharging
date bags alongside. He manoeuvred till the broad
of his back covered his movements, materialized somehow
or other a scrap of paper from some fold of his burnous,
dropped this into Kettle’s lap without any perceptible
movement of either his arms or hands, and then gave
another stately salaam and moved away to the place
from which he had come.
“If you are an out-of-work conjuror,”
said Kettle to the retreating figure, “you’ve
come to the wrong place to get employment here.”
The Arab passed out of sight without
once turning his head, and Kettle glanced down at
the screw of paper which lay on his knees, and saw
on it a scrawl of writing.
“Hullo,” he said, “postman,
were you; not conjuror? I didn’t expect
any mail here. However, let’s see.
Murray’s writing, by James!” he muttered,
as he flattened out the grimy scrap of paper, and then
he whistled-with surprise and disgust as he read.
the letter ran. “I’ve got into the deuce
of a mess, and if you can bear a hand to pull
me out, it would be a favor I should never forget.
I got caught up that side street to the left
past the mosque, but they covered my head with
a cloth directly after, and hustled me on for half
an hour, and where I am now, the dickens only
knows. It’s a cellar. But perhaps
bearer may know, who’s got my watch. The
trouble was about a woman, a pretty little piece
who I was photographing. You see
And here the letter broke off.
“That’s the worst of these
fancy, high-toned mates,” Kettle grumbled.
“What does he want to go ashore for at a one-eyed
hole like this? There are no saloons and
besides he isn’t a drinking man. Your new-fashioned
mate isn’t. There are no girls for him to
kiss seeing that they are all Mohammedans,
and wear a veil. And as for going round with that
photography box of his, I wonder he hasn’t more
pride. I don’t like to see a smart young
fellow like him, that’s got his master’s
ticket all new and ready in his chest, bringing himself
down to the level of a common, dirty-haired artist.
Well, Murray’s got a lot to learn before he
finds an owner fit to trust him with a ship of his
Kettle read the hurried letter through
a second time, and then got up out of his long chair,
and put on his spruce white drill uniform coat, and
exchanged his white canvas shoes for another pair more
newly pipeclayed. His steamer might merely be
a common cargo tramp, the town he was going to visit
ashore might be merely the usual savage settlement
one meets with on the Arabian shore of the Persian
Gulf, but the little sailor did not dress for the
admiration of fashionable crowds. He was smart
and spruce always out of deference to his own self-respect.
He went up to the second mate at the
tally desk on the main deck below, and gave him some
instructions. “I’m going ashore,”
he said, “and leave you in charge. Don’t
let too many of these niggers come aboard at once,
and tell the steward to keep all the doors to below
snugly fastened. I locked the chart-house myself
when I came out. Have you heard about the mate?”
“Ah, I thought the news would
have been spread well about the ship before it came
to me. He’s got in trouble ashore, and I
suppose I must go, and see the Kady, and get him bailed
The second mate wiped the dust and
perspiration from his face with his bare arm, and
leant on the tally-desk, and grinned. Here seemed
to be an opportunity for the relaxation of stiff official
relations. “What’s tripped him?”
he asked. “Skirt or photographing?”
“He will probably tell you himself
when he comes back,” said Kettle coldly.
“I shall send him to his room for three days
when he gets on board.”
The second mate pulled his face into
seriousness. “I don’t suppose he
got into trouble intentionally, sir.”
“Probably not, but that doesn’t
alter the fact that he has managed it somehow.
I don’t engage my mates for amusements of that
kind, Mr. Grain. I’ve got them here to
work, and help me do my duty by the owners. If
they take up low class trades like artisting, they
must be prepared to stand the consequences. You’ll
remember the orders I’ve given you? If
I’m wanted, you’ll say I’ll probably
be back by tea.”
Captain Kettle went off then in a
shore-boat, past a small fleet of pearling dhows,
which rolled at their anchors, and after a long pull for
the sea was shallow, and the anchorage lay five miles
out stepped on to the back of a burly Arab,
and was carried the last mile dry-shod. Parallel
to him were lines of men carrying out cargo to the
lighters which would tranship it to the Parakeet,
and Kettle looked upon these with a fine complacency.
His tramping for cargo had been phenomenally
successful. He was filling his holds at astonishingly
heavy freights. And not only would this bring
him credit with his owners, which meant promotion in
due course to a larger ship, but in the mean time,
as he drew his 2-1/2 per cent, on the profits, it
represented a very comfortable matter of solid cash
for that much-needing person himself. He hugged
himself with pleasure when he thought of this new
found prosperity. It represented so many things
which he would be able to do for his wife and family,
which through so many years narrow circumstances had
The burly Arab on whose hips he rode
pick-a-back stepped out of the water at last, and
Kettle jumped down from his perch, and picked his
way daintily among the litter of the foreshore toward
the white houses of the town which lay beyond.
It was the first time he had set foot
there. So great was his luck at the time, that
he had not been forced to go ashore in the usual way
drumming up cargo. The shippers had come off begging
him to become their carrier, and he had muleted them
in heavy freights accordingly. So he stepped
into the town with many of the feelings of a conqueror,
and demanded to be led to the office of a man with
whom he had done profitable business that very morning.
Of course, “office” in
the Western meaning of the term there was none.
The worthy Rad el Moussa transacted affairs on the
floor of his general sitting-room, and stored his
merchandise in the bed-chambers, or wherever it would
be out of reach of pilfering fingers. But he received
the little sailor with fine protestations of regard,
and (after some giggles and shuffling as the women
withdrew) inducted him to the dark interior of his
house, and set before him delicious coffee and some
Kettle knew enough about Oriental
etiquette not to introduce the matter on which he
had come at the outset of the conversation. He
passed and received the necessary compliments first,
endured a discussion of local trade prospects, and
then by an easy gradation led up to the powers of
the local Kady. He did not speak Arabic himself,
and Rad el Moussa had no English. But they had
both served a life apprenticeship to sea trading,
and the curse of the Tower of Babel had very little
power over them. In the memories of each there
were garnered scraps from a score of spoken languages,
and when these failed, they could always draw on the
unlimited vocabulary of the gestures and the eyes.
And for points that were really abstruse, or which
required definite understanding, there always remained
the charcoal stick and the explanatory drawing on the
face of a whitewashed wall.
When the conversation had lasted some
half an hour by the clock, and a slave brought in
a second relay of sweetmeats and thick coffee, the
sailor mentioned, as it were incidentally, that one
of his officers had got into trouble in the town.
“It’s quite a small thing,” he said
lightly, “but I want him back as soon as possible,
because there’s work for him to do on the steamer.
See what I mean?”
Rad el Moussa nodded gravely. “Savvy plenty,”
Now Kettle knew that the machinery
of the law in these small Arabian coast towns was
concentrated in the person of the Kady, who, for practical
purposes, must be made to move by that lubricant known
as palm oil; and so he produced some coins from his
pocket and lifted his eyebrows inquiringly.
Rad el Moussa nodded again, and made
careful inspection of the coins, turning them one
by one with his long brown fingers, and biting those
he fancied most as a test of their quality. Finally,
he selected a gold twenty-franc piece and two sovereigns,
balanced and chinked them carefully in his hand, and
then slipped them into some private receptacle in
his wearing apparel.
“I say,” remarked Kettle,
“that’s not for you personally, old tintacks.
That’s for the Kady.”
Rad pointed majestically to his own
breast. “El Kady,” he said.
“Oh, you are his Worship, are
you?” said Kettle. “Why didn’t
you say so before? I don’t think it was
quite straight of you, tintacks, but perhaps that’s
your gentle Arab way. But I say, Whiskers, don’t
you try being too foxy with me, or you’ll get
hurt. I’m not the most patient man in the
world with inferior nations. Come, now, where’s
Rad spread his hands helplessly.
“See, here, it’s no use
your trying that game. You know that I want Murray,
“Then hand him out, and let me get away back
“No got,” said Rad el Moussa; “no
“Now look here, Mister,”
said Captain Kettle, “I’ve paid you honestly
for justice, and if I don’t have it, I’ll
start in pulling down your old town straight away.
Give up the mate, Rad, and let me get back peacefully
to my steamboat, or, by James! I’ll let
loose a wild earthquake here. If you want battle,
murder, and sudden death, Mr. Rad el Moussa, just
you play monkey tricks with me, and you’ll get
’em cheap. Kady, are you? Then, by
James! you start in without further talk, and give
me the justice that I’ve bought and paid for.”
Though this tirade was in an alien
tongue, Rad el Moussa caught the drift from Captain
Kettle’s accompanying gesticulations, which supplied
a running translation as he went on. Rad saw that
his visitor meant business, and signed that he would
go out and fetch the imprisoned mate forthwith.
“No, you don’t,”
said Kettle promptly. “If your Worship once
left here, I might have trouble in finding you again.
I know how easy it is to hide in a-warren like this
town of yours. Send one of your hands with a
Now, to convey this sentence more
clearly, Kettle had put his fingers on the Arab’s
clothing, when out fell a bag of pearls, which came
unfastened. The pearls rolled like peas about
the floor, and the Arab, with gritting teeth, whipped
out a knife. Promptly Kettle drew also, and covered
him with a revolver.
“See here,” he said, “I’m
not a thief, though perhaps you think I pulled out
that jewelry purse on purpose. It was an accident,
Rad, so I’ll forgive your hastiness. But
your Worship mustn’t pull out cutlery on me.
I’ll not stand that from any man living.
That’s right, put it up. Back goes the
pistol into its pocket, and now we’re friends
again. Pick up the pearls yourself, and then
you’ll be certain I haven’t grabbed any,
and then send one of your men to fetch my mate and
do as I want. You’re wasting a great deal
of my time, Rad el Moussa, over a very simple job.”
The Arab gathered the pearls again
into the pouch and put it back to its place among
his clothes. His face had grown savage and lowering,
but it was clear that this little spitfire of a sailor,
with his handy pistol, daunted him. Kettle, who
read these signs, was not insensible to the compliment
they implied, but at the same time he grew, if anything,
additionally cautious. He watched his man with
a cat-like caution, and when Rad called a slave and
gave him orders in fluent Arabic, he made him translate
his commands forthwith.
Rad el Moussa protested that he had
ordered nothing more than the carrying out of his
visitor’s wishes. But it seemed to Kettle
that he protested just a trifle too vehemently, and
his suspicions deepened.
He tapped his pistol in its resting-place,
and nodded his head meaningly. “You’ve
friends in this town,” he said, “and I
dare say you’ll have a goodish bit of power
in your small way. I’ve neither, and I
don’t deny that if you bring up all your local
army to interfere, I may have a toughish fight of
it; but whatever happens to me in the long run, you
may take it as straight from yours truly that you’ll
go to your own funeral if trouble starts. So
put that in your hookah and smoke it, tintacks, and
give me the other tube.”
Captain Kettle was used to the dilatory
ways of the East, and he was prepared to wait, though
never doubting that Murray would be surrendered to
him in due time, and he would get his own way in the
end. So he picked up one of the snaky tubes of
the great pipe, and put the amber mouthpiece between
his lips; and there for an hour the pair of them squatted
on the divan, with the hookah gurgling and reeking
between them. From time to time a slave-girl
came and replenished the pipe with tobacco or fire
as was required. But these were the only interruptions,
and between whiles they smoked on in massive silence.
At the end of that hour, the man-slave
who had been sent out with the message re-entered
the room and delivered his tidings. Rad el Moussa
in his turn passed it on. Murray was even then
waiting in the justice chamber, so he said, at the
further side of the house, and could be taken away
at once. Kettle rose to his feet, and the Arab
stood before him with bowed head and folded arms.
Captain Kettle began to feel shame
for having pressed this man too hardly. It seemed
that he had intended to act honestly all along, and
the suspiciousness of his behavior doubtless arose
from some difficulty of custom or language. So
the sailor took the Rad’s limp hand in his own
and shook it cordially, and at the same time made a
handsome apology for his own share of the misunderstanding.
“Your Worship must excuse me,”
he said, “but I’m always apt to be a bit
suspicious about lawyers. What dealings I’ve
had with them have nearly always turned out for me
unfortunately. And now, if you don’t mind,
we’ll go into your court-house, and you can hand
me over my mate, and I’ll take him back to the
ship. Enough time’s been wasted already
by both of us.”
The Arab, still bowed and submissive,
signed toward the doorway, and Kettle marched briskly
out along the narrow dark passage beyond, with Rad’s
sandals shuffling in escort close at his rear.
The house seemed a large one, and rambling. Three
times Rad’s respectful fingers on his visitor’s
sleeve signed to him a change of route. The corridors,
too, as is the custom in Arabia, where coolness is
the first consideration, were dimly lit; and with
the caution which had grown to be his second nature,
Kettle instinctively kept all his senses on the alert
for inconvenient surprises. He had no desire
that Rad el Moussa should forget his submissiveness
and stab him suddenly from behind, neither did he
especially wish to be noosed or knifed from round any
of the dusky sudden corners.
In fact he was as much on the qui
vive as he ever had been in all his long, wild,
adventurous life, and yet Rad el Moussa, who meant
treachery all along, took him captive by the most
vulgar of timeworn stratagems. Of a sudden the
boarding of the floor sank beneath Kettle’s feet.
He turned, and with a desperate effort tried to throw
himself backward whence he had come. But the
boarding behind reared up and hit him a violent blow
on the hands and head, and he fell into a pit below.
For an instant he saw through the
gloom the face of Rad el Moussa turned suddenly virulent,
spitting at him in hate, and then the swing-floor
slammed up into place again, and all view of anything
but inky blackness was completely shut away.
Now the fall, besides being disconcerting,
was tolerably deep; and but for the fact that the
final blow from the flooring had shot him against
the opposite side of the pit, and so broken his descent
at the expense of his elbows and heels, he might very
well have landed awkwardly, and broken a limb or his
back in the process. But Captain Owen Kettle was
not the man to waste time over useless lamentation
or rubbing of bruises. He was on fire with fury
at the way he had been tricked, and thirsting to get
loose and be revenged. He had his pistol still
in its proper pocket, and undamaged, and if the wily
Rad had shown himself anywhere within range just then,
it is a certain thing that he would have been shot
dead to square the account.
But Kettle was, as I have said, wedged
in with darkness, and for the present, revenge must
wait until he could see the man he wanted to shoot
at. He scrambled to his feet, and fumbled in his
pocket for a match. He found one, struck it on
the sole of his trim white shoe, and reconnoitred
The place he was in was round and
bottle shaped, measuring some ten feet across its
floor, and tapering to a small square, where the trap
gave it entrance above. It was a prison clearly,
and there was evidence that it had been recently used.
It was clear also that the only official way of releasing
a prisoner was to get him up by a ladder or rope through
the small opening to which the sides converged overhead.
Moreover, to all common seeming, the place was simply
unbreakable, at least to any creature who had not
either wings or the power of crawling up the under-side
of a slant like a fly.
But all these things flashed through
Kettle’s brain in far less time than it takes
to read them here. He had only two matches in
his possession, and he wished to make all possible
use of the first, so as to keep the second for emergencies;
and so he made his survey with the best of his intelligence
The walls of this bottle-shaped prison
were of bricks built without visible mortar, and held
together (it seemed probable) by the weight of earth
pressing outside them; but just before the match burned
his fingers and dropped to the floor, where it promptly
expired, his eye fell upon an opening in the masonry.
It was a mere slit, barely three inches wide, running
vertically up and down for some six courses of the
brick, and it was about chin-high above the ground.
He marked this when the light went
out, and promptly went to it and explored it with
his arm. The slit widened at the other side, and
there was evidently a chamber beyond. He clapped
his hands against the lip of the slit, and set his
feet against the wall, and pulled with the utmost
of his strength. If once he could widen the opening
sufficiently to clamber through, possibilities lay
beyond. But from the weight of wall pressing
down above, he could not budge a single brick by so
much as a hairs-breadth, and so he had to give up
this idea, and, stewing with rage, set about further
The darkness put his eyes out of action,
but he had still left his hands and feet, and he went
round with these, exploring carefully.
Presently his search was rewarded.
Opposite the opening he had discovered before, was
another slit in the overhanging wall of this bottle-shaped
prison, and this also he attacked in the hope of wrenching
free some of the bricks. He strained and panted,
till it seemed as though the tendons of his body must
break, but the wall remained whole and the slit unpassable;
and then he gave way, almost childishly, to his passion
of rage, and shouted insults and threats at Rad el
Moussa in the vain hope that some one would hear and
carry them. And some one did hear, though not
the persons he expected.
A voice, muffled and foggy, as though
it came from a long distance, said in surprise:
“Why, Captain, have they got you here, too?”
Under cover of the darkness, Kettle
blushed for shame at his outcry. “That
you, Murray? I didn’t know you were here.
How did you guess it was me?”
The distant voice chuckled foggily.
“I’ve heard you giving your blessing to
the hands on board, sir, once or twice, and I recognized
some of the words. What have they collared you
for? You don’t photograph. Have you
been messing round with some girl?”
“Curse your impudence; just
you remember your position and mine. I’ll
have respect from my officers, even if I am in a bit
of a fix.”
“Beg pardon, sir. Sorry
I forgot myself. It sha’n’t occur
“You’ll go to your room
for three days when we get back on board.”
“Ay, ay, sir.”
“I decided that before I left
the ship. I can’t have my officers staying
away from duty without leave on any excuse. And
if they have such low tastes as to bring themselves
on the level of common mop-headed portrait painters
and photographers, they must pay for it.”
“Ay, ay, sir.”
“What were you run in for?”
“There you are, then! And did they bring
you straight along here?”
“Yes, sir. And lowered me in a bowline
to this cellar.”
“Ah,” said Kettle, “then
you don’t want so much change out of them.
They dropped me, and some one will have a heavy bill
to square up for, over that. Do you know whose
house this is?”
“Haven’t a notion.
After I’d been here an hour or so, some heathen
sneaked round to a peep-hole in the wall and offered
to take off a message to the ship, on payment.
I hadn’t any money, so I had to give up my watch,
and before I’d written half the letter he got
interrupted and had to clear off with what there was.
Did he bring off the message, sir?”
“He did. And I came ashore at once.
You remember Rad el Moussa?”
“The man that consigned all that parcel of figs
“That man. I considered
that as he’d been doing business with the steamer,
he was the best person to make inquiries of ashore.
So I came to him, and asked where I could find the
Kady to bail you out. He shuffled a bit, and
after some talk he admitted he was the Kady, and took
palm-oil from me in the usual way, and then I’ll
not deny that we had a trifle of a disagreement.
But he seemed to simmer down all right, said he’d
send along for you, and after a bit of time said you’d
come, and wouldn’t I walk through the house
and see you myself. The crafty old fox had got
his booby trap rigged in the mean time, and then I
walked straight into it like the softest specimen
of blame’ fool you can imagine.”
“Rad el Moussa,” came
the foggy comment. “By Jove! Captain,
I believe we’re in an awkward place. He’s
the biggest man in this town far and away, and about
the biggest blackguard also from what I’ve heard.
He’s a merchant in every line that comes handy,
from slaves and palm fibre to horses and dates; he
runs most of those pearling dhows that we saw sweltering
about at the anchorage; and he’s got a little
army of his own with which he raids the other coast
towns and the caravans up-country when he hears they’ve
got any truck worth looting. I say, this is scaring.
I’ve been taking the thing pretty easily up to
now, thinking it would come all right in time.
But if I’d known it was old Rad who had grabbed
me, I tell you I should have sat sweating.”
“It takes a lot more than a
mere nigger, with his head in clouts, to scare me,”
said Kettle truculently, “and I don’t care
tuppence what he may be by trade. He’s
got a down on me at present, I’ll grant, but
I’m going to give Mr. Rad el Moussa fits a little
later on, and you may stand by and look on, if you
aren’t frightened to be near him.”
“I’m not a funk in the
open,” grumbled Murray, “and you know it.
You’ve seen me handle a crew. But I’m
in a kind of cellar here, and can’t get out,
and if anybody chooses they can drop bricks on me,
and I can’t stop them. Have they been at
you about those rifles, sir?”
“What rifles? No, nobody’s
said ‘rifles’ to me ashore here.”
“It seems we’ve got some
cases of rifles on board for one of those little ports
up the coast. I didn’t know it.”
“Nor did I,” said Kettle,
“and you can take it from me that we haven’t.
Smuggling rifles ashore is a big offence here in the
Persian Gulf, and I’m not going to put myself
in the way of the law, if I know it.”
“Well, I think you’re
wrong, sir,” said the Mate. “I believe
they’re in some cases that are down on the manifest
as ‘machinery.’ I saw them stowed
down N hold, and I remember one of the stevedores
in London joking about them when they were struck
“Supposing they were rifles, what than?”
“Rad wants them. He says
they’re consigned to some of his neighbors up
coast, who’ll raid him as soon as they’re
properly armed; and he doesn’t like the idea.
What raiding’s done, he likes to do himself,
and at the same time he much prefers good Brummagen
rifles to the local ironmonger’s blunderbusses.”
“Well,” said Kettle, “I’m
waiting to hear what he thought you could do with
the rifles supposing they were on board.”
“Oh, he expected me to broach
cargo and bring them here ashore to him. He’s
a simple-minded savage.”
“By James!” said Kettle,
“the man’s mad. What did he think
I should be doing whilst one of my mates was scoffing
cargo under my blessed nose?”
“Ah, you see,” said the
foggy voice, with sly malice, “he did not know
you so well then, sir. That was before he persuaded
you to come into his house to stay with him.”
It is probable that Captain Kettle
would have found occasion to make acid comment on
this repartee from his inferior officer, but at that
moment another voice addressed him from the slit at
the other side of his prison, and he turned sharply
round. To his surprise this new person spoke
in very tolerable English.
“Capt’n, I want t’make contrack
“The deuce you do. And who might you be,
“I cullud gen’lem’n,
sar. Born Zanzibar. Used to be fireman
on P. and O. I want arsk you
“Is this the Arabian Nights? How the mischief
did you get here, anyway?”
“Went on burst in Aden, sar.
Th’ole Chief fired me out. Went Yemen.
Caught for slave. Taken caravan. Brought
here. But I’m very clever gen’lem’n,
sar, an’ soon bought myself free. Got slave
of my own now. An’ three wives. Bought
’nother wife yesterday.”
“You nasty beast!” said Kettle.
“Sar, you insult me. Not
bally Christian any longer. Hard-shell Mohammedan
now, sar, and can marry as many wives as I can buy.”
“I’m sure the Prophet’s
welcome to you. Look here, my man. Pass down
a rope’s end from aloft there, and let me get
on deck, and I’ll give you a sovereign cash
down, and a berth in my steamboat’s stoke-hold
if you want one. I’m not asking you to
help me more. I guess I’m quite competent
to find my way on board, and to wipe this house tolerably
clean before it’s quit of me.”
“Nothing of the kind, sar,”
said the man behind the slit. “You insult
me, sar. I very big gen’lem’n here,
sar, an’ a sovereign’s no use to me.
Besides, I partner to olé man Rad, an’ he
say he want dem rifles you got on your olé
“Does he, indeed? Then
you can tell him, Mr. Nigger runaway-drunken-fireman,
that I’ll see you and him in somewhere a big
sight hotter than Arabia before he gets them.
I didn’t know they were rifles; if I had known
before this, I’d not have put them ashore; but
as things are now, I’ll land them into the hands
of those that ordered them, and I hope they come round
to this town of yours and give you fits. And
see here, you talk more respectful about my steamboat,
or you’ll get your shins kicked, daddy.”
“An olé tramp,”
said the man relishingly. “I served on P.
an’ O., sar, an’ on P. an’ O. we
don’t care ‘sociate wid tramps’ sailors.”
“You impudent black cannibal.
You’ll be one of the animals those passenger
lines carry along to eat the dead babies, to save the
trouble of heaving them overboard.”
The ex-fireman spluttered. But
he did not continue the contest. He recognized
that he had to deal with a master in the cheerful art
of insult, and so he came back sulkily to business.
“Will you give Rad dem rifles, you
low white fellow?”
“No, I won’t.”
“Very well. Den we shall
spiflicate you till you do,” said the man, and
after that Kettle heard his slippers shuffling away.
“I wonder what spiflicating
is?” mused Kettle, but he did not remain cudgelling
his brain over this for long. It occurred to him
that if this negro could come and go so handily to
the outside of this underground prison, there must
be a stairway somewhere near, and though he could not
enlarge the slit to get at it that way, it might be
possible to burrow a passage under the wall itself.
For a tool, he had spied a broken crock lying on the
floor, and with the idea once in his head, he was not
long in putting it to practical effect. He squatted
just underneath the slit, and began to quarry the
earth at the foot of the wall with skill and determination.
But if Kettle was prompt, his captors
were by no means dilatory. Between Kettle’s
prison and the mate’s was another of those bottle-shaped
oubliettes, and in that there was presently
a bustle of movement. There came the noises of
some one lighting a fire, and coughing as he fanned
smouldering embers into a glow with his breath, and
then more coughing and some curses as the fire-lighter
took his departure. The door above clapped down
into place, and then there was the sound of someone
dragging over that and over the doors of the other
two prisons what seemed to be carpets, or heavy rugs.
There was something mysterious in
this manoeuvre at first, but the secret of it was
not kept for long. An acrid smell stole out into
the air, which thickened every minute in intensity.
Kettle seemed dimly to recognize it, but could not
put a name to it definitely. Besides, he was
working with all his might at scraping away the earth
from the foot of the wall, and had little leisure
to think of other things.
The heat was stifling, and the sweat
dripped from him, but he toiled on with a savage glee
at his success. The foundations had not been dug
out; they were “floating” upon the earth
surface; and the labor of undermining would, it appeared,
But Murray in the other prison had
smelt the reek before, and was able to put a name
to it promptly. “By Jove! Captain,”
he shouted mistily from the distance, “they’re
going to smoke us to death; that’s the game.”
“Looks like trying it,”
panted the little sailor, from his work.
“That’s dried camel’s
dung they’re burning. There’s no wood
in Arabia here, and that’s their only fuel.
When the smoke gets into your lungs, it just tears
you all to bits. I say, Skipper, can’t you
come to some agreement with Rad over those blessed
rifles? It’s a beastly death to die, this.”
“You aren’t dead by
a long chalk yet. More’m I. I’d
hate to be smoke-dried like a ham as
bad as any Jew. But I don’t start in to
scoff the cargo on my own ship at
any bally price.”
There was a sound of distant coughing,
and then the misty question: “What are
you working at?”
Kettle gasped, and after that, communication between
the two was limited to incessant staccato coughs.
More and more acrid grew the air as
the burning camel’s dung saturated it further
and further with smoke, and more and more frenzied
grew Kettle’s efforts. Once he got up and
stuffed his coat in the embrasure from which the smoke
principally came. But that did little enough good.
The wall was all chinks, and the bitter reek came in
unchecked. He felt that the hacking coughs were
gnawing away his strength, and just now the utmost
output of his thews was needed.
He had given up his original idea
of mining a passage under the wall. Indeed, this
would have been a labor of weeks with the poor broken
crock which was his only tool, for the weight of the
building above had turned the earth to something very
near akin to the hardness of stone. But he had
managed to scrape out a space underneath one brick,
and found that it was loosened, and with trouble could
be dislodged; and so he was burrowing away the earth
from beneath others, to drop more bricks down from
their places, and so make a gangway through the solid
But simple though this may be in theory,
it was tediously difficult work in practice.
The bricks jammed even when they were undermined, and
the wall was four bricks thick to its further side.
Moreover, every alternate course was cross-pinned,
and the workman was rapidly becoming asphyxiated by
the terrible reek which came billowing in from the
Still, with aching chest, and bleeding
fingers, and smarting eyes, Kettle worked doggedly
on, and at last got a hole made completely through.
What lay in the blackness beyond he did not know; either
Rad el Moussa or the fireman might be waiting to give
him a coup de grace the moment his head appeared;
but he was ready to accept every risk. He felt
that if he stayed in the smoke of that burning camel’s
dung any longer he would be strangled.
The hole in the brickwork was scarcely
bigger than a fox-earth, but he was a slightly built
man, and with a hard struggle he managed to push his
way through. No one opposed him. He found
and scraped his only remaining match, and saw that
he was in another bottle-shaped chamber similar to
the one he had left; but in this there was a doorway.
There was pungent smoke reek here also, and, though
its slenderness came to him as a blessed relief after
what he had been enduring, he lusted desperately for
a taste of the pure air outside.
The door gave to his touch, and he
found a stair. He ran up this and stepped out
into the corridor, where Rad had lured him to capture,
and then, walking cautiously by the wall so as not
to step into any more booby-traps, he came to the
place where he calculated Murray would be jailed.
A large thick carpet had been spread over the door
so as to prevent any egress of the stinging smoke,
or any ingress of air, and this he pulled away, and
lifted the trap.
There was no sound from below.
“Great heavens,” he thought, “was
the mate dead?” He hailed sharply, and a husky
voice answered. Seeing nothing else at hand that
would serve, he lowered an end of the carpet, keeping
a grip on the other, and presently Murray got a hold
and clambered up beside him.
In a dozen whispered words Kettle
told his plans, and they were on the point of starting
off to carry them out, when the slop-slop of
slippers made itself heard advancing down the corridors.
Promptly the pair of them sank into the shadows, and
presently the ex-fireman came up whistling cheerfully
an air from some English music-hall. He did not
see them till they were almost within hand-grips,
and then the tune froze upon his lips in a manner
that was ludicrous.
But neither Kettle nor his mate had
any eye for the humors of the situation just then.
Murray plucked the man’s legs artistically from
beneath him, and Kettle gripped his hands and throat.
He thrust his savage little face close down to the
black man’s. “Now,” he said,
“where’s Rad? Tell me truly, or I’ll
make you into dog’s meat. And speak quietly.
If you make a row, I’ll gouge your eyes out.”
“Rad, he in divan,” the
fellow stuttered in a scared whisper. “Sort
o’ front shop you savvy, sar. Don’
“I can recommend my late state-room,”
“Just the ticket,” said
Kettle. So into the oubliette they toppled
him, clapping down the door in its place above.
“There you may stay, you black beast,”
said his judge, “to stew in the smoke you raised
yourself. If any of your numerous wives are sufficiently
interested to get you out, they may do so. If
not, you pig, you may stay and cure into bacon.
I’m sure I sha’n’t miss you.
Come along, Mr. Mate.”
They fell upon Rad el Moussa placidly
resting among the cushions of the divan, with the
stem of the water-pipe between his teeth, and his mind
probably figuring out plans of campaign in which the
captured rifles would do astonishing work.
Kettle had no revolver in open view,
but Rad had already learned how handily that instrument
could be produced on occasion, and had the wit to
make no show of resistance. The sailor went up
to him, delicately extracted the poignard from
his sash, and broke the blade beneath his feet.
Then he said to him, “Stand there,” pointing
to the middle of the floor, and seated himself on
the divan in the attitude of a judge.
“Now, Mr. Rad el Moussa, I advise
you to understand what’s going to be said to
you now, so that it’ll be a lesson to you in
“I came to you, not very long
ago, asking for your card to the Kady. I told
you my business was about the mate here, and you said
you were Kady yourself. Whether you are or not
I don’t know, and I don’t vastly care,
but anyway, I paid for justice in hard money, and you
said you’d give up the mate. You didn’t
do that. You played a trick on me, which I’ll
own up I was a fool to get caught by; and I make no
doubt that you’ve been laughing at me behind
my back with that nasty nigger partner of yours.
“Well, prisoner at the bar,
let alone I’m a blooming Englishman and
Englishmen aren’t sent into this world to be
laughed at by any foreigners I’m
myself as well, and let me tell you I don’t stand
either being swindled out of justice when I’ve
paid for it, or being played tricks on afterward.
So you are hereby sentenced to the fine of one bag
of pearls, to be paid on the spot, and furthermore
to be incarcerated in one of those smoke boxes down
the alleyway yonder till you can find your own way
out. Now, prisoner, don’t move during the
next operation, or I’ll shoot you. Mr.
Mate, you’ll find a small bag inside the top
part of his nightgown, on the left-hand side.
“Here they are, sir,” said Murray.
“Thanks,” said Kettle,
and put the bag in his pocket. “And now,
if you please, Mr. Mate, we’ll just put His
Whiskers into that cellar with the nigger, and leave
him there to get smoked into a better and, we’ll
hope, a more penitent frame of mind.”
They completed this pious act to their
entire satisfaction, and left the house without further
interruption. The townspeople were just beginning
to move about again after the violence of the midday
heat, but except for curious stares, they passed through
the narrow streets between the whitewashed houses
quite without interruption. And in due time they
came to the beach, and hired a shore boat, which took
them off to the steamer.
But here Kettle was not inclined to
linger unnecessarily. He saw Grain, the second
mate, and asked Mm how much more cargo there was to
“The last lighter load is alongside this minute,
“Then hustle it on deck as quick
as you can, and then call the carpenter, and go forward
and heave up.”
Grain looked meaningly at Murray.
“Am I to take the fore deck, sir.”
“Yes, I appoint you acting mate
for three days; and Mr. Murray goes to his room for
that time for getting into trouble ashore. Now
put some hurry into things, Mr. Grain; I don’t
want to stay here longer than’s needful.”
Grain went forward about his business,
but Murray, who looked somewhat disconsolate, Kettle
beckoned into the chart-house. He pulled out the
pearl bag, and emptied its contents on to the chart
table. “Now, look here, my lad,”
said he, “I have to send you to your room because
I said I would, and because that’s discipline;
but you can pocket a thimblefull of these seed pearls
just to patch up your wounded feelings, as your share
of old Rad el Moussa’s fine. They are only
seed pearls, as I say, and aren’t worth much.
We were due to have more as a sheer matter of justice,
but it wasn’t to be got. So we must make
the best of what there is. You’ll bag L20
out of your lot if you sell them in the right place
ashore. I reckoned my damages at L500, and I guess
I’ve got here about L200.”
“Thank you, sir,” said
Murray. “But it’s rather hard being
sent to my room for a thing I could no more help than
“Discipline, my lad. This
will probably teach you to leave photographing to
your inferiors in the future. There’s no
persuading me that it isn’t that photograph
box that’s at the bottom of the whole mischief.
Hullo, there’s the windlass going already.
I’ll just lock up these pearls in the drawer,
and then I must go on the bridge. Er, and about
going to your room, my lad: as long as I don’t
see you for three days you can do much as you like.
I don’t want to be too hard. But as I said
to old Rad el Moussa, justice is justice, and discipline’s
got to be kept.”
“And what about the rifles, sir?”
Captain Kettle winked pleasantly.
“I don’t know that they are rifles.
You see the cases are down on the manifest as ‘machinery,’
and I’m going to put them ashore as such; but
I don’t mind owning to you, Mr. Mate, that I
hope old Rad finds out he was right in his information.
I suppose his neighbors will let him know within the
next week or so whether they are rifles really, or
whether they aren’t.”