Read CHAPTER VII of A Bid for Fortune / Dr. Nikola's Vendetta, free online book, by Guy Boothby, on


Fortunately for me my arrangements fitted in exactly, so that at one thirty p.m., on the seventh day after my fatal meeting with Dr. Nikola in the West of England express, I had crossed the Continent, and stood looking out on the blue waters of Naples Bay. To my right was the hill of San Martino, behind me that of Capo di Monte, while in the distance, to the southward, rose the cloud-tipped summit of Vesuvius. The journey from London is generally considered, I believe, a long and wearisome one; it certainly proved so to me, for it must be remembered that my mind was impatient of every delay, while my bodily health was not as yet recovered.

The first thing to be done on arrival at the terminus was to discover a quiet hotel; a place where I could rest and recoup during the heat of the day, and, what was perhaps more important, where I should run no risk of meeting with Dr. Nikola or his satellites. I had originally intended calling at the office of the steamship company in order to explain the reason of my not joining the boat in Plymouth, planning afterwards to cast about me, among the various hotels, for the Marquis of Beckenham and Mr. Baxter. But, on second thoughts, I saw the wisdom of abandoning both these courses.

Nor for the same reason did I feel inclined to board the steamer, which I could see lying out in the harbour, until darkness had fallen. I ascertained, however, that she was due to sail at midnight, and that the mails were already being got aboard.

Almost exactly as eight o’clock was striking, I mounted the gangway, and strolled down the promenade deck to the first saloon entrance; then calling a steward to my assistance, I had my baggage conveyed to my cabin, where I set to work arranging my little knicknacks, and making myself comfortable for the voyage that lay before us. So far I had seen nothing of my friends, and, on making inquiries, I discovered that they had not yet come aboard. Indeed, they did not do so until the last boat had discharged its burden at the gangway. Then I met Lord Beckenham on the promenade deck, and unaffected was the young man’s delight at seeing me.

“Mr. Hatteras,” he cried, running forward to greet me with out-stretched hand, “this was all that was wanting to make my happiness complete. I am glad to see you. I hope your cabin is near ours.”

“I’m on the port side just abaft the pantry,” I answered, shaking him by the hand. “But tell me about yourself. I expect you had a pleasant journey across the Continent.”

“Delightful!” was his reply. “We stayed a day in Paris, and another in Rome, and since we have been here we have been rushing about seeing everything, like a regulation pair of British tourists.”

At this moment Mr. Baxter, who had been looking after the luggage, I suppose, made his appearance, and greeted me with more cordiality than I had expected him to show. To my intense surprise, however, he allowed no sign of astonishment to escape him at my having joined the boat after all. But a few minutes later, as we were approaching the companion steps, he said: “I understood from his lordship, Mr. Hatteras, that you were to embark at Plymouth; was I mistaken, therefore, when I thought I saw you coming off with your luggage this evening?”

“No, you were not mistaken,” I answered, being able now to account for this lack of surprise. “I came across the Continent like yourselves, and only joined the vessel a couple of hours ago.”

Here the Marquis chimed in, and diverted the conversation into another channel.

“Where is everybody?” he asked, when Mr. Baxter had left us and gone below. “There are a lot of names on the passenger list, and yet I see nobody about!”

“They are all in bed,” I answered. “It is getting late, you see, and, if I am not mistaken, we shall be under way in a few minutes.”

“Then, I think, if you’ll excuse me for a few moments, I’ll go below to my cabin. I expect Mr. Baxter will be wondering where I am.”

When he had left me I turned to the bulwarks and stood looking across the water at the gleaming lights ashore. One by one the boats alongside pushed off, and from the sounds that came from for’ard, I gathered that the anchor was being got aboard. Five minutes later we had swung round to our course and were facing for the open sea. For the first mile or so my thoughts chased each other in rapid succession. You must remember that it was in Naples I had learnt that my darling loved me, and it was in Naples now that I was bidding good-bye to Europe and to all the strange events that had befallen me there. I leant upon the rail, looked at the fast receding country in our wake, at old Vesuvius, fire-capped, away to port, at the Great Bear swinging in the heavens to the nor’ard, and then thought of the Southern Cross which, before many weeks were passed, would be lifting its head above our bows to welcome me back to the sunny land and to the girl I loved so well. Somehow I felt glad that the trip to England was over, and that I was on my way home at last.

The steamer ploughed her almost silent course, and three-quarters of an hour later we were abreast of Capri. As I was looking at it, Lord Beckenham came down the deck and stood beside me. His first speech told me that he was still under the influence of his excitement; indeed, he spoke in rapturous terms of the enjoyment he expected to derive from his tour.

“Are you sure you will be a good sailor?” I asked.

“Oh, I have no fear of that,” he answered confidently. “As you know, I have been out in my boat in some pretty rough weather and never felt in the least ill, so I don’t think it is likely that I shall begin to be a bad sailor on a vessel the size of the Saratoga. By the way, when are we due to reach Port Said?”

“Next Thursday afternoon, I believe, if all goes well.”

“Will you let me go ashore with you if you go? I don’t want to bother you, but after all you have told me about the place, I should like to see it in your company.”

“I’ll take you with pleasure,” I answered, “provided Mr. Baxter gives his consent. I suppose we must regard him as skipper.”

“Oh, I don’t think we need fear his refusing. He is very good-natured, you know, and lets me have my own way a good deal.”

“Where is he now?”

“Down below, asleep. He has had a lot of running about to-day, and thought he would turn in before we got under way. I think I had better be going now. Good-night.”

“Good-night,” I answered, and he left me again.

When I was alone I returned to my thoughts of Phyllis and the future, and as soon as my pipe was finished, went below to my bunk. My berth mate I had discovered earlier in the evening was a portly English merchant of the old school, who was visiting his agents in Australia; and, from the violence of his snores, I should judge had not much trouble on his mind. Fortunately mine was the lower bunk, and, when I had undressed, I turned into it to sleep like a top until roused by the bath-room steward at half-past seven next morning. After a good bathe I went back to my cabin and set to work to dress. My companion by this time was awake, but evidently not much inclined for conversation. His usual jovial face, it struck me, was not as rosy as when I had made his acquaintance the night before, and I judged that his good spirits were more than half assumed.

All this time a smart sea was running, and, I must own, the Saratoga was rolling abominably.

“A very good morning to you, my dear sir,” my cabin mate said, with an air of enjoyment his pallid face belied, as I entered the berth. “Pray how do you feel to-day?”

“In first-class form, and as hungry as a hunter.”

He laid himself back on his pillow with a remark that sounded very much like “Oh dear,” and thereafter I was suffered to shave and complete my toilet in silence. Having done so I put on my cap and went on deck.

It was indeed a glorious morning; bright sunshine streamed upon the decks, the sea was a perfect blue, and so clear was the air that, miles distant though it was from us, the Italian coast-line could be plainly discerned above the port bulwarks. By this time I had cross-examined the chief steward, and satisfied myself that Nikola was not aboard. His absence puzzled me considerably. Was it possible that I could have been mistaken in the whole affair, and that Baxter’s motives were honest after all? But in that case why had Nikola drugged me? And why had he warned me against sailing in the Saratoga? The better to think it out I set myself for a vigorous tramp round the hurricane deck, and was still revolving the matter in my mind, when, on turning the corner by the smoking-room entrance, I found myself face to face with Baxter himself. As soon as he saw me, he came smiling towards me, holding out his hand.

“Good-morning, Mr. Hatteras,” he said briskly; “what a delightful morning it is, to be sure. You cannot tell how much I am enjoying it. The sea air seems to have made a new man of me already.”

“I am glad to hear it. And pray how is your charge?” I asked, more puzzled than ever by this display of affability.

“Not at all well, I am sorry to say.”

“Not well? You don’t surely mean to say that he is sea-sick?”

“I’m sorry to say I do. He was perfectly well until he got out of his bunk half an hour ago. Then a sudden, but violent, fit of nausea seized him, and drove him back to bed again.”

“I am very sorry to hear it, I hope he will be better soon. He would have been one of the last men I should have expected to be bowled over. Are you coming for a turn round?”

“I shall feel honoured,” he answered, and thereupon we set off, step for step, for a constitutional round the deck. By the time we had finished it was nine o’clock, and the saloon gong had sounded for breakfast.

The meal over, I repaired to the Marquis’s cabin, and having knocked, was bidden enter. I found my lord in bed, retching violently; his complexion was the colour of zinc, his hands were cold and clammy, and after every spasm his face streamed with perspiration.

“I am indeed sorry to see you like this,” I said, bending over him. “How do you feel now?”

“Very bad, indeed!” he answered, with a groan. “I cannot understand it at all. Before I got out of bed this morning I felt as well as possible. Then Mr. Baxter was kind enough to bring me a cup of coffee, and within five minutes of drinking it, I was obliged to go back to bed feeling hopelessly sick and miserable.”

“Well, you must try and get round as soon as you can, and come on deck; there’s a splendid breeze blowing, and you’ll find that will clear the sickness out of you before you know where you are.”

But his only reply was another awful fit of sickness, that made as if it would tear his chest asunder. While he was under the influence of it, his tutor entered, and set about ministering to him with a care and fatherly tenderness that even deceived me. I can see things more plainly now, on looking back at them, than I could then, but I must own that Baxter’s behaviour towards the boy that morning was of a kind that would have hoodwinked the very Master of All Lies himself. I could easily understand now how this man had come to have such an influence over the kindly-natured Duke of Glenbarth, who, when all was said and done, could have had but small experience of men of Baxter’s type.

Seeing that, instead of helping, I was only in the way, I expressed a hope that the patient would soon be himself again, and returned to the deck.

Luncheon came, and still Lord Beckenham was unable to leave his berth. In the evening he was no better. The following morning he was, if anything, stronger; but towards mid-day, just as he was thinking of getting up, his nausea returned upon him, and he was obliged to postpone the attempt. On Wednesday there was no improvement, and, indeed, it was not until Thursday afternoon, when the low-lying coast of Port Said was showing above the sea-line, that he felt in any way fit to leave his bunk. In all my experience of sea-sickness I had never known a more extraordinary case.

It was almost dark before we dropped our anchor off the town, and as soon as we were at a standstill I went below to my friend’s cabin. He was sitting on the locker fully dressed.

“Port Said,” I announced. “Now, how do you feel about going ashore? Personally, I don’t think you had better try it.”

“Oh! but I want to go. I have been looking forward to it so much. I am much stronger than I was, believe me, and Mr. Baxter doesn’t think it could possibly hurt me.”

“If you don’t tire yourself too much,” that gentleman put in.

“Very well, then,” I said. “In that case I’m your man. There are plenty of boats alongside, so we’ll have no difficulty about getting there. Won’t you come, too, Mr. Baxter?”

“I think not, thank you,” he answered. “Port Said is not a place of which I am very fond.”

“In that case I think we had better be going,” I said, turning to his lordship.

We made our way on deck, and, after a little chaffering, secured a boat, in which we were pulled ashore. Having arrived there, we were immediately beset by the usual crowd of beggars and donkey boys, but, withstanding their importunities, we turned into the Rue de Commerce and made our way inland. To my companion the crowded streets, the diversity of nationalities and costume, and the strange variety of shops and wares, were matters of absorbing interest. This will be the better understood when it is remembered that, poor though Port Said is in orientalism, it was nevertheless the first Eastern port he had encountered. We had both a few purchases to make, and this business satisfactorily accomplished, we started off to see the sights.

Passing out of the Rue de Commerce, our attention was attracted by a lame young beggar who, leaning on his crutches, blocked our way while he recited his dismal catalogue of woes. Our guide bade him be off, and indeed I was not sorry to be rid of him, but I could see, by glancing at his face, that my companion had taken his case more seriously. In fact, we had not proceeded more than twenty yards before he asked me to wait a moment for him, and taking to his heels ran back to the spot where we had left him. When he rejoined us I said: “You don’t mean to say that you gave that rascal money?”

“Only half a sovereign,” he answered. “Perhaps you didn’t hear the pitiful story he told us? His father is dead, and now, if it were not for his begging, his mother and five young sisters would all be starving.”

I asked our guide if he knew the man, and whether his tale were true.

“No, monsieur,” he replied promptly, “it is all one big lie. His father is in the jail, and, if she had her rights, his mother would be there too.”

Not another word was said on the subject, but I could see that the boy’s generous heart had been hurt. How little he guessed the effect that outburst of generosity was to have upon us later on!

At our guide’s suggestion, we passed from the commercial, through the European quarter, to a large mosque situated in Arab Town. It was a long walk, but we were promised that we should see something there that would amply compensate us for any trouble we might be put to to reach it. This turned out to be the case, but hardly in the fashion he had predicted.

The mosque was certainly a fine building, and at the time of our visit was thronged with worshippers. They knelt in two long lines, reaching from end to end, their feet were bare, and their heads turned towards the east. By our guide’s instructions we removed our boots at the entrance, but fortunately took the precaution of carrying them into the building with us. From the main hall we passed into a smaller one, where a number of Egyptian standards, relics of the war of ’82, were unrolled for our inspection. While we were examining them, our guide, who had for a moment left us, returned with a scared face to inform us that there were a number of English tourists in the mosque who had refused to take their boots off, and were evidently bent on making trouble. As he spoke the ominous hum of angry voices drifted in to us, increasing in volume as we listened. Our guide pricked up his ears and looked anxiously at the door.

“There will be trouble directly,” he said solemnly, “if those young men do not behave themselves. If messieurs will be guided by me, they will be going. I can show them a backway out.”

For a moment I felt inclined to follow his advice, but Beckenham’s next speech decided me to stay.

“You will not go away and leave those stupid fellows to be killed?” he said, moving towards the door into the mosque proper. “However foolish they may have been, they are still our countrymen, and whatever happens we ought to stand by them.”

“If you think so, of course we will, but remember it may cost us our lives. You still want to stay? Very good, then, come along, but stick close to me.”

We left the small ante-room, in which we had been examining the flags, and passed back into the main hall. Here an extraordinary scene presented itself.

In the furthest corner, completely hemmed in by a crowd of furious Arabs, were three young Englishmen, whose faces plainly showed how well they understood the dangerous position into which their own impudence and folly had enticed them.

Elbowing our way through the crowd, we reached their side, and immediately called upon them to push their way towards the big doors; but before this man[oe]uvre could be executed, some one had given an order in Arabic, and we were all borne back against the wall.

“There is no help for it!” I cried to the biggest of the strangers. “We must fight our way out. Choose your men and come along.”

So saying, I gave the man nearest me one under the jaw to remember me by, which laid him on his back, and then, having room to use my arms, sent down another to keep him company. All this time my companions were not idle, and to my surprise I saw the young Marquis laying about him with a science that I had to own afterwards did credit to his education. Our assailants evidently did not expect to meet with this resistance, for they gave way and began to back towards the door. One or two of them drew knives, but the space was too cramped for them to do much harm with them.

“One more rush,” I cried, “and we’ll turn them out.”

We made the rush, and next moment the doors were closed and barred on the last of them. This done, we paused to consider our position. True we had driven the enemy from the citadel, but then, unless we could find a means of escape, we ourselves were equally prisoners in it. What was to be done?

Leaving three of our party to guard the doors, the remainder searched the adjoining rooms for a means of escape; but though we were unsuccessful in our attempt to find an exit, we did what was the next best thing to do, discovered our cowardly guide in a corner, skulking in a curious sort of cupboard.

By the time we had proved to him that the enemy were really driven out, and that we had possession of the mosque, he recovered his wits a little, and managed, after hearing our promise to throw him to the mob outside unless he discovered a means of escape for us, to cudgel his brains and announce that he knew of one.

No sooner did we hear this, than we resolved to profit by it. The mob outside was growing every moment more impatient, and from the clang of steel-shod rifle butts on the stone steps we came to the conclusion that the services of a force of soldiery had been called in. The situation was critical, and twice imperious demands were made upon us to open the door. But, as may be supposed, this we did not feel inclined to do.

“Now, for your way out,” I said, taking our trembling guide, whose face seemed to blanch whiter and whiter with every knock upon the door, by the shoulders, and giving him a preliminary shake. “Mind what you’re about, and remember, if you lead us into any trap, I’ll wring your miserable neck, assure as you’re alive. Go ahead.”

Collecting our boots and shoes, which, throughout the tumult, had been lying scattered about upon the floor, we passed into the ante-room, and put them on. Then creeping softly out by another door, we reached a small courtyard in the rear, surrounded on all sides by high walls. Our way, so our guide informed us, lay over one of these. But how we were to surmount them was a puzzle, for the lowest scaling place was at least twelve feet high. However, the business had to be done, and, what was more to the point, done quickly.

Calling the strongest of the tourists, who were by this time all quite sober, to my side, I bade him stoop down as if he were playing leap-frog; then, mounting his back myself, I stood upright, and stretched my arms above my head. To my delight my fingers reached to within a few inches of the top of the wall.

“Stand as steady as you can,” I whispered, “for I’m going to jump.”

I did so, and clutched the edge. When I had pulled myself to the top I was so completely exhausted as to be unable to do anything for more than a minute. Then I whispered to another man to climb upon the first man’s back, and stretch his hands up to mine. He did so, and I pulled him up beside me. The guide came next, then the other tourist, then Lord Beckenham. After which I took off and lowered my coat to the man who had stood for us all, and having done so, took a firm grip of the wall with my legs, and dragged him up as I had done the others. It had been a longer business than I liked, and every moment, while we were about it, I expected to hear the cries of the mob inside the mosque, and to find them pouring into the yard to prevent our escape. The bolts on the door, however, must have possessed greater strength than we gave them credit for. At any rate, they did not give way.

When we were all safely on the wall, I asked the guide in which direction we should now proceed; he pointed to the adjoining roofs, and in Indian file, and with the stealthiness of cats, we accordingly crept across them.

The third house surmounted, we found ourselves overlooking a narrow alley, into which we first peered carefully, and, having discovered that no one was about, eventually dropped.

“Now,” said the guide, as soon as we were down, “we must run along here, and turn to the left.”

We did so, to find ourselves in a broader street, which eventually brought us out into the thoroughfare through which we had passed to reach the mosque.

Having got our bearings now, we headed for the harbour, or at least for that part of the town with which I was best acquainted, as fast as our legs would carry us. But, startling as they had been, we had not yet done with adventures for the night.

Once in the security of the gaslit streets, we said good-bye to the men who had got us into all the trouble, and having come to terms with our guide, packed him off and proceeded upon our way alone.

Five minutes later the streaming lights of an open doorway brought us to a standstill, and one glance told us we were looking into the Casino. The noise of the roulette tables greeted our ears, and as we had still plenty of time, and my companion was not tired, I thought it a good opportunity to show him another phase of the seamy side of life.

But before I say anything about that I must chronicle a curious circumstance. As we were entering the building, something made me look round. To my intense astonishment I saw, or believed I saw, Dr. Nikola standing in the street, regarding me. Bidding my companion remain where he was for a moment, I dashed out again and ran towards the place where I had seen the figure. But I was too late. If it were Dr. Nikola, he had vanished as suddenly as he had come. I hunted here, there, and everywhere, in doorways, under verandahs, and down lanes, but it was no use, not a trace of him could I discover. So abandoning my search, I returned to the Casino. Beckenham was waiting for me, and together we entered the building.

The room was packed, and consequently all the tables were crowded, but as we did not intend playing, this was a matter of small concern to us. We were more interested in the players than the game. And, indeed, the expressions on the faces around us were extraordinary. The effect on the young man by my side was peculiar. He looked from face to face, as if he were observing the peculiarities of some strange animals. I watched him, and then I saw his expression suddenly change.

Following the direction of his eyes, I observed a young man putting down his stake upon the board. His face was hidden from me, but by taking a step to the right I could command it. It was none other than the young cripple who had represented his parents to be in such poverty-stricken circumstances; the same young man whom Beckenham had assisted so generously only two hours before. As we looked, he staked his last coin, and that being lost, turned to leave the building. To do this, it was necessary that he should pass close by where we stood. Then his eyes met those of his benefactor, and with a look of what might almost have been shame upon his face, he slunk down the steps and from the building.

“Come, let us get out of this place,” cried my companion impatiently, “I believe I should go mad if I stayed here long.”

Thereupon we passed out into the street, and without further ado proceeded in the direction in which I imagined the Saratoga to lie. A youth requested, in broken English, to be permitted the honour of piloting us, but feeling confident of being able to find my way I declined his services. For fully a quarter of an hour we plodded on, until I began to wonder why the harbour did not heave in sight. It was a queer part of the town we found ourselves in; the houses were perceptibly meaner and the streets narrower. At last I felt bound to confess that I was out of my reckoning, and did not know where we were.

“What are we to do?” asked my lord, looking at his watch. “It’s twenty minutes to eleven, and I promised Mr. Baxter I would not be later than the hour.”

“What an idiot I was not to take that guide!”

The words were hardly out of my mouth before that personage appeared round the corner and came towards us. I hailed his coming with too much delight to notice the expression of malignant satisfaction on his face, and gave him the name of the vessel we desired to find. He appeared to understand, and the next moment we were marching off in an exactly contrary direction.

We must have walked for at least ten minutes without speaking a word.

From one small and dirty street we turned into another and broader one. By this time not a soul was to be seen, only a vagrant dog or two lying asleep in the road. In this portion of the town gas lamps were at a discount, consequently more than half the streets lay in deep shadow. Our guide walked ahead, we followed half-a-dozen paces or so behind him. I remember noticing a Greek cognomen upon a sign board, and recalling a similar name in Thursday Island, when something very much resembling a thin cord touched my nose and fell over my chin. Before I could put my hand up to it it had begun to tighten round my throat. Just at the same moment I heard my companion utter a sharp cry, and after that I remember no more.