Armand Jacot of the Foreign Legion sat upon an outspread saddle
blanket at the foot of a stunted palm tree. His broad shoulders and
his close-cropped head rested in luxurious ease against the rough
bole of the palm. His long legs were stretched straight before him
overlapping the meager blanket, his spurs buried in the sandy soil of
the little desert oasis. The captain was taking his ease after a long
day of weary riding across the shifting sands of the desert.
he puffed upon his cigarette and watched his orderly who was
preparing his evening meal. Captain Armand Jacot was well satisfied
with himself and the world. A little to his right rose the noisy
activity of his troop of sun-tanned veterans, released for the time
from the irksome trammels of discipline, relaxing tired muscles,
laughing, joking, and smoking as they, too, prepared to eat after a
twelve-hour fast. Among them, silent and taciturn, squatted five
white-robed Arabs, securely bound and under heavy guard.
was the sight of these that filled Captain Armand Jacot with the
pleasurable satisfaction of a duty well-performed. For a long, hot,
gaunt month he and his little troop had scoured the places of the
desert waste in search of a band of marauders to the sin-stained
account of which were charged innumerable thefts of camels, horses,
and goats, as well as murders enough to have sent the whole unsavory
gang to the guillotine several times over.
week before, he had come upon them. In the ensuing battle he had lost
two of his own men, but the punishment inflicted upon the marauders
had been severe almost to extinction. A half dozen, perhaps, had
escaped; but the balance, with the exception of the five prisoners,
had expiated their crimes before the nickel jacketed bullets of the
legionaries. And, best of all, the ring leader, Achmet ben Houdin,
was among the prisoners.
the prisoners Captain Jacot permitted his mind to traverse the
remaining miles of sand to the little garrison post where, upon the
morrow, he should find awaiting him with eager welcome his wife and
little daughter. His eyes softened to the memory of them, as they
always did. Even now he could see the beauty of the mother reflected
in the childish lines of little Jeanne's face, and both those faces
would be smiling up into his as he swung from his tired mount late
the following afternoon. Already he could feel a soft cheek pressed
close to each of his — velvet against leather.
reverie was broken in upon by the voice of a sentry summoning a
non-commissioned officer. Captain Jacot raised his eyes. The sun had
not yet set; but the shadows of the few trees huddled about the water
hole and of his men and their horses stretched far away into the east
across the now golden sand. The sentry was pointing in this
direction, and the corporal, through narrowed lids, was searching the
distance. Captain Jacot rose to his feet. He was not a man content to
see through the eyes of others. He must see for himself. Usually he
saw things long before others were aware that there was anything to
see — a trait that had won for him the sobriquet of Hawk. Now he
saw, just beyond the long shadows, a dozen specks rising and falling
among the sands. They disappeared and reappeared, but always they
grew larger. Jacot recognized them immediately. They were horsemen —
horsemen of the desert. Already a sergeant was running toward him.
The entire camp was straining its eyes into the distance. Jacot gave
a few terse orders to the sergeant who saluted, turned upon his heel
and returned to the men. Here he gathered a dozen who saddled their
horses, mounted and rode out to meet the strangers. The remaining men
disposed themselves in readiness for instant action. It was not
entirely beyond the range of possibilities that the horsemen riding
thus swiftly toward the camp might be friends of the prisoners bent
upon the release of their kinsmen by a sudden attack. Jacot doubted
this, however, since the strangers were evidently making no attempt
to conceal their presence. They were galloping rapidly toward the
camp in plain view of all. There might be treachery lurking beneath
their fair appearance; but none who knew The Hawk would be so
gullible as to hope to trap him thus.
sergeant with his detail met the Arabs two hundred yards from the
camp. Jacot could see him in conversation with a tall, white-robed
figure — evidently the leader of the band. Presently the sergeant
and this Arab rode side by side toward camp. Jacot awaited them. The
two reined in and dismounted before him.
Amor ben Khatour," announced the sergeant by way of
Jacot eyed the newcomer. He was acquainted with nearly every
principal Arab within a radius of several hundred miles. This man he
never had seen. He was a tall, weather beaten, sour looking man of
sixty or more. His eyes were narrow and evil. Captain Jacot did not
relish his appearance.
he asked, tentatively.
Arab came directly to the point.
ben Houdin is my sister's son," he said. "If you will give
him into my keeping I will see that he sins no more against the laws
of the French."
shook his head. "That cannot be," he replied. "I must
take him back with me. He will be properly and fairly tried by a
civil court. If he is innocent he will be released."
if he is not innocent?" asked the Arab.
is charged with many murders. For any one of these, if he is proved
guilty, he will have to die."
Arab's left hand was hidden beneath his burnous. Now he withdrew it
disclosing a large goatskin purse, bulging and heavy with coins. He
opened the mouth of the purse and let a handful of the contents
trickle into the palm of his right hand — all were pieces of good
French gold. From the size of the purse and its bulging proportions
Captain Jacot concluded that it must contain a small fortune. Sheik
Amor ben Khatour dropped the spilled gold pieces one by one back into
the purse. Jacot was eyeing him narrowly. They were alone. The
sergeant, having introduced the visitor, had withdrawn to some little
distance — his back was toward them. Now the sheik, having returned
all the gold pieces, held the bulging purse outward upon his open
palm toward Captain Jacot.
ben Houdin, my sister's son, MIGHT escape tonight," he said.
Armand Jacot flushed to the roots of his close-cropped hair. Then he
went very white and took a half-step toward the Arab. His fists were
clenched. Suddenly he thought better of whatever impulse was moving
he called. The non-commissioned officer hurried toward him, saluting
as his heels clicked together before his superior.
this black dog back to his people," he ordered. "See that
they leave at once. Shoot the first man who comes within range of
Amor ben Khatour drew himself up to his full height. His evil eyes
narrowed. He raised the bag of gold level with the eyes of the French
will pay more than this for the life of Achmet ben Houdin, my
sister's son," he said. "And as much again for the name
that you have called me and a hundred fold in sorrow in the bargain."
out of here!" growled Captain Armand Jacot, "before I kick
of this happened some three years before the opening of this tale.
The trail of Achmet ben Houdin and his accomplices is a matter of
record — you may verify it if you care to. He met the death he
deserved, and he met it with the stoicism of the Arab.
month later little Jeanne Jacot, the seven-year-old daughter of
Captain Armand Jacot, mysteriously disappeared. Neither the wealth of
her father and mother, or all the powerful resources of the great
republic were able to wrest the secret of her whereabouts from the
inscrutable desert that had swallowed her and her abductor.
reward of such enormous proportions was offered that many adventurers
were attracted to the hunt. This was no case for the modern detective
of civilization, yet several of these threw themselves into the
search — the bones of some are already bleaching beneath the
African sun upon the silent sands of the Sahara.
Swedes, Carl Jenssen and Sven Malbihn, after three years of following
false leads at last gave up the search far to the south of the Sahara
to turn their attention to the more profitable business of ivory
poaching. In a great district they were already known for their
relentless cruelty and their greed for ivory. The natives feared and
hated them. The European governments in whose possessions they worked
had long sought them; but, working their way slowly out of the north
they had learned many things in the no-man's-land south of the Sahara
which gave them immunity from capture through easy avenues of escape
that were unknown to those who pursued them. Their raids were sudden
and swift. They seized ivory and retreated into the trackless wastes
of the north before the guardians of the territory they raped could
be made aware of their presence. Relentlessly they slaughtered
elephants themselves as well as stealing ivory from the natives.
Their following consisted of a hundred or more renegade Arabs and
Negro slaves — a fierce, relentless band of cut-throats. Remember
them — Carl Jenssen and Sven Malbihn, yellow-bearded, Swedish
giants — for you will meet them later.
the heart of the jungle, hidden away upon the banks of a small
unexplored tributary of a large river that empties into the Atlantic
not so far from the equator, lay a small, heavily palisaded village.
Twenty palm-thatched, beehive huts sheltered its black population,
while a half-dozen goat skin tents in the center of the clearing
housed the score of Arabs who found shelter here while, by trading
and raiding, they collected the cargoes which their ships of the
desert bore northward twice each year to the market of Timbuktu.
before one of the Arab tents was a little girl of ten — a
black-haired, black-eyed little girl who, with her nut-brown skin and
graceful carriage looked every inch a daughter of the desert. Her
little fingers were busily engaged in fashioning a skirt of grasses
for a much-disheveled doll which a kindly disposed slave had made for
her a year or two before. The head of the doll was rudely chipped
from ivory, while the body was a rat skin stuffed with grass. The
arms and legs were bits of wood, perforated at one end and sewn to
the rat skin torso. The doll was quite hideous and altogether
disreputable and soiled, but Meriem thought it the most beautiful and
adorable thing in the whole world, which is not so strange in view of
the fact that it was the only object within that world upon which she
might bestow her confidence and her love.
else with whom Meriem came in contact was, almost without exception,
either indifferent to her or cruel. There was, for example, the old
black hag who looked after her, Mabunu — toothless, filthy and ill
tempered. She lost no opportunity to cuff the little girl, or even
inflict minor tortures upon her, such as pinching, or, as she had
twice done, searing the tender flesh with hot coals. And there was
The Sheik, her father. She feared him more than she did Mabunu. He
often scolded her for nothing, quite habitually terminating his
tirades by cruelly beating her, until her little body was black and
when she was alone she was happy, playing with Geeka, or decking her
hair with wild flowers, or making ropes of grasses. She was always
busy and always singing — when they left her alone. No amount of
cruelty appeared sufficient to crush the innate happiness and
sweetness from her full little heart. Only when The Sheik was near
was she quiet and subdued. Him she feared with a fear that was at
times almost hysterical terror. She feared the gloomy jungle too —
the cruel jungle that surrounded the little village with chattering
monkeys and screaming birds by day and the roaring and coughing and
moaning of the carnivora by night. Yes, she feared the jungle; but so
much more did she fear The Sheik that many times it was in her
childish head to run away, out into the terrible jungle forever
rather than longer to face the ever present terror of her father.
she sat there this day before The Sheik's goatskin tent, fashioning a
skirt of grasses for Geeka, The Sheik appeared suddenly approaching.
Instantly the look of happiness faded from the child's face. She
shrunk aside in an attempt to scramble from the path of the
leathern-faced old Arab; but she was not quick enough. With a brutal
kick the man sent her sprawling upon her face, where she lay quite
still, tearless but trembling. Then, with an oath at her, the man
passed into the tent. The old, black hag shook with appreciative
laughter, disclosing an occasional and lonesome yellow fang.
she was sure The Sheik had gone, the little girl crawled to the shady
side of the tent, where she lay quite still, hugging Geeka close to
her breast, her little form racked at long intervals with choking
sobs. She dared not cry aloud, since that would have brought The
Sheik upon her again. The anguish in her little heart was not alone
the anguish of physical pain; but that infinitely more pathetic
anguish — of love denied a childish heart that yearns for love.
Meriem could scarce recall any other existence than that of the stern
cruelty of The Sheik and Mabunu. Dimly, in the back of her childish
memory there lurked a blurred recollection of a gentle mother; but
Meriem was not sure but that even this was but a dream picture
induced by her own desire for the caresses she never received, but
which she lavished upon the much loved Geeka. Never was such a
spoiled child as Geeka. Its little mother, far from fashioning her
own conduct after the example set her by her father and nurse, went
to the extreme of indulgence. Geeka was kissed a thousand times a
day. There was play in which Geeka was naughty; but the little mother
never punished. Instead, she caressed and fondled; her attitude
influenced solely by her own pathetic desire for love.
as she pressed Geeka close to her, her sobs lessened gradually, until
she was able to control her voice, and pour out her misery into the
ivory ear of her only confidante.
loves Meriem," she whispered. "Why does The Sheik, my
father, not love me, too? Am I so naughty? I try to be good; but I
never know why he strikes me, so I cannot tell what I have done which
displeases him. Just now he kicked me and hurt me so, Geeka; but I
was only sitting before the tent making a skirt for you. That must be
wicked, or he would not have kicked me for it. But why is it wicked,
Geeka? Oh dear! I do not know, I do not know. I wish, Geeka, that I
were dead. Yesterday the hunters brought in the body of El Adrea. El
Adrea was quite dead. No more will he slink silently upon his
unsuspecting prey. No more will his great head and his maned
shoulders strike terror to the hearts of the grass eaters at the
drinking ford by night. No more will his thundering roar shake the
ground. El Adrea is dead. They beat his body terribly when it was
brought into the village; but El Adrea did not mind. He did not feel
the blows, for he was dead. When I am dead, Geeka, neither shall I
feel the blows of Mabunu, or the kicks of The Sheik, my father. Then
shall I be happy. Oh, Geeka, how I wish that I were dead!"
Geeka contemplated a remonstrance it was cut short by sounds of
altercation beyond the village gates. Meriem listened. With the
curiosity of childhood she would have liked to have run down there
and learn what it was that caused the men to talk so loudly. Others
of the village were already trooping in the direction of the noise.
But Meriem did not dare. The Sheik would be there, doubtless, and if
he saw her it would be but another opportunity to abuse her, so
Meriem lay still and listened.
she heard the crowd moving up the street toward The Sheik's tent.
Cautiously she stuck her little head around the edge of the tent. She
could not resist the temptation, for the sameness of the village life
was monotonous, and she craved diversion. What she saw was two
strangers — white men. They were alone, but as they approached she
learned from the talk of the natives that surrounded them that they
possessed a considerable following that was camped outside the
village. They were coming to palaver with The Sheik.
old Arab met them at the entrance to his tent. His eyes narrowed
wickedly when they had appraised the newcomers. They stopped before
him, exchanging greetings. They had come to trade for ivory they
said. The Sheik grunted. He had no ivory. Meriem gasped. She knew
that in a near-by hut the great tusks were piled almost to the roof.
She poked her little head further forward to get a better view of the
strangers. How white their skins! How yellow their great beards!
one of them turned his eyes in her direction. She tried to dodge back
out of sight, for she feared all men; but he saw her. Meriem noticed
the look of almost shocked surprise that crossed his face. The Sheik
saw it too, and guessed the cause of it.
have no ivory," he repeated. "I do not wish to trade. Go
away. Go now."
stepped from his tent and almost pushed the strangers about in the
direction of the gates. They demurred, and then The Sheik threatened.
It would have been suicide to have disobeyed, so the two men turned
and left the village, making their way immediately to their own camp.
Sheik returned to his tent; but he did not enter it. Instead he
walked to the side where little Meriem lay close to the goat skin
wall, very frightened. The Sheik stooped and clutched her by the arm.
Viciously he jerked her to her feet, dragged her to the entrance of
the tent, and shoved her viciously within. Following her he again
seized her, beating her ruthlessly.
within!" he growled. "Never let the strangers see thy face.
Next time you show yourself to strangers I shall kill you!"
a final vicious cuff he knocked the child into a far corner of the
tent, where she lay stifling her moans, while The Sheik paced to and
fro muttering to himself. At the entrance sat Mabunu, muttering and
the camp of the strangers one was speaking rapidly to the other.
is no doubt of it, Malbihn," he was saying. "Not the
slightest; but why the old scoundrel hasn't claimed the reward long
since is what puzzles me."
are some things dearer to an Arab, Jenssen, than money,"
returned the first speaker — "revenge is one of them."
it will not harm to try the power of gold," replied Jenssen.
on The Sheik," he said. "We might try it on one of his
people; but The Sheik will not part with his revenge for gold. To
offer it to him would only confirm his suspicions that we must have
awakened when we were talking to him before his tent. If we got away
with our lives, then, we should be fortunate."
try bribery, then," assented Jenssen.
bribery failed — grewsomely. The tool they selected after a stay of
several days in their camp outside the village was a tall, old
headman of The Sheik's native contingent. He fell to the lure of the
shining metal, for he had lived upon the coast and knew the power of
gold. He promised to bring them what they craved, late that night.
after dark the two white men commenced to make arrangements to break
camp. By midnight all was prepared. The porters lay beside their
loads, ready to swing them aloft at a moment's notice. The armed
askaris loitered between the balance of the safari and the Arab
village, ready to form a rear guard for the retreat that was to begin
the moment that the head man brought that which the white masters
there came the sound of footsteps along the path from the village.
Instantly the askaris and the whites were on the alert. More than a
single man was approaching. Jenssen stepped forward and challenged
the newcomers in a low whisper.
comes?" he queried.
came the reply.
was the name of the traitorous head man. Jenssen was satisfied,
though he wondered why Mbeeda had brought others with him. Presently
he understood. The thing they fetched lay upon a litter borne by two
men. Jenssen cursed beneath his breath. Could the fool be bringing
them a corpse? They had paid for a living prize!
bearers came to a halt before the white men.
has your gold purchased," said one of the two. They set the
litter down, turned and vanished into the darkness toward the
village. Malbihn looked at Jenssen, a crooked smile twisting his
lips. The thing upon the litter was covered with a piece of cloth.
queried the latter. "Raise the covering and see what you have
bought. Much money shall we realize on a corpse — especially after
the six months beneath the burning sun that will be consumed in
carrying it to its destination!"
fool should have known that we desired her alive," grumbled
Malbihn, grasping a corner of the cloth and jerking the cover from
the thing that lay upon the litter.
sight of what lay beneath both men stepped back — involuntary oaths
upon their lips — for there before them lay the dead body of
Mbeeda, the faithless head man.
minutes later the safari of Jenssen and Malbihn was forcing its way
rapidly toward the west, nervous askaris guarding the rear from the
attack they momentarily expected.