He followed a broad and well marked trail along which men and horses, sheep and goats had passed within the week, and with the blindness and ignorance of the city dweller he thought that he was on the spoor of Blake’s safari. Thus it came that he stumbled, exhausted, into the menzil of the slow moving Ibn lad.
Fejjuan, the Galla slave, discovered him and took him at once to the sheik’s beyt where Ibn Jad, with his brother, Tol-log, and several others were squatting in the mukaad sipping coffee.
“By Ullah! What strange creature hast thou captured now, Fejjuan?” demanded the sheik.
“Perhaps a holy man,” replied the black, “for he is very poor and without weapons and very dirty—yes, surely he must be a very holy man.”
“Who art thou?” demanded Ibn Jad.
“I am lost and starving. Give me food,” begged Stimbol.
But neither understood the language of the other.
“Another Nasrany,” said Fahd, contemptuously. “A Frenjy, perhaps.”
“He looks more like one of el-Engleys,” remarked Tollog.
“Perhaps he is from Fransa,” suggested Ibn Jad. “Speak to him that vile tongue, Fahd, which thou didst come by among the soldiers in Algeria.”
“Who are you, stranger?” demanded Fahd, in French.
“I am an American,” replied Stimbol, relieved and delighted to have discovered a medium of communication with the Arabs. “I have been lost in the jungle and I am starving.”
“He is from the New World and he has been lost and is starving,” translated Fahd.
Ibn Jad directed that food be brought, and as the stranger ate they carried on a conversation through Fahd. Stimbol explained that his men had deserted him and that he would pay well to be taken to the coast. The Beduin had no desire to be further hampered by the presence of a weak old man and was inclined to have Stimbol’s throat slit as the easiest solution of the problem, but Fahd, who was impressed by the man’s boastings of his great wealth, saw the possibilities of a large reward or ransom and prevailed upon the sheik to permit Stimbol to remain among them for a time at least, promising to take him into his own beyt and be responsible for him.
“Ibn Jad would have slain you, Nasrany,” said Fahd to Stimbol later, “but Fahd saved you. Remember that when the time comes for distributing the reward and remember, too, that Ibn Jad will be as ready to kill you tomorrow as he was today and that always your life is in the hands of Fahd. What is it worth?”
“I will make you rich,” replied Stimbol.
During the days that followed, Fahd and Stimbol became much better acquainted and with returning strength and a feeling of security Stimbol’s old boastfulness returned. He succeed in impressing the young Beduin with his vast wealth and importance, and so lavish were his promises that Fahd soon commenced to see before him a life of luxury, ease and power; but with growing cupidity and ambition developed an increasing fear that someone might wrest his good fortune from him. Ibn Jad being the most logical and powerful competitor for the favors of the Nasrany, Fahd lost no opportunity to impress upon Stimbol that the sheik was still thirsting for his blood; though, as a matter of fact, Ibn Jad was so little concerned over the affairs of Wilbur Stimbol that he would have forgotten his presence entirely were he not occasionally reminded of it by seeing the man upon the march or about the camps.
One thing, however, that Fahd accomplished was to acquaint Stimbol with the fact that there was dissension and treachery in the ranks of the Beduins and this he determined to use to his own advantage should necessity demand.
And ever, though slowly, the ’Aarab drew closer to the fabled Leopard City of Nimmr, and as they marched Zeyd found opportunity to forward his suit for the hand of Ateja the daughter of Sheik Ibn Jad, while Tollog sought by insinuation to advance the claims of Fahd in the eyes of the Sheik. This he did always and only when Fahd might bear as, in reality, his only wish was to impress upon the young traitor the depth of the latter’s obligation to him. When Tollog should become sheik he would not care who won the hand of Ateja.
But Fahd was not satisfied with the progress that was being made. Jealousy rode him to distraction until he could not look upon Zeyd without thoughts of murder seizing his mind; at last they obsessed him. He schemed continually to rid himself and the world of his more successful rival. He spied upon him and upon Ateja, and at last a plan unfolded itself with opportunity treading upon its heels.
Fahd had noticed that nightly Zeyd absented himself from the gatherings of the men in the mukaad of the sheik’s tent and that when the simple household duties were performed Ateja slipped out into the night. Fahd followed and confirmed what was really too apparent to be dignified by the name of suspicion—Zeyd and Ateja met.
And then one night, Fahd was not at the meeting in the sheik’s beyt. Instead he hid near the tent of Zeyd, and when the latter had left to keep his tryst Fahd crept in and seized the matchlock of his rival. It was already loaded and he had but to prime it with powder. Stealthily he crept by back ways through the camp to where Zeyd awaited his light of love and sneaked up behind him.
At a little distance, sitting in his mukaad with his friends beneath the light of paper lanterns, Ibn Jad the sheik was plainly visible to the two young men standing in the outer darkness. Ateja was still in the women’s quarters.
Fahd, standing behind Zeyd, raised the ancient matchlock to his shoulder and aimed—very carefully he aimed, but not at Zeyd. No, for the cunning of Fahd was as the cunning of the fox. Had Zeyd been murdered naught could ever convince Ateja that Fahd was not the murderer. Fahd knew that, and he was equally sure that Ateja would have naught of the slayer of her lover.
Beyond Zeyd was Ibn Jad, but Fahd was not aiming at Ibn Jad either. At whom was he aiming? No one. Not yet was the time ripe to slay the sheik. First must they have their hands upon the treasure, the secret of which he alone was supposed to hold.
Fahd aimed at one of the am’dan of the sheik’s tent. He aimed with great care and then he pulled the trigger. The prop splintered and broke a foot above the level of Ibn Jad’s head, and simultaneously Fahd threw down the musket and leaped upon the startled Zeyd, at the same time crying loudly for help.
Startled by the shot and the cries, men ran from all directions and with them was the sheik. He found Zeyd being held tightly from behind by Fahd.
“What is the meaning of this?” demanded Ibn Jad.
“By Ullah, Ibn Jad, he would have slain thee!” cried Fahd. “I came upon him just in time, and as he fired I leaped upon his back, else he would have killed you.”
“He lies!” cried Zeyd. “The shot came from behind me. If any fired upon Ibn Jad it was Fahd himself.”
Ateja, wide-eyed, ran to her lover. “Thou didst not do it, Zeyd; tell me that thou didst not do it.”
“As Allah is my God and Mohammed his prophet I did not do it,” swore Zeyd.
“I would not have thought it of him,” said Ibn Jad.
Cunning, Fahd did not mention the matchlock. Shrewdly he guessed that its evidence would be more potent if discovered by another than he, and that it would be discovered he was sure. Nor was he wrong. Tollog found it.
“Here,” he exclaimed, “is the weapon.”
“Let us examine it beneath the light,” said Ibn Jad. “It should dispel our doubts more surely than any lying tongue.”
As the party moved in the direction of the sheik’s beyt Zeyd experienced the relief of one reprieved from death, for he knew that the testimony of the matchlock would exonerate him. It could not be his. He pressed the hand of Ateja, walking at his side.
Beneath the light of the paper lanterns in the mukaad Ibn Jad held the weapon beneath his gaze as, with craning necks, the others pressed about him. A single glance sufficed. With stern visage the sheik raised his eyes.
“It is Zeyd’s,” he said.
Ateja gasped and drew away from her lover.
“I did not do it! It is some trick,” cried Zeyd.
“Take him away!” commanded Ibn Jad. “See that he is tightly bound.”
Ateja rushed to her father and fell upon her knees. “Do not slay him!” she cried. “It could not have been he. I know it was not he.”
“Silence, girl!” commanded the sheik sternly. “Go to thy quarters and remain there!”
They took Zeyd to his own beyt and bound him securely, and in the mukaad of the sheik the elders sat in judgment while from behind the curtains of the women’s quarters, Ateja listened.
“At dawn, then, he shall be shot!” This was the sentence that Ateja heard passed upon her lover.
Behind his greasy thorrib Fahd smiled a crooked smile. In his black house of hair Zeyd struggled with the bonds that held him, for though he had not heard the sentence he was aware of what his fate would be. In the quarters of the hareem of the Sheik Ibn Jad the sheik’s daughter lay sleepless and suffering. Her long lashes were wet with tears but her grief was silent. Wide eyed she waited, listening, and presently her patience was rewarded by the sounds of the deep, regular breathing of Ibn Jad and his wife, Hirfa. They slept.
Ateja stirred. Stealthily she raised the lower edge of the tent cloth beside which lay her sleeping mat and rolled quietly beneath it into the mukaad, now deserted. Groping, she found the matchlock of Zeyd where Ibn Jad had left it. She carried also a bundle wrapped in an old thorrib, the contents of which she had gathered earlier in the evening when Hirfa, occupied with her duties, had been temporarily absent from the women’s quarters.
Ateja emerged from the tent of her father and crept cautiously along the single, irregular street formed by the pitched tents of the ’Aarab until she came to the beyt of Zeyd. For a moment she paused at the opening, listening, then she entered softly on sandalled feet.
But Zeyd, sleepless, struggling with his bonds, heard her. “Who comes?” he damanded.
“S-s-sh!” cautioned the girl. “It is I, Ateja.” She crept to his side.
“Beloved!” he murmured.
Deftly the girl cut the bonds that held his wrists and ankles. “I have brought thee food and thy musket,” she told him. “These and freedom I give thee—the rest thou must do thyself. Thy mare stands tethered with the others. Far is the beled el-Guad, beset with dangers is the way, but night and day will Ateja pray to Allah to guide thee safely. Haste, my loved one!”
Zeyd pressed her tightly to his breast, kissed her and was gone into the night.