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the question. The place was propitious; there was water, a few shrubs, and two or three scanty palms afforded a dubious shade; so the proposition was unanimously carried. "We will breakfast upon it," said the captain; "and since Akbar and Yussuf cannot agree as to which is the road to the Golden River, we will return to Saida."
"In Europe all roads lead to Paris," interrupted Gilbrac, "so in the desert all roads must lead to the Golden River. It is a most pleasant place this desert; no elbowing as on our pavements, no being splashed or run over as on the Boulevard des Italiens. And what a sun! This, at least, is a genuine sun that understands its business, and lets you know what it is about. Ah! Beni Parisians, is not this a magnificent scene ? I will tell you what it is; my Gilbraille and my monkey shall tell me the road, and we won't go back disgraced like chasseurs of the Rue St. Martin returning from the plain of St. Denis."
No sooner said than done, Gilbrac mounted his long-limbed Nubian ass, and, pushing him forward, soon disappeared from view. Very shortly afterwards the discharge of a musket was heard, followed by other shots. The captain and Gouët vaulted on their horses, Akbar and Yussuf fol lowed. Evelin and Fabre remained to take care of Jenny. It was in vain that the party advanced among the rocks; no Gilbrac and no predatory Arabs, neither Gilbraille nor "jackals," were to be seen. They had got some distance from the spring when they heard shouts in their rear. The truth suddenly flashed upon them. They had been duped into an advance by shots in front, whilst the "jackals" themselves had turned the rocks, and got into the rear to carry off Jenny and the baggage. The captain and Gouët hurried back, anxiety and anger fighting for mastery in their bosoms. They could hear that the shots were answered, and the braying of Gilbraille was audible over and above all. At length they gained the level bathed in perspiration, and breathless with anxiety. Jenny was retreating in the distance on her dromedary, Evelin and Fabre were screening her from six Arabs. Gilbrac and Gilbraille were pursuing the Arabs.
"Poor Gil is not killed!" said the captain, as his breast filled with hope when his eyes first took in the position of things. And the four pushed on to the aid of the gallant little fellow.
There was Jenny in front, Evelin and Fabre behind, then the six Arabs, next Gilbrac and Gilbraille, and finally the captain and his friend, with the Abyssinian and the Berber all on a line, pushing their steeds to their utmost across the immense plain. It was a race, at once picturesque and earnest. The sky was clear, the atmosphere on fire, and the stirring scene was only here and there interrupted by little clouds of dust stirred up by the galloping steeds.
Three of the Arabs had made a descent upon the baggage left behind in protecting Jenny's flight, but Gilbrac had succeeded in beating them off, armed with a colossal spoon, and then helping himself to a flask of cyprus to celebrate his victory, he had launched forth in pursuit of the "jackals." Jenny's dromedary had in the mean time been hit in the leg and lamed, and flight became no longer possible. Evelin and Fabre placed themselves between her and the Arabs, pistol and sword in hand. For greater security, Fabre took the young girl on his horse, whilst Evelin, surrounded by the "jackals," would have inevitably succumbed
but for Gilbrac, who came up at the opportune moment. The ranks of the assailants had been, however, augmented at the same time by those driven from the baggage, and the fight continued unequal till the captain and his followers came up. The Arabs, however, did not wait till this had taken place, but fled on the approach of succour. Gilbrac thus remained, in reality, master of the field, and, brandishing his huge spoon in triumph, he shouted rather than sang:
"Pyramides, saluez! Gloire! gloire! gloire !
Faites silence, Marengo!
Moi, je remporte la victoire
Avec une cuiller à pot!"
Which distich finished, he saluted the captain on his approach by lowering his spoon.
Men and horses were all knocked up. Such a gallop and such a skirmish in a mid-day African sun was enough to broil anything living. Even Gilbrac, so lately the admirer of the desert, declared that the sun was as clever as a photographer in giving people the countenances of a negro. Yussuf came to the help at this conjuncture by declaring that there was a shady, if not a cool, grotto at two gun-shot's distance. was unanimously resolved at once to repair to it.
Gilbrac led the way, singing as usual. The grotto was spacious, but perfectly dark, and the entrance was encumbered with large rocks. Akbar had been despatched to bring up the baggage, and the Gascon was filling the vaulted hollow with his jocund voice, when a sound like the mewing of an angry cat came forth from the depths of the cavern.
"We are not alone here," observed the captain; "we must light up the darkness." And so saying he twisted an old newspaper and lit it as
a torch. But he had not advanced far down the cave when a host of terrified bats flying past put it out.
Gilbrac, in the mean time, was pursuing his topographical investigation on all fours, when he was suddenly heard to exclaim: "Help! Murder! Here is a strange country! A doctor eating up a solicitor! Caramba! why you will poison yourself!"
A gleam of light at the same moment enabled the captain to see a pup panther devouring a serpent, whilst close by another was playing with a skull. At the same moment the voice of Yussuf announced the approach of the father at the mouth of the cave. Every one rushed to his arms. "There is no time!" exclaimed the captain. "All to the stone at the mouth! Gilbrac, Evelin, Fabre, Gouët, and Yussuf at once obeyed the summons. A moment more and the panther would have been in among them. The rock, tilted up by their united efforts, was rolled to the mouth of the cavern, and the panther bounded against it in vain. There remained a vacant space above, from which it could be seen bounding to and fro in angry impatience, whilst it filled the desert with its roar.
"Bah!" said Gilbrac, "he does not seem to approve of the reception given to him." Within, the dromedary, Gilbraille, and the monkey, all began to make various noises, that added to the tumult. Gilbrae added to the confusion by his lyrical effusions.
"Don Gil," said the captain, "will die singing."
"My mother says I sang a week before I was born," observed the Gascon; "I dare say I shall sing a fortnight after my decease." And
then he went on laughing alternately at the horses, the dromedary, the panther, the cubs-that replied by their mewings to the roar withoutand, then at the donkey, whose bray, he said, was alone wanting to complete the concert.
At length the guns were found, but only one went off. It broke the leg of the panther, which responded by a new assault upon the stone, in which it was now joined by the female. To add to the difficulties of the position, the powder-flask could not be found.
"Well, no one can come and carry us off," observed Gilbrac; at least sleep here in peace."
"We shall all die of hunger," said the captain. "Better attack the panthers with our swords."
"What!" said Gilbrac, "have I been fattening myself for twenty years merely to feed an anthropophagous panther? I appeal to all the gourmets, if your proposition has any sense in it." Then seeing that the female panther had laid down on the sand, weary of its repeated efforts to displace the stone, he apostrophised it: "Come, that is sensible; take a little rest. Garçon, une glace à la vanille pour madame! Suppose we rest ourselves too a little." But at that very moment the panther made a supreme effort, and directing all its energies to the opening above, it got its head through, while it shook the rock with its claws. The captain, Evelin, and Gouët, who were resisting with their backs like caryatides, called for their swords, but neither Fabre nor Yussuf answered. Gilbrac alone rushed forward, and putting his hat over the panther's mouth, he knocked it with his fist over its eyes and head, till, discomfited by so strange an attack, it bolted back.
My hat!" exclaimed Gilbrac; "the beast has taken away my hat!" At this moment a shot was heard, and the panther rolled in the dust. It was Akbar who had come up to the rescue.
"Jenny, Jenny!" exclaimed the captain, "we are saved!" But Jenny did not answer. Yussuf had carried away the gazelle during the struggle against the panthers by another opening that existed in the grotto, the knowledge of which he had reserved to himself. It was he also who had removed the powder and swords, so that they might have no means of defence.
"Follow me!" said Akbar; "and were the desert as boundless as the ocean, we will find the traitor. God is just! but the chief of the French does not know the truth when it is spoken to him. I told him that the serpent loved the gazelle, but he believed the serpent."
Had the thunder burst at their feet, or the mountain been cleft in twain, the stupor of all present could not have been greater than it was. The abduction was a thing so monstrous that they could not realise it. Gilbrac forgot for a moment his lyrical quotations. Evelin was the first to act casting the stone aside, he rushed out of the cave. Luckily the male panther was disabled, and Akbar gave it the coup de grace.
The Berber, when he ran away with Jenny, had had the precaution to lead off the dromedary too, so that they might, although the animal was lamed, now be fairly concluded to be at some distance. The horses were rapidly assembled; nothing remained but the chance of superior speed. Akbar, who declared that everything that had happened was by the will of God, and what He did was good, and that the best of men was a wel]
of iniquity, opined that Yussuf would make for the Smoking Mountain, a distance of some eight days' journey. This was the complement of a day's pleasure-excursion in the desert! It was now three o'clock in the afternoon. Ever since they had left Saida, except the brief moments devoted at the spring for breaking fast, neither they nor their horses had had any rest. The Arabs had plundered their provisions. They had only a few dates, figs, a little brandy, coffee, and rice. Their strength was exhausted by the long siege sustained against the panthers. The hopes of rescuing Jenny alone upheld them.
Gilbrac had cut a gourd in half for a head-piece, and, rolling his kerchief round it, he extemporised a turban, but he did not sing. It was in silence then that the caravan of Parisians, deprived of its brightest ornament, once more advanced into the desert. Akbar led the way.
The Abyssinian went at a round trot, looking out in every direction for traces of the dromedary. The Frenchmen followed without exchanging a word. Rock and bushes, and the occasional grave of a wayfarer, were passed amid heat and dust without an observation. They seemed themselves like shadows passing over these vast and arid solitudes.
Suddenly Evelin, drawing his sword, rushed at a bush, exclaiming, "Yussuf! stop, wretch! stop!" and then he seemed to fight with the air. The course of the steeds were stayed. Fatigue, anxiety, and the heat of the sun had been too much for the young man; but the captain, taking him by the hand, said a few kind words to him, assured him that Jenny would be recovered, and he gradually regained his composure. The frightful state of suspense they were all in was found, however, to be rendered only more agonising by silence. Gilbrac was invited to intone a few of his favourite distiches, and conversation was encouraged, but the attempts to be cheerful were very lugubrious. "I feel," said Gilbrac, on attempting a couplet from Béranger, "as if I had swallowed a lot of peach stones without having masticated them."
The increased distinctness of the tracks of the purloined dromedary cheered up the pursuers for a moment. Gilbrac declared that the dark Abyssinian must have the clairvoyance of a Parisian somnambulist to detect from his horseback that which he could only discern at the extremity of his nose.
"Courage!" replied Akbar. "Before the sun shall have once more gone round, the serpent's head shall be crushed, and the gazelle delivered. But, by the anger of the Prophet, what is this?" he exclaimed, looking towards a black point on the desert horizon. "The Simun! Cast yourselves on the ground, or we are all lost."
The sun, seen through
The atmosphere was still, and at a red heat. the storm, seemed like a globe of fused metal, which, as the whirlwind came nearer, became more and more obscure. A few moments more and the stifling stillness was supplanted by a resistless hurricane. The terrified horses broke from their halters, and were swept across the desert. Gilbrac had the imprudence to rise up and start in the pursuit of his inseparable Gilbraille, who had gone with the rest. He had just reached his longeared friend, and mounted it, when the hurricane became a cataract, and both were lifted up like dry leaves, and disappeared in the cloud of dust. When the hurricane had passed over, and the others attempted to rise, they found their limbs stiff and numb, with a feeling of having been
exposed to severe electric shots. They were also partly buried in sand, and Evelin, who had lain in a hollow, was completely so-so much so that fears were entertained that he was suffocated.
Evening was coming on, when they were once more on their legs. They had no longer any horses. The tracks of the dromedary had been effaced by the simun. Gilbrac and Gilbraille were nowhere to be seen. Akbar deemed that it would be wise, under the circumstances, not to proceed further.
"The sun that is about to set to-night," he remarked, "will reascend towards heaven in the morning. The serpent will have been caught by the simun, and to-morrow he is in our toils."
It was a melancholy attempt at rest made by that party, a few hours ago so happy and indifferent. Evelin was raving, and at times his delirium assumed a violent and then a fantastic form. He would rise and rush in furious pursuit, and then dance with maniac joy at his imaginary success. The night was calm and clear, the silver light of the moon was reflected in lines of white over the sandy plains. But fever, anxiety, and anguish prevented their closing their eyes. The roar of the lion and the cry of the jackal returning to their dens announced the dawn, and they rose up, numbed and stiff, as after the passing over of the simun. The gallant Breton did his best to cheer them on, and a sense of duty, added to the strongest impulses that ever moved men to action, did the remainder. But it was as melancholy a start as some of those may be imagined to have been which preceded the last journeyings of the survivors of the Erebus and Terror. Evelin was so exhausted by his delirious energy that he had to be supported. They moved on at first in the direction in which the hurricane had carried away Gilbrac and his donkey. The captain tried to make light of it. "The rascal," he said, "he has gone on before us." But none could forbear believing that he and his pet quadruped were entombed in the sands of the desert.
After some hours painful marching they arrived at the foot of a range of rocky hills, where they divided into parties in search of water, from the want of which their physical sufferings had attained a point that almost exceeded their mental anguish. Gouët and Fabre had advanced into a hopeful ravine, when suddenly they heard a voice singing:
"Vérité, vois quelle peine
N'ai-je pas à crier ma plainte vaine,
"Gilbrac!" they both exclaimed, as they bounded forward; and true enough there was the worthy Gascon, who, in his anxiety to obtain water, had fallen into a well, whilst Gilbraille remained browsing upon the leafless twigs that grew around its mouth, calmly contemplating at the same time his helpless master below. Needless to say that Gilbrac was speedily extricated from his unpleasant position, and the same means used to pull him out were also put in force to obtain a supply of cool and pleasant water. The first thing the liberated Gascon did was to embrace his donkey. "Ah! Gilbraille, my friend, my companion," he said, "you, at least, would not leave me in my distress-you have the heart of a donkey,