Roy was on his feet like a flash, for he too had caught the thud of horses’ hoofs and the jingle of stirrups. For a moment the two stood, side by side, behind the trunk of the live oak, peering out over the sunbaked plain. Across it a patrol of cavalry, smart in a gray-blue uniform, were cantering sharply.
‘They’re making straight for the wood,’ said Ken quickly. ’They must be after us. Come!’
They both set off at a run, dodging and ducking under the low-growing trees. For a moment they thought they were unobserved, but next instant a shout rudely shattered that illusion. They scurried on as hard as they could go, but the wood was so open and the trees so far apart that it gave mighty little shelter. The patrol had broken into a gallop. The thud of the horses’ hoofs grew nearer every moment.
‘That thicket over there,’ panted Ken breathlessly. ’We’ll dodge them yet if we can reach it.’
But between them and it was a good hundred yards of almost open ground, and the leader of the patrol saw their manoeuvre, and shouted an order. His men split out fan-wise and before Ken and Roy were half way across the open, came a thunder of hoofs, and half a dozen of the troopers came galloping upon them from the left.
Ken flung up his captured rifle, and fired slap at the first. The bullet caught the horse between the eyes and down he came with a crash, flinging his rider far over his head.
But the next was too close to dodge. Ken caught the flash of sun on a lancehead bearing straight down upon him. He sprang aside, the lancehead missed him by inches, then the shoulder of the horse caught him with stunning force and hurled him to the ground.
Before he could pick himself up, three of the troopers were off their horses, and had flung themselves upon him. He was hauled roughly to his feet, his rifle snatched from his hand, and his cartridge-pouch torn away. A few yards away, Roy, his face bleeding, was the centre of another group who were disarming him in spite of his struggles.
Ken glanced at his captors. He saw that they were Turkish constabulary, and his heart sank. These men, trained by Germans, paid by them, and soaked in their brutal tenets, were among the small minority of Turks who had really come to share the German hatred of the British.
They glared fiercely at their prisoners.
‘British swine!’ growled one, and spat in contempt.
‘They are spies,’ said another. ’We find them three miles behind our lines. Why do we waste time taking them prisoners? Let us hang them and be done with them.’
‘Why not let them run and ride them down?’ suggested another. ’Sticking with a lance is a fit fate for hogs.’
But the sergeant, a tall, swarthy faced man with a pair of fierce black eyes, pushed his way forward.