John is about to assume an offensive attitude when he recognizes Mustapha Cadi, the guide.
ON TO THE METIDJA MINE
A startled exclamation at his side causes the young doctor to remember that he has a companion. He whirls around and just in time to avert what might have turned out to be a catastrophe, for Monsieur Constans, seeing the figure of an Arab coming toward them, has no other idea than that it is an enemy.
Perhaps the fiery Gaul is somewhat anxious to try his fire-arms. At any rate, when John so suddenly wheels upon him, monsieur is in the act of covering the advancing figure.
John with a sharp cry knocks his leveled weapon up, and calls out:
“It is a friend; my guide, Mustapha Cadi.”
“Diable! I am one fool,” exclaims the Gaul. “I recognize ze man now, and but for you he would be dead. I shall beg his pardon. It was one grand meestake.”
Meanwhile Mustapha has come up.
Doctor John Craig is filled with a new excitement now. In his eyes the coming of this man means much. It is strange that no suspicion enters his head in connection with Mustapha. Even while he is so certain that the driver of the omnibus is in league with their enemies; that the break down is only a part of the grand scheme to obtain possession of the English girl who can pay a big ransom, he has never once connected the Arab guide with the matter.
This is all the more singular because Mustapha Cadi was on the top of the coach at the time of the wreck, and he disappeared with the driver.
It can only be accounted for by the fact that like most keen men John Craig is in the habit of relying upon his judgment in such matters, and there is something about the face of Mustapha that wins his confidence.
Then, again, there are the events of the preceding night. The courier stood by him like a Spartan hero; yes, he can be trusted.
Thus John meets the guide warmly, and a new hope immediately springs into existence, a hope born of confidence.
“What does all this mean, Mustapha Cadi? See, I have brought the agent of the stage line, but when we arrive at the scene of the wreck we find it deserted. What does it mean? Have my friends fallen into the hands of robbers?”
Mustapha immediately nods his head.
“It is so, monsieur.”
“Who are they?”
“Arabs, Kabyles, Moors—all who hate the Franks, yet love money more. They are under a desperate leader, the Tiger of the Desert.”
At this Monsieur Constans utters a low cry.
“He means Bab Azoun, ze terrible gate-way of death.”
Mustapha again nods, and John resumes his cross-questioning with a lawyer’s tact.
“Were our friends injured?”
“Not seriously. They fight well. The soldier threatens to kill all, but they do not allow him to do it.”