BOB’S FIGHT AGAINST ODDS

As Bob rode along on camel-back in the lee of the sand dunes, there was
never a thought of danger in his mind. The Sahara is not like the great
grassy steppes of Siberia or the plains of western America, which are
flat and level as a table top and across which one can see for miles in
every direction. On the contrary, this great African desert is filled
with shifting sand dunes, low hills of sand, which are whipped away when
the strong winds blow and change their position, piling up in new
drifts.

In appearance it was now to Bob’s eye like the sea when waves were
kicking up. In the trough of these sandy waves he made his way forward,
exercising care in advancing from the shelter of one dune to another to
keep below the crests.

It was lonesome riding, under the baking sun, in that land of stillness,
without sign nor sound of any human being. He had an eerie feeling, as
if something were about to happen. But he shook this off, and laughed at
himself. Merely a touch of nerves, he thought, due to the loneliness of
the surroundings.

Before setting out, it had been decided he and Jack would have to ride a
good half hour away from their starting point, from the place where Ali
was posted, before they would be in the proper position. Therefore,
looking at his watch now and again, he kept on without exposing himself
to gain sight of the ostrich herd, until the full half hour had elapsed.
It seemed to him a much longer time, and if it had not been for his
watch he would have been tempted several times to clamber up a sand dune
and look around.

When at length, the allotted time having elapsed, he did urge his camel
up the top of the nearest sand dune, there was no sign either of
ostriches or of his companions. Far in the distance could be seen the
tops of the palm trees of the oasis, dwarfed and beautiful as a painting
against the blue sky. All else was hidden from his sight.

“Shucks,” thought Bob, “in dodging to keep below the tops of the sand
hills, I must have gotten off my course.”

That, in reality, was what had occurred. Instead of the small circle he
had planned to make, which would have put him on the point of an arc a
third of the way around the herd from Ali’s station, he had borne off
the course gradually but surely in his attempts to remain hidden.
Moreover, he had gotten into a region of larger sand dunes, so big they
amounted to low hills.

“Who knows,” he grumbled aloud, wanting to hear his own voice for the
sense of oppression had grown stronger, “who knows, the ostriches may be
over the next dune or so, and I just can’t see them from here. Well,
there’s the oasis, and I can make for it if worse comes to worse. But
I’d feel like a jackass to go back and say I went and got myself lost.”

As he spoke he was swinging the glasses slowly over the surrounding
country.

“Confound the luck,” he grumbled again, when unrewarded, “believe I’ll
fire a shot or two. If Ali or Jack hears, he’ll answer.”

Unlimbering his repeating rifle, he threw it to his shoulder, aiming for
the crest of a nearby sand dune, and pressed the trigger. The report
followed, and a spurt of sand showed the accuracy of his aim. Again he
pressed the trigger. But this time the gun failed to be discharged.

In surprise, Bob bent down to examine it. What could be the matter?
Evidently, the mechanism had become jammed. Must have forgotten to clean
it, and, perhaps, the all-pervasive desert sand had clogged it. A pretty
note, he thought, and experienced a momentary feeling of panic. What if
it had happened at a time when he needed it to protect his life? The
thought made him shudder, and glance around quickly.

Then a sight met his eyes at which words failed him. For a moment, he
sat as if paralyzed, unable to move or even to think.

Ten horsemen had filed silently, soundlessly, from behind the shoulder
of the sand dunes in his rear. They were already almost upon him. From
momentary paralysis, Bob’s mind leaped into lightning-like activity. He
saw his escape toward Ali and Jack was cut off on one side, and on the
other his retreat toward the oasis.

It would be useless to attempt to flee, for his camel soon would be
overtaken by the swifter horses, if he were not shot down in the
meantime. For that first swift appraising glance assured him these men
were armed with long Arab rifles.

In the same glance, he noted something else which made his heart skip a
beat. These men, tanned though they were, were recognizable as white
men. And they were dressed exactly as was the wounded Athensian, lying
delirious at the oasis, in fact they were Athensians, in short toga-like
garments, bare legs and soft leather moccasins.

All these observations and thoughts passed through Bob’s mind in a
moment. He had a wild idea of throwing himself from his camel, causing
the latter to kneel, and from behind it, as from behind a bulwark,
fighting off the attackers. For, that they intended harm to him, Bob
felt assured. But even in the moment of leaping from the saddle, he
realized the futility of such procedure. His rifle was out of
commission.

What should he do? The party was closing in. Bob gave one wild searching
glance to the south, where he had left Ali and Jack. They were nowhere
in sight. Neither, for that matter, were the ostriches.

Under other circumstances, Bob would have made a fight for his liberty
with his bare hands. Those of our readers who have followed his career
under other skies know well what a superb wrestler is Bob. And with the
additional weight and strength of an added year or two, Bob was now a
wrestler and boxer second to none. But even as the thought of grappling
with the leader entered his head, he saw by the loosening of rifles in
the hands of others that his first movement would bring a swarm of
bullets his way.

Or would they shoot? A new idea came to Bob. In this still desert air,
the sound of shots would carry far. If his one lone shot of a minute
before were to be succeeded by a volley, Ali and Jack would take alarm,
and perhaps even back at the oasis the alarm would be given. This party
consisted only of ten men. Perhaps, they preferred moving soundlessly
rather than run the risk of bringing a party of equal strength upon
them. Perhaps, they would not use their rifles at first, should he
attack their leader, expecting to see him overcome. Well, if they only
withheld their fire until he could grasp the rascal and seize his rifle,
Bob wouldn’t care. With a weapon in his hand, he could go down fighting.
What a fool he was, anyway, to have left the oasis without his
automatic.




One phase of the situation which Bob did not take into account was that,
even if Ali and Jack managed to discover his predicament and either came
to his rescue themselves or set out to rouse the oasis, the attacking
party could escape because of the greater swiftness of their horses as
compared to camels.

Instead, as the leader of the attackers approached—a strikingly handsome
young man, with a round firm face, hawklike nose and crisping brown
hair, Bob set himself for a flying leap from the camel. The leader rode
slightly in advance of the others, who mounted the sliding sand hill in
a semicircle behind him, toward Bob sitting his camel on the top of the
hill. Then an astonishing thing happened.

“_Attendez, monsieur_,” called the leader, in French. “It will be
useless to resist.”

Now Bob had studied French. In fact, he could manage a conversation both
in French and Spanish, although somewhat better in the latter language
because of the opportunities he had to learn it at first hand when in
South America, as narrated in “The Radio Boys Search for the Inca
Treasure.” But hearing French from the lips of this Athensian almost
bowled him from his seat in surprise.

Yet Bob was not so certain of the folly of resistance. He believed he
had weighed the situation, and he was willing to take a chance. He was
sitting his camel sidewise to the approaching party. The off leg he had
slowly brought up to the point where a quick fling would free it of the
saddle. Pressing his left foot down hard into the awkward stirrup, he
suddenly gave a spring upward and outward. At the same time he brought
his right leg over the saddle. Forward he launched, as if shot from a
catapult. His one hundred and ninety pounds of bone and muscle struck
the young Athensian on the shoulder with irresistible force, as Bob
hurtled the five-foot gap separating them.

Simultaneously, the big fellow sent his useless rifle crashing into the
face of the nearest Athensian rider to the rear and slightly to the
right side of the leader. The latter was knocked out of his saddle.

Bob’s arms went out as he struck the body of the leader, and they closed
convulsively about him. Thus, as the young Athensian was hurled from his
saddle by the force of the blow, Bob was dragged along. He fell on top
of his victim, knocking all the fight out of him. The other lay still
and inert.

A bit dazed himself, but with his wits still about him, Bob scrambled to
his feet as the frightened horse of the Athensian leader dashed wildly
into a rider approaching from the left. In a twinkling there was a
pretty mix-up of horsemen, shouts and shrill screams. But in his primary
object, which was to possess himself of the leader’s rifle, Bob had
failed. The weapon had been tossed some distance away in the impact, and
as he gazed around him it could not be seen.

Three or four horsemen were in a tangle where the bolting animal had
created panic, and evidently were devoting their attention not alone to
regaining control of their own mounts but also to securing the runaway.
Another man lay writhing on the ground, where he had been knocked by the
force of Bob’s rifle flung into his face. The leader lay at Bob’s feet.

But four horsemen still remained clear of entanglements, and they were
closing in on Bob on three sides. He would have to act quickly. What was
to be done? Retreat to the summit and attempt to regain the saddle of
his camel, which over his shoulder he could see standing immovable
despite all the commotion? No, too awkward to get back on that clumsy
beast, and besides he could not outdistance the pursuers.

Now, if he only had a horse. Quickly as thought, Bob with a tremendous
tensing of his leg muscles beneath him, and gathering up his flowing
burnoose about his waist, leaped a full five feet in the air, as the
nearest of the approaching horsemen came broadside on and reached out to
clutch his hair. The meaning of the man’s movement did not escape Bob,
even in this crisis. Evidently, he was to be taken prisoner, but he was
not to be killed. Otherwise a shot could quite easily have ended the
fight.

Bob’s leap disconcerted the other, and Bob’s arms, closing about his
waist from the rear, almost pulled him from the saddle. But the
Athensian clung desperately, knees gripping tight and one hand clinging
to the high horn of the saddle, and thus, as the horse leaped ahead in
fright, the Athensian retained his seat while Bob pulled himself up
behind him.

“Whoop-ee,” yelled Bob, enjoying himself to the full, and taking an
animal delight in the fight. The blood in his veins sang in exultation.
The heady wine of success against odds had intoxicated him.

Now to turn the horse for the oasis and flee, with his captive.

The next moment a crashing blow descended on his head from the rear, and
he pitched forward against the Athensian. In a unconquerable haze
against which he fought but without success, he felt himself falling,
and then felt strong arms encircle him from the side and lower him to
the ground. The next moment he lost consciousness.