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The Doctor Disappears






Part of: Other World Life
From: Pharaoh's Broker

Hotep saw that he was ruined, and he went to fall down before Pharaoh
and beg for mercy. The monarch, not having the courage of his own
hard-heartedness, answered him,--

"I desire not to deal harshly with thee, O Hotep; for thou hast
struggled desperately against an unwilling soil and unpropitious
seasons. But thou knowest all my affairs are in the hands of Zaphnath,
without whom I do nothing. Therefore go thou before him and do even as
he telleth thee."

And Hotep, having made an invoice of all his money, and slaves, and
mules, and cattle, took it before Zaphnath, saying,--

"Behold, O most merciful ruler of Kem, I have threescore-and-ten of the
great golden discs, and seven hundredweight of the coins of Kem
wherewith to repay the Pharaoh for the seed which the seasons have
stolen from me. But I have neither food for all the men, and mules, and
cattle which are the Pharaoh's, nor yet for mine own; wherefore I beg
of thee to take back his slaves and animals, and release me from feeding
them; and I will forfeit unto the Pharaoh all my working slaves, which
are thirty score, and all my mules, which are a thousand and one, and
all my cattle, which are an hundred score, and they shall be his for
ever."

"Methinks thou borrowest with a large hand and repayest like a very
miser," answered Zaphnath. "All the money thou namest will not buy a
thousand cargoes of grain, for behold, is not wheat worth iron money,
weight for weight? And to reimburse the Pharaoh for feeding all his men
and animals through the famine, which may continue, it is a rare
kindness in thee to desire to give him also all of thine to be fed and
nourished! What wilt thou do with all thy land when thou hast no men or
beasts to till it? And how wilt thou maintain thy proud palace, with
three hundred women, when thou hast no revenues left?"

"'Tis true, O Zaphnath; and if the Pharaoh covet them, take them
all--the palace, the women, the rich clothing and rare jewels, and even
the endless fields which have cursed me! For the days of Hotep's riches
are ended. Let him be acquit, and go from thee in peace!"

"Even with them all, thou knowest he is but poorly paid; yet it is I who
have prevailed upon him not to be harsh with thee. But if the famine
continue, what thinkest thou of doing to gain a living?"

"By my beard! Doth the Pharaoh wish to make a slave of me also?"

"Nay, Hotep; not a common slave. But hast thou a mind to starve? I have
besought him to give thee an honourable and luxuriant service, befitting
thy tastes and habits. He will make thee chamberlain of his palace."

"Is there no other thing thou canst think of or invent, O most merciful
Zaphnath? Lands, slaves, animals, money, women, jewels, palace, and even
my life and body for the gracious Pharaoh's service! Is that all? If so,
I beg thee declare the bargain made and all my undertakings fully
acquit."

Hotep came to me the following day, with his beard shaven and the
Pharaoh's bird-wing on his brow. He wore the dress of the Pharaoh's
chamberlain, and he told me how it had all happened. He also told me
that the Pharaoh had now thrown wide open the doors of slavery, and
offered to feed all who surrendered themselves to his service for life.
And Zaphnath never ceased to itch for all the lands, and cattle, and
slaves of every one in Kem and her tributary countries, either in
exchange for the bare needs of life, or as pledges for seed which he
knew would only rot and ruin the borrower.

I went about my affairs on the plateau that day, wondering how long I
should continue there, or whether my threat had been effective in
silencing the enmity of the rulers. When I returned that evening, I did
not find the doctor at the house. My servant said that a messenger from
the chamberlain had summoned him on important business, soon after the
noon-day meal. I waited a little longer, and then I began to fear that
the chamberlain had been used to decoy the doctor into some trap. If he
was staying away of his own account, why did he not send me some word?
Messengers were plenty. At last I sent the servant to the palace to
inquire and search for him. After a long stay he returned, saying the
doctor was nowhere to be found. No one had seen or heard of him there
that day.

"And the chamberlain?" I demanded.

"He was not to be found in his rooms, and no one had seen him since
noon-day."

"Didst thou make inquiry for the messenger who summoned the doctor?" I
asked.

He had not thought of it; so I started to the palace myself. I had gone
but a few steps when it occurred to me to act with a little more
caution, and be prepared for some plot against myself. I turned back to
the house, and had the servant remove the heap of pillows where I slept.
Underneath was a loosened stone of the floor, and below it we kept the
rifles, revolvers, and ammunition hidden. I carefully loaded all of
them, and put all the remaining cartridges into our two old belts. I
thought of strapping one of these about me, but reflected that this
would have a hostile and treasonable appearance, so I contented myself
with concealing one revolver in my coat, and then I carefully covered up
all the rest, and had the servant pile the pillows over the stone slab
again.

Then I went out and walked to the palace. Leaping the wall, I questioned
every one I saw about the doctor, the chamberlain, and his messenger. No
one had seen anything of them. The messenger was absent from his
lodging, as well as the chamberlain. Either they were all gone somewhere
secretly together, or they had all suffered a common mysterious fate.
Unable to do anything more, I returned home full of apprehension.

I slept fitfully a few hours, and then I had a most realistic dream,
which began among my old surroundings on Earth: the wheat pit, the
closing of a turbulent session, the drive through the parks till I came
suddenly in sight of the great spherical cactus design of the World in
Washington Park. As I approached this, it seemed to leave its pedestal
and move freely through space toward me. I seized one of its meridians,
and, clinging tightly, was carried off over the park, over the lake,
over seas of ice, through an ocean of sparkling light, faster and
farther every moment, until presently my little globe refused to hold me
longer, and repelled me through a long, giddy, awful fall which filled
me with terror. But I landed in the dark chamber of a Gnomon, waist-deep
in loose wheat. It seemed gradually to grow deeper about me, rose to my
shoulders, to my chin; and as I looked up I saw Slater pouring in wheat
in a steady stream. He meant to smother and choke me with it. Ah, if I
only had a thousand, aye, ten thousand mouths to eat it, he could never
do it. I could keep even with him. But it gradually rose past my mouth,
past my nose; it covered my head and was smothering me. What an awful
thing was too much food, after all! And then I wakened to find my head
covered with pillows until I was half-choked for breath.

It was all so vivid I could not rid my mind of it. It seemed really to
have happened but a moment ago. My mind was palpitating afresh with
those Earthly scenes which had for years been fading out of it. What
could it all mean? Then I thought of the doctor. Perhaps they were
smothering him in one of the Gnomons. It seemed hardly probable, but the
idea took a strange hold on me. The chambers were all full and sealed,
but one; it had been opened, and wheat was daily being used out of it;
none was at hand to be poured in. It was foolish to do so, but I could
not rest until I had gone to the Gnomons to see. Of course I would find
nothing there, but I should not be content till I had tried. At least,
the night air and the gently falling feathers of darkness would restore
my calmness again.

I had the precaution to take my revolver again, and after a very short
walk I stood face to face with the great stone gate, barred and locked
to confine all others within the city. The fact that it was fastened on
the inside proved that the doctor's captors were not outside, or, at
least, did not expect to return till after daylight. With a brisk jump I
cleared the wall easily, and walked rapidly to the plateau. There was no
sign of life there. I mounted the only unsealed Gnomon and shouted down
into its cavernous depths. Of course there was no answer. I was now so
wide awake it seemed to me quite silly to follow the promptings of a
dream, so I began to return in a leisurely walk.

The night scene all about me, how different it was from those to which I
had been accustomed on Earth! Out of a pink sky flakes of frozen dew
were gently falling, starching the arid, verdureless soil with a
glistening coat of evanescent white. Along the river bank, tall,
slender, lightly-rooted trees reached far up into the breathless air,
but there was never the movement of a bough or the rustle of a leaf,
except from the flutter of birds. Jungles of spindling reeds also
towered from waste marshes, in testimony to the easy struggle which
vegetable sap had been able to accomplish over a weak gravity.
Everything was eloquent with the reminder that I was on a different
world; but yet, when I looked up at the starry heavens, they were the
same. All the familiar constellations, changing their positions through
the night with the same stately dignity, were there. The Pleiades,
Orion, the Great Bear, with his nose constantly pointed at the Pole
Star, made me feel that, at least in the heavens, I was at home! Only
the colour of the night, the two little moons, and the planets looked
different. Great Jupiter, king of the Martian night, whose brilliancy,
if not his size, outrivalled the pale moons; Saturn, with his tilted
ring, was visible to the naked eye; and yon pearly blue star, just
rising to announce the morning, was Earth. Earth, which I had so
unwillingly left, would I ever see her again as anything but a
Sun-attending star? Would I ever walk her familiar paths, and know my
brother creatures there again?

With this thought came over me an unspeakable sense of loneliness, a
depressing home-sickness, an aching yearning for that life, tempestuous
as it had been. And how I despised the monotony and lowness of the
Martian life; how I loathed the spreading misery of the famine, and the
vile and dreadful pestilences which it was begetting! How could I ever
endure the four more slow years of it which I confidently expected to
ensue? What would I not give to leave it all and return!

I had retraced my steps, leapt the wall again, and as I approached our
house was surprised to see, in the dim light of the coming morning, a
figure standing guard at the doorway. He was a soldier, and on closer
approach I saw that he wore a beard, which showed him to be a captain.
But what surprised me far more was that he held awkwardly in his arms
one of our loaded rifles. Here was certain treachery. Since he stood
guard, he doubtless had soldiers within; and if they had found one
firearm they must have found the others also. But how had they succeeded
in finding them? A mere search never would have revealed their secret
place. Some one who knew of their location must have disclosed it. Could
it have been the doctor? Had they brought him back, and forced him to
produce the arms?

In that case, now was my chance to liberate him. Fortunately they did
not know how to use the arms they had captured, and I had one revolver
with five good loads in it. With five telling shots I ought to be able
to create panic enough to enable the doctor to get possession of another
gun and help me rout them.

All this flashed through my mind in a twinkling, and just as I drew out
my revolver the captain caught sight of me. He quickly shifted the rifle
in his hands and tugged at the hammer. He knew nothing of the necessity
of taking aim, or of the use of the trigger. It would only be by the
merest chance if he hit me. I had half drawn the trigger, and was just
correcting my aim, when a long flash of flame from the rifle startled
me, and unconsciously I fired wild. By lifting the hammer of the rifle
and letting it snap back, the captain had exploded one cartridge at
random. But my careful aiming had now taught him a trick; I saw him
attempting the same arm's-length aim with the rifle. He did it awkwardly
enough, and pulled up the hammer with the other hand. It fell with a
snap on the discharged cartridge. He could be relied on never to learn
the trick of ejecting them and reloading with the sixteen that lay ready
up the length of the barrel. Therefore, instead of firing again, I
rushed at him to capture the rifle. But he was too quick for me, for
thrusting it inside the house with a quick command, the other was handed
out to him. I was now at such extremely close range that his awkward aim
covered me; but I was quicker on the trigger than he was on the hammer,
and with a cry the first Martian to suffer by gunpowder fell to the
ground. I sprang for his rifle just as some one from inside snatched it
away and pointed it at me again. Whoever had it, stood half behind the
door and out of range. But I aimed at his fingers on the rifle barrel,
and by a lucky chance I hit them, for the rifle dropped and the body
staggered into full view. Another quick shot sent this fellow to the
ground, but as I reached for his rifle, it was snatched away again.

Now I saw the absolute necessity of possessing myself of another
firearm, for I had but one load left in the revolver. I felt little fear
of their awkward aim, therefore I made bold to rush inside on the chance
of seizing the first gun I could lay my hands on. At the same time I
would be able to see the position of the doctor. He must be gagged, for
he had made no answer to my frequent cries to him in English. Once
inside, I saw that the room was full of soldiers--twenty at least. They
had a prisoner, true enough, but not the doctor. It was my servant, whom
they had forced to disclose the location of the arms.

The soldiers quickly blocked the door and began closing in on me. One
seized me by each arm, but with a quick shake I threw them off. Then a
third fellow clutched my left arm so tightly I could not loosen him. Had
I taken my eyes or my revolver off the crowd in front, they would have
been upon me in a body; yet with my left arm I was able slowly to turn
the clinging soldier around in front of me and to bring him gradually
within close range of my revolver. When he saw its gleaming muzzle, he
broke from me and fled to the others.

Little did they know that I could not afford to sacrifice my remaining
load to kill a single man. I must use it to capture the other revolver,
for rifles were of no use at such short range. I man[oe]uvred cautiously
to keep most of the soldiers in front of me, and stealthily backed
toward the door, where a soldier stood guard with the other weapon. I
was reckoning on the cowardice of most of those in front of me, but I
had failed to count on the men I had shot. As I now backed quickly
towards the door, I suddenly felt the arms of the fallen man about my
legs, and I stumbled backwards over him. In a twinkling the whole crowd
was upon me, my revolver was seized, my arms were pinned to the ground,
and the dying soldier clutched my legs in his last frenzy. I expected no
better than to be shot immediately by a rifle held against my head, but
their orders were evidently different. My arms were securely bound with
rough fibrous thongs, and then they marched me to the palace just as the
sun was rising.





Next: The Revelation Of Hotep

Previous: Revolutionist And Eavesdropper



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