“It certainly is a great idea to cross the Sahara Desert by car,” remarked Captain Frank Kane as he sat on the shaded veranda of an Algerian hotel and looked out on the shimmering sea of sand stretching away to the horizon.
“I believe it has been broached,” replied Professor Amos Bruce, setting down the glass of lemonade that he had been sipping. “And whoever conceived it had plenty of nerve, supposing, of course, that he were willing to face the danger himself. It would be a mighty risky project.”
“That’s just what makes the idea of it so alluring,” affirmed the captain, with a smile and an adventurous glint in his eyes. “I wouldn’t give a copper for anything that didn’t have some risk connected with it. And I don’t think it would be such a forlorn hope at that. It seems to me entirely possible.”
“Y-e-s, it might be done,” assented the professor dubiously. “But it would mean a nerve-wracking journey of over two thousand miles.”
“Gee, that sounds good to me, Uncle Frank!” broke in Kyle Kane, a tall, muscular boy of fourteen, who had been listening intently to the discussion. “What a lot of wonderful things a fellow would see on a trip like that!”
“No doubt of that,” replied his uncle. “But a good many of the things you’d see wouldn’t be pleasant to look upon. Suppose something went wrong with your auto and left you stranded a thousand miles from nowhere?”
“Or suppose,” added the professor, “you were attacked by some of the many bandits that roam the Sahara? From all accounts, those fellows are mighty bad medicine.”
“But people are traveling over the desert all the time, and they get through somehow,” said Kyle, upon whom the idea had taken a hold that was as strong as it was sudden.
“To be sure,” agreed the professor. “But they know the desert in all its moods as no outsider can. They are seasoned to the blazing heat of an African sun. They know the signs of an approaching sandstorm. They are familiar with all the oases and wells on the route. And where their own knowledge and reasoning fall short, the instinct of the camels comes to their help. In every way they have a tremendous advantage over those who were not born sons of the desert.”
“There’s a good deal in what you say, Amos,” said Captain Kane. “Yet, after all, I’d back modern science against native experience and habit. It’s the outsiders, after all, who do things. Who discovered the North Pole? Not the Esquimaux, but an outsider. Who are trying to climb Mt. Everest, the highest peak in the world? Not the natives of the Himalayas, but outsiders. And I’m willing to bet that an auto expedition across the Sahara would add more to the world’s knowledge than all the contributions by Arabs since the world began.”
“It may be, it may be, Frank,” admitted the professor. “At any rate, we’ll let it go at that. It’s too hot a day to argue about anything.”
“That’s so obviously true that I’m not going to dispute it,” laughed the captain, as he settled back in his chair and wiped the perspiration from his forehead.
It was mid-afternoon, and the sun was still beating down fiercely on the little Algerian town of Tuggurt, on the edge of the great Sahara Desert. Most of the inhabitants of the place were taking their afternoon siesta, and the group of three Americans, who had not acquired the habit of sleeping in the daytime, had the hotel veranda to themselves.
The outstanding figure of the three was Captain Frank Kane, who lived, when at home, in an old stone house that had been in the family for generations, at Hillsville, in an Eastern State, about fifty miles from New York.
He was a big man, but the bigness lay in his great frame and his thews and muscles, for he had not an ounce of superfluous flesh on him. The natural swarthiness of his complexion had been still further darkened by the suns of many climes, for he had traveled over thousands of miles of Africa and Asia as a hunter of big game. His reputation as a fearless hunter and a crack shot was internationally known, and of recent years he had been in great request by zoological gardens and menageries who wished to secure specimens for their collections.
The other man of the party, Professor Amos Regor Bruce, differed widely from his companion in size and appearance. He was of small build, and had mild gray eyes and grayer hair. His profession was that of an archeologist, and he was extremely learned in his specialty. Several degrees had been conferred upon him by American and foreign universities in recognition of his contributions to science.
Kyle Kane, the boy member of the trio, was a strong, well-built boy of the athletic type, with brown hair and eyes, unusually adept in the sports that appeal to a boy of his age. He, too, was a crack shot, this accomplishment being due to his natural aptitude combined with the tutelage of Captain Kane, who had spared no pains to make his nephew as good a rifleman as himself.
Kyle was supposed to be an orphan, due to a tragedy which, as far as anyone knew, had robbed him of his parents some time before. His father, Richard Kane, a noted explorer, his mother, Alice, and his sister, Ruth, the latter two years younger than Kyle, had left the United States on an expedition on the exploring ship Mercury. This ship disappeared while on its way around Cape Horn, South America, and had never since been heard of. Repeated inquiries had failed to elicit any news of her, and as time passed on it was generally accepted that she had sunk, with all on board.
The blow was a terrible one to Kyle, who had loved his parents and sister dearly, and he had never become reconciled to it. Despite all evidence to the contrary, he still hoped against hope that somewhere they were still alive, though deep in his heart he knew how slender was the foundation on which that hope rested.
Captain Kane, a brother of Kyle’s father, had assumed the guardianship of the boy, and had done his best to take the place of his parents. Professor Bruce, who was Kyle’s uncle on his mother’s side, had exercised a careful supervision over his studies.
At the time this story opens, both uncles had accepted propositions from the International Museum and Menagerie Collection Corporation, with offices in London, Paris and New York. Captain Kane was to collect rare specimens of animals and Professor Bruce was to secure relics of early African civilizations. Kyle had pleaded so earnestly to be taken along that at last, though with considerable hesitation, his uncles had consented.
The heat became less intolerable as the afternoon wore on, and the little town began to show some signs of life. The natives emerged from their mud huts, the streets became more frequented, and the flag that had hung listlessly on the staff over the French Government building stirred faintly in the merest zephyr of a breeze.
“Possible to live once more,” remarked the professor, with a sigh of relief, as he rose from his chair. “Guess I’ll hunt up that fellow that told me he knew something about the Cemetery of the Elephants.”
“What is that?” asked Kyle, with interest.
“It may be a reality or it may be a myth,” answered his uncle. “If a myth, it’s based upon the well-known fact that elephants, when they feel that they are about to die, steal away from the herd and hunt for some secluded spot where they can pass away in peace. The story goes that there’s a spot in the Sahara that contains so many elephant bodies that it’s a regular cemetery. One of the reasons for my coming here was to ascertain what basis of fact there may be in the story. Had a native tell me yesterday that he knew something about it, but he was called away before he could go into details. Ten to one he really knows nothing about it; then again he may, and I can’t afford to overlook anything that may give me a clue.”
He went along the veranda to the door of the hotel, and Captain Kane looked rather quizzically at Kyle.
“While your Uncle Amos is looking up the dead, suppose we get after something that’s a little livelier,” he suggested.
Kyle was instantly all animation.
“You mean hunting, Uncle Frank?” he asked eagerly.
“Just that,” assented his uncle. “I’m getting a bit rusty myself, and I know you’re anxious to try that new rifle I bought for you just before we started.”
“You bet I am!” exclaimed Kyle, his eyes sparkling. “What do you suppose we can get around here?”
“Nothing in the way of big game,” returned the captain. “We can’t go far from town in the hour or so we shall have before night-fall. But we may get a crack at a jackal or two, and then there’s a species of fox in this vicinity whose skin I’d like to get. So we’ll go in and get our rifles and take a little jaunt.”
They suited the action to the word, and in a few minutes were ready to start. They took no guide, for they did not intend to go far from the outskirts of the town.
“I’ve heard that game can be found sometimes in the vicinity of that sand ridge,” said the captain, pointing to an elevation about a mile away. “I’ll go toward one side of it and you toward the other, and between us we may get something to pay us for our trouble. But be sure to keep in sight of me and of the town.”
Kyle promised, and they parted, pursuing different routes over the soft sand, though taking care that they should not be at any time more than half a mile apart.
Kyle walked along, keenly alert for anything on that wide expanse that might promise him a target. Suddenly his heart gave a thump, as he caught sight of a dark object. But his elation left him when a second glance resolved the mass into several human figures.
“Just natives,” he murmured in disgust.
He looked again, and his interest quickened. A struggle seemed to be going on. Arms were uplifted as if to strike. Still he was skeptical as to the matter being one of any special importance.
“Such an excitable bunch,” he said to himself. “They go up in the air about nothing. Arguing perhaps about something that isn’t worth a hill of beans.”
He turned to go in the opposite direction, but aloud cry halted him. He could not distinguish its meaning, save that it seemed to convey an urgent appeal for help.
Kyle’s sight was unusually keen, and as he focused it upon the scene he became aware that two of the group were attacking a third. The latter was doing all he could to defend himself, but he was smaller than either of the others, and it was plain that he was badly over-matched.
Under ordinary circumstances, caution would have prompted Kyle to give a wide berth to a quarrel between natives that was none of his concern. But, as he looked, he discovered something that made him throw prudence to the winds.
The two larger ones—native Algerians, by their dress—were attacking a boy, who was not a native! A white boy like himself! Perhaps an American boy!
Kyle fired one shot in the air to attract his uncle's attention. The next instant, he rushed toward the struggling group, waving his rifle and yelling like an Indian.
[Chapter 01 Maze: Help Kyle Escape]