More than eleven years have gone by, and the scene upon which
our curtain rises again is different indeed to that upon which it
fell. In place of that little London house where Rupert had lain
sick, behold the mouth of a cliff-hewn temple, and on the face of
it, cut from the solid rock, four colossal statues of an Egyptian
king, nearly seventeen feet high each of them, that gaze for ever
across the waters of the Nile and the desert beyond—that unchanging
desert whence for three thousand five hundred years, dawn by dawn,
they have greeted the newly-risen sun. For this place is the temple
of Abu-Simbel below the Second Cataract of the Nile in the
It is afternoon in the month of September, of the year 1889, and
beneath one of the colossi near to the entrance of the temple is
seated a British officer in uniform—a big, bearded observer as
remarkable for intensity and power. Indeed, in this respect it was
not unlike that stamped upon the stone countenances of the mighty
statues above him. There was in it something of the same calm,
patient strength—something of that air of contemptuous expectancy
with which the old Egyptian sculptors had the art of clothing those
effigies of their gods and kings.
It would have been hard to recognise in this man the lad whom we
left recovering from a sore sickness, for some twelve years of
work, thought, struggle, and self-control—chisels, all of them,
that cut deeply—had made their marks upon him. Yet it was Rupert
Ullershaw and no other.
The history of that period of his life can be given in few
words. He had entered the army and gone to India, and there done
very well. Having been fortunate enough to be employed in two of
our little frontier wars, attention had been called to his
conspicuous professional abilities. As it chanced also he was a
studious man, and the fact that he devoted himself but little to
amusements—save to big-game shooting when it came in his way—left
him plenty of time for study. A chance conversation with a friend
who had travelled much in the East, and who pointed out to him how
advantageous it might be for his future to have a knowledge of
Arabic, with which very few English officers were acquainted at the
time, caused him to turn his attention to that language. These
labours of his becoming known to those in authority, the Indian
Government appointed him upon some sudden need to a semi-diplomatic
office on the Persian Gulf. Here he did well, and although he never
got the full public credit of it, was fortunate enough to avert a
serious trouble that might have grown to large proportions and
involved a naval demonstration. In recognition of his services he
was advanced in rank and made a C.B. at a very early age, with the
result that, had he wished it, he might have entered on a
diplomatic career with every hope of distinction.
But Rupert was, above all things, a soldier, so turning his back
upon these pleasant prospects, he applied to be allowed to serve in
Egypt, a request that was readily granted on account of his
knowledge of Arabic. Here in one capacity or another he took part
in various campaigns, being present at the battles of El-Teb and
Tamai, in the latter of which he was wounded. Afterwards he marched
with Sir Herbert Stewart from Dongola and fought with him at Abu
Klea. Returning to Egypt after the death of Gordon, he was employed
as an Intelligence officer at Cairo, and finally made a
lieutenant-colonel in the Egyptian army. In this capacity he
accompanied General Grenfell up the Nile, and took part in the
battle of Toski, where the Dervishes were routed on 3rd August,
1889. Then he was stationed at Abu-Simbel, a few miles away, to
make arrangements as to the disposal of prisoners, and subsequently
to carry on negotiations with certain Arab chiefs whose loyalty
Such is a brief record of those years of the life of Rupert
Ullershaw, with which, eventful as they were, our story has nothing
to do. He had done exceedingly well; indeed, there were few
officers of his standing who could look to the future with greater
confidence, for although he appeared older than his years, he was
still a young man; moreover, he was liked and respected by all who
knew him, and notwithstanding his success, almost without enemies.
It only remains to add that he kept the promise which he made to
his mother upon his sick-bed to the very letter. Ever since that
sad first entanglement, Rupert's life had been spotless.
The sun was beginning to sink, and its rays made red pathways on
the flooded Nile, and bathed the desert beyond with a tremulous,
rosy light, in which isolated mountains, that in shape exactly
resembled pyramids, stood up here and there like the monuments of
kings. The scene was extraordinarily beautiful; silent, also, for
Rupert had pitched his camp, and that of his small escort, half a
mile away further up the river. As he watched, the solemnities of
the time and place sank into his heart, stilling the transient
emotions of the moment, and tuning his mind until it was in key
with its surroundings, an instrument open to the subtle influences
of the past and future.
Here in the shadow of the mighty works of men who had been dead
for a hundred generations, and looking out upon the river, the
desert, and the mountains, which to them must have seemed as
unutterably ancient as they did to him this day, his own absolute
insignificance came home to Rupert as perhaps it had never done
before. He thought of his petty strivings for personal advancement,
and a smile grew upon his face like the smile upon that of the
god-king above him. Through the waste of all the weary ages, how
many men, he wondered, even in this desolate spot, had brooded on
the hope of such advantage, and gone forth, but few to triumph, the
most to fail, and all of them to learn within some short years that
failure and success are one when forgetfulness has covered them.
Thus the warning of the past laid its heavy hand upon him and
pressed his spirit down, and the sound of the Nile flowing on,
flowing ever from the far-off mountains of its birth through the
desert to the sea, murmured in his ear that like those of Job, his
days were "swifter than a post," sung in his ear the song of
Koholeth: Vanity of vanities: all is vanity.
Rupert grew sad as the shadow of the hills which gathered deep
about him, empty and desolate of mind as the vast, deserted temple
at whose mouth he sat, the fane of a faith that was more dead than
were its worshippers. Then suddenly he remembered how that morning
at the dawn he had seen those cups of shadow filled with
overflowing light, and how by it on the walls of that very temple
he had read prayers of faith and affirmations strangely certain, of
the eternity of all good works and the resurrection of all good
men, in which they who carved them five-and-thirty centuries
before, believed as firmly as he believed to-day.
Now it was the future that spoke to him as his heart took hope
once more. Oh! he knew full surely—it came upon him with a strange
conviction—that though many troubles and much bitterness might
await him, though he might be born to sorrows as the sparks fly
upwards, yet he should not live uselessly, or endure death in vain,
that no life, not even that of the ant which toiled ceaselessly at
his side in the yellow sand, was devoid of purpose or barren of
result; that chance and accident did not exist; that every riddle
had its answer, and every pang its issue in some new birth; that of
the cloth of thoughts and deeds which he wove now would be
fashioned the garment that he must wear hereafter.
Thus brooded Rupert Ullershaw after his fashion when alone, as
indeed he loved to be, for he was a man who faced things and found
truth oftenest in solitude.
Tired of these reflections, natural as they might be in such a
time and spot, at length he rose, went a few paces to look at the
lonely grave of a comrade whose working day was over, then with a
sigh bethought him that now the afternoon was cooler, he would take
some exercise before the darkness fell. Rupert loved all the sights
and sounds of Nature, and remembering that the sunset would be fine
seen from the top of a cliff behind him, he set to work to toil up
the steep slope of sand, following a little track made by the
jackals from the river-bank to their holes in the rocks, for he
knew that these cunning animals would choose the easiest path.
Reaching the crest at length, he paused a while to look at the
endless desert and the fiery ball of the sun sinking towards it so
swiftly that he could almost see it move, as it does, or seems to
do, in Egypt. It was going down behind two distant, solitary
mountains; indeed, for a few seconds, perhaps a minute, its great
red globe seemed to rest upon the very point of one of these
mountains. Contemplating it and them, he recalled a legend which an
old Arab had told him, that beyond those mountains was a temple
larger and finer than Abu-Simbel. He had asked how far it was away
and why no one went there, and learned that it was a great distance
off, deep in the desert, and that if anyone looked upon it he died,
for it was the home of magicians who did not call on Allah and
rejected his prophet. Therefore no one did look, only the legend
remained, which, the Arab had added, without doubt was true.
Forgetting the tale of this fabled temple, Rupert pursued his
walk past the graves of some of the Khalifa's emirs who had been
wounded in the battle of Toski, a few miles away, and when they
succumbed, hastily buried where they died by their retreating
comrades. He knew the man who lay beneath one of those rough piles
of stones—a brave Dervish of high rank, who had very nearly put an
end to himself and his earthly adventures. He could see the fellow
coming at him now, yelling his war-cry and shaking his great spear.
Luckily he had his revolver in his hand and was able to shoot
before that spear fell. The bullet struck his enemy somewhere in
the head, for he saw the blood appear and the man reel off from him
as though he were drunk. Then he lost sight of him in the turmoil
and slaughter, but afterwards was told that he died upon the
retreat, and was shown his grave by a prisoner who had helped to
Whilst he was regarding it with the respect that one brave man
has for another, even though that other be a cruel and fanatical
heathen, Rupert became aware of a shadow falling upon him, which,
from its long, ugly shape, he knew must be cast by a camel.
Turning, he perceived a white dromedary bearing down upon him
swiftly, its soft, sponge-like hoofs making so little noise upon
the sand that he had never heard it coming. On the back of the
camel sat an Arab sheik, who held three spears in his hand, one
large and two small. Suspecting a sudden attack, as well might
happen to him in that lonely place at the hands of a fanatic, he
sprang back behind the grave and drew his pistol, whereon the man
called out to him to put it up in the name of God as he came in
peace, not war.
"Dismount," answered Rupert sternly, "and thrown down your
The Arab stopped his dromedary, commanded it to kneel, and
slipping from the saddle, laid down the spears and bowed himself
"What are your name and business," asked Rupert, "and why do you
come on me thus alone?"
"Bey," he answered, "I am Ibrahim, the Sheik of the Land of the
Sweet Wells out yonder. I came to your camp with my attendants, and
being told that you were here upon the hill-top, followed to speak
with you, if it pleases you to open your ears to me."
Rupert studied his visitor. He was a very handsome but
cruel-looking man of about forty years of age, with flashing black
eyes, a hooked nose, and a short, pointed beard which had begun to
"I know you," he said. "You are a traitor to the Government of
Egypt, from which you have taken many benefits. You received the
Khalifa's General, Wad en-Negumi, and supplied him with food,
water, and camels. Had it not been for you, perhaps he could not
have advanced, and had it not been for you, many more of his people
must have been captured. How dare you show your face to me?"
"Bey," said the Sheik humbly, "that story is not true. What I
did for Abdullahi's soldiers, I did because I must, or die. May his
name be accursed!" and he spat upon the ground. "Now I come to seek
justice from you, who have power here."
"Go on," said Rupert; "you shall have justice, I promise you—if
I can give it."
"Bey, a detachment of the Egyptian troops mounted upon camels
have swept down upon me and robbed me. They have taken away all my
sheep and most of the dromedaries, and killed three of my people
who strove to protect them. More, they have insulted my women—yes,
they, those dogs of Fellaheen. In the name of Allah, I pray you
order that my property should be restored, or if you cannot do so,
write to Cairo on my behalf, for I am a true man, and the Khedive
is my lord and no other."
"Yet," answered Rupert, "yet, Sheik Ibrahim, I have seen a
certain letter written by you to the impostor, Abdullahi, the
Khalifa, in which you offer him assistance, should he invade Egypt
and take the road that runs past the Sweet Wells."
Ibrahim's face fell. "That letter was forged," he said
"Then, friend, how comes it that you know anything about it?"
asked Rupert. "Get you back to your tribe, and be thankful that,
now the Khedive is victorious, his soldiers did not take you as
well as your sheep. Know that you are a man with a mark against his
name, and bear yourself more faithfully, lest this should be your
lot"—and with his foot he touched the grave of the emir across
which they talked.
The Sheik made no answer. Going to his dromedary, he climbed
into the saddle, bade the beast rise, and rode off a little way. At
a distance of about forty yards, which doubtless he judged to be
out of revolver shot, he halted and began a furious tirade of
"Infidel dog!" he shouted, with some added insults directed
against Rupert's forbears; "you who stand there with your defiling
foot upon the grave of the true believer whom you killed, hear me.
You refuse me justice and accuse me of having helped the Khalifa.
Be careful lest I should help him, I who am the Sheik of the
Territories of the Sweet Wells, the road whereby he will come to
take Egypt with fifty thousand dervishes at his back, who will not
be fool enough to march down the river-bank and be shelled by your
guns from steam-boats. My tribe is a strong one, and we live in a
mountainous country whence we cannot be hunted, though your hounds
of Fellaheen took us unawares the other day. Oh! be careful lest I
should catch you, white Bey, whose face I shall not forget. If ever
I do, I will pay you back for the affront you put upon me, a true
man. I swear it by my father's head. Yes, then you shall choose
between the faith and death; then you shall acknowledge that
Mahomet is the prophet of Allah, you Cross-worshipping infidel, and
that he whom you name an impostor shall drive you and all your foul
race into the sea."
"You forget yourself, Sheik of the Sweet Wells," answered Rupert
quietly, "and forget also that the future is the gift of God and
not shaped by man. Begone, now! Begone at once, lest I, too, grow
angry and summon my soldiers to take you and throw you in prison
where you deserve to be. Off, and let me see your face no more, you
who dare to threaten your sovereign, for I think that when we meet
again it will be the herald of your death."
Ibrahim sat up upon his camel and opened his mouth to answer,
but there was something in the stern, fateful bearing of the
Englishman which seemed to quiet him. At any rate, he turned the
beast and urging it to a trot, departed swiftly across the
"A very dangerous man," reflected Rupert. "I will report the
matter at once and have him looked after. I wish they had left his
sheep and taken him, as no doubt he knows I said that they ought to
do. Somehow, I don't feel as though I had seen the last of that
fellow." Then dismissing the matter of this rebel sheik from his
mind, he continued his walk and crossed the mountain plateau.
Presently Rupert came to the path by which he intended to
descend. It was a strange one, none other than a perfect waterfall
of golden and set at so steep an angle that the descent of it
appeared dangerous, if not impossible, as would doubtless be the
case had that slope been of rock. Being of sand, however, the feet
of the traveller sink into it and so keep him from slipping. Then,
if he is fortunate, for this thing does not always happen, he may
enjoy a curious experience. As he moves transversely to and fro
across the face of the slide, all about him the sand begins to flow
like water, till at length it pours itself into the Nile below and
is swept away. More, as it flows it sings, a very wild song, a
moaning, melancholy noise that cannot be described on paper, which
is caused, they say, by the vibration of the mountain rocks beneath
the weight of the rolling sand. From time to time Rupert paused in
his descent and listened to this strange, thrilling sound until it
died away altogether, when wearying of the amusement, he scrambled
down the rest of the hill-side and reached the bank of the
Here his reflections were again broken in upon, this time by a
woman. Indeed he had seen her as he descended, and knew her at once
for the old gipsy who for the past year or two had lived in a hovel
close by, and earned, or appeared to earn her living by cultivating
a strip of land upon the borders of the Nile. As it chanced, Rupert
had been able a month or so before to secure repayment to her of
the value of her little crop which had been eaten up by the
transport animals, and the restoration of her milch goats that the
soldiers had seized. From that moment the old woman had been his
devoted friend, and often he would spend a pleasant hour in talking
to her in her hut, or while she laboured in her garden.
To look at, Bakhita, for so she was named, was a curious person,
quite distinct from the Egyptian and Soudanese women, being tall,
thin, very light-coloured for an Eastern, with well-cut features
and a bush of snow-white hair which hung down upon her shoulders.
Indeed she was so different from themselves that she was known as
the Gipsy by all the natives in the district, and consequently, of
course, credited with various magical powers and much secret
knowledge—with truth in the latter case.
Rupert greeted her in Arabic, which by now he spoke
extraordinarily well, and held out his hand for her to shake. She
took it, and bending down touched it with her lips.
"I was waiting for you, my father," she said.
"Supposing you call me 'your son,'" he answered, laughing, with
a glance at her white locks.
"Oh!" she replied, "some of us have fathers that are not of the
flesh. I am old, but perhaps your spirit is older than mine."
"All things are possible," said Rupert gravely. "But now, what
is the business?"
"I fear I am too late with my business," she answered. "I came
to warn you against the Sheik Ibrahim, who passed my hut a little
while ago on his way to visit you at your camp. But you have
already seen him, have you not?"
"Yes, Bakhita; but how do you know that?"
"Oh!" she replied evasively; "I heard his angry voice coming
down the wind from the top of yonder hill. I think that he was
threatening and cursing you."
"I am sorry. I have known this man from childhood and his father
before him, for he has done much hurt to my people, and would do
more. That is why I live here; to watch him. He is a very evil man,
cruel and full of the spirit of revenge. Also, it would have been
well to speak him soft, for his tribe is strong and he may give
trouble to the Government. It is true, as he says, that the
soldiers did handle him with roughness, for one of them had grudges
"What is said, is said," answered Rupert indifferently. "But
tell me, mother, how do you come to know so much—about many
"I? Oh! I sit by the river and listen, and the river tells me
its tidings—tidings from the north, tidings from the south; the
river tells me all. Although you white men cannot hear it, that old
river has a voice for those whose ears are opened."
"And how about tidings from east and west where the river does
not run?" asked Rupert, smiling.
"Tidings from the east and west? Oh! thence and thither blow the
winds, and those whose eyes are opened, see more in them than dust.
They have their voices too, those old, old winds, and they tell me
tales of the kings of my people who are dead, and of the loves and
wars of long ago."
Rupert laughed outright.
"You are a very clever woman, mother," he said; "but be careful
that they don't arrest you as a Mahdist spy, for you won't be able
to call the Nile and the Campsine wind as witnesses."
"Ah! you laugh at me," she answered, shaking her old head; "but
you wonderful white folk have still much to learn from the East
that was grey with time when the first of your forefathers yet lay
within the womb. I tell you, Rupert Bey, that all Nature has its
voices, and that some of them speak of the past, some of the
present, and some of the future. Yes; even that moving sand down
which you climbed but now has its own voice."
"I know that well enough, for I heard it, but I can't explain to
you the reason in Arabic."
"You heard it; yes, and you would tell me that it is caused by
sand rubbing up against rocks, or by rocks singing to the sound of
the sand like a harp to the wind, and so, without doubt, it is. You
heard the voice, wise white father, but tell me, did you understand
its talk? Listen!" she went on, without waiting for an answer. "I,
seated here watching you as you climbed, I heard what the sand said
about you and others with whom your life has to do. Oh, no; I am
not a common fortune-teller. I do not look at hands and make
squares in the dust, or throw bones and pebbles, or gaze into pools
of ink. Yet sometimes when the voice speaks to me, then I know, and
never so well as of him whose feet are set upon the Singing
"Indeed, mother; and what was its song of me?"
"I shall not tell you," she answered, shaking her head. "It is
not lawful that I should tell you, and if I did, you would only set
me down as a common cheat—of whom there are many."
"What had the song of the sand to say of me?" he repeated
carelessly, for he was only half-listening to her talk.
"Much, Rupert Bey," she answered; "much that is sad and more
that is noble."
"Noble! That should mean the peerage at least. Well, everything
considered, it is a pretty safe prophecy," he muttered to himself,
with a laugh, and turned to leave her, then checked himself and
asked; "Tell me, Bakhita, what do you know of the lost temple in
the desert yonder?"
Instantly she became very attentive, and answered him with
"How can I know anything of it, if it is lost? But what do you
"I, mother? Nothing; I am interested by the story and in old
temples, that is all, and I was certain that a person who can
interpret the voices of the river, the winds, and the sands, must
know all about it."
"Well, perhaps I do," she answered coolly. "Perhaps I would tell
you also to whom I am so grateful. Come to my hut and we will
"No," he said, "not to-night. I must go back to my camp; I have
letters to write. Another time, Bakhita."
"Very well, another time, and afterwards perhaps we may visit
that temple together. Who can say? But I think that you will have
letters to read as well as to write this evening. Listen!" and she
held up her hand and bent her head towards the river.
"I hear nothing except a jackal howling," he answered.
"Don't you? I hear the beat of a steamer's paddles. She will be
moored by Abu-Simbel in just three hours."
"Nonsense!" said Rupert. "I don't expect her for a week."
"People often get what they don't expect," she answered.
"Good-night, Rupert Bey! All the gods that ever were in Egypt have
you in their keeping till we meet again."
Then she turned without more words, and by the light of the
risen moon began to pick her way swiftly among the rocks fallen
from the cliff face, that lay on the brink of the flooded Nile,
till half a mile or so further north she passed through the fence
of her garden and came to her own mud hut.
Here Bakhita sat down on the ground by its door, and was very
thoughtful whilst she awaited the coming of the steamer, of which
either her own ears or perhaps some traveller had warned her. For
Bakhita also expected a letter, or, at any rate, a message, and she
was thinking of the writer or the sender.
"A mad whim," she said to herself. "Had not Tama wisdom enough
of her own, which comes to her with her blood, that she needs must
go to learn that of these white people, and to do so, leave her
high place to mix even with the daughters of Fellaheen, and hide
her beauty behind the yashmak of a worshipper of the false Prophet?
Surely the god of our fathers must have struck her mad, and now she
is in great danger at the hands of that dog Ibrahim. Yet, who
knows? This madness may be true wisdom. Oh! there are things too
high for me, nor can my skill read all her fate. So here at my post
I bide to watch and learn as I was bidden."