The Boy Fortune Hunters in Egypt - L. Frank Baum - ebook

The Boy Fortune Hunters in Egypt ebook

L. Frank Baum

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Writing under a pseudonym, the prolific „Wizard of Oz” author created a series of far-flung adventure tales starring Sam Steele, a resourceful young sailor. In this story of mystery, deceit, and murder, Sam and his companions seek the legendary wealth of Karnak – a 2,000-year-old treasure buried in the desert sands. The adventure begins when Sam rescues an escaped cabin boy from a sinking dinghy in Boston Harbor. Runaway Joe Herring, along with pampered aristocrat Archie Ackley, accompany Sam to Alexandria, Egypt. There, the trio learn of the legendary lost riches of Karnak and Luxor – a wealth of pearls, gold, precious gems, and historic papyrus rolls, all hidden from invading Persians. Relying upon their pluck, luck, and quick wits, the American boys follow an ancient caravan route to uncover a secret from beyond the grave. Unusually for Baum, the tale of „The Boy Fortune Hunters in Egypt” is told in the first person, by the title character.

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Liczba stron: 252

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Contents

CHAPTER I. THE RUNAWAY

CHAPTER II. OUR VENTURE

CHAPTER III. AN OBSTINATE PASSENGER

CHAPTER IV. A RIOT AND A RESCUE

CHAPTER V. THE PROFESSOR’S SECRET

CHAPTER VI. THE TREASURE OF THE ANCIENTS

CHAPTER VII. A GREAT UNDERTAKING

CHAPTER VIII. GEGE-MERAK

CHAPTER IX. ACROSS THE BLACK MOUNTAINS

CHAPTER X. DEEP IN THE DESERT SANDS

CHAPTER XI. TAKING CHANCES

CHAPTER XII. ABDUL HASHIM EXPLAINS

CHAPTER XIII. PRISONERS

CHAPTER XIV. THE WELL OF THE SCORPIONS

CHAPTER XV. VAN DORN TURNS TRAITOR

CHAPTER XVI. THE MAD CAMEL

CHAPTER XVII. IVA

CHAPTER XVIII. KETTI PROVES A FRIEND

CHAPTER XIX. LOVELACE PASHA

CHAPTER XX. THE KHEDIVE TAKES THE LAST TRICK—BUT ONE

CHAPTER I. THE RUNAWAY

I was standing on the deck of the Seagull, looking over the rail and peering into the moonlight that flooded the bay where we lay at anchor, when the soft dip of an oar caught my ear.

It was the softest dip in the world, stealthy as that of an Indian, and in the silence that reigned aboard ship I stood motionless, listening for a repetition of the sound.

It came presently–the mere rustle of the drops as they slid off the oar’s blade–and a small boat stole from the shadows astern and crept to our side.

I glanced along the rail and saw, a few paces away, the dim form of the watch, alert and vigilant; but the man knew I was there, and forbore to hail the mysterious craft below.

At a snail’s pace the boat glided along our side until it was just beneath me, when I could see a blot in the moonlight that resembled a human form. Then a voice, so gentle that it scarce rose above the breeze, called out:

“Ahoy, mate!”

Now I ought to explain that all this was surprising; we were a simple, honest American merchant ship, lying in home waters and without an element of mystery in our entire outfit. On the neighboring shore of the harbor could be seen the skids from which the Seagull had been launched a month before, and every man and boy in Chelsea knew our history nearly as well as we did ourselves.

But our midnight visitor had chosen to steal upon us in a manner as unaccountable as it was mysterious, and his hail I left unanswered while I walked to the landing steps and descended them until I stood upon the platform that hung just over the boat.

And now I perceived that the tub–for it was little else–was more than half full of water, and that the gunwale rode scarce an inch above the smooth surface of the bay. The miserable thing was waterlogged and about to sink, yet its occupant sat half submerged in his little pool, as quiet and unconcerned as if no danger threatened.

“What’s up?” I demanded, speaking rather sternly.

The form half rose, the tub tipped and filled, and with a gentle splash both disappeared from view and left me staring at the eddies. I was about to call for help when the form bobbed up again and a hand shot out and grasped a rope dangling from the landing stage. I leaned over to assist, and the fellow scrambled up the line with remarkable agility until I was able to seize his collar and drag him, limp and dripping, to a place beside me.

At this time I was just eighteen years of age and, I must confess, not so large in size as I longed to be; but the slender, bent form of the youth whom I had rescued was even of less stature than my own. As he faced me in the moonlight and gave a gasp to clear the water from his throat, I noted the thin, pinched features and the pair of large, dark eyes that gazed with pleading earnestness into my own.

“For Heaven’s sake, what are you up to?” I asked, impatiently; “and how came you to be afloat in that miserable tub? It’s a wonder you didn’t sink long before you reached our side.”

“So it is,” he replied in a low voice. “Are you–are you Sam Steele, sir?”

“Yes.”

“Ah! I hoped it would be you. Can I go aboard, sir? I want to talk to you.”

I could not well have refused, unless I consigned the fellow to the waters of the bay again. Moreover, there was a touching and eager appeal in the lad’s tones that I could not resist. I turned and climbed to the deck, and he followed me as silently as a shadow. Then, leaning against the rail, I inquired somewhat testily:

“Couldn’t you wait until morning to pay me a visit? And hadn’t you enough sense to know that old dinghy wouldn’t float?”

“But it did float, sir, until I got here; and that answered my purpose very well,” he replied. “I had to come at night to keep from being discovered and recaptured.”

“Oh! You’re a criminal, then. Eh?”

“In a way, sir. I’m an escaped cabin-boy.”

That made me laugh. I began to understand, and the knowledge served to relieve the strain and dissolve the uncanny effect of the incident. An escaped cabin-boy! Well, that was nothing very wonderful.

“Here, come to my room and get some dry togs,” I said, turning abruptly to the gangway. The lad followed and we passed silently through the after-cabin, past the door of Uncle Naboth’s quarters–whence issued a series of stentorian snores–and so into my own spacious stateroom, where I lighted a lamp and carefully closed the door.

“Now, then,” I exclaimed, pulling some of my old clothes from a locker, “slip on this toggery at once, so your teeth will stop chattering.”

He discarded his dripping garments and replaced them with my dry flannel shirt and blue trousers, my thick socks and low shoes. I picked up his own ragged clothes and with a snort of contempt for their bedraggled and threadbare condition tossed them out of the window into the sea.

“Oh!” he exclaimed, and clutched at his breast.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Nothing. I thought at first you had thrown away mother’s picture; but it’s here, all right,” and he patted his breast tenderly.

“Hungry?” I inquired.

“Yes, sir.” He gave a shiver, as if he had just remembered this condition; and I brought some biscuits and a tin of sardines from my cupboard and placed them before him.

The boy ate ravenously, washing down the food with a draught of water from the bottle in the rack. I waited for him to finish before I questioned him. Then, motioning him to a seat on my bunk, for he seemed weak and still trembled a bit, I said:

“Now, tell me your story.”

“I’m a Texan,” he replied, slowly, “and used to live in Galveston. My folks are dead and an uncle took care of me until a year ago, when he was shot in a riot. I didn’t mind that; he was never very good to me; but when he was gone I had no home at all. So I shipped as a cabin-boy aboard the Gonzales, a tobacco sloop plying between Galveston and Key West, for I always loved the sea and this was the best berth I could get. The Captain, Jose Marrow, is half Mexican and the cruelest man in the world. He whipped me when he was drunk, and abused and cuffed me when sober, and many a time I hoped he would kill me instead of keeping up the tortures I suffered. Finally he came up here with a cargo, and day before yesterday, just as he had unloaded and was about to sail again, he sent me ashore on an errand. Of course I skipped. I ran along the bay and hid in a lumber shed, from the top of which I could watch the Gonzales. She didn’t sail, because old Marrow was bound to have me back, I guess; so I had to lay low, and all the time I was sure he’d find me in the end and get me back. The sloop’s in the bay yet, sir, only about a quarter of a mile away.”

“Well?”

“Well, last evening a couple of men came to sort some of the timbers, and I lay hid on top the pile and listened to their talk. They spoke of the Seagull, and how it was to sail far away into the Mediterranean, and was the best built ship that ever left this port.”

“That’s true enough, my lad.”

“And they said Cap’n Steele was the best man to work for in the merchant service, and his son, Sam Steele–that’s you, sir–was bound to make as good a sailor as his dad, and had been in some queer adventures already, and was sure to find more of them before he was much older.”

I had to smile at that evident “taffy,” and my smile left the boy embarrassed. He hesitated a moment, and then continued:

“To a poor devil like me, sir, such a tale made me believe this ship a floating paradise. I’ve heard of captains who are not as cruel as old Marrow; so when the men had gone I decided to get to you in some way and beg you to take me aboard. You see, the Mexican is waiting to hunt me down, and I’d die sooner than go back to his terrible ship. If you’ll take me with you, Mr. Steele, I’ll be faithful and true, and work like a nigger for you. If you won’t, why, just say the word, and I’ll jump overboard again.”

“Can you swim?”

“No.”

I thought a moment.

“What’s your name?” I asked, finally.

“Joe Herring.”

“Well, Joe, you’re asking something unusual, I must say. I’m not the captain of the Seagull, but merely purser, or to be more exact the secretary to Mr. Perkins, the supercargo. I own a share in the ship, to be sure, and purchased it with money I made myself; but that fact doesn’t count when we’re at sea, and Captain Steele is the last man in the world to harbor a runaway member of the crew of a friendly ship. Indeed, your old master came aboard us this morning, to inquire about you, and I heard my father say that if he set eyes on you anywhere he’d let Captain Marrow know. As he never breaks his word this promise is to be depended upon. Do you see, now, what a fix you’re in?”

“I do, sir.”

His voice was low and despondent and he seemed to shrink back in his seat into an attitude hopeless and helpless.

I looked at the boy more closely, and the appeal in his pinched features, that had struck me at the first glance on the landing stage, became more impressive than ever.

“How old are you, Joe?”

“Fifteen, sir.”

He was tall, but miserably thin. His brown hair, now wet and clinging about his face, curled naturally and was thick and of fine texture, while his dark eyes were handsome enough to be set in the face of a girl. This, with a certain manly dignity that shone through his pitiful expression, decided me to befriend the lad, and I had an inspiration even in that first hour of meeting that Joe Herring would prove a loyal follower and a faithful friend.

“We sail at ten o’clock, and it’s now past midnight,” I remarked, thoughtfully.

“Yes, sir; I’ll go any time you say.”

“But you can’t swim, Joe.”

“Never mind. Don’t let me be a bother to you. You’ll want to turn in,” casting a wistful look around my pleasant room, “and so I’ll find my way on deck and you needn’t give me another thought.”

“Very good,” said I, nodding. “I think I’ll turn in this minute.”

He rose up, slowly.

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