Corville. “I am in command here, I can’t go. Of all the others you stand the best chance.” He gripped the sergeant’s shoulder. “Damn it, man! Can’t you see how important it is?” He had lapsed into English and Smith answered in the same tongue.
“There is something else far more important, sir. There are two women in the fort, and you know what will happen to them if they are found by the Arabs. I think that it would be best to shoot them before the final charge. The brother too, it is not fair that he should have to suffer because of the criminal stupidity of the Colonel.”
“I mean it, sir. Colonel Marignay is a dangerous fool. Worse than that. For one thing he is far too friendly with Sheik El Morini. For another, hasn’t it struck you as odd that he sent a relief column out to rescue us in the desert? Did he want to rescue us? Or did he want to weaken the garrison by having more men killed before the attack?”
“Do you know what you are saying, Smith?” Corville glared at the sergeant in shocked disbelief. “You are accusing him of being a traitor!”
“Well?” Smith stared steadily at the young officer. “This whole attack is out of the ordinary. The attack at night, when always before the Arabs attack by day. The blowing up of the main gate and the setting of machineguns to deprive us of water. The Colonel, remember, wouldn’t let me draw water for storage when we had the chance. And another thing, why doesn’t he show himself more often? The men are beginning to talk. They wonder why he remains in his quarters so much, and remember, the arms and ammunition are stored beneath the Colonel’s private chambers. He has the key and, without it, we can’t get in to destroy them.”
“The parley,” said Corville, “I was suspicious even then. It sounded as if El Morini was reminding the Colonel of what would happen to him if....” He swore with bitter anger. “A traitor! Is it possible?”
“Perhaps the Colonel is just weak,” suggested Smith. “I have no proof of what I say, but this I do know. The Colonel talks of a Villa near Toulon. How can any officer afford a luxury villa? Marignay has no private means, that is why he persuaded his friends to get him this command. How did he become rich so soon?”
“So you think that Marignay will permit us all to be killed and then, when the battle is over, hand over the guns and ammunition to the raiders?”
“You could be right and if you are....” Again the young officer swore bitterly as he thought of what would happen if such a thing were to come to pass. Armed from the fort, inspired by their easy victory, the tribesmen would call on their brother nomads and, within days, the desert would be aflame with war. Marojia. the arsenal town of the Legion, would be attacked and fall easy prey. Then, armed to the teeth, the Moslems would declare a holy war and the Great Jehad that Le Farge feared would drench the sands of the Sahara in innocent blood.
Corville stared up at the sun, now directly overhead, than looked towards the enemy-filled hills
“Listen. This news must reach Colonel Le Farge. It is more important that he should know of the threat to Marojia than that we should try to save the fort here at Onassis.”
“The fort is doomed,” said Smith bleakly. “It is just a question of time before we are all dead. One more charge, perhaps, and then, at nightfall without a doubt, the garrison will fall.” He glared towards the sulking Arabs. “They are beginning to value their own skins. Why should they charge and die, even if it means taking the fort now, when they can wait until the sun has weakened us and their snipers cut down our number? If what I think is right then they will wait until nightfall to attack. Then there will be fewer of us to destroy the guns. The Colonel can make his unholy bargain with El Morini, and, no matter what tale he chooses to tell, there will be none to deny