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Title: Queen Sheba's Ring
Author: Haggard, H. Rider (Henry Rider), 1856-1925
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Queen Sheba's Ring" ***

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QUEEN SHEBA'S RING

by H. Rider Haggard



CHAPTER I

THE COMING OF THE RING

Every one has read the monograph, I believe that is the right word,
of my dear friend, Professor Higgs--Ptolemy Higgs to give him his full
name--descriptive of the tableland of Mur in North Central Africa, of
the ancient underground city in the mountains which surrounded it,
and of the strange tribe of Abyssinian Jews, or rather their mixed
descendants, by whom it is, or was, inhabited. I say every one
advisedly, for although the public which studies such works is usually
select, that which will take an interest in them, if the character of a
learned and pugnacious personage is concerned, is very wide indeed. Not
to mince matters, I may as well explain what I mean at once.

Professor Higgs's rivals and enemies, of whom either the brilliancy
of his achievements or his somewhat abrupt and pointed methods of
controversy seem to have made him a great many, have risen up, or rather
seated themselves, and written him down--well, an individual who strains
the truth. Indeed, only this morning one of these inquired, in a letter
to the press, alluding to some adventurous traveller who, I am told,
lectured to the British Association several years ago, whether Professor
Higgs did not, in fact, ride across the desert to Mur, not upon a camel,
as he alleged, but upon a land tortoise of extraordinary size.

The innuendo contained in this epistle has made the Professor, who, as
I have already hinted, is not by nature of a meek disposition, extremely
angry. Indeed, notwithstanding all that I could do, he left his London
house under an hour ago with a whip of hippopotamus hide such as the
Egyptians call a _koorbash_, purposing to avenge himself upon the person
of his defamer. In order to prevent a public scandal, however, I have
taken the liberty of telephoning to that gentleman, who, bold and
vicious as he may be in print, is physically small and, I should say,
of a timid character, to get out of the way at once. To judge from the
abrupt fashion in which our conversation came to an end, I imagine that
the hint has been taken. At any rate, I hope for the best, and, as
an extra precaution, have communicated with the lawyers of my justly
indignant friend.

The reader will now probably understand that I am writing this book, not
to bring myself or others before the public, or to make money of which I
have no present need, or for any purpose whatsoever, except to set down
the bare and actual truth. In fact, so many rumours are flying about
as to where we have been and what befell us that this has become
almost necessary. As soon as I laid down that cruel column of gibes and
insinuations to which I have alluded--yes, this very morning, before
breakfast, this conviction took hold of me so strongly that I cabled
to Oliver, Captain Oliver Orme, the hero of my history, if it has
any particular hero, who is at present engaged upon what must be an
extremely agreeable journey round the world--asking his consent. Ten
minutes since the answer arrived from Tokyo. Here it is:

"Do what you like and think necessary, but please alter all names, et
cetera, as propose returning via America, and fear interviewers. Japan
jolly place." Then follows some private matter which I need not insert.
Oliver is always extravagant where cablegrams are concerned.

I suppose that before entering on this narration, for the reader's
benefit I had better give some short description of myself.

My name is Richard Adams, and I am the son of a Cumberland yeoman who
married a Welshwoman. Therefore I have Celtic blood in my veins, which
perhaps accounts for my love of roving and other things. I am now an old
man, near the end of my course, I suppose; at any rate, I was sixty-five
last birthday. This is my appearance as I see it in the glass before
me: tall, spare (I don't weigh more than a hundred and forty pounds--the
desert has any superfluous flesh that I ever owned, my lot having been,
like Falstaff, to lard the lean earth, but in a hot climate); my eyes
are brown, my face is long, and I wear a pointed white beard, which
matches the white hair above.

Truth compels me to add that my general appearance, as seen in that
glass which will not lie, reminds me of that of a rather aged goat;
indeed, to be frank, by the natives among whom I have sojourned, and
especially among the Khalifa's people when I was a prisoner there, I
have often been called the White Goat.

Of my very commonplace outward self let this suffice. As for my record,
I am a doctor of the old school. Think of it! When I was a student at
Bart.'s the antiseptic treatment was quite a new thing, and administered
when at all, by help of a kind of engine on wheels, out of which
disinfectants were dispensed with a pump, much as the advanced gardener
sprays a greenhouse to-day.

I succeeded above the average as a student, and in my early time as
a doctor. But in every man's life there happen things which, whatever
excuses may be found for them, would not look particularly well in cold
print (nobody's record, as understood by convention and the Pharisee,
could really stand cold print); also something in my blood made me its
servant. In short, having no strict ties at home, and desiring to see
the world, I wandered far and wide for many years, earning my living
as I went, never, in my experience, a difficult thing to do, for I was
always a master of my trade.

My fortieth birthday found me practising at Cairo, which I mention only
because it was here that first I met Ptolemy Higgs, who, even then in
his youth, was noted for his extraordinary antiquarian and linguistic
abilities. I remember that in those days the joke about him was that he
could swear in fifteen languages like a native and in thirty-two with
common proficiency, and could read hieroglyphics as easily as a bishop
reads the _Times_.

Well, I doctored him through a bad attack of typhoid, but as he had
spent every farthing he owned on scarabs or something of the sort, made
him no charge. This little kindness I am bound to say he never forgot,
for whatever his failings may be (personally I would not trust him alone
with any object that was more than a thousand years old), Ptolemy is a
good and faithful friend.

In Cairo I married a Copt. She was a lady of high descent, the tradition
in her family being that they were sprung from one of the Ptolemaic
Pharaohs, which is possible and even probable enough. Also, she was a
Christian, and well educated in her way. But, of course, she remained an
Oriental, and for a European to marry an Oriental is, as I have tried to
explain to others, a very dangerous thing, especially if he continues
to live in the East, where it cuts him off from social recognition and
intimacy with his own race. Still, although this step of mine forced me
to leave Cairo and go to Assouan, then a little-known place, to practise
chiefly among the natives, God knows we were happy enough together till
the plague took her, and with it my joy in life.

I pass over all that business, since there are some things too dreadful
and too sacred to write about. She left me one child, a son, who, to
fill up my cup of sorrow, when he was twelve years of age, was kidnapped
by the Mardi's people.

This brings me to the real story. There is nobody else to write
it; Oliver will not; Higgs cannot (outside of anything learned and
antiquarian, he is hopeless); so I must. At any rate, if it is not
interesting, the fault will be mine, not that of the story, which in all
conscience is strange enough.



We are now in the middle of June, and it was a year ago last December
that, on the evening of the day of my arrival in London after an absence
of half a lifetime, I found myself knocking at the door of Professor
Higgs's rooms in Guildford Street, W.C. It was opened by his
housekeeper, Mrs. Reid, a thin and saturnine old woman, who reminded and
still reminds me of a reanimated mummy. She told me that the Professor
was in, but had a gentleman to dinner, and suggested sourly that I
should call again the next morning. With difficulty I persuaded her at
last to inform her master that an old Egyptian friend had brought him
something which he certainly would like to see.

Five minutes later I groped my way into Higgs's sitting-room, which Mrs.
Reid had contented herself with indicating from a lower floor. It is a
large room, running the whole width of the house, divided into two by
an arch, where once, in the Georgian days, there had been folding doors.
The place was in shadow, except for the firelight, which shone upon a
table laid ready for dinner, and upon an extraordinary collection of
antiquities, including a couple of mummies with gold faces arranged in
their coffins against the wall. At the far end of the room, however, an
electric lamp was alight in the bow-window hanging over another table
covered with books, and by it I saw my host, whom I had not met for
twenty years, although until I vanished into the desert we frequently
corresponded, and with him the friend who had come to dinner.

First, I will describe Higgs, who, I may state, is admitted, even by his
enemies, to be one of the most learned antiquarians and greatest masters
of dead languages in Europe, though this no one would guess from his
appearance at the age of about forty-five. In build short and stout,
face round and high-coloured, hair and beard of a fiery red, eyes,
when they can be seen--for generally he wears a pair of large blue
spectacles--small and of an indefinite hue, but sharp as needles. Dress
so untidy, peculiar, and worn that it is said the police invariably
request him to move on, should he loiter in the streets at night. Such
was, and is, the outward seeming of my dearest friend, Professor Ptolemy
Higgs, and I only hope that he won't be offended when he sees it set
down in black and white.

That of his companion who was seated at the table, his chin resting on
his hand, listening to some erudite discourse with a rather distracted
air, was extraordinarily different, especially by contrast. A tall
well-made young man, rather thin, but broad-shouldered, and apparently
five or six and twenty years of age. Face clean-cut--so much so, indeed,
that the dark eyes alone relieved it from a suspicion of hardness; hair
short and straight, like the eyes, brown; expression that of a man of
thought and ability, and, when he smiled, singularly pleasant. Such was,
and is, Captain Oliver Orme, who, by the way, I should explain, is only
a captain of some volunteer engineers, although, in fact, a very able
soldier, as was proved in the South African War, whence he had then but
lately returned.

I ought to add also that he gave me the impression of a man not in
love with fortune, or rather of one with whom fortune was not in love;
indeed, his young face seemed distinctly sad. Perhaps it was this that
attracted me to him so much from the first moment that my eyes fell on
him--me with whom fortune had also been out of love for many years.

While I stood contemplating this pair, Higgs, looking up from the
papyrus or whatever it might be that he was reading (I gathered later
that he had spent the afternoon in unrolling a mummy, and was studying
its spoils), caught sight of me standing in the shadow.

"Who the devil are you?" he exclaimed in a shrill and strident voice,
for it acquires that quality when he is angry or alarmed, "and what are
you doing in my room?"

"Steady," said his companion; "your housekeeper told you that some
friend of yours had come to call."

"Oh, yes, so she did, only I can't remember any friend with a face and
beard like a goat. Advance, friend, and all's well."

So I stepped into the shining circle of the electric light and halted
again.

"Who is it? Who is it?" muttered Higgs. "The face is the face of--of--I
have it--of old Adams, only he's been dead these ten years. The Khalifa
got him, they said. Antique shade of the long-lost Adams, please be so
good as to tell me your name, for we waste time over a useless mystery."

"There is no need, Higgs, since it is in your mouth already. Well, I
should have known you anywhere; but then _your_ hair doesn't go white."

"Not it; too much colouring matter; direct result of a sanguine
disposition. Well, Adams--for Adams you must be--I am really delighted
to see you, especially as you never answered some questions in my last
letter as to where you got those First Dynasty scarabs, of which the
genuineness, I may tell you, has been disputed by certain envious
beasts. Adams, my dear old fellow, welcome a thousand times"--and he
seized my hands and wrung them, adding, as his eye fell upon a ring I
wore, "Why, what's that? Something quite unusual. But never mind; you
shall tell me after dinner. Let me introduce you to my friend, Captain
Orme, a very decent scholar of Arabic, with a quite elementary knowledge
of Egyptology."

"_Mr._ Orme," interrupted the younger man, bowing to me.

"Oh, well, Mr. or Captain, whichever you like. He means that he is not
in the regular army, although he has been all through the Boer War, and
wounded three times, once straight through the lungs. Here's the soup.
Mrs. Reid, lay another place. I am dreadfully hungry; nothing gives me
such an appetite as unrolling mummies; it involves so much intellectual
wear and tear, in addition to the physical labour. Eat, man, eat. We
will talk afterwards."

So we ate, Higgs largely, for his appetite was always excellent, perhaps
because he was then practically a teetotaller; Mr. Orme very moderately,
and I as becomes a person who has lived for months at a time on
dates--mainly of vegetables, which, with fruits, form my principal
diet--that is, if these are available, for at a pinch I can exist on
anything.

When the meal was finished and our glasses had been filled with port,
Higgs helped himself to water, lit the large meerschaum pipe he always
smokes, and pushed round the tobacco-jar which had once served as a
sepulchural urn for the heart of an old Egyptian.

"Now, Adams," he said when we also had filled our pipes, "tell us what
has brought you back from the Shades. In short, your story, man, your
story."

I drew the ring he had noticed off my hand, a thick band of rather
light-coloured gold of a size such as an ordinary woman might wear upon
her first or second finger, in which was set a splendid slab of
sapphire engraved with curious and archaic characters. Pointing to these
characters, I asked Higgs if he could read them.

"Read them? Of course," he answered, producing a magnifying glass.
"Can't you? No, I remember; you never were good at anything more than
fifty years old. Hullo! this is early Hebrew. Ah! I've got it," and he
read:

"'The gift of Solomon the ruler--no, the Great One--of Israel, Beloved
of Jah, to Maqueda of Sheba-land, Queen, Daughter of Kings, Child of
Wisdom, Beautiful.'

"That's the writing on your ring, Adams--a really magnificent thing.
'Queen of Sheba--Bath-Melachim, Daughter of Kings,' with our old friend
Solomon chucked in. Splendid, quite splendid!"--and he touched the gold
with his tongue, and tested it with his teeth. "Hum--where did you get
this intelligent fraud from, Adams?"

"Oh!" I answered, laughing, "the usual thing, of course. I bought it
from a donkey-boy in Cairo for about thirty shillings."

"Indeed," he replied suspiciously. "I should have thought the stone in
it was worth more than that, although, of course, it may be nothing
but glass. The engraving, too, is first-rate. Adams," he added with
severity, "you are trying to hoax us, but let me tell you what I thought
you knew by this time--that you can't take in Ptolemy Higgs. This
ring is a shameless swindle; but who did the Hebrew on it? He's a good
scholar, anyway."

"Don't know," I answered; "wasn't aware till now that it was Hebrew. To
tell you the truth, I thought it was old Egyptian. All I do know is
that it was given, or rather lent, to me by a lady whose title is Walda
Nagasta, and who is supposed to be a descendant of Solomon and the Queen
of Sheba."

Higgs took up the ring and looked at it again; then, as though in a fit
of abstraction, slipped it into his waistcoat pocket.

"I don't want to be rude, therefore I will not contradict you," he
answered with a kind of groan, "or, indeed, say anything except that
if any one else had spun me that yarn I should have told him he was
a common liar. But, of course, as every schoolboy knows, Walda
Nagasta--that is, Child of Kings in Ethiopic--is much the same as
Bath-Melachim--that is, Daughter of Kings in Hebrew."

Here Captain Orme burst out laughing, and remarked, "It is easy to see
why you are not altogether popular in the antiquarian world, Higgs. Your
methods of controversy are those of a savage with a stone axe."

"If you only open your mouth to show your ignorance, Oliver, you had
better keep it shut. The men who carried stone axes had advanced far
beyond the state of savagery. But I suggest that you had better
give Doctor Adams a chance of telling his story, after which you can
criticize."

"Perhaps Captain Orme does not wish to be bored with it," I said,
whereon he answered at once:

"On the contrary, I should like to hear it very much--that is, if you
are willing to confide in me as well as in Higgs."

I reflected a moment, since, to tell the truth, for sundry reasons, my
intention had been to trust no one except the Professor, whom I knew to
be as faithful as he is rough. Yet some instinct prompted me to make
an exception in favour of this Captain Orme. I liked the man; there was
something about those brown eyes of his that appealed to me. Also it
struck me as odd that he should happen to be present on this occasion,
for I have always held that there is nothing casual or accidental in the
world; that even the most trivial circumstances are either ordained,
or the result of the workings of some inexorable law whereof the end
is known by whatever power may direct our steps, though it be not yet
declared.

"Certainly I am willing," I answered; "your face and your friendship
with the Professor are passport enough for me. Only I must ask you
to give me your word of honour that without my leave you will repeat
nothing of what I am about to tell you."

"Of course," he answered, whereon Higgs broke in:

"There, that will do; you don't want us both to kiss the Book, do you?
Who sold you that ring, and where have you been for the last dozen
years, and whence do you come now?"

"I have been a prisoner of the Khalifa's among other things. I had five
years of that entertainment of which my back would give some evidence
if I were to strip. I think I am about the only man who never embraced
Islam whom they allowed to live, and that was because I am a doctor,
and, therefore, a useful person. The rest of the time I have spent
wandering about the North African deserts looking for my son, Roderick.
You remember the boy, or should, for you are his godfather, and I used
to send you photographs of him as a little chap."

"Of course, of course," said the Professor in a new tone; "I came across
a Christmas letter from him the other day. But, my dear Adams, what
happened? I never heard."

"He went up the river to shoot crocodiles against my orders, when he was
about twelve years old--not very long after his mother's death, and some
wandering Mahdi tribesmen kidnapped him and sold him as a slave. I have
been looking for him ever since, for the poor boy was passed on from
tribe to tribe, among which his skill as a musician enabled me to follow
him. The Arabs call him the Singer of Egypt, because of his wonderful
voice, and it seems that he has learned to play upon their native
instruments."

"And now where is he?" asked Higgs, as one who feared the answer.

"He is, or was, a favourite slave among a barbarous, half-negroid people
called the Fung, who dwell in the far interior of North Central Africa.
After the fall of the Khalifa I followed him there; it took me several
years. Some Bedouin were making an expedition to trade with these Fung,
and I disguised myself as one of them.

"On a certain night we camped at the foot of a valley outside a great
wall which encloses the holy place where their idol is. I rode up to
this wall and, through the open gateway, heard some one with a beautiful
tenor voice singing in English. What he sang was a hymn that I had
taught my son. It begins:

'Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.'

"I knew the voice again. I dismounted and slipped through the gateway,
and presently came to an open space, where a young man sat singing upon
a sort of raised bench with lamps on either side of him, and a large
audience in front. I saw his face and, notwithstanding the turban which
he wore and his Eastern robe--yes, and the passage of all those years--I
knew it for that of my son. Some spirit of madness entered into me, and
I called aloud, 'Roderick, Roderick!' and he started up, staring about
him wildly. The audience started up also, and one of them caught sight
of me lurking in the shadow.

"With a howl of rage, for I had desecrated their sanctuary, they sprang
at me. To save my life, coward that I was, I fled back through the
gates. Yes, after all those years of seeking, still I fled rather than
die, and though I was wounded with a spear and stones, managed to reach
and spring upon my horse. Then, as I was headed off from our camp,
I galloped away anywhere, still to save my miserable life from those
savages, so strongly is the instinct of self-preservation implanted
in us. From a distance I looked back and saw by the light of the fired
tents that the Fung were attacking the Arabs with whom I had travelled,
I suppose because they thought them parties to the sacrilege. Afterwards
I heard that they killed them every one, poor men, but I escaped, who
unwittingly had brought their fate upon them.

"On and on I galloped up a steep road. I remember hearing lions roaring
round me in the darkness. I remember one of them springing upon my
horse and the poor beast's scream. Then I remember no more till I found
myself--I believe it was a week or so later--lying on the verandah of
a nice house, and being attended by some good-looking women of an
Abyssinian cast of countenance."

"Sounds rather like one of the lost tribes of Israel," remarked Higgs
sarcastically, puffing at his big meerschaum.

"Yes, something of that sort. The details I will give you later. The
main facts are that these people who picked me up outside their gates
are called Abati, live in a town called Mur, and allege themselves to
be descended from a tribe of Abyssinian Jews who were driven out and
migrated to this place four or five centuries ago. Briefly, they
look something like Jews, practise a very debased form of the Jewish
religion, are civilized and clever after a fashion, but in the last
stage of decadence from interbreeding--about nine thousand men is their
total fighting force, although three or four generations ago they had
twenty thousand--and live in hourly terror of extermination by the
surrounding Fung, who hold them in hereditary hate as the possessors
of the wonderful mountain fortress that once belonged to their
forefathers."

"Gibraltar and Spain over again," suggested Orme.

"Yes, with this difference--that the position is reversed, the Abati of
this Central African Gibraltar are decaying, and the Fung, who answer to
the Spaniards, are vigorous and increasing."

"Well, what happened?" asked the Professor.

"Nothing particular. I tried to persuade these Abati to organize an
expedition to rescue my son, but they laughed in my face. By degrees
I found out that there was only one person among them who was worth
anything at all, and she happened to be their hereditary ruler who bore
the high-sounding titles of Walda Nagasta, or Child of Kings, and Takla
Warda, or Bud of the Rose, a very handsome and spirited young woman,
whose personal name is Maqueda----"

"One of the names of the first known Queens of Sheba," muttered Higgs;
"the other was Belchis."

"Under pretence of attending her medically," I went on, "for otherwise
their wretched etiquette would scarcely have allowed me access to one so
exalted, I talked things over with her. She told me that the idol of
the Fung is fashioned like a huge sphinx, or so I gathered from her
description of the thing, for I have never seen it."

"What!" exclaimed Higgs, jumping up, "a sphinx in North Central Africa!
Well, after all, why not? Some of the earlier Pharaohs are said to have
had dealings with that part of the world, or even to have migrated from
it. I think that the Makreezi repeats the legend. I suppose that it is
ram-headed."

"She told me also," I continued, "that they have a tradition, or rather
a belief, which amounts to an article of faith, that if this sphinx
or god, which, by the way, is lion, not ram-headed, and is called
Harmac----"

"Harmac!" interrupted Higgs again. "That is one of the names of the
sphinx--Harmachis, god of dawn."

"If this god," I repeated, "should be destroyed, the nation of the Fung,
whose forefathers fashioned it as they say, must move away from that
country across the great river which lies to the south. I have forgotten
its name at the moment, but I think it must be a branch of the Nile.

"I suggested to her that, in the circumstances, her people had better
try to destroy the idol. Maqueda laughed and said it was impossible,
since the thing was the size of a small mountain, adding that the Abati
had long ago lost all courage and enterprise, and were content to sit in
their fertile and mountain-ringed land, feeding themselves with tales of
departed grandeur and struggling for rank and high-sounding titles, till
the day of doom overtook them.

"I inquired whether she were also content, and she replied, 'Certainly
not'; but what could she do to regenerate her people, she who was
nothing but a woman, and the last of an endless line of rulers?

"'Rid me of the Fung,' she added passionately, 'and I will give you
such a reward as you never dreamed. The old cave-city yonder is full of
treasure that was buried with its ancient kings long before we came to
Mur. To us it is useless, since we have none to trade with, but I have
heard that the peoples of the outside world worship gold.'

"'I do not want gold,' I answered; 'I want to rescue my son who is a
prisoner yonder.'

"'Then,' said the Child of Kings, 'you must begin by helping us to
destroy the idol of the Fung. Are there no means by which this can be
done?'

"'There are means,' I replied, and I tried to explain to her the
properties of dynamite and of other more powerful explosives.

"'Go to your own land,' she exclaimed eagerly, 'and return with that
stuff and two or three who can manage it, and I swear to them all the
wealth of Mur. Thus only can you win my help to save your son.'"

"Well, what was the end?" asked Captain Orme.

"This: They gave me some gold and an escort with camels which were
literally lowered down a secret path in the mountains so as to avoid the
Fung, who ring them in and of whom they are terribly afraid. With these
people I crossed the desert to Assouan in safety, a journey of many
weeks, where I left them encamped about sixteen days ago, bidding them
await my return. I arrived in England this morning, and as soon as I
could ascertain that you still lived, and your address, from a book of
reference called _Who's Who_, which they gave me in the hotel, I came on
here."

"Why did you come to me? What do you want me to do?" asked the
Professor.

"I came to you, Higgs, because I know how deeply you are interested
in anything antiquarian, and because I wished to give you the first
opportunity, not only of winning wealth, but also of becoming famous as
the discoverer of the most wonderful relics of antiquity that are left
in the world."

"With a very good chance of getting my throat cut thrown in," grumbled
Higgs.

"As to what I want you to do," I went on, "I want you to find someone
who understands explosives, and will undertake the business of blowing
up the Fung idol."

"Well, that's easy enough, anyhow," said the Professor, pointing to
Captain Orme with the bowl of his pipe, and adding, "he is an engineer
by education, a soldier and a very fair chemist; also he knows Arabic
and was brought up in Egypt as a boy--just the man for the job if he
will go."

I reflected a moment, then, obeying some sort of instinct, looked up and
asked:

"Will you, Captain Orme, if terms can be arranged?"

"Yesterday," he replied, colouring a little, "I should have answered,
'Certainly not.' To-day I answer that I am prepared to consider the
matter--that is, if Higgs will go too, and you can enlighten me on
certain points. But I warn you that I am only an amateur in the three
trades that the Professor has mentioned, though, it is true, one with
some experience."

"Would it be rude to inquire, Captain Orme, why twenty-four hours have
made such a difference in your views and plans?"

"Not rude, only awkward," he replied, colouring again, this time more
deeply. "Still, as it is best to be frank, I will tell you. Yesterday
I believed myself to be the inheritor of a very large fortune from an
uncle whose fatal illness brought me back from South Africa before I
meant to come, and as whose heir I have been brought up. To-day I have
learned for the first time that he married secretly, last year, a woman
much below him in rank, and has left a child, who, of course, will take
all his property, as he died intestate. But that is not all. Yesterday I
believed myself to be engaged to be married; to-day I am undeceived
upon that point also. The lady," he added with some bitterness, "who
was willing to marry Anthony Orme's heir is no longer willing to marry
Oliver Orme, whose total possessions amount to under £10,000. Well,
small blame to her or to her relations, whichever it may be, especially
as I understand that she has a better alliance in view. Certainly her
decision has simplified matters," and he rose and walked to the other
end of the room.

"Shocking business," whispered Higgs; "been infamously treated," and
he proceeded to express his opinion of the lady concerned, of her
relatives, and of the late Anthony Orme, shipowner, in language that,
if printed, would render this history unfit for family reading. The
outspokenness of Professor Higgs is well known in the antiquarian world,
so there is no need for me to enlarge upon it.

"What I do not exactly understand, Adams," he added in a loud voice,
seeing that Orme had turned again, "and what I think we should both like
to know, is _your_ exact object in making these proposals."

"I am afraid I have explained myself badly. I thought I had made it
clear that I have only one object--to attempt the rescue of my son,
if he still lives, as I believe he does. Higgs, put yourself in my
position. Imagine yourself with nothing and no one left to care for
except a single child, and that child stolen away from you by savages.
Imagine yourself, after years of search, hearing his very voice, seeing
his very face, adult now, but the same, the thing you had dreamed of and
desired for years; that for which you would have given a thousand lives
if you could have had time to think. And then the rush of the howling,
fantastic mob, the breakdown of courage, of love, of everything that
is noble under the pressure of primæval instinct, which has but one
song--Save your life. Lastly, imagine this coward saved, dwelling within
a few miles of the son whom he had deserted, and yet utterly unable to
rescue or even to communicate with him because of the poltroonery of
those among whom he had refuged."

"Well," grunted Higgs, "I have imagined all that high-faluting lot. What
of it? If you mean that you are to blame, I don't agree with you.
You wouldn't have helped your son by getting your own throat cut, and
perhaps his also."

"I don't know," I answered. "I have brooded over the thing so long that
it seems to me that I have disgraced myself. Well, there came a chance,
and I took it. This lady, Walda Nagasta, or Maqueda, who, I think,
had also brooded over things, made me an offer--I fancy without the
knowledge or consent of her Council. 'Help me,' she said, 'and I will
help you. Save my people, and I will try to save your son. I can pay for
your services and those of any whom you may bring with you.'

"I answered that it was hopeless, as no one would believe the tale,
whereon she drew from her finger the throne-ring or State signet which
you have in your pocket, Higgs, saying: 'My mothers have worn this since
the days of Maqueda, Queen of Sheba. If there are learned men among your
people they will read her name upon it and know that I speak no lie.
Take it as a token, and take also enough of our gold to buy the stuffs
whereof you speak, which hide fires that can throw mountains skyward,
and the services of skilled and trusty men who are masters of the stuff,
two or three of them only, for more cannot be transported across the
desert, and come back to save your son and me.' That's all the story,
Higgs. Will you take the business on, or shall I try elsewhere? You must
make up your mind, because I have no time to lose, if I am to get into
Mur again before the rains."

"Got any of that gold you spoke of about you?" asked the Professor.

I drew a skin bag from the pocket of my coat, and poured some out upon
the table, which he examined carefully.

"Ring money," he said presently, "might be Anglo-Saxon, might be
anything; date absolutely uncertain, but from its appearance I should
say slightly alloyed with silver; yes, there is a bit which has
oxydized--undoubtedly old, that."

Then he produced the signet from his pocket, and examined the ring and
the stone very carefully through a powerful glass.

"Seems all right," he said, "and although I have been greened in my
time, I don't make many mistakes nowadays. What do you say, Adams? Must
have it back? A sacred trust! Only lent to you! All right, take it by
all means. _I_ don't want the thing. Well, it is a risky job, and if any
one else had proposed it to me, I'd have told him to go to--Mur. But,
Adams, my boy, you saved my life once, and never sent in a bill, because
I was hard up, and I haven't forgotten that. Also things are pretty hot
for me here just now over a certain controversy of which I suppose
you haven't heard in Central Africa. I think I'll go. What do you say,
Oliver?"

"Oh!" said Captain Orme, waking up from a reverie, "if you are
satisfied, I am. It doesn't matter to me where I go."



CHAPTER II

THE ADVICE OF SERGEANT QUICK

At this moment a fearful hubbub arose without. The front door slammed,
a cab drove off furiously, a policeman's whistle blew, heavy feet
were heard trampling; then came an invocation of "In the King's name,"
answered by "Yes, and the Queen's, and the rest of the Royal Family's,
and if you want it, take it, you chuckle-headed, flat-footed,
pot-bellied Peelers."

Then followed tumult indescribable as of heavy men and things rolling
down the stairs, with cries of fear and indignation.

"What the dickens is that?" asked Higgs.

"The voice sounded like that of Samuel--I mean Sergeant Quick," answered
Captain Orme with evident alarm; "what can he be after? Oh, I know,
it is something to do with that infernal mummy you unwrapped this
afternoon, and asked him to bring round after dinner."

Just then the door burst open, and a tall, soldier-like form stalked in,
carrying in his arms a corpse wrapped in a sheet, which he laid upon the
table among the wine glasses.

"I'm sorry, Captain," he said, addressing Orme, "but I've lost the head
of the departed. I think it is at the bottom of the stairs with the
police. Had nothing else to defend myself with, sir, against their
unwarranted attacks, so brought the body to the present and charged,
thinking it very stiff and strong, but regret to say neck snapped, and
that deceased's head is now under arrest."

As Sergeant Quick finished speaking, the door opened again, and through
it appeared two very flurried and dishevelled policemen, one of whom
held, as far as possible from his person, the grizzly head of a mummy by
the long hair which still adhered to the skull.

"What do you mean by breaking into my rooms like this? Where's your
warrant?" asked the indignant Higgs in his high voice.

"There!" answered the first policeman, pointing to the sheet-wrapped
form on the table.

"And here!" added the second, holding up the awful head. "As in duty
bound, we ask explanation from that man of the secret conveyance of a
corpse through the open streets, whereon he assaults us with the same,
for which assault, pending investigation of the corpse, I arrest him.
Now, Guv'nor" (addressing Sergeant Quick), "will you come along with us
quietly, or must we take you?"

The Sergeant, who seemed to be inarticulate with wrath, made a dash for
the shrouded object on the table, with the intention, apparently, of
once more using it as a weapon of offence, and the policemen drew their
batons.

"Stop," said Orme, thrusting himself between the combatants, "are you
all mad? Do you know that this woman died about four thousand years
ago?"

"Oh, Lord!" said the policeman who held the head, addressing his
companion, "it must be one of them mummies what they dig up in the
British Museum. Seems pretty ancient and spicy, don't it?" and he
sniffed at the head, then set it down upon the table.

Explanations followed, and after the wounded dignity of the two officers
of the Force had been soothed with sundry glasses of port wine and a
written list of the names of all concerned, including that of the mummy,
they departed.

"You take my advice, bobbies," I heard the indignant Sergeant declaim
outside the door, "and don't you believe things is always what they
seem. A party ain't necessarily drunk because he rolls about and falls
down in the street; he may be mad, or 'ungry, or epileptic, and a body
ain't always a body jest because it's dead and cold and stiff. Why, men,
as you've seen, it may be a mummy, which is quite a different thing. If
I was to put on that blue coat of yours, would that make me a policeman?
Good heavens! I should hope not, for the sake of the Army to which I
still belong, being in the Reserve. What you bobbies need is to study
human nature and cultivate observation, which will learn you the
difference between a new-laid corpse and a mummy, and many other
things. Now you lay my words to heart, and you'll both of you rise to
superintendents, instead of running in daily 'drunks' until you retire
on a pension. Good-night."

Peace having been restored, and the headless mummy removed into the
Professor's bedroom, since Captain Orme declared that he could not talk
business in the presence of a body, however ancient, we resumed our
discussion. First of all, at Higgs's suggestion I drew up a brief
memorandum of agreement which set out the objects of the expedition,
and provided for the equal division amongst us of any profit that might
accrue; in the event of the death of one or more of us, the survivors or
survivor to take their or his share.

To this arrangement personally I objected, who desired neither treasure
nor antiquities, but only the rescue of my son. The others pointed out,
however, that, like most people, I might in future want something
to live on, or that if I did not, in the event of his escape, my boy
certainly would; so in the end I gave way.

Then Captain Orme very sensibly asked for a definition of our respective
duties, and it was settled that I was to be guide to the expedition;
Higgs, antiquarian, interpreter, and, on account of his vast knowledge,
general referee; and Captain Orme, engineer and military commander,
with the proviso that, in the event of a difference of opinion, the
dissentient was to loyally accept the decision of the majority.

This curious document having been copied out fair, I signed and passed
it to the Professor, who hesitated a little, but, after refreshing
himself with a further minute examination of Sheba's ring, signed also,
remarking that he was an infernal fool for his pains, and pushed the
paper across the table to Orme.

"Stop a minute," said the Captain; "I forgot something. I should like my
old servant, Sergeant Quick, to accompany us. He's a very handy man at
a pinch, especially if, as I understand, we are expected to deal with
explosives with which he has had a lot to do in the Engineers and
elsewhere. If you agree I will call him, and ask if he will go. I expect
he's somewhere round."

I nodded, judging from the episode of the mummy and the policeman that
the Sergeant was likely to be a useful man. As I was sitting next to it,
I opened the door for the Captain, whereon the erect shape of Sergeant
Quick, who had clearly been leaning against it, literally fell into the
room, reminding me much of an overset wooden soldier.

"Hullo!" said Orme as, without the slightest change of countenance, his
retainer recovered himself and stood to attention. "What the deuce are
you doing there?"

"Sentry go, Captain. Thought the police might change their minds and
come back. Any orders, Captain?"

"Yes. I am going to North Central Africa. When can you be ready to
start?"

"The Brindisi mail leaves to-morrow night, Captain, if you travel by
Egypt, but if you go by Tunis, 7.15 a.m. Saturday is the time from
Charing Cross. Only, as I understand that high explosives and arms have
to be provided, these might take awhile to lay in and pack so as to
deceive customs."

"You understand!" said Orme. "Pray, how do you understand?"

"Doors in these old houses are apt to get away from their frames,
Captain, and the gentleman there"--and he pointed to the Professor--"has
a voice that carries like a dog-whistle. Oh, no offence, sir. A clear
voice is an excellent thing--that is, if the doors fit"--and although
Sergeant Quick's wooden face did not move, I saw his humorous grey eyes
twinkle beneath the bushy eyebrows.

We burst out laughing, including Higgs.

"So you are willing to go?" said Orme. "But I hope you clearly
understand that this is a risky business, and that you may not come
back?"

"Spion Kop was a bit risky, Captain, and so was that business in the
donga, where every one was hit except you and me and the sailor man, but
we came back, for all that. Begging your pardon, Captain, there ain't no
such thing as risk. Man comes here when he must, and dies when he must,
and what he does between don't make a ha'porth of difference."

"Hear, hear," I said; "we are much of the same way of thinking."

"There have been several who held those views, sir, since old Solomon
gave the lady that"--and he pointed to Sheba's ring, which was lying
on the table. "But excuse me, Captain; how about local allowances? Not
having been a marrying man myself, I've none dependent upon me, but, as
you know, I've sisters that have, and a soldier's pension goes with
him. Don't think me greedy, Captain," he added hastily, "but, as you
gentlemen understand, black and white at the beginning saves bother at
the end"--and he pointed to the agreement.

"Quite right. What do you want, Sergeant?" asked Orme.

"Nothing beyond my pay, if we get nothing, Captain, but if we get
something, would five per cent. be too much?"

"It might be ten," I suggested. "Sergeant Quick has a life to lose like
the rest of us."

"Thank you kindly, sir," he answered; "but that, in my opinion, would be
too much. Five per cent. was what I suggested."

So it was written down that Sergeant Samuel Quick was to receive five
per cent. of the total profits, if any, provided that he behaved himself
and obeyed orders. Then he also signed the agreement, and was furnished
with a glass of whisky and water to drink to its good health.

"Now, gentlemen," he said, declining the chair which Higgs offered
to him, apparently because, from long custom, he preferred his
wooden-soldier attitude against the wall, "as a humble five-per-cent.
private in this very adventurous company I'll ask permission to say a
word."

Permission was given accordingly, and the Sergeant proceeded to inquire
what weight of rock it was wished to remove.

I told him that I did not know, as I had never seen the Fung idol, but
I understood that its size was enormous, probably as large as St. Paul's
Cathedral.

"Which, if solid, would take some stirring," remarked the Sergeant.
"Dynamite might do it, but it is too bulky to be carried across the
desert on camels in that quantity. Captain, how about them picrates? You
remember those new Boer shells that blew a lot of us to kingdom come,
and poisoned the rest?"

"Yes," answered Orme; "I remember; but now they have stronger
stuffs--azo-imides, I think they call them--terrific new compounds of
nitrogen. We will inquire to-morrow, Sergeant."

"Yes, Captain," he answered; "but the point is, who'll pay? You can't
buy hell-fire in bulk for nothing. I calculate that, allowing for
the purchase of the explosives and, say, fifty military rifles with
ammunition and all other necessaries, not including camels, the outfit
of this expedition can't come to less than £1,500."

"I think I have that amount in gold," I answered, "of which the lady of
the Abati gave me as much as I could carry in comfort."

"If not," said Orme, "although I am a poor man now, I could find £500
or so in a pinch. So don't let us bother about the money. The question
is--Are we all agreed that we will undertake this expedition and see it
through to the end, whatever that may be?"

We answered that we were.

"Then has anybody anything more to say?"

"Yes," I replied; "I forgot to tell you that if we should ever get to
Mur, none of you must make love to the Walda Nagasta. She is a kind of
holy person, who can only marry into her own family, and to do so might
mean that our throats would be cut."

"Do you hear that, Oliver?" said the Professor. "I suppose that the
Doctor's warning is meant for you, as the rest of us are rather past
that kind of thing."

"Indeed," replied the Captain, colouring again after his fashion. "Well,
to tell you the truth, I feel a bit past it myself, and, so far as I
am concerned, I don't think we need take the fascinations of this black
lady into account."

"Don't brag, Captain. Please don't brag," said Sergeant Quick in a
hollow whisper. "Woman is just the one thing about which you can never
be sure. To-day she's poison, and to-morrow honey--God and the climate
alone know why. Please don't brag, or we may live to see you crawling
after this one on your knees, with the gent in the specs behind, and
Samuel Quick, who hates the whole tribe of them, bringing up the rear.
Tempt Providence, if you like, Captain, but don't tempt woman, lest she
should turn round and tempt you, as she has done before to-day."

"Will you be so good as to stop talking nonsense and call a cab," said
Captain Orme coldly. But Higgs began to laugh in his rude fashion, and
I, remembering the appearance of "Bud of the Rose" when she lifted
her veil of ceremony, and the soft earnestness of her voice, fell into
reflection. "Black lady" indeed! What, I wondered, would this young
gentleman think if ever he should live to set his eyes upon her sweet
and comely face?

It seemed to me that Sergeant Quick was not so foolish as his master
chose to imagine. Captain Orme undoubtedly was in every way qualified to
be a partner in our venture; still, I could have wished either that
he had been an older man, or that the lady to whom he was recently
affianced had not chosen this occasion to break her engagement. In
dealing with difficult and dangerous combinations, my experience has
been that it is always well to eliminate the possibility of a love
affair, especially in the East.



CHAPTER III

THE PROFESSOR GOES OUT SHOOTING

Of all our tremendous journey across the desert until we had passed the
forest and reached the plains which surrounded the mountains of Mur,
there are, I think, but few incidents with which the reader need be
troubled. The first of these was at Assouan, where a letter and various
telegrams overtook Captain Orme, which, as by this time we had become
intimate, he showed to me. They informed him that the clandestine infant
whom his uncle left behind him had suddenly sickened and died of some
childish ailment, so that he was once again heir to the large property
which he thought he had lost, since the widow only took a life interest
in some of the personalty. I congratulated him and said I supposed this
meant that we should not have the pleasure of his company to Mur.

"Why not?" he asked. "I said I was going and I mean to go; indeed, I
signed a document to that effect."

"I daresay," I answered, "but circumstances alter cases. If I might say
so, an adventure that perhaps was good enough for a young and well-born
man of spirit and enterprise without any particular resources, is no
longer good enough for one who has the ball at his feet. Think what a
ball it is to a man of your birth, intelligence, record, and now,
great fortune come to you in youth. Why, with these advantages there
is absolutely nothing that you cannot do in England. You can go into
Parliament and rule the country; if you like you can become a peer.
You can marry any one who isn't of the blood royal; in short, with
uncommonly little effort of your own, your career is made for you. Don't
throw away a silver spoon like that in order, perhaps, to die of thirst
in the desert or be killed in a fight among unknown tribes."

"Oh, I don't know," he answered. "I never set heart much on spoons,
silver or other. When I lost this one I didn't cry, and now that I have
found it again I shan't sing. Anyway, I am going on with you, and you
can't prevent me under the agreement. Only as I have got such a lot to
leave, I suppose I had better make a will first and post it home, which
is a bore."

Just then the Professor came in, followed by an Arab thief of a dealer,
with whom he was trying to bargain for some object of antiquity. When
the dealer had been ejected and the position explained to him, Higgs,
who whatever may be his failings in small matters, is unselfish enough
in big ones, said that he agreed with me and thought that under the
circumstances, in his own interest, Orme ought to leave us and return
home.

"You may save your breath, old fellow," answered the Captain, "for this
reason if for no other," and he threw him a letter across the table,
which letter I saw afterwards. To be brief, it was from the young
lady to whom he had been engaged to be married, and who on his loss of
fortune had jilted him. Now she seemed to have changed her mind
again, and, although she did not mention the matter, it is perhaps not
uncharitable to suppose that the news of the death of the inconvenient
child had something to do with her decision.

"Have you answered this?" asked Higgs.

"No," answered Orme, setting his mouth. "I have not answered, and I
am not going to answer it, either in writing or in person. I intend to
start to-morrow for Mur and to travel as far on that road as it pleases
fate to allow, and now I am going to look at the rock sculptures by the
cataract."

"Well, that's flat," said Higgs after he had departed, "and for my part
I am glad of it, for somehow I think he will be a useful man among those
Fung. Also, if he went I expect that the Sergeant would go too, and
where should we be without Quick, I should like to know?"

Afterwards I conversed with the said Quick about this same matter,
repeating to him my opinions, to which the Sergeant listened with the
deference which he was always kind enough to show to me.

"Begging your pardon, sir," he said, when I had finished, "but I think
you are both right and wrong. Everything has two ends, hasn't it? You
say that it would be wicked for the Captain to get himself killed, there
being now so much money for him to live for, seeing that life is common
as dirt while money is precious, rare and hard to come by. It ain't
the kings we admire, it's their crowns; it ain't the millionaires,
it's their millions; but, after all, the millionaires don't take their
millions with them, for Providence, that, like Nature, hates waste,
knows that if they did they'd melt, so one man dead gives another bread,
as the saying goes, or p'raps I should say gingerbread in such cases.

"Still, on the whole, sir, I admit you are right as to the sinfulness of
wasting luck. But now comes the other end. I know this young lady what
the Captain was engaged to, which he never would have been if he had
taken my advice, since of all the fish-blooded little serpents that ever
I set eyes on she's the serpentest, though pretty, I allow. Solomon said
in his haste that an honest woman he had not found, but if he had met
the Honourable Miss--well, never mind her name--he'd have said it at
his leisure, and gone on saying it. Now, no one should never take back
a servant what has given notice and then says he's sorry, for if he does
the sorrow will be on the other side before it's all done; and much less
should he take back a _fiancée_ (Quick said a 'finance'), on the whole,
he'd better drown himself--I tried it once, and I know. So that's the
tail of the business.

"But," he went on, "it has a couple of fins as well, like that eel beast
I caught in the Nile. One of them is that the Captain promised and vowed
to go through with this expedition, and if a man's got to die, he'd
better die honest without breaking his word. And the other is what
I said to you in London when I signed on, that he won't die a minute
before his time, and nothing won't happen to him, but what's bound
to happen, and therefore it ain't a ha'porth of use bothering about
anything, and that's where the East's well ahead of the West.

"And now, sir, I'll go and look after the camels and those half-bred
Jew boys what you call Abati, but I call rotten sneaks, for if they get
their thieving fingers into those canisters of picric salts, thinking
they're jam, as I found them trying to do yesterday, something may
happen in Egypt that'll make the Pharaohs turn in their graves and the
Ten Plagues look silly."

So, having finished his oration, Quick went, and in due course we
started for Mur.

The second incident that is perhaps worth recording was an adventure
that happened to us when we had completed about two of our four months'
journey.

After weeks of weary desert travel--if I remember right, it was exactly
a fortnight after the dog Pharaoh, of which I shall soon have plenty to
say, had come into Orme's possession--we reached an oasis called Zeu,
where I had halted upon my road down to Egypt. In this oasis, which,
although not large in extent, possesses springs of beautiful water and
groves of date-trees, we were, as it chanced, very welcome, since when
I was there before, I had been fortunate enough to cure its sheik of
an attack of ophthalmia and to doctor several of his people for various
ailments with good results. So, although I was burning to get forward, I
agreed with the others that it would be wise to accede to the request
of the leader of our caravan, a clever and resourceful, but to my mind
untrustworthy Abati of the name of Shadrach, and camp in Zeu for a week
or so to rest and feed our camels, which had wasted almost to nothing on
the scant herbage of the desert.

This Shadrach, I may add here, whom his companions, for some reason
unknown to me at that time, called the Cat, was remarkable for a triple
line of scars upon his face, which, he informed me, had been set there
by the claws of a lion. Now the great enemies of this people of Zeu were
lions, which at certain seasons of the year, I suppose when food grew
scarce, descended from the slopes of a range of hills that stretched
east and west at a distance of about fifty miles north of the oasis,
and, crossing the intervening desert, killed many of the Zeu sheep,
camels, and other cattle, and often enough any of the tribe whom they
could catch. As these poor Zeus practically possessed no firearms, they
were at the mercy of the lions, which grew correspondingly bold. Indeed,
their only resource was to kraal their animals within stone walls at
night and take refuge in their huts, which they seldom left between
sunset and dawn, except to replenish the fires that they lit to scare
any beast of prey which might be prowling through the town.

Though the lion season was now in full swing, as it happened, for the
first five days of our stay at Zeu we saw none of these great cats,
although in the darkness we heard them roaring in the distance. On the
sixth night, however, we were awakened by a sound of wailing, which came
from the village about a quarter of a mile away, and when we went out
at dawn to see what was the matter, were met by a melancholy procession
advancing from its walls. At the head of it marched the grey-haired old
chief, followed by a number of screaming women, who in their excitement,
or perhaps as a sign of mourning, had omitted to make their toilette,
and by four men, who carried something horrid on a wickerwork door.

Soon we learned what had happened. It seemed that hungry lions, two or
three of them, had broken through the palm-leaf roof of the hut of one
of the sheik's wives, she whose remains were stretched upon the door,
and, in addition to killing her, had actually carried off his son.
Now he came to implore us white men who had guns to revenge him on the
lions, which otherwise, having once tasted human flesh, would destroy
many more of his people.

Through an interpreter who knew Arabic, for not even Higgs could
understand the peculiar Zeu dialect, he explained in excited and
incoherent words that the beasts lay up among the sand-hills not very
far away, where some thick reeds grew around a little spring of water.
Would we not come out and kill them and earn the blessing of the Zeus?

Now I said nothing, for the simple reason that, having such big matters
on hand, although I was always fond of sport, I did not wish any of us
to be led off after these lions. There is a time to hunt and a time
to cease from hunting, and it seemed to me, except for the purposes of
food, that this journey of ours was the latter. However, as I expected,
Oliver Orme literally leaped at the idea. So did Higgs, who of late
had been practising with a rifle and began to fancy himself a shot.
He exclaimed loudly that nothing would give him greater pleasure,
especially as he was sure that lions were in fact cowardly and overrated
beasts.

From that moment I foreboded disaster in my heart. Still, I said I would
come too, partly because I had not shot a lion for many a day and had
a score to settle with those beasts which, it may be remembered, nearly
killed me on the Mountain of Mur, and partly because, knowing the desert
and also the Zeu people much better than either the Professor or Orme, I
thought that I might possibly be of service.

So we fetched our rifles and cartridges, to which by an afterthought we
added two large water-bottles, and ate a hearty breakfast. As we were
preparing to start, Shadrach, the leader of the Abati camel-drivers,
that man with the scarred face who was nicknamed the Cat, came up to me
and asked me whither we were going. I told him, whereon he said:

"What have you to do with these savages and their troubles, lords? If
a few of them are killed it is no matter, but as you should know, O
Doctor, if you wish to hunt lions there are plenty in that land whither
you travel, seeing that the lion is the fetish of the Fung and therefore
never killed. But the desert about Zeu is dangerous and harm may come to
you."

"Then accompany us," broke in the Professor, between whom and Shadrach
there was no love lost, "for, of course, with you we should be quite
safe."

"Not so," he replied, "I and my people rest; only madmen would go to
hunt worthless wild beasts when they might rest. Have we not enough of
the desert and its dangers as it is? If you knew all that I do of lions
you would leave them alone."

"Of the desert we have plenty also, but of shooting very little,"
remarked the Captain, who talked Arabic well. "Lie in your beds; we go
to kill the beasts that harass the poor people who have treated us so
kindly."

"So be it," said Shadrach with a smile that struck me as malicious. "A
lion made this"--pointing to the dreadful threefold scar upon his face.
"May the God of Israel protect you from lions. Remember, lords, that,
the camels being fresh again, we march the day after to-morrow, should
the weather hold, for if the wind blows on yonder sand-hills, no man may
live among them;" and, putting up his hand, he studied the sky carefully
from beneath its shadow, then, with a grunt, turned and vanished behind
a hut.

All this while Sergeant Quick was engaged at a little distance in
washing up the tin breakfast things, to all appearance quite unconscious
of what was going on. Orme called him, whereupon he advanced and
stood to attention. I remember thinking how curious he looked in those
surroundings--his tall, bony frame clothed in semi-military garments,
his wooden face perfectly shaved, his iron-grey hair neatly parted and
plastered down upon his head with pomade or some equivalent after the
old private soldier fashion, and his sharp ferret-like grey eyes taking
in everything.

"Are you coming with us, Sergeant?" asked Orme.

"Not unless ordered so to do, Captain. I like a bit of hunting well
enough, but, with all three officers away, some one should mount guard
over the stores and transport, so I think the dog Pharaoh and I had best
stop behind."

"Perhaps you are right, Sergeant, only tie Pharaoh up, or he'll follow
me. Well, what do you want to say? Out with it."

"Only this, Captain. Although I have served in three campaigns among
these here Arabians (to Quick, all African natives north of the Equator
were Arabians, and all south of it, niggers), I can't say I talk their
lingo well. Still, I made out that the fellow they call Cat don't like
this trip of yours, and, begging your pardon, Captain, whatever else Cat
may be, he ain't no fool."

"Can't help it, Sergeant. For one thing, it would never do to give in to
his fancies now."

"That's true, Captain. When once it's hoist, right or wrong, keep the
flag flying, and no doubt you'll come back safe and sound if you're
meant to."

Then, having relieved his mind, the Sergeant ran his eye over our
equipment to see that nothing had been forgotten, rapidly assured
himself that the rifles were in working order, reported all well,
and returned to his dishes. Little did any of us guess under what
circumstances we should next meet with him.

After leaving the town and marching for a mile or so along the oasis,
accompanied by a mob of the Zeus armed with spears and bows, we were
led by the bereaved chief, who also acted as tracker, out into the
surrounding sands. The desert here, although I remembered it well
enough, was different from any that we had yet encountered upon this
journey, being composed of huge and abrupt sand-hills, some of which
were quite three hundred feet high, separated from each other by deep,
wind-cut valleys.

For a distance, while they were within reach of the moist air of the
oasis, these sand-mountains produced vegetation of various sorts.
Presently, however, we passed out into the wilderness proper, and for
a while climbed up and down the steep, shifting slopes, till from the
crest of one of them the chief pointed out what in South Africa is
called a pan, or _vlei_, covered with green reeds, and explained by
signs that in these lay the lions. Descending a steep declivity, we
posted ourselves, I at the top, and Higgs and Orme a little way down
either side of this _vlei_. This done, we dispatched the Zeus to beat
it out towards us, for although the reeds grew thick along the course
of the underground water, it was but a narrow place, and not more than a
quarter of a mile in length.

Scarcely had the beaters entered the tall reeds, evidently with
trepidation, for a good many of them held back from the adventure,
when a sound of loud wailing informed us that something had happened. A
minute or two later we saw two of them bearing away what appeared to be
the mangled remains of the chief's son who had been carried off on the
previous night.

Just then, too, we saw something else, for half-way down the marsh
a great male lion broke cover, and began to steal off toward the
sand-hills. It was about two hundred yards from Higgs, who chanced to
be nearest to it, and, therefore, as any big-game hunter will know, for
practical purposes, far out of shot. But the Professor, who was quite
unaccustomed to this, or, indeed, any kind of sport, and, like all
beginners, wildly anxious for blood, lifted his rifle and fired, as he
might have done at a rabbit. By some marvellous accident the aim was
good, and the bullet from the express, striking the lion fair behind the
shoulder, passed through its heart, and knocked it over dead as a stone.

"By Jingo! Did you see that?" screamed Higgs in his delight. Then,
without even stopping to reload the empty barrel, he set off at the top
of his speed toward the prostrate beast, followed by myself and by Orme,
as fast as our astonishment would allow.

Running along the edge of the marsh, Higgs had covered about a hundred
yards of the distance, when suddenly, charging straight at him out of
the tall reeds, appeared a second lion, or rather lioness. Higgs wheeled
round, and wildly fired the left barrel of his rifle without touching
the infuriated brute. Next instant, to our horror, we saw him upon
his back, with the lioness standing over him, lashing her tail, and
growling.

We shouted as we ran, and so did the Zeus, although they made no attempt
at rescue, with the result that the lioness, instead of tearing Higgs
to pieces, turned her head confusedly first to one side and then to
the other. By now I, who had a long start of Orme, was quite close,
say within thirty yards, though fire I dared not as yet, fearing lest,
should I do so, I might kill my friend. At this moment the lioness,
recovering her nerves, squatted down on the prostrate Higgs, and though
he hit at her with his fists, dropped her muzzle, evidently with the
intention of biting him through the head.

Now I felt that if I hesitated any more, all would be finished. The
lioness was much longer than Higgs--a short, stout man--and her hind
quarters projected beyond his feet. At these I aimed rapidly, and,
pressing the trigger, next second heard the bullet clap upon the great
beast's hide. Up she sprang with a roar, one hind leg dangling, and
after a moment's hesitation, fled toward the sand-hill.

Now Orme, who was behind me, fired also, knocking up the dust beneath
the lioness's belly, but although he had more cartridges in his rifle,
which was a repeater, before either he or I could get another chance,
it vanished behind a mound. Leaving it to go where it would, we ran on
towards Higgs, expecting to find him either dead or badly mauled,
but, to our amazement and delight, up jumped the Professor, his blue
spectacles still on his nose, and, loading his rifle as he went, charged
away after the wounded lioness.

"Come back," shouted the Captain as he followed.

"Not for Joe!" yelled Higgs in his high voice. "If you fellows think
that I'm going to let a great cat sit on my stomach for nothing, you are
jolly well mistaken."

At the top of the first rise the long-legged Orme caught him, but
persuade him to return was more than he, or I when I arrived, could do.
Beyond a scratch on his nose, which had stung him and covered him
with blood, we found that he was quite uninjured, except in temper and
dignity. But in vain did we beg him to be content with his luck and the
honours he had won.

"Why?" he answered, "Adams wounded the beast, and I'd rather kill two
lions than one; also I have a score to square. But if you fellows are
afraid, you go home."

Well, I confess I felt inclined to accept the invitation, but Orme, who
was nettled, replied:

"Come, come; that settles the question, doesn't it? You must be shaken
by your fall, or you would not talk like that, Higgs. Look, here runs
the spoor--see the blood? Well, let's go steady and keep our wind.
We may come on her anywhere, but don't you try any more long distance
shots. You won't kill another lion at two hundred and fifty yards."

"All right," said Higgs, "don't be offended. I didn't mean anything,
except that I am going to teach that beast the difference between a
white man and a Zeu."

Then we began our march, following the blood tracks up and down the
steep sand-slopes. When we had been at it for about half-an-hour our
spirits were cheered by catching sight of the lioness on a ridge five
hundred yards away. Just then, too, some of the Zeus overtook us and
joined the hunt, though without zeal.

Meanwhile, as the day grew, the heat increased until it was so intense
that the hot air danced above the sand slopes like billions of midges,
and this although the sun was not visible, being hidden by a sort of
mist. A strange silence, unusual even in the desert, pervaded the earth
and sky; we could hear the grains of sand trickling from the ridges.
The Zeus, who accompanied us, grew uneasy, and pointed upward with their
spears, then behind toward the oasis of which we had long lost sight.
Finally, when we were not looking, they disappeared.

Now I would have followed them, guessing that they had some good reason
for this sudden departure. But Higgs refused to come, and Orme, in whom
his foolish taunt seemed still to rankle, only shrugged his shoulders
and said nothing.

"Let the black curs go," exclaimed the Professor as he polished his blue
spectacles and mopped his face. "They are a white-livered lot of sneaks.
Look! There she is, creeping off to the left. If we run round that
sand-hill we shall meet her."

So we ran round the sand-hill, but we did not meet her, although after
long hunting we struck the blood spoor afresh, and followed it for
several miles, first in this direction, and then in that, until Orme and
I wondered at Higgs's obstinacy and endurance. At length, when even he
was beginning to despair, we put up the lioness in a hollow, and fired
several shots at her as she hobbled over the opposing slope, one of
which hit her, for she rolled over, then picked herself up again,
roaring. As a matter of fact, it came from the Captain's rifle, but
Higgs, who, like many an inexperienced person was a jealous sportsman,
declared that it was his and we did not think it worth while to
contradict him.

On we toiled, and, just beyond the ridge, walked straight into the
lioness, sitting up like a great dog, so injured that she could do
nothing but snarl hideously and paw at the air.

"Now it is my turn, old lady," ejaculated Higgs, and straightway
missed her clean from a distance of five yards. A second shot was more
successful, and she rolled over, dead.

"Come on," said the exultant Professor, "and we'll skin her. She sat on
me, and I mean to sit on her for many a day."

So we began the job, although I, who had large experience of this
desert, and did not like the appearance of the weather, wished to leave
the beast where it lay and get back to the oasis. It proved long, for
I was the only one of us who had any practical knowledge of flaying
animals, and in that heat extremely unpleasant.

At length it was done, and, having doubled the hide over a rifle for two
of us to carry in turns, we refreshed ourselves from the water-bottles
(I even caught the Professor washing the blood off his face and hands
with some of the precious fluid). Then we started for the oasis, only to
discover, though we were all sure that we knew the way, that not one
of us had a slightest idea of its real direction. In the hurry of our
departure we had forgotten to bring a compass, and the sun, that would
have been our guide in ordinary circumstances, and to which we always
trusted in the open desert, was hidden by the curious haze that has been
described.

So, sensibly enough, we determined to return to the sand crest where we
had killed the lioness, and then trace our own footprints backward. This
seemed simple enough, for there, within half-a-mile, rose the identical
ridge.

We reached it, grumbling, for the lion-skin was heavy, only to discover
that it was a totally different ridge. Now, after reflection and
argument, we saw our exact mistake, and made for what was obviously the
real ridge--with the same result.

We were lost in the desert!



CHAPTER IV

THE DEATH WIND

"The fact is," said Higgs presently, speaking with the air of an oracle,
"the fact is that all these accursed sand-hills are as like each other
as mummy beads on the same necklace, and therefore it is very difficult
to know them apart. Give me that water-bottle, Adams; I am as dry as a
lime-kiln."

"No," I said shortly; "you may be drier before the end."

"What do you mean? Oh! I see; but that's nonsense; those Zeus will hunt
us up, or, at the worst, we have only to wait till the sun gets out."

As he spoke, suddenly the air became filled with a curious singing sound
impossible to describe, caused as I knew, who had often heard it before,
by millions and millions of particles of sand being rubbed together. We
turned to see whence it came, and perceived, far away, rushing towards
us with extraordinary swiftness, a huge and dense cloud preceded by
isolated columns and funnels of similar clouds.

"A sand-storm," said Higgs, his florid face paling a little. "Bad luck
for us! That's what comes of getting out of bed the wrong side first
this morning. No, it's your fault, Adams; you helped me to salt last
night, in spite of my remonstrances" (the Professor has sundry little
superstitions of this sort, particularly absurd in so learned a man).
"Well, what shall we do? Get under the lee of the hill until it blows
over?"

"Don't suppose it will blow over. Can't see anything to do except say
our prayers," remarked Orme with sweet resignation. Oliver is, I think,
the coolest hand in an emergency of any one I ever met, except, perhaps,
Sergeant Quick, a man, of course, nearly old enough to be his father.
"The game seems to be pretty well up," he added. "Well, you have killed
two lions, Higgs, and that is something."

"Oh, hang it! You can die if you like, Oliver. The world won't miss you;
but think of its loss if anything happened to _me_. I don't intend to be
wiped out by a beastly sand-storm. I intend to live to write a book on
Mur," and Higgs shook his fist at the advancing clouds with an air that
was really noble. It reminded me of Ajax defying the lightning.

Meanwhile I had been reflecting.

"Listen," I said. "Our only chance is to stop where we are, for if we
move we shall certainly be buried alive. Look; there is something
solid to lie on," and I pointed to a ridge of rock, a kind of core of
congealed sand, from which the surface had been swept by gales. "Down
with you, quick," I went on, "and let's draw that lion-skin over our
heads. It may help to keep the dust from choking us. Hurry, men; it's
coming!"

Coming, it was indeed, with a mighty, wailing roar. Scarcely had we got
ourselves into position, our backs to the blast and our mouths and
noses buried after the fashion of camels in a similar predicament, the
lion-skin covering our heads and bodies to the middle, with the paws
tucked securely beneath us to prevent it from being blown away, when the
storm leaped upon us furiously, bringing darkness in its train. There
we lay for hour after hour, unable to see, unable to talk because of the
roaring noise about us, and only from time to time lifting ourselves
a little upon our hands and knees to disturb the weight of sand that
accumulated on our bodies, lest it should encase us in a living tomb.

Dreadful were the miseries we suffered--the misery of the heat beneath
the stinking pelt of the lion, the misery of the dust-laden air that
choked us almost to suffocation, the misery of thirst, for we could not
get at our scanty supply of water to drink. But worst of all perhaps,
was the pain caused by the continual friction of the sharp sand driven
along at hurricane speed, which, incredible as it may seem, finally wore
holes in our thin clothing and filed our skins to rawness.

"No wonder the Egyptian monuments get such a beautiful shine on them," I
heard poor Higgs muttering in my ear again and again, for he was growing
light-headed; "no wonder, no wonder! My shin-bones will be very useful
to polish Quick's tall riding-boots. Oh! curse the lions. Why did you
help me to salt, you old ass; why did you help me to salt? It's pickling
me behind."

Then he became quite incoherent, and only groaned from time to time.

Perhaps, however, this suffering did us a service, since otherwise
exhaustion, thirst, and dust might have overwhelmed our senses, and
caused us to fall into a sleep from which we never should have awakened.
Yet at the time we were not grateful to it, for at last the agony became
almost unbearable. Indeed, Orme told me afterwards that the last thing
he could remember was a quaint fancy that he had made a colossal fortune
by selling the secret of a new torture to the Chinese--that of hot sand
driven on to the victim by a continuous blast of hot air.

After a while we lost count of time, nor was it until later that we
learned that the storm endured for full twenty hours, during the latter
part of which, notwithstanding our manifold sufferings, we must have
become more or less insensible. At any rate, at one moment I remembered
the awful roar and the stinging of the sand whips, followed by a kind
of vision of the face of my son--that beloved, long-lost son whom I had
sought for so many years, and for whose sake I endured all these things.
Then, without any interval, as it were, I felt my limbs being scorched
as though by hot irons or through a burning-glass, and with a fearful
effort staggered up to find that the storm had passed, and that the
furious sun was blistering my excoriated skin. Rubbing the caked dirt
from my eyes, I looked down to see two mounds like those of graves, out
of which projected legs that had been white. Just then one pair of legs,
the longer pair, stirred, the sand heaved up convulsively, and, uttering
wandering words in a choky voice, there arose the figure of Oliver Orme.

For a moment we stood and stared at each other, and strange spectacles
we were.

"Is he dead?" muttered Orme, pointing to the still buried Higgs.

"Fear so," I answered, "but we'll look;" and painfully we began to
disinter him.

When we came to it beneath the lion-skin, the Professor's face was black
and hideous to see, but, to our relief, we perceived that he was not
dead, for he moved his hand and moaned. Orme looked at me.

"Water would save him," I said.

Then came the anxious moment. One of our water-bottles was emptied
before the storm began, but the other, a large, patent flask covered
with felt, and having a screw vulcanite top, should still contain a good
quantity, perhaps three quarts--that is, if the fluid had not evaporated
in the dreadful heat. If this had happened, it meant that Higgs
would die, and unless help came, that soon we should follow him. Orme
unscrewed the flask, for my hands refused that office, and used his
teeth to draw the cork, which, providentially enough the thoughtful
Quick had set in the neck beneath the screw. Some of the water, which,
although it was quite hot, had _not_ evaporated, thank God! flew against
his parched lips, and I saw him bite them till the blood came in the
fierceness of the temptation to assuage his raging thirst. But he
resisted it like the man he is, and, without drinking a drop, handed me
the bottle, saying simply:

"You are the oldest; take care of this, Adams."

Now it was my turn to be tempted, but I, too, overcame, and, sitting
down, laid Higgs's head upon my knee; then, drop by drop, let a little
of the water trickle between his swollen lips.

The effect was magical, for in less than a minute the Professor sat up,
grasped at the flask with both hands, and strove to tear it away.

"You cruel brute! You cruel selfish brute!" he moaned as I wrenched it
from him.

"Look here, Higgs," I answered thickly; "Orme and I want water badly
enough, and we have had none. But you might take it all if it would save
you, only it wouldn't. We are lost in the desert, and must be sparing.
If you drank everything now, in a few hours you would be thirsty again
and die."

He thought awhile, then looked up and said:

"Beg pardon--I understand. I'm the selfish brute. But there's a good lot
of water there; let's each have a drink; we can't move unless we do."

So we drank, measuring out the water in a little india-rubber cup which
we had with us. It held about as much as a port wine glass, and each of
us drank, or rather slowly sipped, three cupfuls; we who felt as though
we could have swallowed a gallon apiece, and asked for more. Small as
was the allowance, it worked wonders in us; we were men again.

We stood up and looked about us, but the great storm had changed
everything. Where there had been sand-hills a hundred feet high,
now were plains and valleys; where there had been valleys appeared
sand-hills. Only the high ridge upon which we had lain was as before,
because it stood above the others and had a core of rock. We tried to
discover the direction of the oasis by the position of the sun, only to
be baffled, since our two watches had run down, and we did not know the
time of day or where the sun ought to be in the heavens. Also, in
that howling wilderness there was nothing to show us the points of the
compass.

Higgs, whose obstinacy remained unimpaired, whatever may have happened
to the rest of his vital forces, had one view of the matter, and Orme
another diametrically opposed to it. They even argued as to whether
the oasis lay to our right or to our left, for their poor heads were
so confused that they were scarcely capable of accurate thought or
observation. Meanwhile I sat down upon the sand and considered. Through
the haze I could see the points of what I thought must be the hills
whence the Zeus declared that the lions came, although of course, for
aught I knew, they might be other hills.

"Listen," I said; "if lions live upon those hills, there must be water
there. Let us try to reach them; perhaps we shall see the oasis as we
go."

Then began our dreadful march. The lion-skin that had saved our lives,
and was now baked hard as a board, we left behind, but the rifles we
took. All day long we dragged ourselves up and down steep sand-slopes,
pausing now again to drink a sip of water, and hoping always that from
the top of the next slope we should see a rescue party headed by Quick,
or perhaps the oasis itself. Indeed, once we did see it, green and
shining, not more than three miles away, but when we got to the head of
the hill beyond which it should lie we found that the vision was only
a mirage, and our hearts nearly broke with disappointment. Oh! to men
dying of thirst, that mirage was indeed a cruel mockery.

At length night approached, and the mountains were yet a long way off.
We could march no more, and sank down exhausted, lying on our faces,
because our backs were so cut by the driving sand and blistered by
the sun that we could not sit. By now almost all our water was gone.
Suddenly Higgs nudged us and pointed upwards. Following the line of his
hand, we saw, not thirty yards away and showing clear against the sky,
a file of antelopes trekking along the sand-ridge, doubtless on a night
journey from one pasturage to another.

"You fellows shoot," he muttered; "I might miss and frighten them away,"
for in his distress poor Higgs was growing modest.

Slowly Orme and I drew ourselves to our knees, cocking our rifles. By
this time all the buck save one had passed; there were but six of them,
and this one marched along about twenty yards behind the others. Orme
pulled the trigger, but his rifle would not go off because, as he
discovered afterwards, some sand had worked into the mechanism of the
lock.

Meanwhile I had also covered the buck, but the sunset dazzled my
weakened eyes, and my arms were feeble; also my terrible anxiety for
success, since I knew that on this shot hung our lives, unnerved me. But
it must be now or never; in three more paces the beast would be down the
dip.

I fired, and knowing that I had missed, turned sick and faint. The
antelope bounded forward a few yards right to the edge of the dip; then,
never having heard such a sound before, and being overcome by some fatal
curiosity, stopped and turned around, staring at the direction whence it
had come.

Despairingly I fired again, almost without taking aim, and this time the
bullet went in beneath the throat, and, raking the animal, dropped it
dead as a stone. We scrambled to it, and presently were engaged in an
awful meal of which we never afterwards liked to think. Happily for us
that antelope must have drunk water not long before.

Our hunger and thirst assuaged after this horrible fashion, we slept
awhile by the carcase, then arose extraordinarily refreshed, and, having
cut off some hunks of meat to carry with us, started on again. By the
position of the stars, we now knew that the oasis must lie somewhere to
the east of us; but as between us and it there appeared to be nothing
but these eternal sand-hills stretching away for many miles, and as in
front of us toward the range the character of the desert seemed to be
changing, we thought it safer, if the word safety can be used in such
a connection, to continue to head for that range. All the remainder of
this night we marched, and, as we had no fuel wherewith to cook it, at
dawn ate some of the raw meat, which we washed down with the last drops
of our water.

Now we were out of the sand-hills, and had entered on a great pebbly
plain that lay between us and the foot of the mountains. These looked
quiet close, but in fact were still far off. Feebly and ever more feebly
we staggered on, meeting no one and finding no water, though here and
there we came across little bushes, of which we chewed the stringy and
aromatic leaves that contained some moisture, but drew up our mouths and
throats like alum.

Higgs, who was the softest of us, gave out the first, though to the
last he struggled forward with surprising pluck, even after he had been
obliged to throw away his rifle, because he could no longer carry it,
though this we did not notice at the time. When he could not support
himself upon his feet, Orme took him by one arm, and I by the other,
and helped him on, much as I have seen two elephants do by a wounded
companion of the herd.

Half-an-hour or so later my strength failed me also. Although advanced
in years, I am tough and accustomed to the desert and hardships; who
would not be who had been a slave to the Khalifa? But now I could do no
more, and halting, begged the others to go on and leave me. Orme's only
answer was to proffer me his left arm. I took it, for life is sweet
to us all, especially when one has something to live for--a desire
to fulfil as I had, though to tell the truth, even at the time I felt
ashamed of myself.

Thus, then, we proceeded awhile, resembling a sober man attempting to
lead two drunken friends out of reach of that stern policeman, Death.
Orme's strength must be wonderful; or was it his great spirit and his
tender pity for our helplessness which enabled him to endure beneath
this double burden.

Suddenly he fell down as though he had been shot, and lay there
senseless. The Professor, however, retained some portion of his mind,
although it wandered. He became light-headed, and rambled on about our
madness in having undertaken such a journey, "just to pot a couple of
beastly lions," and although I did not answer them, I agreed heartily
with his remarks. Then he seemed to imagine that I was a clergyman, and
kneeling on the sand, he made a lengthy confession of his sins which,
so far as I gathered, though I did not pay much attention to them, for
I was thinking of my own, appeared chiefly to consist of the unlawful
acquisition of certain objects of antiquity, or of having overmatched
others in the purchase of such objects.

To pacify him, for I feared lest he should go raving mad, I pronounced
some religious absolution, whereon poor Higgs rolled over and lay still
by Orme. Yes; he, the friend whom I had always loved, for his very
failings were endearing, was dead or at the point of death, like the
gallant young man at his side, and I myself was dying. Tremors shook
my limbs; horrible waves of blackness seemed to well up from my vitals,
through my breast to my brain, and thence to evaporate in queer, jagged
lines and patches, which I realized, but could not actually see. Gay
memories of my far-off childhood arose in me, particularly those of a
Christmas party where I had met a little girl dressed like an elf,
a little girl with blue eyes whom I had loved dearly for quite a
fortnight, to be beaten down, stamped out, swallowed by that vision
of the imminent shadow which awaits all mankind, the black womb of a
re-birth, if re-birth there be.

What could I do? I thought of lighting a fire; at any rate it would
serve to scare the lions and other wild beasts which else might prey
upon us before we were quite dead. It would be dreadful to lie helpless
but sentient, and feel their rending fangs. But I had no strength to
collect the material. To do so at best must have meant a long walk, for
even here it was not plentiful. I had a few cartridges left--three, to
be accurate--in my repeating rifle; the rest I had thrown away to be rid
of their weight. I determined to fire them, since, in my state I thought
they could no longer serve either to win food or for the purposes of
defence, although, as it happened, in this I was wrong. It was possible
that, even in that endless desert, some one might hear the shots, and if
not--well, good-night.

So I sat up and fired the first cartridge, wondering in a childish
fashion where the bullet would fall. Then I went to sleep for awhile.
The howling of a hyena woke me up, and, on glancing around, I saw the
beast's flaming eyes quite close to me. I aimed and shot at it, and
heard a yell of pain. That hyena, I reflected, would want no more food
at present.

The silence of the desert overwhelmed me; it was so terrible that I
almost wished the hyena back for company. Holding the rifle above my
head, I fired the third cartridge. Then I took the hand of Higgs in my
own, for, after all, it was a link--the last link with humanity and the
world--and lay down in the company of death that seemed to fall upon me
in black and smothering veils.



I woke up and became aware that some one was pouring water down my
throat. Heaven! I thought to myself, for at that time heaven and water
were synonymous in my mind. I drank a good deal of it, not all I wanted
by any means, but as much as the pourer would allow, then raised myself
upon my hands and looked. The starlight was extraordinarily clear in
that pure desert atmosphere, and by it I saw the face of Sergeant
Quick bending over me. Also, I saw Orme sitting up, staring about him
stupidly, while a great yellow dog, with a head like a mastiff, licked
his hand. I knew the dog at once; it was that which Orme had bought
from some wandering natives, and named Pharaoh because he ruled over all
other dogs. Moreover, I knew the two camels that stood near by. So I was
still on earth--unless, indeed we had all moved on a step.

"How did you find us, Sergeant?" I asked feebly.

"Didn't find you, Doctor," answered Quick, "dog Pharaoh found you. In a
business like this a dog is more useful than man, for he can smell
what one can't see. Now, if you feel better, Doctor, please look at Mr.
Higgs, for I fear he's gone."

I looked, and, although I did not say so, was of the same opinion. His
jaw had fallen, and he lay limp and senseless; his eyes I could not see,
because of the black spectacles.

"Water," I said, and Quick poured some into his mouth, where it
vanished.

Still he did not stir, so I opened his garments and felt his heart.
At first I could detect nothing; then there was the slightest possible
flutter.

"There's hope," I said in answer to the questioning looks. "You don't
happen to have any brandy, do you?" I added.

"Never travelled without it yet, Doctor," replied Quick indignantly,
producing a metal flask.

"Give him some," I said, and the Sergeant obeyed with liberality and
almost instantaneous effect, for Higgs sat up gasping and coughing.

"Brandy; filthy stuff; teetotaller! Cursed trick! Never forgive you.
Water, water," he spluttered in a thick, low voice.

We gave it to him, and he drank copiously, until we would let him have
no more indeed. Then, by degrees, his senses came back to him. He thrust
up his black spectacles which he had worn all this while, and stared at
the Sergeant with his sharp eyes.

"I understand," he said. "So we are not dead, after all, which perhaps
is a pity after getting through the beastly preliminaries. What has
happened?"

"Don't quite know," answered Orme; "ask Quick."

But the Sergeant was already engaged in lighting a little fire and
setting a camp-kettle to boil, into which he poured a tin of beef
extract that he had brought with other eatables from our stores on the
chance that he might find us. In fifteen minutes we were drinking soup,
for I forbade anything more solid as yet, and, oh! what a blessed meal
was that. When it was finished, Quick fetched some blankets from the
camels, which he threw over us.

"Lie down and sleep, gentlemen," he said; "Pharaoh and I will watch."

The last thing I remember was seeing the Sergeant, in his own fashion an
extremely religious man, and not ashamed of it, kneeling upon the
sand and apparently saying his prayers. As he explained afterwards,
of course, as a fatalist, he knew well that whatever must happen would
happen, but still he considered it right and proper to return thanks to
the Power which had arranged that on this occasion the happenings should
be good, and not ill, a sentiment with which every one of us agreed.
Opposite to him, with one of his faithful eyes fixed on Orme, sat
Pharaoh in grave contemplation. Doubtless, being an Eastern dog, he
understood the meaning of public prayer; or perhaps he thought that he
should receive some share of gratitude and thanks.

When we awoke the sun was already high, and to show us that we had
dreamed no dream, there was Quick frying tinned bacon over the fire,
while Pharaoh sat still and watched him--or the bacon.

"Look," said Orme to me, pointing to the mountains, "they are still
miles away. It was madness to think that we could reach them."

I nodded, then turned to stare at Higgs, who was just waking up, for,
indeed, he was a sight to see. His fiery red hair was full of sand, his
nether garments were gone, apparently at some stage in our march he had
dispensed with the remains of them because they chafed his sore limbs,
and his fair skin, not excluding that of his face, was a mass of
blisters, raised by the sun. In fact he was so disfigured that his worst
enemy would not have known him. He yawned, stretched himself, always a
good sign in man or beast, and asked for a bath.

"I am afraid you will have to wash yourself in sand here, sir, like them
filthy Arabians," said Quick, saluting. "No water to spare for baths in
this dry country. But I've got a tube of hazeline, also a hair-brush and
a looking-glass," he added, producing these articles.

"Quite so, Sergeant," said Higgs, as he took them; "it's sacrilege to
think of using water to wash. I intend never to waste it in that way
again." Then he looked at himself in the glass, and let it fall upon the
sand, ejaculating, "Oh! good Lord, is that me?"

"Please be careful, sir," said the Sergeant sternly; "you told me the
other day that it's unlucky to break a looking-glass; also I have no
other."

"Take it away," said the Professor; "I don't want it any more, and,
Doctor, come and oil my face, there's a good fellow; yes, and the rest
of me also, if there is enough hazeline."

So we treated each other with the ointment, which at first made us smart
fearfully, and then, very gingerly sat down to breakfast.

"Now, Sergeant," said Orme, as he finished his fifth pannikin of tea,
"tell us your story."

"There isn't much of a story, Captain. Those Zeu fellows came back
without you, and, not knowing the lingo, I could make nothing of their
tale. Well, I soon made Shadrach and Co. understand that, death-wind or
no death-wind--that's what they call it--they must come with me to look
for you, and at last we started, although they said that I was mad,
as you were dead already. Indeed, it wasn't until I asked that fellow
Shadrach if he wanted to be dead too"--and the Sergeant tapped his
revolver grimly--"that he would let any one go.

"As it proved, he was right, for we couldn't find you, and after awhile
the camels refused to face the storm any longer; also one of the Abati
drivers was lost, and hasn't been heard of since. It was all the rest
of us could do to get back to the oasis alive, nor would Shadrach go out
again even after the storm had blown itself away. It was no use arguing
with the pig, so, as I did not want his blood upon my hands, I took two
camels and started with the dog Pharaoh for company.

"Now this was my thought, although I could not explain it to the Abati
crowd, that if you lived at all, you would almost certainly head for
the hills as I knew you had no compass, and you would not be able to
see anything else. So I rode along the plain which stretches between the
desert and the mountains, keeping on the edge of the sand-hills. I rode
all day, but when night came I halted, since I could see no more. There
I sat in that great place, thinking, and after an hour or two I observed
Pharaoh prick his ears and look toward the west. So I also started
toward the west, and presently I thought that I saw one faint streak
of light which seemed to go upward, and therefore couldn't come from a
falling star, but might have come from a rifle fired toward the sky.

"I listened, but no sound reached me, only presently, some seconds
afterwards, the dog again pricked his ears as though _he_ heard
something. That settled me, and I mounted and rode forward through the
night toward the place where I thought I had seen the flash. For two
hours I rode, firing my revolver from time to time; then as no answer
came, gave it up as a bad job, and stopped. But Pharaoh there wouldn't
stop. He began to whine and sniff and run forward, and at last bolted
into the darkness, out of which presently I heard him barking some
hundreds of yards away, to call me, I suppose. So I followed and found
you three gentlemen, dead, as I thought at first. That's all the story,
Captain."

"One with a good end, anyway, Sergeant. We owe our lives to you."

"Beg your pardon, Captain," answered Quick modestly; "not to me at all,
but to Providence first that arranged everything, before we were born
perhaps, and next to Pharaoh. He's a wise dog, Pharaoh, though fierce
with some, and you did a good deal when you bought him for a bottle of
whisky and a sixpenny pocket-knife."



It was dawn on the following morning before we sighted the oasis,
whither we could travel but slowly, since, owing to the lack of camels,
two of us must walk. Of these two, as may be guessed, the Sergeant was
always one and his master the other, for of all the men I ever knew I
think that in such matters Orme is the most unselfish. Nothing would
induce him to mount one of the camels, even for half-an-hour, so that
when I walked, the brute went riderless. On the other hand, once he was
on, notwithstanding the agonies he suffered from his soreness, nothing
would induce Higgs to get off.

"Here I am and here I stop," he said several times, in English, French,
and sundry Oriental languages. "I've tramped it enough to last me the
rest of my life."

Both of us were dozing upon our saddles when suddenly I heard the
Sergeant calling to the camels to halt and asked what was the matter.

"Looks like Arabians, Doctor," he said, pointing to a cloud of dust
advancing toward us.

"Well, if so," I answered, "our best chance is to show no fear and go
on. I don't think they will harm us."

So, having made ready such weapons as we had, we advanced, Orme and the
Sergeant walking between the two camels, until presently we encountered
the other caravan, and, to our astonishment, saw none other than
Shadrach riding at the head of it, mounted on my dromedary, which his
own mistress, the Lady of the Abati, had given to me. We came face to
face, and halted, staring at each other.

"By the beard of Aaron! is it you, lords?" he asked. "We thought you
were dead."

"By the hair of Moses! so I gather," I answered angrily, "seeing that
you are going off with all our belongings," and I pointed to the baggage
camels laden with goods.

Then followed explanations and voluble apologies, which Higgs for one
accepted with a very bad grace. Indeed, as he can talk Arabic and its
dialects perfectly, he made use of that tongue to pour upon the heads of
Shadrach and his companions a stream of Eastern invective that must have
astonished them, ably seconded as it was by Sergeant Quick in English.

Orme listened for some time, then said:

"That'll do, old fellow; if you go on, you will get up a row, and,
Sergeant, be good enough to hold your tongue. We have met them, so there
is no harm done. Now, friend Shadrach, turn back with us to the oasis.
We are going to rest there for some days."

Shadrach looked sulky, and said something about our turning and going on
with _them_, whereon I produced the ancient ring, Sheba's ring, which I
had brought as a token from Mur. This I held before his eyes, saying:

"Disobey, and there will be an account to settle when you come into the
presence of her who sent you forth, for even if we four should die"--and
I looked at him meaningly--"think not that you will be able to hide this
matter; there are too many witnesses."

Then, without more words, he saluted the sacred ring, and we all went
back to Zeu.



CHAPTER V

PHARAOH MAKES TROUBLE

Another six weeks or so had gone by, and at length the character of
the country began to change. At last we were passing out of the endless
desert over which we had travelled for so many hundreds of miles; at
least a thousand, according to our observations and reckonings, which I
checked by those that I had taken upon my eastward journey. Our march,
after the great adventure at the oasis, was singularly devoid of
startling events. Indeed, it had been awful in its monotony, and yet,
oddly enough, not without a certain charm--at any rate for Higgs and
Orme, to whom the experience was new.

Day by day to travel on across an endless sea of sand so remote, so
unvisited that for whole weeks no man, not even a wandering Bedouin of
the desert, crossed our path. Day by day to see the great red sun rise
out of the eastern sands, and, its journey finished, sink into the
western sands. Night by night to watch the moon, the same moon on which
were fixed the million eyes of cities, turning those sands to a silver
sea, or, in that pure air, to observe the constellations by which we
steered our path making their majestic march through space. And yet to
know that this vast region, now so utterly lonesome and desolate, had
once been familiar to the feet of long-forgotten men who had trod the
sands we walked, and dug the wells at which we drank.

Armies had marched across these deserts, also, and perished there. For
once we came to a place where a recent fearful gale had almost denuded
the underlying rock, and there found the skeletons of thousands upon
thousands of soldiers, with those of their beasts of burden, and among
them heads of arrows, sword-blades, fragments of armour and of painted
wooden shields.

Here a whole host had died; perhaps Alexander sent it forth, or perhaps
some far earlier monarch whose name has ceased to echo on the earth.
At least they had died, for there we saw the memorial of that buried
enterprise. There lay the kings, the captains, the soldiers, and the
concubines, for I found the female bones heaped apart, some with the
long hair still upon the skulls, showing where the poor, affrighted
women had hived together in the last catastrophe of slaughter or of
famine, thirst, and driven sand. Oh, if only those bones could speak,
what a tale was theirs to tell!

There had been cities in this desert, too, where once were oases, now
overwhelmed, except perhaps for a sand-choked spring. Twice we came
upon the foundations of such places, old walls of clay or stone, stark
skeletons of ancient homes that the shifting sands had disinterred,
which once had been the theatre of human hopes and fears, where once men
had been born, loved, and died, where once maidens had been fair, and
good and evil wrestled, and little children played. Some Job may have
dwelt here and written his immortal plaint, or some king of Sodom, and
suffered the uttermost calamity. The world is very old; all we Westerns
learned from the contemplation of these wrecks of men and of their works
was just that the world is very old.



One evening against the clear sky there appeared the dim outline of
towering cliffs, shaped like a horseshoe. They were the Mountains of Mur
many miles away, but still the Mountains of Mur, sighted at last. Next
morning we began to descend through wooded land toward a wide river that
is, I believe, a tributary of the Nile, though upon this point I have
no certain information. Three days later we reached the banks of this
river, following some old road, and faring sumptuously all the way,
since here there was much game and grass in plenty for the camels that,
after their long abstinence, ate until we thought that they would burst.
Evidently we had not arrived an hour too soon, for now the Mountains of
Mur were hid by clouds, and we could see that it was raining upon the
plains which lay between us and them. The wet season was setting in,
and, had we been a single week later, it might have been impossible for
us to cross the river, which would then have been in flood. As it was,
we passed it without difficulty by the ancient ford, the water never
rising above the knees of our camels.

Upon its further bank we took counsel, for now we had entered the
territory of the Fung, and were face to face with the real dangers of
our journey. Fifty miles or so away rose the fortress of Mur, but, as
I explained to my companions, the question was how to pass those fifty
miles in safety. Shadrach was called to our conference, and at my
request set out the facts.

Yonder, he said, rose the impregnable mountain home of the Abati, but
all the vast plain included in the loop of the river which he called
Ebur, was the home of the savage Fung race, whose warriors could be
counted by the ten thousand, and whose principal city, Harmac, was
built opposite to the stone effigy of their idol, that was also called
Harmac----

"Harmac--that is Harmachis, god of dawn. Your Fung had something to
do with the old Egyptians, or both of them came from a common stock,"
interrupted Higgs triumphantly.

"I daresay, old fellow," answered Orme; "I think you told us that before
in London; but we will go into the archæology afterwards if we survive
to do so. Let Shadrach get on with his tale."

This city, which had quite fifty thousand inhabitants, continued
Shadrach, commanded the mouth of the pass or cleft by which we must
approach Mur, having probably been first built there for that very
purpose.

Orme asked if there was no other way into the stronghold, which, he
understood, the embassy had left by being let down a precipice. Shadrach
answered that this was true, but that although the camels and their
loads had been let down that precipitous place, owing to the formation
of its overhanging rocks, it would be perfectly impossible to haul them
up it with any tackle that the Abati possessed.

He asked again if there was not a way round, if that circle of mountains
had no back door. Shadrach replied that there was such a back door
facing to the north some eight days' journey away. Only at this season
of the year it could not be reached, since beyond the Mountains of Mur
in that direction was a great lake, out of which flowed the river Ebur
in two arms that enclosed the whole plain of Fung. By now this lake
would be full, swollen with rains that fell on the hills of Northern
Africa, and the space between it and the Mur range nothing but an
impassable swamp.

Being still unsatisfied, Orme inquired whether, if we abandoned the
camels, we could not then climb the precipice down which the embassy
had descended. To this the answer, which I corroborated, was that if
our approach were known and help given to us from above, it might be
possible, provided that we threw away the loads.

"Seeing what these loads are, and the purpose for which we have brought
them so far, that is out of the question," said Orme. "Therefore, tell
us at once, Shadrach, how we are to win through the Fung to Mur."

"In one way only, O son of Orme, should it be the will of God that we do
so at all; by keeping ourselves hidden during the daytime and marching
at night. According to their custom at this season, to-morrow, after
sunset, the Fung hold their great spring feast in the city of Harmac,
and at dawn go up to make sacrifice to their idol. But after sunset
they eat and drink and are merry, and then it is their habit to withdraw
their guards, that they may take part in the festival. For this reason
I have timed our march that we should arrive on the night of this feast,
which I know by the age of the moon, when, in the darkness, with God's
help, perchance we may slip past Harmac, and at the first light find
ourselves in the mouth of the road that runs up to Mur. Moreover, I will
give warning to my people, the Abati, that we are coming, so that they
may be at hand to help us if there is need."

"How?" asked Orme.

"By firing the reeds"--and he pointed to the dense masses of dead
vegetation about--"as I arranged that I would do before we left Mur many
months ago. The Fung, if they see it, will think only that it is the
work of some wandering fisherman."

Orme shrugged his shoulders, saying:

"Well, friend Shadrach, you know the place and these people, and I do
not, so we must do what you tell us. But I say at once that if, as I
understand, yonder Fung will kill us if they can, to me your plan seems
very dangerous."

"It is dangerous," he answered, adding with a sneer, "but I thought that
you men of England were not cowards."

"Cowards! you son of a dog!" broke in Higgs in his high voice. "How
dare you talk to us like that? You see this man here"--and he pointed to
Sergeant Quick, who, tall and upright, stood watching this scene grimly,
and understanding most of what passed--"well, he is the lowest among
us--a servant only" (here the Sergeant saluted), "but I tell you that
there is more courage in his little finger than in your whole body, or
in that of all the Abati people, so far as I can make out."

Here the Sergeant saluted again, murmuring beneath his breath, "I
hope so, sir. Being a Christian, I hope so, but till it comes to the
sticking-point, one can never be sure."

"You speak big words, O Higgs," answered Shadrach insolently, for, as I
think I have said, he hated the Professor, who smelt the rogue in him,
and scourged him continually with his sharp tongue, "but if the Fung get
hold of you, then we shall learn the truth."

"Shall I punch his head, sir?" queried Quick in a meditative voice.

"Be quiet, please," interrupted Orme. "We have troubles enough before
us, without making more. It will be time to settle our quarrels when we
have got through the Fung."

Then he turned to Shadrach and said:

"Friend, this is no time for angry words. You are the guide of this
party; lead us as you will, remembering only that if it comes to war, I,
by the wish of my companions, am Captain. Also, there is another thing
which you should not forget--namely, that in the end you must make
answer to your own ruler, she who, I understand from the doctor here, is
called Walda Nagasta, the Child of Kings. Now, no more words; we march
as you wish and where you wish. On your head be it!"

The Abati heard and bowed sullenly. Then, with a look of hate at Higgs,
he turned and went about his business.

"Much better to have let me punch his head," soliloquized Quick. "It
would have done him a world of good, and perhaps saved many troubles,
for, to tell the truth, I don't trust that quarter-bred Hebrew."

Then he departed to see to the camels and the guns while the rest of us
went to our tents to get such sleep as the mosquitoes would allow. In
my own case it was not much, since the fear of evil to come weighed upon
me. Although I knew the enormous difficulty of entering the mountain
stronghold of Mur by any other way, such as that by which I had quitted
it, burdened as we were with our long train of camels laden with rifles,
ammunition, and explosives, I dreaded the results of an attempt to pass
through the Fung savages.

Moreover, it occurred to me that Shadrach had insisted upon this
route from a kind of jealous obstinacy, and to be in opposition to us
Englishmen, whom he hated in his heart, or perhaps for some dark and
secret reason. Still, the fact remained that we were in his power, since
owing to the circumstances in which I had entered and left the place, it
was impossible for me to act as guide to the party. If I attempted to do
so, no doubt he and the Abati with him would desert, leaving the camels
and their loads upon our hands. Why should they not, seeing that
they would be quite safe in concluding that we should never have an
opportunity of laying our side of the case before their ruler?

Just as the sun was setting, Quick came to call me, saying that the
camels were being loaded up.

"I don't much like the look of things, Doctor," he said as he helped me
to pack my few belongings, "for the fact is I can't trust that Shadrach
man. His pals call him 'Cat,' a good name for him, I think. Also, he is
showing his claws just now, the truth being that he hates the lot of us,
and would like to get back into Purr or Mur, or whatever the name of the
place is, having lost us on the road. You should have seen the way he
looked at the Professor just now. Oh! I wish the Captain had let me
punch his head. I'm sure it would have cleared the air a lot."

As it chanced, Shadrach was destined to get his head "punched" after
all, but by another hand. It happened thus. The reeds were fired, as
Shadrach had declared it was necessary to do, in order that the Abati
watchmen on the distant mountains might see and report the signal,
although in the light of subsequent events I am by no means certain that
this warning was not meant for other eyes as well. Then, as arranged, we
started out, leaving them burning in a great sheet of flame behind
us, and all that night marched by the shine of the stars along some
broken-down and undoubtedly ancient road.

At the first sign of dawn we left this road and camped amid the
overgrown ruins of a deserted town that had been built almost beneath
the precipitous cliffs of Mur, fortunately without having met any one or
being challenged. I took the first watch, while the others turned in to
sleep after we had all breakfasted off cold meats, for here we dared not
light a fire. As the sun grew high, dispelling the mists, I saw that we
were entering upon a thickly-populated country which was no stranger to
civilization of a sort. Below us, not more than fifteen or sixteen miles
away, and clearly visible through my field-glasses, lay the great town
of Harmac, which, during my previous visit to this land, I had never
seen, as I passed it in the night.

It was a city of the West Central African type, with open market-places
and wide streets, containing thousands of white, flat-roofed houses, the
most important of which were surrounded by gardens. Round it ran a high
and thick wall, built, apparently, of sun-burnt brick, and in front of
the gateways, of which I could see two, stood square towers whence these
might be protected. All about this city the flat and fertile land was
under cultivation, for the season being that of early spring, already
the maize and other crops showed green upon the ground.

Beyond this belt of plough-lands, with the aid of the field-glasses, I
could make out great herds of grazing cattle and horses, mixed with wild
game, a fact that assured me of the truth of what I had heard during
my brief visit to Mur, that the Fung had few or no firearms, since
otherwise the buck and quagga would have kept at a distance. Far off,
too, and even on the horizon, I saw what appeared to be other towns and
villages. Evidently this was a very numerous people, and one which could
not justly be described as savage. No wonder that the little Abati tribe
feared them so intensely, notwithstanding the mighty precipices by which
they were protected from their hate.

About eleven o'clock Orme came on watch, and I turned in, having nothing
to report. Soon I was fast asleep, notwithstanding the anxieties that,
had I been less weary, might well have kept me wakeful. For these were
many. On the coming night we must slip through the Fung, and before
midday on the morrow we should either have entered Mur, or failed to
have entered Mur, which meant--death, or, what was worse, captivity
among barbarians, and subsequent execution, preceded probably by torture
of one sort or another.

Of course, however, we might come thither without accident, travelling
with good guides on a dark night, for, after all, the place was big, and
the road lonely and little used, so that unless we met a watch, which,
we were told, would not be there, our little caravan had a good chance
to pass unobserved. Shadrach seemed to think that we should do so, but
the worst of it was that, like Quick, I did not trust Shadrach. Even
Maqueda, the Lady of the Abati, she whom they called Child of Kings, had
her doubts about him, or so it had seemed to me.

At any rate, she had told me before I left Mur that she chose him for
this mission because he was bold and cunning, one of the very few of her
people also who, in his youth, had crossed the desert and, therefore,
knew the road. "Yet, Physician," she added meaningly, "watch him, for
is he not named 'Cat'? Yes, watch him, for did I not hold his wife and
children hostages, and were I not sure that he desires to win the great
reward in land which I have promised to him, I would not trust you to
this man's keeping."

Well, after many experiences in his company, my opinion coincided with
Maqueda's, and so did that of Quick, no mean judge of men.

"Look at him, Doctor," he said when he came to tell me that I could turn
in, for whether it were his watch or not, the Sergeant never seemed to
be off duty. "Look, at him," and he pointed to Shadrach, who was seated
under the shade of a tree, talking earnestly in whispers with two of his
subordinates with a very curious and unpleasing smile upon his face. "If
God Almighty ever made a scamp, he's squatting yonder. My belief is that
he wanted to be rid of us all at Zeu, so that he might steal our goods,
and I hope he won't play the same trick again to-night. Even the dog
can't abide him."

Before I could answer, I had proof of this last statement, for the great
yellow hound, Pharaoh, that had found us in the desert, hearing our
voices, emerged from some corner where it was hidden, and advanced
toward us, wagging its tail. As it passed Shadrach, it stopped and
growled, the hair rising on its back, whereon he hurled a stone at it
and hit its leg. Next instant Pharaoh, a beast of enormous power, was on
the top of him, and really, I thought, about to tear out his throat.

Well, we got him off before any harm was done, but Shadrach's face,
lined with its livid scars, was a thing to remember. Between rage and
fear, it looked like that of a devil.

To return. After this business I went to sleep, wondering if it were my
last rest upon the earth, and whether, having endured so much for his
sake, it would or would not be my fortune to see the face of my son
again, if, indeed, he still lived, yonder not a score of miles away--or
anywhere.

Toward evening I was awakened by a fearful hubbub, in which I
distinguished the shrill voice of Higgs ejaculating language which I
will not repeat, the baying of Pharaoh, and the smothered groans and
curses of an Abati. Running from the little tent, I saw a curious
sight, that of the Professor with Shadrach's head under his left arm,
in chancery, as we used to call it at school, while with his right he
punched the said Shadrach's nose and countenance generally with all his
strength, which, I may add, is considerable. Close by, holding Pharaoh
by the collar, which we had manufactured for him out of the skin of a
camel that had died, stood Sergeant Quick, a look of grim amusement
on his wooden face, while around, gesticulating after their Eastern
fashion, and uttering guttural sounds of wrath, were several of the
Abati drivers. Orme was absent, being, in fact, asleep at the time.

"What are you doing, Higgs?" I shouted.

"Can't--you--see," he spluttered, accompanying each word with a blow on
the unfortunate Shadrach's prominent nose. "I am punching this fellow's
beastly head. Ah! you'd bite, would you? Then take that, and that
and--that. Lord, how hard his teeth are. Well, I think he has had
enough," and suddenly he released the Abati, who, a gory and most
unpleasant spectacle, fell to the ground and lay there panting. His
companions, seeing their chief's melancholy plight, advanced upon the
Professor in a threatening fashion; indeed, one of them drew a knife.

"Put up that thing, sonny," said the Sergeant, "or by heaven, I'll loose
the dog upon you. Got your revolver handy, Doctor?"

Evidently, if the man did not understand Quick's words, their purport
was clear to him, for he sheathed his knife and fell back with the
others. Shadrach, too, rose from the ground and went with them. At a
distance of a few yards, however, he turned, and, glaring at Higgs out
of his swollen eyes, said:

"Be sure, accursed Gentile, that I will remember and repay."

At this moment, too, Orme arrived upon the scene, yawning.

"What the deuce is the matter?" he asked.

"I'd give five bob for a pint of iced stone ginger," replied Higgs
inconsequently. Then he drank off a pannikin of warmish, muddy-coloured
water which Quick gave to him, and handed it back, saying:

"Thanks, Sergeant; that's better than nothing, and cold drink is always
dangerous if you are hot. What's the matter? Oh! not much. Shadrach
tried to poison Pharaoh; that's all. I was watching him out of the
corner of my eye, and saw him go to the strychnine tin, roll a bit of
meat in it which he had first wetted, and throw it to the poor beast.
I got hold of it in time, and chucked it over that wall, where you will
find it if you care to look. I asked Shadrach why he had done such a
thing. He answered, 'To keep the dog quiet while we are passing through
the Fung,' adding that anyhow it was a savage beast and best out of the
way, as it had tried to bite him that morning. Then I lost my temper and
went for the blackguard, and although I gave up boxing twenty years ago,
very soon had the best of it, for, as you may have observed, no Oriental
can fight with his fists. That's all. Give me another cup of water,
Sergeant."

"I hope it may be," answered Orme, shrugging his shoulders. "To tell the
truth, old fellow, it would have been wiser to defer blacking Shadrach's
eyes till we were safe in Mur. But it's no use talking now, and I
daresay I should have done the same myself if I had seen him try to
poison Pharaoh," and he patted the head of the great dog, of which we
were all exceedingly fond, although in reality it only cared for Orme,
merely tolerating the rest of us.

"Doctor," he added, "perhaps you would try to patch up our guide's nose
and soothe his feelings. You know him better than we do. Give him a
rifle. No, don't do that, or he might shoot some one in the back--by
accident done on purpose. Promise him a rifle when we get into Mur; I
know he wants one badly, because I caught him trying to steal a carbine
from the case. Promise him anything so long as you can square it up."

So I went, taking a bottle of arnica and some court plaster with me, to
find Shadrach surrounded by sympathizers and weeping with rage over
the insult, which, he said, had been offered to his ancient and
distinguished race in his own unworthy person. I did my best for him
physically and mentally, pointing out, as I dabbed the arnica on
his sadly disfigured countenance, that he had brought the trouble on
himself, seeing that he had really no business to poison Pharaoh because
he had tried to bite him. He answered that his reason for wishing to
kill the dog was quite different, and repeated at great length what he
had told the Professor--namely, that it might betray us while we were
passing through the Fung. Also he went on so venomously about revenge
that I thought it time to put a stop to the thing.

"See here, Shadrach," I said, "unless you unsay those words and make
peace at once, you shall be bound and tried. Perhaps we shall have a
better chance of passing safely through the Fung if we leave you dead
behind us than if you accompany us as a living enemy."

On hearing this, he changed his note altogether, saying that he saw
he had been wrong. Moreover, so soon as his injuries were dressed, he
sought out Higgs, whose hand he kissed with many apologies, vowing that
he had forgotten everything and that his heart toward him was like that
of a twin brother.

"Very good, friend," answered Higgs, who never bore malice, "only don't
try to poison Pharaoh again, and, for my part, I'll promise not to
remember this matter when we get to Mur."

"Quite a converted character, ain't he, Doctor?" sarcastically remarked
Quick, who had been watching this edifying scene. "Nasty Eastern temper
all gone; no Hebrew talk of eye for eye or tooth for tooth, but kisses
the fist that smote him in the best Christian spirit. All the same, I
wouldn't trust the swine further than I could kick him, especially in
the dark, which," he added meaningly, "is what it will be to-night."

I made no answer to the Sergeant, for although I agreed with him, there
was nothing to be done, and talking about a bad business would only make
it worse.

By now the afternoon drew towards night--a very stormy night, to judge
from the gathering clouds and rising wind. We were to start a little
after sundown, that is, within an hour, and, having made ready my own
baggage and assisted Higgs with his, we went to look for Orme and Quick,
whom we found very busy in one of the rooms of an unroofed house. To all
appearance they were engaged, Quick in sorting pound tins of tobacco
or baking-powder, and Orme in testing an electric battery and carefully
examining coils of insulated wire.

"What's your game?" asked the Professor.

"Better than yours, old boy, when Satan taught your idle hands to punch
Shadrach's head. But perhaps you had better put that pipe out. These
azo-imide compounds are said to burn rather more safely than coal.
Still, one never knows; the climate or the journey may have changed
their constitution."

Higgs retreated hurriedly, to a distance of fifty yards indeed, whence
he returned, having knocked out his pipe and even left his matches on a
stone.

"Don't waste time in asking questions," said Orme as the Professor
approached with caution. "I'll explain. We are going on a queer journey
to-night--four white men with about a dozen half-bred mongrel scamps of
doubtful loyalty, so you see Quick and I thought it as well to have some
of this stuff handy. Probably it will never be wanted, and if wanted we
shall have no time to use it; still, who knows? There, that will do. Ten
canisters; enough to blow up half the Fung if they will kindly sit on
them. You take five, Quick, a battery and three hundred yards of wire,
and I'll take five, a battery, and three hundred yards of wire. Your
detonators are all fixed, aren't they? Well, so are mine," and without
more words he proceeded to stow away his share of the apparatus in the
poacher pockets of his coat and elsewhere, while Quick did likewise with
what remained. Then the case that they had opened was fastened up again
and removed to be laden on a camel.



CHAPTER VI

HOW WE ESCAPED FROM HARMAC

As finally arranged this was the order of our march: First went an Abati
guide who was said to be conversant with every inch of the way. Then
came Orme and Sergeant Quick, conducting the camels that were loaded
with the explosives. I followed in order to keep an eye upon these
precious beasts and those in charge of them. Next marched some more
camels, carrying our baggage, provisions, and sundries, and finally in
the rear were the Professor and Shadrach with two Abati.

Shadrach, I should explain, had selected this situation for the reason,
as he said, that if he went first, after what had passed, any mistake or
untoward occurrence might be set down to his malice, whereas, if he were
behind, he could not be thus slandered. On hearing this, Higgs, who is
a generous soul, insisted upon showing his confidence in the virtue of
Shadrach by accompanying him as a rearguard. So violently did he insist,
and so flattered did Shadrach seem to be by this mark of faith, that
Orme, who, I should say, if I have not already done so, was in sole
command of the party now that hostilities were in the air, consented to
the plan, if with evident reluctance.

As I know, his own view was that it would be best for us four Englishmen
to remain together, although, if we did so, whatever position we chose,
it would be impossible for us in that darkness to keep touch with the
line of camels and their loads, which were almost as important to us as
our lives. At least, having made up our minds to deliver them in Mur, we
thought that they were important, perhaps because it is the fashion
of the Anglo-Saxon race to put even a self-created idea of duty before
personal safety or convenience.

Rightly or wrongly, so things were settled, for in such troublous
conditions one can only do what seems best at the moment. Criticism
subsequent to the event is always easy, as many an unlucky commander has
found out when the issue went awry, but in emergency one must decide on
something.

The sun set, the darkness fell, and it began to rain and blow. We
started quite unobserved, so far as we could tell, and, travelling
downward from the overgrown, ruined town, gained the old road, and in
complete silence, for the feet of camels make no noise, passed along it
toward the lights of Harmac, which now and again, when the storm-clouds
lifted, we saw glimmering in front of us and somewhat to our left.

In all my long wanderings I cannot remember a more exciting or a more
disagreeable journey. The blackness, relieved only from time to time by
distant lightnings, was that of the plagues of Egypt; the driving rain
worked through the openings of our camel-hair cloaks and the waterproofs
we wore underneath them, and wet us through. The cold, damp wind chilled
us to the bone, enervated as we were with the heat of the desert.
But these discomforts, and they were serious enough, we forgot in the
tremendous issue of the enterprise. Should we win through to Mur? Or, as
a crown to our many labours and sufferings, should we perish presently
on the road? That was the question; as I can assure the reader, one that
we found very urgent and interesting.

Three hours had gone by. Now we were opposite to the lights of Harmac,
also to other lights that shone up a valley in the mountain to our
right. As yet everything was well; for this we knew by the words
whispered up and down the line.

Then of a sudden, in front of us a light flashed, although as yet it
was a long way off. Next came another whispered message of "Halt!" So we
halted, and presently one of the front guides crept back, informing us
that a body of Fung cavalry had appeared upon the road ahead. We took
counsel. Shadrach arrived from the rear, and said that if we waited
awhile they might go away, as he thought that their presence must be
accidental and connected with the great festival. He implored us to be
quite silent. Accordingly, not knowing what to do, we waited.

Now I think I have forgotten to say that the dog Pharaoh, to prevent
accidents, occupied a big basket; this basket, in which he often rode
when tired, being fixed upon one side of Orme's camel. Here he lay
peaceably enough until, in an unlucky moment, Shadrach left me to go
forward to talk to the Captain, whereon, smelling his enemy, Pharaoh
burst out into furious baying. After that everything was confusion.
Shadrach darted back toward the rear. The light ahead began to move
quickly, advancing toward us. The front camels left the road, as I
presume, following their leader according to the custom of these beasts
when marching in line.

Presently, I know not how, Orme, Quick, and myself found ourselves
together in the darkness; at the time we thought Higgs was with us also,
but in this we were mistaken. We heard shoutings and strange voices
speaking a language that we could not understand. By the sudden glare of
a flash of lightning, for the thunderstorm was now travelling over
us, we saw several things. One of these was the Professor's
riding-dromedary, which could not be mistaken because of its pure white
colour and queer method of holding its head to one side, passing within
ten yards, between us and the road, having a man upon its back who
evidently was not the Professor. Then it was that we discovered his
absence and feared the worst.

"A Fung has got his camel," I said.

"No," answered Quick; "Shadrach has got it. I saw his ugly mug against
the light."

Another vision was that of what appeared to be our baggage camels moving
swiftly away from us, but off the road which was occupied by a body of
horsemen in white robes. Orme issued a brief order to the effect that we
were to follow the camels with which the Professor might be. We started
to obey, but before we had covered twenty yards of the cornfield or
whatever it was in which we were standing, heard voices ahead that were
not those of Abati. Evidently the flash which showed the Fung to us had
done them a like service, and they were now advancing to kill or capture
us.

There was only one thing to do--turn and fly--and this we did, heading
whither we knew not, but managing to keep touch of each other.

About a quarter of an hour later, just as we were entering a grove of
palms or other trees which hid everything in front of us, the lightning
blazed again, though much more faintly, for by this time the storm had
passed over the Mountains of Mur, leaving heavy rain behind it. By the
flash I, who was riding last and, as it chanced, looking back over my
shoulder, saw that the Fung horsemen were not fifty yards behind, and
hunting for us everywhere, their line being extended over a long front.
I was, however, sure that they had not yet caught sight of us in the
dense shadow of the trees.

"Get on," I said to the others; "they will be here presently," and heard
Quick add:

"Give your camel his head, Captain; he can see in the dark, and perhaps
will take us back to the road."

Orme acted on this suggestion, which, as the blackness round us was
pitchy, seemed a good one. At any rate it answered, for off we went at a
fair pace, the three camels marching in line, first over soft ground
and afterwards on a road. Presently I thought that the rain had stopped,
since for a few seconds none fell on us, but concluded from the echo of
the camels' feet and its recommencement that we had passed under some
archway. On we went, and at length even through the gloom and rain I saw
objects that looked like houses, though if so there were no lights in
them, perhaps because the night drew toward morning. A dreadful idea
struck me: we might be in Harmac! I passed it up for what it was worth.

"Very likely," whispered Orme back. "Perhaps these camels were bred
here, and are looking for their stables. Well, there is only one thing
to do--go on."

So we went on for a long while, only interfered with by the occasional
attentions of some barking dog. Luckily of these Pharaoh, in his basket,
took no heed, probably because it was his habit if another dog barked at
him to pretend complete indifference until it came so near that he
could spring and fight, or kill it. At length we appeared to pass under
another archway, after which, a hundred and fifty yards or so further
on, the camels came to a sudden stop. Quick dismounted, and presently I
heard him say:

"Doors. Can feel the brasswork on them. Tower above, I think, and wall
on either side. Seem to be in a trap. Best stop here till light comes.
Nothing else to be done."

Accordingly, we stopped, and, having tied the camels to each other to
prevent their straying, took shelter from the rain under the tower or
whatever it might be. To pass away the time and keep life in us, for we
were almost frozen with the wet and cold, we ate some tinned food and
biscuits that we carried in our saddle-bags, and drank a dram of brandy
from Quick's flask. This warmed us a little, though I do not think that
a bottleful would have raised our spirits. Higgs, whom we all loved, was
gone, dead, probably, by that time; the Abati had lost or deserted
us, and we three white men appeared to have wandered into a savage
stronghold, where, as soon as we were seen, we should be trapped like
birds in a net, and butchered at our captor's will. Certainly the
position was not cheerful.

Overwhelmed with physical and mental misery, I began to doze; Orme grew
silent, and the Sergeant, having remarked that there was no need to
bother, since what must be must be, consoled himself in a corner by
humming over and over again the verse of the hymn which begins:

     "There is a blessed home beyond this land of woe,
     Where trials never come nor tears of sorrow flow."

Fortunately for us, shortly before dawn the "tears of sorrow" as
represented by the rain ceased to flow. The sky cleared, showing the
stars; suddenly the vault of heaven was suffused with a wonderful and
pearly light, although on the earth the mist remained so thick that we
could see nothing. Then above this sea of mist rose the great ball of
the sun, but still we could see nothing that was more than a few yards
away from us.

"There is a blessed home beyond this land of woe"

droned Quick beneath his breath for about the fiftieth time, since,
apparently, he knew no other hymn which he considered suitable to our
circumstances, then ejaculated suddenly:

"Hullo! here's a stair. With your leave I'll go up it, Captain," and he
did.

A minute later we heard his voice calling us softly:

"Come here, gentlemen," he said, "and see something worth looking at."

So we scrambled up the steps, and, as I rather expected, found ourselves
upon the top of one of two towers set above an archway, which towers
were part of a great protective work outside the southern gates of a
city that could be none other than Harmac. Soaring above the mist rose
the mighty cliffs of Mur that, almost exactly opposite to us, were
pierced by a deep valley.

Into this valley the sunlight poured, revealing a wondrous and
awe-inspiring object of which the base was surrounded by billowy
vapours, a huge, couchant animal fashioned of black stone, with a head
carved to the likeness of that of a lion, and crowned with the _uraeus_,
the asp-crested symbol of majesty in old Egypt. How big the creature
might be it was impossible to say at that distance, for we were quite a
mile away from it; but it was evident that no other monolithic
monument that we had ever seen or heard of could approach its colossal
dimensions.

Compared to this tremendous effigy indeed, the boasted Sphinx of Gizeh
seemed but a toy. It was no less than a small mountain of rock shaped by
the genius and patient labour of some departed race of men to the form
of a lion-headed monster. Its majesty and awfulness set thus above the
rolling mists in the red light of the morning, reflected on it from the
towering precipices beyond, were literally indescribable; even in our
miserable state, they oppressed and overcame us, so that for awhile we
were silent. Then we spoke, each after his own manner:

"The idol of the Fung!" said I. "No wonder that savages should take it
for a god."

"The greatest monolith in all the world," muttered Orme, "and Higgs is
dead. Oh! if only he had lived to see it, he would have gone happy. I
wish it had been I who was taken; I wish it had been I!" and he wrung
his hands, for it is the nature of Oliver Orme always to think of others
before himself.

"That's what we have come to blow up," soliloquized Quick. "Well,
those 'azure stinging-bees,' or whatever they call the stuff (he meant
azo-imides) are pretty active, but it will take a lot of stirring if
ever we get there. Seems a pity, too, for the old pussy is handsome in
his way."

"Come down," said Orme. "We must find out where we are; perhaps we can
escape in the mist."

"One moment," I answered. "Do you see that?" and I pointed to a
needle-like rock that pierced the fog about a mile to the south of the
idol valley, and say two miles from where we were. "That's the White
Rock; it isn't white really, but the vultures roost on it and make it
look so. I have never seen it before, for I passed it in the night, but
I know that it marks the beginning of the cleft which runs up to Mur;
you remember, Shadrach told us so. Well, if we can get to that White
Rock we have a chance of life."

Orme studied it hurriedly and repeated, "Come down; we may be seen up
here."

We descended and began our investigations in feverish haste. This was
the sum of them: In the arch under the tower were set two great doors
covered with plates of copper or bronze beaten into curious shapes to
represent animals and men, and apparently very ancient. These huge doors
had grilles in them through which their defenders could peep out or
shoot arrows. What seemed more important to us, however, was that they
lacked locks, being secured only by thick bronze bolts and bars such as
we could undo.

"Let's clear out before the mist lifts," said Orme. "With luck we may
get to the pass."

We assented, and I ran to the camels that lay resting just outside the
arch. Before I reached them, however, Quick called me back.

"Look through there, Doctor," he said, pointing to one of the
peep-holes.

I did so, and in the dense mist saw a body of horsemen advancing toward
the door.

They must have seen us on the top of the wall. "Fools that we were to go
there!" exclaimed Orme.

Next instant he started back, not a second too soon, for through the
hole where his face had been, flashed a spear which struck the ground
beyond the archway. Also we heard other spears rattle upon the bronze
plates of the doors.

"No luck!" said Orme; "that's all up, they mean to break in. Now I think
we had better play a bold game. Got your rifles, Sergeant and Doctor?
Yes? Then choose your loopholes, aim, and empty the magazines into
them. Don't waste a shot. For heaven's sake don't waste a shot.
Now--one--two--three, fire!"

Fire we did into the dense mass of men who had dismounted and were
running up to the doors to burst them open. At that distance we could
scarcely miss and the magazines of the repeating rifles held five shots
apiece. As the smoke cleared away I counted quite half-a-dozen Fung
down, while some others were staggering off, wounded. Also several of
the men and horses beyond were struck by the bullets which had passed
through the bodies of the fallen.

The effect of this murderous discharge was instantaneous and remarkable.
Brave though the Fung might be, they were quite unaccustomed to magazine
rifles. Living as they did perfectly isolated and surrounded by a great
river, even if they had heard of such things and occasionally seen an
old gaspipe musket that reached them in the course of trade, of modern
guns and their terrible power they knew nothing. Small blame to them,
therefore, if their courage evaporated in face of a form of sudden
death which to them must have been almost magical. At any rate they fled
incontinently, leaving their dead and wounded on the ground.

Now again we thought of flight, which perhaps would have proved our
wisest course, but hesitated because we could not believe that the Fung
had left the road clear, or done more than retreat a little to wait
for us. While we lost time thus the mist thinned a great deal, so much
indeed that we could see our exact position. In front of us, towards the
city side, lay a wide open space, whereof the walls ended against
those of Harmac itself, to which they formed a kind of vestibule or
antechamber set there to protect this gateway of the town through which
we had ridden in the darkness, not knowing whither we went.

"Those inner doors are open," said Orme, nodding his head toward the
great portals upon the farther side of the square. "Let's go see if we
can shut them. Otherwise we shan't hold this place long."

So we ran across to the further doors that were similar to those through
which we had just fired, only larger, and as we met nobody to interfere
with our efforts, found that the united strength of the three of us was
just, only just, sufficient to turn first one and then the other of
them upon its hinges and work the various bolts and bars into their
respective places. Two men could never have done the job, but being
three and fairly desperate we managed it. Then we retreated to our
archway and, as nothing happened, took the opportunity to eat and drink
a few mouthfuls, Quick remarking sagely that we might as well die upon
full as upon empty stomachs.

When we had crossed the square the fog was thinning rapidly, but as the
sun rose, sucking the vapours from the rain-soaked earth, it thickened
again for awhile.

"Sergeant," said Orme presently, "these black men are bound to attack
us soon. Now is the time to lay a mine while they can't see what we are
after."

"I was just thinking the same thing, Captain; the sooner the better,"
replied Quick. "Perhaps the Doctor will keep a watch here over the
camels, and if he sees any one stick up his head above the wall, he
might bid him good-morning. We know he is a nice shot, is the Doctor,"
and he tapped my rifle.

I nodded and the two of them set out laden with wires and the packages
that looked like tobacco tins, heading for a stone erection in the
centre of the square which resembled an altar, but was, I believe, a
rostrum whence the native auctioneers sold slaves and other merchandise.
What they did there exactly, I am sure I do not know; indeed, I was too
much occupied in keeping a watch upon the walls whereof I could
clearly see the crest above the mist, to pay much attention to their
proceedings.

Presently my vigilance was rewarded, for over the great gateway
opposite, at a distance of about a hundred and fifty paces from me,
appeared some kind of a chieftain clad in white robes and wearing a very
fine turban or coloured head-dress, who paraded up and down, waving a
spear defiantly and uttering loud shouts.

This man I covered very carefully, lying down to do so. As Quick had
said, I am a good rifle shot, having practised that art for many years;
still, one may always miss, which, although I bore no personal grudge
against the poor fellow in the fine head-dress, on this occasion I did
not wish to do. The sudden and mysterious death of that savage would, I
felt sure, produce a great effect among his people.

At length he stopped exactly over the door and began to execute a kind
of war-dance, turning his head from time to time to yell out something
to others on the farther side of the wall. This was my opportunity. I
covered him with as much care as though I were shooting at a target,
with one bull's eye to win. Aiming a little low in case the rifle should
throw high, very gently I pressed the trigger. The cartridge exploded,
the bullet went on its way, and the man on the wall stopped dancing and
shouting and stood quite still. Clearly he had heard the shot or felt
the wind of the ball, but was untouched.

I worked the lever jerking out the empty case, preparatory to firing
again, but on looking up saw that there was no need, for the Fung
captain was spinning round on his heels like a top. Three or four times
he whirled thus with incredible rapidity, then suddenly threw his arms
wide, and dived headlong from the wall like a bather from a plank, but
backward, and was soon no more. Only from the farther side of those
gates arose a wail of wrath and consternation.

After this no other Fung appeared upon the wall, so I turned my
attention to the spy-hole in the doors behind me, and seeing some
horsemen moving about at a distance of four or five hundred yards on a
rocky ridge where the mist did not lie, I opened fire on them and at the
second shot was fortunate enough to knock a man out of the saddle. One
of those with him, who must have been a brave fellow, instantly jumped
down, threw him, dead or living, over the horse, leaped up behind him,
and galloped away accompanied by the others, pursued by some probably
ineffective bullets that I sent after them.

Now the road to the Pass of Mur seemed to be clear, and I regretted that
Orme and Quick were not with me to attempt escape. Indeed, I meditated
fetching or calling them, when suddenly I saw them returning, burying
a wire or wires in the sand as they came, and at the same time heard
a noise of thunderous blows of which I could not mistake the meaning.
Evidently the Fung were breaking down the farther bronze doors with some
kind of battering-ram. I ran out to meet them and told my news.

"Well done," said Orme in a quiet voice. "Now, Sergeant, just join up
those wires to the battery, and be careful to screw them in tight. You
have tested it, haven't you? Doctor, be good enough to unbar the gates.
No, you can't do that alone; I'll help you presently. Look to the camels
and tighten the girths. These Fung will have the doors down in a minute,
and then there will be no time to lose."

"What are you going to do?" I asked as I obeyed.

"Show them some fireworks, I hope. Bring the camels into the archway
so that they can't foul the wire with their feet. So--stand still, you
grumbling brutes! Now for these bolts. Heavens! how stiff they are. I
wonder why the Fung don't grease them. One door will do--never mind the
other."

Labouring furiously we got it undone and ajar. So far as we could see
there was no one in sight beyond. Scared by our bullets or for other
reasons of their own, the guard there appeared to have moved away.

"Shall we take the risk and ride for it?" I suggested.

"No," answered Orme. "If we do, even supposing there are no Fung waiting
beyond the rise, those inside the town will soon catch us on their swift
horses. We must scare them before we bolt, and then those that are left
of them may let us alone. Now listen to me. When I give the word, you
two take the camels outside and make them kneel about fifty yards
away, not nearer, for I don't know the effective range of these new
explosives; it may be greater than I think. I shall wait until the Fung
are well over the mine and then fire it, after which I hope to join you.
If I don't, ride as hard as you can go to that White Rock, and if you
reach Mur give my compliments to the Child of Kings, or whatever she is
called, and say that although I have been prevented from waiting upon
her, Sergeant Quick understands as much about picrates as I do. Also
get Shadrach tried and hanged if he is guilty of Higgs's death. Poor old
Higgs! how he would have enjoyed this."

"Beg your pardon, Captain," said Quick, "but I'll stay with you. The
doctor can see to the baggage animals."

"Will you be good enough to obey orders and fall to the rear when you
are told, Sergeant? Now, no words. It is necessary for the purposes of
this expedition that one of us two should try to keep a whole skin."

"Then, sir," pleaded Quick, "mayn't I take charge of the battery?"

"No," he answered sternly. "Ah! the doors are down at last," and he
pointed to a horde of Fung, mounted and on foot, who poured through the
gateway where they had stood, shouting after their fashion, and went on:
"Now then, pick out the captains and pepper away. I want to keep them
back a bit, so that they come on in a crowd, not scattered."

We took up our repeating rifles and did as Orme told us, and so dense
was the mass of humanity opposite that if we missed one man, we hit
another, killing or wounding a number of them. The result of the loss of
several of their leaders, to say nothing of meaner folk, was just
what Orme had foreseen. The Fung soldiers, instead of rushing on
independently, spread to right and left, until the whole farther side of
the square filled up with thousands of them, a veritable sea of men, at
which we pelted bullets as boys hurl stones at a wave.

At length the pressure of those behind thrust onward those in front,
and the whole fierce, tumultuous mob began to flow forward across the
square, a multitude bent on the destruction of three white men, armed
with these new and terrible weapons. It was a very strange and thrilling
sight; never have I seen its like.

"Now," said Orme, "stop firing and do as I bid you. Kneel the camels
fifty yards outside the wall, not less, and wait till you know the end.
If we shouldn't meet again, well, good-bye and good luck."

So we went, Quick literally weeping with shame and rage.

"Good Lord!" he exclaimed, "good Lord! to think that, after four
campaigns, Samuel Quick, Sergeant of Engineers, with five medals, should
live to be sent off with the baggage like a pot-bellied bandmaster,
leaving his captain to fight about three thousand niggers single-handed.
Doctor, if he don't come out, you do the best you can for yourself, for
I'm going back to stop with him, that's all. There, that's fifty paces;
down you go, you ugly beasts," and he bumped his camel viciously on the
head with the butt of his rifle.

From where we had halted we could only see through the archway into the
space beyond. By now the square looked like a great Sunday meeting in
Hyde Park, being filled up with men of whom the first rows were already
past the altar-like rostrum in its centre.

"Why don't he loose off them stinging-bees?" muttered Quick. "Oh! I see
his little game. Look," and he pointed to the figure of Orme, who had
crept behind the unopened half of the door on our side of it and was
looking intently round its edge, holding the battery in his right hand.
"He wants to let them get nearer so as to make a bigger bag. He----"

I heard no more of Quick's remarks, for suddenly something like an
earthquake took place, and the whole sky seemed to turn to one great
flame. I saw a length of the wall of the square rush outward and upward.
I saw the shut half of the bronze-plated door skipping and hopping
playfully toward us, and in front of it the figure of a man. Then it
began to rain all sorts of things.

For instance, stones, none of which hit us, luckily, and other more
unpleasant objects. It is a strange experience to be knocked backward
by a dead fist separated from its parent body, yet on this occasion this
actually happened to me, and, what is more, the fist had a spear in it.
The camels tried to rise and bolt, but they are phlegmatic brutes, and,
as ours were tired as well, we succeeded in quieting them.

Whilst we were thus occupied somewhat automatically, for the shock had
dazed us, the figure that had been propelled before the dancing door
arrived, reeling in a drunken fashion, and through the dust and falling
_débris_ we knew it for that of Oliver Orme. His face was blackened, his
clothes were torn half off him, and blood from a scalp wound ran down
his brown hair. But in his right hand he still held the little electric
battery, and I knew at once that he had no limbs broken.

"Very successful mine," he said thickly. "Boer melinite shells aren't
in it with this new compound. Come on before the enemy recover from the
shock," and he flung himself upon his camel.

In another minute we had started at a trot toward the White Rock, whilst
from the city of Harmac behind us rose a wail of fear and misery. We
gained the top of the rise on which I had shot the horseman, and, as
I expected, found that the Fung had posted a strong guard in the dip
beyond, out of reach of our bullets, in order to cut us off, should
we attempt to escape. Now, terrified by what had happened, to them
a supernatural catastrophe, they were escaping themselves, for we
perceived them galloping off to the left and right as fast as their
horses would carry them.

So for awhile we went on unmolested, though not very quickly, because of
Orme's condition. When we had covered about half the distance between us
and the White Rock, I looked round and became aware that we were being
pursued by a body of cavalry about a hundred strong, which I supposed
had emerged from some other gate of the city.

"Flog the animals," I shouted to Quick, "or they will catch us after
all."

He did so, and we advanced at a shambling gallop, the horsemen gaining
on us every moment. Now I thought that all was over, especially when of
a sudden from behind the White Rock emerged a second squad of horsemen.

"Cut off!" I exclaimed.

"Suppose so, sir," answered Quick, "but these seem a different crowd."

I scanned them and saw that he was right. They were a very different
crowd, for in front of them floated the Abati banner, which I could not
mistake, having studied it when I was a guest of the tribe: a
curious, triangular, green flag covered with golden Hebrew characters,
surrounding the figure of Solomon seated on a throne. Moreover,
immediately behind the banner in the midst of a bodyguard rode a
delicately shaped woman clothed in pure white. It was the Child of Kings
herself!

Two more minutes and we were among them. I halted my camel and looked
round to see that the Fung cavalry were retreating. After the events
of that morning clearly they had no stomach left for a fight with a
superior force.

The lady in white rode up to us.

"Greetings, friend," she exclaimed to me, for she knew me again at once.
"Now, who is captain among you?"

I pointed to the shattered Orme, who sat swaying on his camel with eyes
half closed.

"Noble sir," she said, addressing him, "if you can, tell me what has
happened. I am Maqueda of the Abati, she who is named Child of Kings.
Look at the symbol on my brow, and you will see that I speak truth,"
and, throwing back her veil, she revealed the coronet of gold that
showed her rank.



CHAPTER VII

BARUNG

At the sound of this soft voice (the extreme softness of Maqueda's voice
was always one of her greatest charms), Orme opened his eyes and stared
at her.

"Very queer dream," I heard him mutter. "Must be something in the
Mohammedan business after all. Extremely beautiful woman, and that gold
thing looks well on her dark hair."

"What does the lord your companion say?" asked Maqueda of me.

Having first explained that he was suffering from shock, I translated
word for word, whereon Maqueda blushed to her lovely violet eyes and let
fall her veil in a great hurry. In the confusion which ensued, I heard
Quick saying to his master:

"No, no, sir; this one ain't no houri. She's a flesh and blood queen,
and the pleasantest to look at I ever clapped eyes on, though a
benighted African Jew. Wake up, Captain, wake up; you are out of that
hell-fire now. It's got the Fung, not you."

The word Fung seemed to rouse Orme.

"Yes," he said; "I understand. The vapour of the stuff poisoned me, but
it is passing now. Adams, ask that lady how many men she's got with her.
What does she say? About five hundred? Well, then, let her attack Harmac
at once. The outer and inner gates are down; the Fung think they have
raised the devil and will run. She can inflict a defeat on them from
which they will not recover for years, only it must be done at once,
before they get their nerve again, for, after all, they are more
frightened than hurt."

Maqueda listened to this advice intently.

"It is to my liking; it is very good," she said in her quaint archaic
Arabic when I had finished translating. "But I must consult my Council.
Where is my uncle, the prince Joshua?"

"Here, Lady," answered a voice from the press behind, out of which
presently emerged, mounted on a white horse, a stout man, well advanced
in middle age, with a swarthy complexion and remarkably round, prominent
eyes. He was clad in the usual Eastern robes, richly worked, over which
he wore a shirt of chain-mail, and on his head a helmet, with mail
flaps, an attire that gave the general effect of an obese Crusader of
the early Norman period without his cross.

"Is that Joshua?" said Orme, who was wandering a little again.
"Rummy-looking cock, isn't he? Sergeant, tell Joshua that the walls of
Jericho are down, so there'll be no need to blow his own trumpet. I'm
sure from the look of him that he's a perfect devil with a trumpet."

"What does your companion say?" asked Maqueda again.

I translated the middle part of Orme's remarks, but neither the
commencement nor the end, but even these amused her very much, for she
burst out laughing, and said, pointing to Harmac, over which still hung
a cloud of dust:

"Yes, yes, Joshua, my uncle, the walls of Jericho are down, and the
question is, will you not take your opportunity? So in an hour or two we
shall be dead, or if God goes with us, perhaps free from the menace of
the Fung for years."

The prince Joshua stared at her with his great, prominent eyes, then
answered in a thick, gobbling voice:

"Are you mad, Child of Kings? Of us Abati here there are but five
hundred men, and of the Fung yonder tens of thousands. If we attacked,
they would eat us up. Can five hundred men stand against tens of
thousands?"

"It seems that three stood against them this morning, and worked some
damage, my uncle, but it is true those three are of a different race
from the Abati," she added with bitter sarcasm. Then she turned to those
behind her and cried: "Who of my captains and Council will accompany me,
if I who am but a woman dare to advance on Harmac?"

Now here and there a voice cried, "I will," or some gorgeously dressed
person stepped forward in a hesitating way, and that was all.

"You see, men of the West!" said Maqueda after a little pause,
addressing us three. "I thank you for the great deeds that you have
done and for your counsel. But I cannot take it because my people are
not--warlike," and she covered her face with her hands.

Now there arose a great tumult among her followers, who all began to
talk at once. Joshua in particular drew a large sword and waved it,
shouting out a recital of the desperate actions of his youth and the
names of Fung chieftains whom he alleged he had killed in single combat.

"Told you that fat cur was a first-class trumpeter," said Orme
languidly, while the Sergeant ejaculated in tones of deep disgust:

"Good Lord! what a set. Why, Doctor, they ain't fit to savage a referee
in a London football ground. Pharaoh there in his basket (where he was
barking loudly) would make the whole lot run, and if he was out--oh
my! Now, then, you porpoise"--this he addressed to Joshua, who was
flourishing his sword unpleasantly near--"put your pasteboard up, won't
you, or I'll knock your fat head off," whereon the Prince, who, if
he did not understand Quick's words, at any rate caught their meaning
wonderfully well, did as he was told, and fell back.

Just then, indeed, there was a general movement up the pass, in the
wide mouth of which all this scene took place, for suddenly three Fung
chieftains appeared galloping toward us, one of whom was veiled with
a napkin in which were cut eyeholes. So universal was this retreat,
in fact, that we three on our camels, and the Child of Kings on her
beautiful mare, found ourselves left alone.

"An embassy," said Maqueda, scanning the advancing horsemen, who carried
with them a white flag tied to the blade of a spear. "Physician, will
you and your friends come with me and speak to these messengers?" And
without even waiting for an answer, she rode forward fifty yards or so
on to the plain, and there reined up and halted till we could bring
our camels round and join her. As we did so, the three Fung,
splendid-looking, black-faced fellows, arrived at a furious gallop,
their lances pointed at us.

"Stand still, friends," said Maqueda; "they mean no harm."

As the words passed her lips, the Fung pulled the horses to their
haunches, Arab-fashion, lifted spears and saluted. Then their
leader--not the veiled man, but another--spoke in a dialect that I, who
had spent so many years among the savages of the desert, understood well
enough, especially as the base of it was Arabic.

"O, Walda Nagasta, Daughter of Solomon," he said, "we are the tongues of
our Sultan Barung, Son of Barung for a hundred generations, and we speak
his words to the brave white men who are your guests. Thus says Barung.
Like the Fat One whom I have already captured, you white men are heroes.
Three of you alone, you held the gate against my army. With the weapons
of the white man you killed us from afar, here one and there one. Then,
at last, with a great magic of thunder and lightning and earthquake, you
sent us by scores into the bosom of our god, and shook down our walls
about our ears and out of that hell you escaped yourselves.

"Now, O white men, this is the offer of Barung to you: Leave the curs
of the Abati, the baboons who gibber and deck themselves out, the
rock-rabbits who seek safety in the cliffs, and come to him. He will
give you not only life, but all your heart's desire--lands and wives
and horses; great shall you be in his councils and happy shall you live.
Moreover, for your sakes he will try to spare your brother, the Fat One,
whose eyes look out of black windows, who blows fire from his mouth, and
reviles his enemies as never man did before. Yes, although the priests
have doomed him to sacrifice at the next feast of Harmac, he will try to
spare him, which, perhaps, he can do by making him, like the Singer of
Egypt, also a priest of Harmac, and thus dedicate forever to the god
with whom, indeed, he says he had been familiar for thousands of years.
This is our message, O white men."

Now, when I had translated the substance of this oration to Orme and
Quick, for, as I saw by the quiver that passed through her at the
Fung insults upon her tribe, Maqueda understood it, their tongues
not differing greatly, Orme who, for the time at any rate, was almost
himself again, said:

"Tell these fellows to say to their Sultan that he is a good old boy,
and that we thank him very much; also that we are sorry to have been
obliged to kill so many of them in a way that he must have thought
unsportsmanlike, but we had to do it, as we are sure he will understand,
in order to save our skins. Tell him also that, speaking personally,
having sampled the Abati yonder and on our journey, I should like to
accept his invitation. But although, as yet, we have found no men among
them, only, as he says, baboons, rock-rabbits, and boasters without
a fight in them, we have"--and here he bowed his bleeding head to
Maqueda--"found a woman with a great heart. Of her salt we have eaten,
or are about to eat; to serve her we have come from far upon her camels,
and, unless she should be pleased to accompany us, we cannot desert
her."

All of this I rendered faithfully, while every one, and especially
Maqueda, listened with much attention. When they had considered our
words, the spokesman of the messengers replied to the effect that the
motives of our decision were of a nature that commanded their entire
respect and sympathy, especially as their people quite concurred in our
estimate of the character of the Abati ruler, Child of Kings. This
being so, they would amend their proposition, knowing the mind of their
Sultan, and having, indeed, plenipotentiary powers.

"Lady of Mur," he went on, addressing Maqueda directly, "fair daughter
of the great god Harmac and a mortal queen, what we have offered to
the white lords, your guests, we offer to you also. Barung, our Sultan,
shall make you his head wife; or, if that does not please you, you shall
wed whom you will"--and, perhaps by accident, the envoy's roving eyes
rested for a moment upon Oliver Orme.

"Leave, then, your rock-rabbits, who dare not quit their cliffs when but
three messengers wait without with sticks," and he glanced at the spear
in his hand, "and come to dwell among men. Listen, high Lady; we know
your case. You do your best in a hopeless task. Had it not been for you
and your courage, Mur would have been ours three years ago, and it was
ours before your tribe wandered thither. But while you can find but a
hundred brave warriors to help you, you think the place impregnable,
and you have perhaps that number, though we know they are not here; they
guard the gates above. Yes, with a few of your Mountaineers whose hearts
are as those of their forefathers were, so far as you have defied all
the power of the Fung, and when you saw that the end drew near, using
your woman's wit, you sent for the white men to come with their magic,
promising to pay them with the gold which you have in such plenty in the
tombs of our old kings and in the rocks of the mountains."

"Who told you that, O Tongue of Barung?" asked Maqueda in a low
voice, speaking for the first time. "The man of the West whom you took
prisoner--he whom you call Fat One?"

"No, no, O Walda Nagasta, the lord Black Windows has told us nothing as
yet, except sundry things about the history of our god, with whom, as we
said, he seems to be familiar, and to whom, therefore, we vowed him at
once. But there are others who tell us things, for in times of truce
our peoples trade together a little, and cowards are often spies. For
instance, we knew that these white men were coming last night, though it
is true that we did not know of their fire magic, for, had we done so,
we should not have let the camels slip through, since there may be more
of it on them----"

"For your comfort, learn that there is--much more," I interrupted.

"Ah!" replied the Tongue, shaking his head sadly, "and yet we suffered
Cat, whom you call Shadrach, to make off with that of your fat brother;
yes, and even gave it to him after his own beast had been lamed by
accident. Well, it is our bad luck, and without doubt Harmac is angry
with us to-day. But your answer, O Walda Nagasta, your answer, O Rose of
Mur?"

"What can it be, O Voices of Barung the Sultan?" replied Maqueda. "You
know that by my blood and by my oath of office I am sworn to protect Mur
to the last."

"And so you shall," pleaded the Tongue, "for when we have cleaned it of
baboons and rock-rabbits, which, if you were among us, we soon should
do, and thus fulfilled our oath to regain our ancient secret City of the
Rocks, we will set you there once more as its Lady, under Barung, and
give you a multitude of subjects of whom you may be proud."

"It may not be, O Tongue, for they would be worshippers of Harmac, and
between Jehovah, whom I serve, and Harmac there is war," she answered
with spirit.

"Yes, sweet-smelling Bud of the Rose, there is war, and let it be
admitted that the first battle has gone against Harmac, thanks to the
magic of the white men. Yet yonder he sits in his glory as the spirits,
his servants, fashioned him in the beginning," and he pointed with his
spear toward the valley of the idol. "You know our prophecy--that until
Harmac rises from his seat and flies away, for where he goes, the Fung
must follow--till then, I say, we shall hold the plains and the city of
his name--that is, for ever."

"For ever is a long word, O Mouth of Barung." Then she paused a little,
and added slowly, "Did not certain of the gates of Harmac fly far
this morning? Now what if your god should follow his gates and those
worshippers who went with them, and be seen no more? Or what if the
earth should open and swallow him, so that he goes down to hell, whither
you cannot follow? Or what if the mountains should fall together and
bury him from your sight eternally. Or what if the lightnings should
leap out and shatter him to dust?"

At these ominous words the envoys shivered, and it seemed to me that
their faces for a moment turned grey.

"Then, O Child of Kings," answered the spokesman solemnly, "the Fung
will acknowledge that your god is greater than our god, and that our
glory is departed."

Thus he spoke and was silent, turning his eyes toward the third
messenger, he who wore a cloth or napkin upon his head that was pierced
with eyeholes and hung down to the breast. With a quick motion, the man
dragged off this veil and threw it to the ground, revealing a very noble
countenance, not black like that of his followers, but copper-coloured.
He was about fifty years of age, with deep-set flashing eyes, hooked
nose, and a flowing, grizzled beard. The collar of gold about his neck
showed that his rank was high, but when we noticed a second ornament
of gold, also upon his brow, we knew that it must be supreme. For this
ornament was nothing less than the symbol of royalty, once worn by the
ancient Pharaohs of Egypt, the double snakes of the _uraeus_ bending
forward as though to strike, which, as we had seen, rose also from the
brow of the lion-headed sphinx of Harmac.

As he uncovered, his two companions leapt to the ground and prostrated
themselves before him, crying, "Barung! Barung!" while all three of us
Englishmen saluted, involuntarily, I think, and even the Child of Kings
bowed.

The Sultan acknowledged our greetings by raising his spear. Then he
spoke in a grave measured voice:

"O Walda Nagasta, and you, white men, sons of great fathers, I have
listened to the talk between you and my servants; I confirm their words
and I add to them. I am sorry that my generals tried to kill you last
night. I was making prayer to my god, or it should not have happened. I
have been well repaid for that deed, since an army should not make war
upon four men, even though by their secret power four men can defeat an
army. I beseech you, and you also, Rose of Mur, to accept my proffered
friendship, since otherwise, ere long, you will soon be dead, and your
wisdom will perish with you for I am weary of this little war against a
handful whom we despise.

"O Walda Nagasta, you have breathed threats against the Majesty of
Harmac, but he is too strong for you, nor may the might that can turn a
few bricks to dust and shatter the bones of men prevail against him who
is shaped from the heart of a mountain and holds the spirit of eternity.
So at least I think: but even if it is decreed otherwise, what will that
avail you? If it should please the god to leave us because of your arts,
the Fung will still remain to avenge him ere they follow. Then I swear
to you by my majesty and by the bones of my ancestors who sit in the
caves of Mur, that I will spare but one of the Abati Jews, yourself, O
Child of Kings, because of your great heart, and the three white men,
your guests, should they survive the battle, because of their courage
and their wisdom. As for their brother, Black Windows, whom I have
captured, he must be sacrificed, since I have sworn it, unless you
yield, when I will plead for his life to the god, with what result I
cannot tell. Yield, then, and I will not even slay the Abati; they
shall live on and serve the Fung as slaves and minister to the glory of
Harmac."

"It may not be, it may not be!" Maqueda answered, striking the pommel of
her saddle with her small hand. "Shall Jehovah whom Solomon, my father,
worshipped, Jehovah of all the generations, do homage to an idol shaped
by the hands He made? My people are worn out; they have forgot their
faith and gone astray, as did Israel in the desert. I know it. It may
even happen that the time has come for them to perish, who are no longer
warriors, as of old. Well, if so, let them die free, and not as slaves.
At least I, in whom their best blood runs, do not seek your mercy,
O Barung. I'll be no plaything in your house, who, at the worst, can
always die, having done my duty to my God and those who bred me. Thus I
answer you as the Child of many Kings. Yet as a woman," she added in a
gentler voice, "I thank you for your courtesy. When I am slain, Barung,
if I am fated to be slain, think kindly of me, as one who did her best
against mighty odds," and her voice broke.

"That I shall always do," he answered gravely. "Is it ended?"

"Not quite," she answered. "These Western lords, I give them to you; I
absolve them from their promise. Why should they perish in a lost cause?
If they take their wisdom to you to use against me, you have vowed them
their lives, and, perhaps, that of their brother, your captive. There is
a slave of yours also--you spoke of him, or your servant did--Singer of
Egypt is his name. One of them knew him as a child; perchance you will
not refuse him to that man."

She paused, but Barung made no answer.

"Go, my friends," she went on, turning toward us. "I thank you for your
long journey on my behalf and the blow you have struck for me, and in
payment I will send you a gift of gold; the Sultan will see it safe
into your hands. I thank you. I wish I could have known more of you, but
mayhap we shall meet again in war. Farewell."

She ceased, and I could see that she was watching us intently through
her thin veil. The Sultan also watched us, stroking his long beard, a
look of speculation in his eyes, for evidently this play interested him
and he wondered how it would end.

"This won't do," said Orme, when he understood the thing. "Higgs would
never forgive us if we ate dirt just on the off-chance of saving him
from sacrifice. He's too straight-minded on big things. But, of course,
Doctor," he added jerkily, "you have interests of your own and must
decide for yourself. I think I can speak for the Sergeant."

"I have decided," I answered. "I hope that my son would never forgive me
either; but if it is otherwise, why, so it must be. Also Barung has made
no promises about him."

"Tell him, then," said Orme. "My head aches infernally, and I want to go
to bed, above ground or under it."

So I told him, although, to speak the truth, I felt like a man with a
knife in his heart, for it was bitter to come so near to the desire of
years, to the love of life, and then to lose all hope just because of
duty to the head woman of a pack of effete curs to whom one had chanced
to make a promise in order to gain this very end. If we could have
surrendered with honour, at least I should have seen my son, whom now I
might never see again.

One thing, however, I added on the spur of the moment--namely, a request
that the Sultan would tell the Professor every word that had passed, in
order that whatever happened to him he might know the exact situation.

"My Harmac," said Barung when he had heard, "how disappointed should I
have been with you if you had answered otherwise when a woman showed you
the way. I have heard of you English before--Arabs and traders brought
me tales of you. For instance, there was one who died defending a city
against a worshipper of the Prophet who called himself a prophet, down
yonder at Khartoum on the Nile--a great death, they told me, a great
death, which your people avenged afterwards.

"Well I did not quite believe the story, and I wished to judge of it by
you. I have judged, white lords, I have judged, and I am sure that your
fat brother, Black Windows, will be proud of you even in the lion's
jaws. Fear not; he shall hear every word. The Singer of Egypt, who, it
appears, can talk his tongue, shall tell the tale to him, and make a
song of it to be sung over your honourable graves. And now farewell; may
it be my lot to cross swords with one of you before all is done. That
shall not be yet, for you need rest, especially yonder tall son of a god
who is wounded," and he pointed to Orme. "Child of Kings with a heart of
kings, permit me to kiss your hand and to lead you back to your people,
that I would were more worthy of you. Ah! yes, I would that _we_ were
your people."

Maqueda stretched out her hand, and, taking it, the Sultan barely
touched her fingers with his lips. Then, still holding them, he rode
with her toward the pass.

As we approached its mouth, where the Abati were crowded together,
watching our conference, I heard them murmur, "The Sultan, the Sultan
himself!" and saw the prince Joshua mutter some eager words to the
officers about him.

"Look out, Doctor," said Quick into my ear. "Unless I'm mistook, that
porpoise is going to play some game."

Hardly were the words out of his mouth when, uttering the most valiant
shouts and with swords drawn, Joshua and a body of his companions
galloped up and surrounded our little group.

"Now yield, Barung," bellowed Joshua; "yield or die!"

The Sultan stared at him in astonishment, then answered:

"If I had any weapon (he had thrown down his lance when he took Maqueda
by the hand), certainly one of us should die, O Hog in man's clothes."

Then he turned to Maqueda and added, "Child of Kings, I knew these
people of yours to be cowardly and treacherous, but is it thus that you
suffer them to deal with envoys under a flag of peace?"

"Not so, not so," she cried. "My uncle Joshua, you disgrace me; you
make our people a shame, a hissing, and a reproach. Stand back; let the
Sultan of the Fung go free."

But they would not; the prize was too great to be readily disgorged.

We looked at each other. "Not at all the game," said Orme. "If they
collar him, we shall be tarred with their extremely dirty brush. Shove
your camel in front, Sergeant, and if that beggar Joshua tries any
tricks, put a bullet through him."

Quick did not need to be told twice. Banging his dromedary's ribs with
the butt end of his rifle, he drove it straight on to Joshua, shouting:

"Out of the light, porpoise!" with the result that the Prince's horse
took fright, and reared up so high that its rider slid off over its tail
to find himself seated on the ground, a sorry spectacle in his gorgeous
robes and armour.

Taking advantage of the confusion which ensued, we surrounded the Sultan
and escorted him out of the throng back to his two companions, who,
seeing that there was something amiss, were galloping toward us.

"I am your debtor," said Barung, "but, O White Men, make me more so.
Return, I pray you, to that hog in armour, and say that Barung, Sultan
of the Fung, understands from his conduct that he desires to challenge
him to single combat, and that, seeing he is fully armed, the Sultan,
although he wears no mail, awaits him here and now."

So I went at once with the message. But Joshua was far too clever to be
drawn into any such dangerous adventure.

Nothing, he said, would have given him greater joy than to hack the head
from the shoulders of this dog of a Gentile sheik. But, unhappily, owing
to the conduct of one of us foreigners, he had been thrown from his
horse, and hurt his back, so that he could scarcely stand, much less
fight a duel.

So I returned with my answer, whereat Barung smiled and said nothing.
Only, taking from his neck a gold chain which he wore, he proffered it
to Quick, who, as he said, had induced the prince Joshua to show his
horsemanship if not his courage. Then he bowed to us, one by one, and
before the Abati could make up their mind whether to follow him or not,
galloped off swiftly with his companions toward Harmac.

Such was our introduction to Barung, Sultan of the Fung, a barbarian
with many good points, among them courage, generosity, and appreciation
of those qualities even in a foe, characteristics that may have been
intensified by the blood of his mother, who, I am told, was an Arab
of high lineage captured by the Fung in war and given as a wife to the
father of Barung.



CHAPTER VIII

THE SHADOW OF FATE

Our ride from the plains up the pass that led to the high tableland of
Mur was long and, in its way, wonderful enough. I doubt whether in the
whole world there exists another home of men more marvellously defended
by nature. Apparently the road by which we climbed was cut in the first
instance, not by human hands, but by the action of primæval floods,
pouring, perhaps, from the huge lake which doubtless once covered the
whole area within the circle of the mountains, although to-day it is
but a moderate-sized sheet of water, about twenty miles long by ten in
breadth. However this may be, the old inhabitants had worked on it, the
marks of their tools may still be seen upon the rock.

For the first mile or two the road is broad and the ascent so gentle
that my horse was able to gallop up it on that dreadful night when,
after seeing my son's face, accident, or rather Providence, enabled me
to escape the Fung. But from the spot where the lions pulled the poor
beast down, its character changes. In places it is so narrow that
travellers must advance in single file between walls of rock hundreds
of feet high, where the sky above looks like a blue ribbon, and even at
midday the path below is plunged in gloom. At other spots the slope is
so precipitous that beasts of burden can scarcely keep their foothold;
indeed, we were soon obliged to transfer ourselves from the camels to
horses accustomed to the rocks. At others, again, it follows the brink
of a yawning precipice, an ugly place to ride or turn rectangular
corners, which half-a-dozen men could hold against an army, and twice it
passes through tunnels, though whether these are natural I do not know.

Besides all these obstacles to an invader there were strong gates at
intervals, with towers near by where guards were stationed night and
day, and fosses or dry moats in front of them which could only be
crossed by means of drawbridges. So the reader will easily understand
how it came about that, whatever the cowardice of the Abati, though they
strove for generations, the Fung had as yet never been able to recapture
the ancient stronghold, which, or so it is said, in the beginning these
Abati won from them by means of an Oriental trick.

Here I should add that, although there are two other roads to the
plains--that by which, in order to outflank the Fung, the camels were
let down when I started on my embassy to Egypt, and that to the north
where the great swamps lie--these are both of them equally, if not more,
impassable, at any rate to an enemy attacking from below.

A strange cavalcade we must have seemed as we crawled up this terrific
approach. First went a body of the Abati notables on horseback, forming
a long line of colour and glittering steel, who chattered as they rode,
for they seemed to have no idea of discipline. Next came a company of
horsemen armed with spears, or rather two companies in the centre of
which rode the Child of Kings, some of her courtiers and chief officers,
and ourselves, perhaps, as Quick suggested, because infantry in the
event of surprise would find it less easy to run away than those who
were mounted upon horses. Last of all rode more cavalry, the duty
of whose rear files it was to turn from time to time, and, after
inspection, to shout out that we were not pursued.

It cannot be said that we who occupied the centre of the advance were a
cheerful band. Orme, although so far he had borne up, was evidently very
ill from the shock of the explosion, so much so that men had to be set
on each side of him to see that he did not fall from the saddle. Also
he was deeply depressed by the fact that honour had forced us to abandon
Higgs to what seemed a certain and probably a cruel death; and if he
felt thus, what was my own case, who left not only my friend, but also
my son, in the hands of savage heathens?

Maqueda's face was not visible because of the thin spangled veil that
she wore, but there was something about her attitude suggestive of shame
and of despair. The droop of the head and even her back showed this, as
I, who rode a little behind and on side of her, could see. I think, too,
that she was anxious about Orme, for she turned toward him several times
as though studying his condition. Also I am sure that she was indignant
with Joshua and others of her officers, for when they spoke to her
she would not answer or take the slightest notice of them beyond
straightening herself in the saddle. As for the Prince himself, his
temper seemed to be much ruffled, although apparently he had overcome
the hurt to his back which prevented him from accepting the Sultan's
challenge, for at a difficult spot in the road he dismounted and ran
along actively enough. At any rate, when his subordinates addressed him
he only answered them with muttered oaths, and his attitude towards us
Englishmen, especially Quick, was not amiable. Indeed, if looks could
have killed us I am sure that we should all have been dead before ever
we reached the Gate of Mur.

This so-called gate was the upper mouth of the pass whence first we
saw, lying beneath us, the vast, mountain-ringed plain beyond. It was
a beautiful sight in the sunshine. Almost at our feet, half-hidden
in palms and other trees, lay the flat-roofed town itself, a place of
considerable extent, as every house of any consequence seemed to be
set in a garden, since here there was no need for cramping walls and
defensive works. Beyond it to the northward, farther than the eye could
reach, stretching down a gentle slope to the far-off shores of the
great lake of glistening water, were cultivated fields, and amongst them
villas and, here and there, hamlets.

Whatever might be the faults of the Abati, evidently they were skilled
husbandsmen, such as their reputed forefathers, the old inhabitants of
Judæa, must have been before them, for of that strain presumably some
trace was still present in their veins. However far he may have drifted
from such pursuits, originally the Jew was a tiller of the soil, and
here, where many of his other characteristics had evaporated under
pressure of circumstances--notably the fierce courage that Titus
knew--this taste remained to him, if only by tradition.

Indeed, having no other outlet for their energies and none with whom to
trade, the interests of the Abati were centred in the land. For and
by the land they lived and died, and, since the amount available was
limited by the mountain wall, he who had most land was great amongst
them, he who had little land was small, he who had no land was
practically a slave. Their law was in its essentials a law of the
land; their ambitions, their crimes, everything to do with them, were
concerned with the land, upon the produce of which they existed and grew
rich, some of them, by means of a system of barter. They had no coinage,
their money being measures of corn or other produce, horses, camels,
acres of their equivalent of soil, and so forth.

And yet, oddly enough, their country is the richest in gold and other
metals that I have ever heard of even in Africa--so rich that, according
to Higgs, the old Egyptians drew bullion from it to the value of
millions of pounds every year. This, indeed, I can well believe, for I
have seen the ancient mines which were worked, for the most part as
open quarries, still showing plenty of visible gold on the face of the
slopes. Yet to these alleged Jews this gold was of no account. Imagine
it; as Quick said, such a topsy-turvy state of things was enough to make
a mere Christian feel cold down the back and go to bed thinking that the
world must be coming to an end.

To return, the prince Joshua, who appeared to be generalissimo of the
army, in what was evidently a set phrase, exhorted the guards at the
last gates to be brave and, if need were, deal with the heathen as some
one or other dealt with Og, King of Bashan, and other unlucky persons
of a different faith. In reply he received their earnest congratulations
upon his escape from the frightful dangers of our journey.

These formalities concluded, casting off the iron discipline of war,
we descended a joyous mob, or rather the Abati did, to partake of the
delights of peace. Really, conquerors returning from some desperate
adventure could not have been more warmly greeted. As we entered the
suburbs of the town, women, some of them very handsome, ran out and
embraced their lords or lovers, holding up babies for them to kiss, and
a little farther on children appeared, throwing roses and pomegranate
flowers before their triumphant feet. And all this because these gallant
men had ridden to the bottom of a pass and back again!

"Heavens! Doctor," exclaimed the sardonic Quick, after taking note of
these demonstrations, "Heavens! what a hero I feel myself to be. And
to think that when I got back from the war with them Boers, after being
left for dead on Spion Kop with a bullet through my lung and mentioned
in a dispatch--yes, I, Sergeant Quick, mentioned in a dispatch by the
biggest ass of a general as ever I clapped eyes on, for a job that
I won't detail, no one in my native village ever took no note of
me, although I had written to the parish clerk, who happens to be my
brother-in-law, and told him the train I was coming by. I tell you,
Doctor, no one so much as stood me a pint of beer, let alone wine," and
he pointed to a lady who was proffering that beverage to some one whom
she admired.

"And as for chucking their arms round my neck and kissing me," and
he indicated another episode, "all my old mother said--she was alive
then--was that she 'hoped I'd done fooling about furrin' parts as I
called soldiering, and come home to live respectable, better late than
never.' Well, Doctor, circumstances alter cases, or blood and climate
do, which is the same thing, and I didn't miss what I never expected,
why should I when others like the Captain there, who had done so much
more, fared worse? But, Lord! these Abati are a sickening lot, and I
wish we were clear of them. Old Barung's the boy for me."

Passing down the main street of this charming town of Mur, accompanied
by these joyous demonstrators, we came at last to its central square, a
large, open space where, in the moist and genial climate, for the high
surrounding mountains attracted plentiful showers of rain, trees and
flowers grew luxuriantly. At the head of this square stood a long,
low building with white-washed walls and gilded domes, backed by the
towering cliff, but at a little distance from it, and surrounded by
double walls with a moat of water between them, dug for purposes of
defence.

This was the palace, which on my previous visit I had only entered once
or twice when I was received by the Child of Kings in formal audience.
Round the rest of this square, each placed in its own garden, were the
houses of the great nobles and officials, and at its western end, among
other public buildings, a synagogue or temple which looked like a model
of that built by Solomon in Jerusalem, from the description of which it
had indeed been copied, though, of course, upon a small scale.

At the gate of the palace we halted, and Joshua, riding up, asked
Maqueda sulkily whether he should conduct "the Gentiles," for that was
his polite description of us, to the lodging for pilgrims in the western
town.

"No, my uncle," answered Maqueda; "these foreign lords will be housed in
the guest-wing of the palace."

"In the guest-wing of the palace? It is not usual," gobbled Joshua,
swelling himself out like a great turkey cock. "Remember, O niece, that
you are still unmarried. I do not yet dwell in the palace to protect
you."

"So I found out in the plain yonder," she replied; "still, I managed
to protect myself. Now, I pray you, no words. I think it necessary that
these my guests should be where their goods already are, in the safest
place in Mur. You, my uncle, as you told us, are badly hurt, by which
accident you were prevented from accepting the challenge of the Sultan
of the Fung. Go, then, and rest; I will send the court physician to
you at once. Good-night, my uncle; when you are recovered we will meet
again, for we have much that we must discuss. Nay, nay, you are most
kind, but I will not detain you another minute. Seek your bed, my uncle,
and forget not to thank God for your escape from many perils."

At this polite mockery Joshua turned perfectly pale with rage, like the
turkey cock when his wattles fade from scarlet into white. Before he
could make any answer, however, Maqueda had vanished under the archway,
so his only resource was to curse us, and especially Quick, who had
caused him to fall from his horse. Unfortunately the Sergeant understood
quite enough Arabic to be aware of the tenor of his remarks, which he
resented and returned:

"Shut it, Porpoise," he said, "and keep your eyes where Nature put 'em,
or they'll fall out."

"What says the Gentile?" spluttered Joshua, whereon Orme, waking up from
one of his fits of lethargy, replied in Arabic:

"He says that he prays you, O Prince of princes, to close your noble
mouth and to keep your high-bred eyes within their sockets lest you
should lose them"; at which words those who were listening broke into
a fit of laughter, for one redeeming characteristic among the Abati was
that they had a sense of humour.

After this I do not quite know what happened for Orme showed signs of
fainting, and I had to attend to him. When I looked round again the
gates were shut and we were being conducted toward the guest-wing of the
palace by a number of gaily dressed attendants.

They took us to our rooms--cool, lofty chambers ornamented with glazed
tiles of quaint colour and beautiful design, and furnished somewhat
scantily with articles made of rich-hued woods. This guest-wing of the
palace, where these rooms were situated, formed, we noted, a separate
house, having its own gateway, but, so far as we could see, no passage
or other connection joining it to the main building. In front of it was
a small garden, and at its back a courtyard with buildings, in which we
were informed our camels had been stabled. At the time we noted no more,
for night was falling, and, even if it had not been, we were too worn
out to make researches.

Moreover, Orme was now desperately ill--so ill that he could scarcely
walk leaning even on our shoulders. Still, he would not be satisfied
till he was sure that our stores were safe, and, before he could be
persuaded to lie down, insisted upon being supported to a vault with
copper-bound doors, which the officers opened, revealing the packages
that had been taken from the camels.

"Count them, Sergeant," he said, and Quick obeyed by the light of a lamp
that the officer held at the open door. "All correct, sir," he said, "so
far as I can make out."

"Very good, Sergeant. Lock the door and take the keys."

Again he obeyed, and, when the officer demurred to their surrender,
turned on him so fiercely that the man thought better of it and departed
with a shrug of his shoulders, as I supposed to make report to his
superiors.

Then at length we got Orme to bed, and, as he complained of intolerable
pains in his head and would take nothing but some milk and water, having
first ascertained that he had no serious physical injuries that I could
discover, I administered to him a strong sleeping-draught from my little
travelling medicine case. To our great relief this took effect upon him
in about twenty minutes, causing him to sink into a stupor from which he
did not awake for many hours.

Quick and I washed ourselves, ate some food that was brought to us, and
then took turns to watch Orme throughout the night. When I was at my
post about six o'clock on the following morning he woke up and asked for
drink, which I gave to him. After swallowing it he began to wander in
his mind, and, on taking his temperature, I found that he had over five
degrees of fever. The end of it was that he went off to sleep again,
only waking up from time to time and asking for more drink.

Twice during the night and early morning Maqueda sent to inquire as to
his condition, and, apparently not satisfied with the replies, about ten
in the forenoon arrived herself, accompanied by two waiting-ladies and a
long-bearded old gentleman who, I understood, was the court physician.

"May I see him?" she asked anxiously.

I answered yes, if she and those with her were quite quiet. Then I led
them into the darkened room where Quick stood like a statue at the head
of the bed, only acknowledging her presence with a silent salute. She
gazed at Oliver's flushed face and the forehead blackened where the
gases from the explosion had struck him, and as she gazed I saw her
beautiful violet eyes fill with tears. Then abruptly she turned and
left the sick-chamber. Outside its doors she waved back her attendants
imperiously and asked me in a whisper:

"Will he live?"

"I do not know," I answered, for I thought it best that she should learn
the truth. "If he is only suffering from shock, fatigue, and fever, I
think so, but if the explosion or the blow on his head where it cut has
fractured the skull, then----"

"Save him," she muttered. "I will give you all I--nay, pardon me; what
need is there to tempt you, his friend, with reward? Only save him, save
him."

"I will do what I can, Lady, but the issue is in other hands than mine,"
I answered, and just then her attendants came up and put an end to the
conversation.

To this day the memory of that old rabbi, the court physician, affects
me like a nightmare, for of all the medical fools that ever I met he
was by far the most pre-eminent. All about the place he followed me
suggesting remedies that would have been absurd even in the Middle Ages.
The least harmful of them, I remember, was that poor Orme's head should
be plastered with a compound of butter and the bones of a still-born
child, and that he should be given some filthy compound to drink which
had been specially blessed by the priests. Others there were also that
would certainly have killed him in half-an-hour.

Well, I got rid of him at last for the time, and returned to my vigil.
It was melancholy work, since no skill that I had could tell me whether
my patient would live or die. Nowadays the young men might know, or
say that they did, but it must be remembered that, as a doctor, I am
entirely superannuated. How could it be otherwise, seeing that I have
passed the best of my life in the desert without any opportunity of
keeping up with the times.

Three days went by in this fashion, and very anxious days they were. For
my part, although I said nothing of it to any one, I believed that there
was some injury to the patient's skull and that he would die, or at best
be paralyzed. Quick, however, had a different opinion. He said that he
had seen two men in this state before from the concussion caused by
the bursting of large shells near to them, and that they both recovered
although one of them became an idiot.

But it was Maqueda who first gave me any definite hope. On the third
evening she came and sat by Orme for awhile, her attendants standing
at a little distance. When she left him there was a new look upon her
face--a very joyful look--which caused me to ask her what had happened.

"Oh! he will live," she answered.

I inquired what made her think so.

"This," she replied, blushing. "Suddenly he looked up and in my own
tongue asked me of what colour were my eyes. I answered that it depended
upon the light in which they might be seen.

"'Not at all,' he said. 'They are always _vi-o-let_, whether the curtain
is drawn or no.' Now, physician Adams, tell me what is this colour
_vi-o-let_?"

"That of a little wild flower which grows in the West in the spring, O
Maqueda--a very beautiful and sweet-scented flower which is dark blue
like your eyes."

"Indeed, Physician," she said. "Well, I do not know this flower, but
what of that? Your friend will live and be sane. A dying man does not
trouble about the colour of a lady's eyes, and one who is mad does not
give that colour right."

"Are you glad, O Child of Kings?" I asked.

"Of course," she answered, "seeing that I am told that this captain
alone can handle the firestuffs which you have brought with you, and,
therefore, that it is necessary to me that he should not die."

"I understand," I replied. "Let us pray that we may keep him alive. But
there are many kinds of firestuffs, O Maqueda, and of one of them
which chances to give out violet flames I am not sure that my friend is
master. Yet in this country it may be the most dangerous of all."

Now when she heard these words the Child of Kings looked me up and down
angrily. Then suddenly she laughed a little in a kind of silent way that
is peculiar to her, and, without saying anything, beckoned to her ladies
and left the place.

"Very variegated thing, woman, sir," remarked Quick, who was watching.
(I think he meant to say "variable.") "This one, for instance, comes up
that passage like a tired horse--shuffle, shuffle, shuffle--for I could
hear the heels of her slippers on the floor. But now she goes out like
a buck seeking its mate--head in air and hoof lifted. How do you explain
it, Doctor?"

"You had better ask the lady herself, Quick. Did the Captain take that
soup she brought him?"

"Every drop, sir, and tried to kiss her hand afterward, being still
dazed, poor man, poor man! I saw him do it, knowing no better. He'll be
sorry enough when he comes to himself."

"No doubt, Sergeant. But meanwhile let us be glad that both their
spirits seem to have improved, and if she brings any more soup when I
am not there, I should let him have it. It is always well to humour
invalids and women."

"Yes, Doctor; but," he added, with a sudden fall of face, "invalids
recover sometimes, and then how about the women."

"Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof," I answered; "you had better
go out for exercise; it is my watch." But to myself I thought that Fate
was already throwing its ominous shadow before, and that it lay deep in
Maqueda's violet eyes.

Well, to cut a long story short, this was the turning-point of Orme's
illness, and from that day he recovered rapidly, for, as it proved,
there was no secret injury to the skull, and he was suffering from
nothing except shock and fever. During his convalescence the Child of
Kings came to see him several times, or to be accurate, if my memory
serves me right, every afternoon. Of course, her visits were those of
ceremony--that is to say, she was always accompanied by several of
her ladies, that thorn in my flesh, the old doctor, and one or two
secretaries and officers-in-waiting.

But as Oliver was now moved by day into a huge reception room, and these
people of the court were expected to stop at one end of it while she
conversed with him at the other, to all intents and purposes, save for
the presence of myself and Quick, her calls were of a private nature.
Nor were we always present, since, now that my patient was out of danger
the Sergeant and I went out riding a good deal--investigating Mur and
its surroundings.

It may be asked what they talked about on these occasions. I can only
answer that, so far as I heard, the general subject was the politics
of Mur and its perpetual war with the Fung. Still, there must have been
other topics which I did not hear, since incidently I discovered that
Orme was acquainted with many of Maqueda's private affairs whereof he
could only have learned from her lips.

Thus when I ventured to remark that perhaps it was not altogether
wise for a young man in his position to become so intimate with the
hereditary ruler of an exclusive tribe like the Abati, he replied
cheerfully that this did not in the least matter, as, of course,
according to their ancient laws, she could only marry with one of her
own family, a fact which made all complications impossible. I inquired
which of her cousins, of whom I knew she had several, was the happy man.
He replied:

"None of them. As a matter of fact, I believe that she is officially
affianced to that fat uncle of hers, the fellow who blows his own
trumpet so much, but I needn't add that this is only a form to which she
submits in order to keep the others off."

"Ah!" I said. "I wonder if Prince Joshua thinks it only a form?"

"Don't know what he thinks, and don't care," he replied, yawning; "I
only know that things stand as I say, and that the porpoise-man has as
much chance of becoming the husband of Maqueda as you have of marrying
the Empress of China. And now, to drop this matrimonial conversation and
come to something more important, have you heard anything about Higgs
and your son?"

"You are more in the way of learning state secrets than I am, Orme," I
answered sarcastically, being rather irritated at the course of events
and his foolishness. "What have you heard?"

"This, old fellow. I can't say how she knows it, but Maqueda says that
they are both in good health and well treated. Only our friend Barung
sticks to his word and proposes to sacrifice poor old Higgs on this day
fortnight. Now, of course, that must be prevented somehow, and prevented
it shall be if it costs me my life. Don't you suppose that I have been
thinking about myself all the time, for it isn't so, only the trouble is
that I can't find any plan of rescue which will hold water."

"Then what's to be done, Orme? I haven't spoken much of the matter
before for fear of upsetting you when you were still weak, but now that
you are all right again we must come to some decision."

"I know, I know," he answered earnestly; "and I tell you this, that
rather than let Higgs die alone there, I will give myself up to Barung,
and, if I can't save him, suffer with him, or for him if I can. Listen:
there is to be a great council held by the Child of Kings on the day
after to-morrow which we must attend, for it has only been postponed
until I was well enough. At this council that rogue Shadrach is to be
put upon his trial, and will, I believe, be condemned to death. Also we
are formally to return Sheba's ring which Maqueda lent to you to be used
in proof of her story. Well, we may learn something then, or at any rate
must make up our minds to definite action. And now I am to have my first
ride, am I not? Come on, Pharaoh," he added to the dog, which had stuck
at his bedside all through his illness so closely that it was difficult
to entice him away even to eat; "we are going for a ride, Pharaoh; do
you hear that, you faithful beast?"



CHAPTER IX

THE SWEARING OF THE OATH

Two or three days after this conversation, I forget exactly which it
was, Maqueda held her council in the great hall of the palace. When we
entered the place in charge of a guard, as though we were prisoners, we
found some hundreds of Abati gathered there who were seated in orderly
rows upon benches. At the farther end, in an apse-shaped space, sat the
Child of Kings herself on a gilded or perhaps a golden chair of which
the arms terminated in lions' heads. She was dressed in a robe of
glittering silver, and wore a ceremonial veil embroidered with stars,
also of silver, and above it, set upon her dark hair, a little circlet
of gold, in which shone a single gem that looked like a ruby. Thus
attired, although her stature is small, her appearance was very
dignified and beautiful, especially as the gossamer veil added mystery
to her face.

Behind the throne stood soldiers armed with spears and swords, and at
its sides and in front of it were gathered her court to the number of a
hundred or more, including her waiting-ladies, who in two companies were
arranged to the right and left. Each member of this court was gorgeously
dressed according to his profession.

There were the generals and captains with Prince Joshua at the head of
them in their Norman-like chain armour. There were judges in black robes
and priests in gorgeous garments; there were territorial lords, of
whose attire I remember only that they wore high boots, and men who were
called Market-masters, whose business it was to regulate the rate of
exchange of products, and with them the representatives of other trades.

In short, here was collected all the aristocracy of the little
population of the town and territory of Mur, every one of whom, as we
found afterwards, possessed some high-sounding title answering to
those of our dukes and lords and Right Honourables, and knights, to say
nothing of the Princes of the Blood, of whom Joshua was the first.

Really, although it looked so fine and gay, the spectacle was, in a
sense, piteous, being evidently but a poor mockery and survival of the
pageantry of a people that had once been great. The vast hall in which
they were assembled showed this, since, although the occasion was one
that excited public interest, it was after all but a quarter filled by
those who had a right to be present.

With much dignity and to the sound of music we were marched up the broad
nave, if I may describe it thus, for the building, with its apse and
supporting cedar columns, bore some resemblance to a cathedral, till
we reached the open space in front of the throne, where our guards
prostrated themselves in their Eastern fashion, and we saluted its
occupant in our own. Then, chairs having been given to us, after a pause
a trumpet blew, and from a side chamber was produced our late guide,
Shadrach, heavily manacled and looking extremely frightened.

The trial that followed I need not describe at length. It took a long
while, and the three of us were called upon to give evidence as to the
quarrel between our companion, the Professor, and the prisoner about the
dog Pharaoh and other matters. The testimony, however, that proclaimed
the guilt of Shadrach was that of his companion guides, who, it
appeared, had been threatened with floggings unless they told the truth.

These men swore, one after the other, that the abandonment of Higgs had
been a preconceived plan. Several of them added that Shadrach was in
traitorous communication with the Fung, whom he had warned of our advent
by firing the reeds, and had even contrived to arrange that we were to
be taken while he and the other Abati, with the camels laden with our
rifles and goods which they hoped to steal, passed through in safety.

In defence Shadrach boldly denied the whole story, and especially that
he had pushed the Gentile, Higgs, off his dromedary, as was alleged,
and mounted it himself because his own beast had broken down or been
injured.

However, his lies availed him little, since, after consultation with the
Child of Kings, presently one of the black-robed judges condemned him
to suffer death in a very cruel fashion which was reserved for traitors.
Further, his possessions were to be forfeited to the State, and his wife
and children and household to become public slaves, which meant that the
males would be condemned to serve as soldiers, and the females allotted
to certain officials in the order of their rank.

Several of those who had conspired with him to betray us to the Fung
were also deprived of their possessions and condemned to the army, which
was their form of penal servitude.

Thus amidst a mighty wailing of those concerned and of their friends
and relatives ended this remarkable trial, of which I give some account
because it throws light upon the social conditions of Abati. What hope
is there for a people when its criminals are sent, not to jail, but to
serve as soldiers, and their womenfolk however innocent, are doomed
to become the slaves of the judges or whoever these may appoint. Be it
added, however, that in this instance Shadrach and his friends deserved
all they got, since, even allowing for a certain amount of false
evidence, undoubtedly, for the purposes of robbery and private hate,
they did betray those whom their ruler had sent them to guide and
protect.

When this trial was finished and Shadrach had been removed, howling for
mercy and attempting to kiss our feet like the cur he was, the audience
who had collected to hear it and to see us, the Gentile strangers,
dispersed, and the members of the Privy Council, if I may call it so,
were summoned by name to attend to their duties. When all had gathered,
we three were requested to advance and take seats which had been placed
for us among the councillors.

Then came a pause, and, as I had been instructed that I should do, I
advanced and laid Sheba's ring upon a cushion held by one of the court
officers, who carried it to Maqueda.

"Child of Kings," I said, "take back this ancient token which you lent
to me to be a proof of your good faith and mine. Know that by means of
it I persuaded our brother who is captive, a man learned in all that
has to do with the past, to undertake this mission, and through him the
Captain Orme who stands before you, and his servant, the soldier."

She took it and, after examination, showed it to several of the priests,
by whom it was identified.

"Though I parted from it with fear and doubt, the holy ring has served
its purpose well," she said, "and I thank you, Physician, for returning
it to my people and to me in safety."

Then she replaced it on the finger from which it had been withdrawn when
she gave it to me many months before.

There, then, that matter ended.

Now an officer cried:

"Walda Nagasta speaks!" whereon every one repeated, "Walda Nagasta
speaks," and was silent.

Then Maqueda began to address us in her soft and pleasant voice.

"Strangers from the Western country called England," she said, "be
pleased to hear me. You know our case with the Fung--that they surround
us and would destroy us. You know that in our extremity I took advantage
of the wandering hither of one of you a year ago to beg him to go to his
own land and there obtain firestuffs and those who understand them, with
which to destroy the great and ancient idol of the Fung. For that people
declare that if this idol is destroyed they will leave the land they
dwell in for another, such being their ancient prophecy."

"Pardon, O Child of Kings," interrupted Orme, "but you will remember
that only the other day Barung, Sultan of the Fung, said that in this
event his nation would still live on to avenge their god, Harmac. Also
he said that of all the Abati he would leave you alive alone."

Now at these ill-omened words a shiver and a murmur went through the
Council. But Maqueda only shrugged her shoulders, causing the silver
trimmings on her dress to tinkle.

"I have told you the ancient prophecy," she answered, "and for the rest
words are not deeds. If the foul fiend, Harmac, goes I think that
the Fung will follow him. Otherwise, why do they make sacrifice to
Earthquake as the evil god they have to fear? And when some five
centuries ago, such an earthquake shook down part of the secret city in
the bowels of the mountains that I will show to you afterwards, why did
they fly from Mur and take up their abode in the plain, as they said, to
protect the god?"

"I do not know," answered Oliver. "If our brother were here, he whom
the Fung have captured, he might know, being learned in the ways of
idol-worshipping, savage peoples."

"Alas! O Son of Orme," she said, "thanks to that traitor whom but now we
have condemned, he is not here and, perhaps, could tell us nothing if
he were. At least, the saying runs as I have spoken it, and for many
generations, because of it, we Abati have desired to destroy the idol of
the Fung to which so many of us have been offered in sacrifice through
the jaws of their sacred lions. Now I ask," and she leaned forward,
looking at Oliver, "will you do this for me?"

"Speak of the reward, my niece," broke in Joshua in his thick voice
when he saw that we hesitated what to answer, "I have heard that these
Western Gentiles are a very greedy people, who live and die for the gold
which we despise."

"Ask him, Captain," exclaimed Quick, "if they despise land also, since
yesterday afternoon I saw one of them try to cut the throat of another
over a piece not bigger than a large dog-kennel."

"Yes," I added, for I confess that Joshua's remarks nettled me, "and ask
him whether the Jews did not despoil the Egyptians of their ornaments
of gold in the old days, and whether Solomon, whom he claims as a
forefather, did not trade in gold to Ophir, and lastly whether he knows
that most of his kindred in other lands make a very god of gold."

So Orme, as our spokesman, put these questions with great gusto to
Joshua, whom he disliked intensely, whereat some of the Council, those
who were not of the party of the Prince, smiled or even laughed, and the
silvery ornaments upon Maqueda's dress began to shake again as though
she also were laughing behind her veil. Still, she did not seem to think
it wise to allow Joshua to answer--if he could--but did so herself,
saying:

"The truth is, O my friends, that here we set small store by gold
because, being shut in and unable to trade, it is of no use to us save
as an ornament. Were it otherwise, doubtless we should value it as much
as the rest of the world, Jew or Gentile, and shall do so when we are
freed from our foes who hem us in. Therefore, my uncle is wrong to claim
as a virtue that which is only a necessity, especially when, as your
servant says," and she pointed to the Sergeant, "our people make land
their gold and will spend their lives in gaining more of it, even when
they have enough."

"Then do the Gentiles seek no reward for their services?" sneered
Joshua.

"By no means, Prince," answered Oliver, "we are soldiers of fortune,
since otherwise why should we have come here to fight your quarrel"
(laying an unpleasant emphasis on the "your") "against a chief who,
if half savage, to us seems to have some merits, those of honour and
courage, for instance? If we risk our lives and do our work, we are not
too proud to take whatever we can earn. Why should we be, seeing that
some of us need wealth, and that our brother, who is as good as dead
yonder, owing to the treachery of those who were sent to guard him,
has relatives in England who are poor and should be compensated for his
loss?"

"Why, indeed?" ejaculated Maqueda. "Listen, now, my friends. In my
own name and in that of the Abati people I promised to you as many
camel-loads of this gold as you can carry away from Mur, and before the
day is done I will show it to you if you dare follow me to where it lies
hid."

"First the work, then the pay," said Oliver. "Now tell us, Child of
Kings, what is that work?"

"This, O Son of Orme. You must swear--if this is not against your
consciences as Christians--that for the space of one year from to-day
you will serve me and fight for me and be subject to my laws, striving
all the while to destroy the idol Harmac by your Western skill and
weapons, after which you shall be free to go whither you will with your
reward."

"And if we swear, Lady," asked Oliver after reflection, "tell us what
rank shall we hold in your service?"

"You shall be my chief captain for this enterprise, O Son of Orme,
and those with you shall serve under you in such positions as you may
please."

At these words a murmur of dissatisfaction arose from the mail-clad
generals in the Council.

"Are we then, to obey this stranger, O Child of Kings?" queried Joshua
as their spokesman.

"Aye, my uncle, so far as this great enterprise is concerned, as I have
said. Can you handle the firestuffs of which they alone have the secret?
Could any three of you have held the gate of Harmac against the armies
of the Fung and sent it flying skyward?"

She paused and waited in the midst of a sullen silence.

"You do not answer because you cannot," continued Maqueda. "Then for
this purpose be content to serve awhile under the command of those who
have the skill and power which you lack."

Still there was no answer.

"Lady," said Orme in this ominous quiet, "you are so good as to make me
a general among your soldiers, but will they obey me? And who are your
soldiers? Does every man of the Abati bear arms?"

"Alas! no," she replied, fixing upon this latter question perhaps
because she could not answer the first. "Alas! no. In the old days it
was otherwise, when my great ancestresses ruled, and then we did not
fear the Fung. But now the people will not serve as soldiers. They say
it takes them from their trades and the games they love; they say they
cannot give the time in youth; they say that it degrades a man to obey
the orders of those set over him; they say that war is barbarous and
should be abolished, and all the while the brave Fung wait without to
massacre our men and make our women slaves. Only the very poor and the
desperate, and those who have offended against the laws will serve in my
army, except it be as officers. Oh! and therefore are the Abati doomed,"
and, throwing back her veil, suddenly, she burst into tears before us
all.

I do not know that I ever remember seeing a sight more pathetic in its
way than that of this beautiful and high-spirited young woman weeping
in the presence of her Council over the utter degeneracy of the race
she was called upon to rule. Being old and accustomed to these Eastern
expressions of emotion, I remained silent, however; but Oliver was so
deeply affected that I feared lest he should do something foolish. He
went red, he went white, and was rising from his seat to go to her, had
I not caught him by the arm and pulled him back. As for Quick, he turned
his eyes to the ceiling, as though engaged in prayer, and I heard him
muttering:

"The Lord help the poor thing, the Lord help her; the one pearl in the
snout of all these gilded swine! Well, I understand I am a bit of a
general now, and if I don't make 'em sit up for her sake my name ain't
Samuel Quick."

Meanwhile there was much consternation and indignant murmuring
amongst the Court, which felt that reflections had been thrown upon it
collectively and individually. At such a crisis, as usual, Prince Joshua
took the lead. Rising from his seat, he knelt, not without difficulty,
before the throne, and said:

"O Child of Kings, why do you distress us with such words? Have you not
the God of Solomon to protect you?"

"God protects those who protect themselves," sobbed Maqueda.

"And have you not many brave officers?"

"What are officers without an army?"

"And have you not me, your uncle, your affianced, your lover?" and he
laid his hand where he conceived his heart to be, and stared up at her
with his rolling, fish-like eyes. "Had it not been for the interference
of these Gentiles, in whom you seem to put such trust," he went on,
"should I not have taken Barung captive the other day, and left the Fung
without a head?"

"And the Abati without such shreds of honour as still belong to them, my
uncle."

"Let us be wed, O Bud of the Rose, O Flower of Mur, and soon I will free
you from the Fung. We are helpless because we are separate, but together
we shall triumph. Say, O Maqueda, when shall we be wed?"

"When the idol Harmac is utterly destroyed, and the Fung have departed
for ever, my uncle," she answered impatiently. "But is this a time to
talk of marriage? I declare the Council closed. Let the priests bring
the rolls that these strangers from the West may take the oath, and then
pardon me if I leave you."

Now from behind the throne there appeared a gorgeous gentleman arrayed
in a head-dress that reminded me faintly of a bishop's mitre, and
wearing over his robes a breastplate of precious stones roughly
polished, which was half hidden by a very long white beard.

This person, who it seemed was the high priest, carried in his hand
a double roll of parchment written over with characters which we
afterwards discovered were bastard Hebrew, very ancient and only
decipherable by three or four of the Abati, if indeed any of them could
really read it. At least it was said to be the roll of the law brought
by their forefathers centuries ago from Abyssinia, together with Sheba's
ring and a few other relics, among them the cradle (a palpable forgery),
in which the child of Solomon and Maqueda, or Belchis, the first known
Queen of Sheba, was traditionally reported to have been rocked. This
roll of the law, which for generations had been used at all important
ceremonies among the Abati, such as the swearing-in of their queens and
chief officers, was now tendered to us to hold and kiss while we took
the oath of obedience and allegiance in the names of Jehovah and of
Solomon (a strange mixture, it struck us), solemnly vowing to perform
those things which I have already set out.

"This seems a pretty wide promise," said Oliver, after it had been read
to us and translated by me to Quick. "Do you think that we ought to take
it on?"

I answered "Yes," that was from my point of view, since otherwise I saw
no chance of achieving the object that had caused me to enter upon this
adventure. Then, being especially requested to do so, the Sergeant,
after reflecting awhile, gave his considered opinion.

"Sir," he said to Orme, "we are three white men here consorting with a
mob of quarter-bred African Jews and one real lady. It seems to me that
we had best swear anything they want us to, trusting to the lady to see
us through the mess, since otherwise we shall be mere filibusters in the
country without official rank, and liable therefore to be shot on sight
by the enemy, or any mutineers who get the upper hand here. Also, we
have the Professor and the Doctor's son to think of. Therefore I say:
Swear to anything in reason, reserving allegiance to the Crown of Great
Britain, and trust to luck. You see, Captain, we are in their power
anyway, and this oath may help, but can't hurt us, while to refuse it
must give offence to all these skunks, and perhaps to the lady also,
which is of more consequence."

"I think you are probably right, Sergeant," said Orme. "Anyway, in for a
penny, in for a pound."

Then he turned to Maqueda, who had been watching this conference in an
unknown tongue with some anxiety, or so it seemed to me, and added in
Arabic: "O Child of Kings, we will take your oath, although it is wide,
trusting to your honour to protect us from any pitfalls which it may
cover, for we would ask you to remember that we are strangers in your
land who do not understand its laws and customs. Only we stipulate
that we retain our allegiance to our own ruler far away, remaining the
subjects of that monarch with all rights thereto appertaining. Also,
we stipulate that before we enter on our duties, or at any rate during
those duties, we shall be at full liberty to attempt the rescue of our
friend and companion, now a prisoner in the hands of the Fung, and of
the son of one of us who is believed to be a slave to them, and that
we shall have all the assistance which you can give us in this matter.
Moreover, we demand that if we should be tried for any offence under
this oath, you to whom we swear allegiance shall be our judge alone,
none others intermeddling in the trial. If you accept these terms
we will swear the oath; otherwise we swear nothing, but will act as
occasion may arise."

Now we were requested to stand back while the Child of Kings consulted
with her advisers, which she did for a considerable time, since
evidently the questions raised involved differences of opinion. In the
end, however, she and those who supported her seemed to overrule the
objectors, and we were called up and told that our terms had been
accepted and engrossed upon the form of the oath, and that everything
there included would be faithfully observed by the Ruler and Council of
the Abati.

So we signed and swore, kissing the book, or rather the roll, in the
civilized fashion. Afterwards, very tired, for all this business had
been anxious, we were conducted back to our own quarters to lunch, or
rather to dine, for the Abati ate their heaviest meal at midday, taking
a siesta after it according to the common Eastern custom.

About four o'clock of that afternoon I was awakened from my nap by the
growls of Pharaoh, and looked up to see a man crouching against the
door, evidently in fear of the dog's fangs. He proved to be a messenger
from Maqueda, sent to ask us if we cared to accompany her to a place
that we had never seen. Of course we answered "Yes," and were at once
led by the messenger to a disused and dusty hall at the back of the
palace, where presently Maqueda and three of her ladies joined us, and
with them a number of men who carried lighted lamps, gourds of oil, and
bundles of torches.

"Doubtless, friends," said Maqueda, who was unveiled and appeared to
have quite recovered from our outburst of the morning, "you have seen
many wonderful places in this Africa and other lands, but now I am about
to show you one that, I think, is stranger than them all."

Following her, we came to a door at the end of the hall which the men
unbolted and shut again behind us, and thence passed into a long passage
cut in the rock, that sloped continuously downwards and at length led
through another doorway to the vastest cave that we had ever heard of or
seen. So vast was it, indeed, that the feeble light of our lamps did not
suffice to reach the roof, and only dimly showed to right and left the
outlines of what appeared to be shattered buildings of rock.

"Behold the cave city of Mur," said Maqueda, waving the lamp she
held. "Here it was that the ancients whom we believe to have been the
forefathers of the Fung, had their secret stronghold. These walls were
those of their granaries, temples, and places of ceremonial, but, as I
have told you, centuries ago an earthquake shattered them, leaving them
as they are now. Also, it broke down much of the cave itself, causing
the roof to fall, so that there are many parts where it is not safe to
enter. Come now and see what is left."

We followed her into the depth of the wonderful place, our lanterns and
torches making little stars of light in that great blackness. We saw the
ruins of granaries still filled with the dust of what I suppose had once
been corn, and came at length to a huge, roofless building of which
the area was strewn with shattered columns, and among them overgrown
statues, covered so thick by dust that we could only discover that most
of them seemed to be shaped like sphinxes.

"If only Higgs were here," said Oliver with a sigh, and passed on to
Maqueda, who was calling him to look at something else.

Leaving the temple in which it was unsafe to walk, she led us to where
a strong spring, the water supply of the place, bubbled up into a rock
basin, and overflowing thence through prepared openings, ran away we
knew not whither.

"Look, this fountain is very ancient," said Maqueda, pointing to the
lip of the basin that was worn away to the depth of several inches where
those who drew water had for many generations rested their hands upon
the hard rock.

"How did they light so vast a cavern?" asked Oliver.

"We do not know," she answered, "since lamps would scarcely have served
them. It is a secret of the past which none of the Abati have cared to
recover, and another is how the air is always kept fresh so deep in
the bowels of the mountain. We cannot even say whether this place is
natural, as I think, or hollowed out by men."

"Both, I expect," I answered. "But tell me, Lady, do the Abati make any
use of this great cave?"

"Some corn is still stored here in pits in case of siege," she replied,
adding sadly, "but it is not enough to be of real service, since almost
all of it comes from the estates of the Child of Kings. In vain have
I prayed the people to contribute, if only a hundredth part of their
harvest, but they will not. Each says that he would give if his
neighbour gave, and so none give. And yet a day may come when a store
of corn alone would stand between them and death by hunger--if the Fung
held the valley, for instance," and she turned impatiently and walked
forward to show us the stables where the ancients kept their horses and
the marks of their chariot wheels in the stone floor.

"Nice people, the Abati, sir," said Quick to me. "If it weren't for
the women and children, and, above all, for this little lady, whom I am
beginning to worship like my master, as in duty bound, I'd like to see
them do a bit of hungering."

"There is one more place to show you," said Maqueda, when we had
inspected the stables and argued as to what possible causes could have
induced the ancients to keep horses underground, "which perhaps you will
think worth a visit, since it holds the treasures that are, or shall be,
yours. Come!"

We started forward again along various passages, the last of which
suddenly widened into a broad and steep incline of rock, which we
followed for quite fifty paces till it ended in what seemed to be a
blank wall. Here Maqueda bade her ladies and attendants halt, which
indeed they seemed very anxious to do, though at the moment we did not
know why. Then she went to one end of the wall where it joined that of
the passage, and, showing us some loose stones, asked me to pull them
out, which I did, not without difficulty. When an aperture had been made
large enough for a man to creep through, she turned to her people and
said:

"You, I know, believe this place to be haunted, nor would the bravest of
you enter it save by express command. But I and these strangers have no
such fears. Therefore give us a gourd of oil and some torches and bide
where you are till we return, setting a lamp in the hole in the wall to
guide us in case our own should become extinguished. No, do not reason
but obey. There is no danger, for though hot, the air within is pure, as
I know who have breathed it more than once."

Then she gave her hand to Oliver, and with his assistance crept through
the hole. We followed, to find ourselves in another cavern, where, as
she had said, the temperature was much hotter than that without.

"What is this place?" asked Orme in a low voice, for its aspect seemed
to awe him.

"The tomb of the old kings of Mur," she replied. "Presently you shall
see," and once more she took his hand, for the slope was sharp and
slippery.

On we went, always descending, for perhaps four hundred yards, our
footfalls echoing loudly in the intense silence, and our lamps, round
which the bats circled in hundreds, making four stars of light in
the utter blackness, till at length the passage widened out into what
appeared to be a vast circular arena, with a lofty dome-like roof of
rock. Maqueda turned to the right, and, halting before some objects that
glimmered whitely, held up her light, saying, "Look!"

This was what we saw: A great stone chair and, piled upon its seat
and upon its base, human bones. Amongst these was a skull, and on it,
grotesquely tilted, a crown of gold, while other ornaments--sceptres,
rings, necklaces, weapons and armour--were mingled with the bones. Nor
was this all, for in a wide circle round the chair were other skeletons,
fifty or more of them, and amongst them the ornaments that their owners
had worn.

Also, in front of each stood a tray of some metal, which we afterwards
discovered to be silver or copper, and heaped upon it every kind of
valuable, such as golden cups and vases, toilet utensils, necklaces,
pectorals, bracelets, leglets, earrings and beads that seemed to be cut
from precious stones, piles of ring money, and a hundred other things
such as have been prized by mankind since the beginning of civilization.

"You understand," said Maqueda, as we stared, open-mouthed at this awful
and marvellous sight, "he in the chair was the king. Those about him
were his officers, guards, and women. When he was buried they brought
his household here, bearing his wealth, sat them down about him, and
killed them. Blow away the dust, and you will see that the rock beneath
is still stained with their blood; also, there are the sword-marks on
their skulls, and neckbones."

Quick, who was of an inquiring mind, stepped forward and verified these
statements.

"Golly!" he said, throwing down the skull of a man over whom the tired
executioners had evidently bungled badly, "I'm glad I didn't serve the
old kings of Mur. But the same game goes on in a small way to-day in
Africa, for when I was campaigning on the West Coast I came across
it not a fortnight old, only there they had buried the poor beggars
living."

"Perhaps," said Maqueda, when the Sergeant's remarks had been translated
to her. "Yet I do not think the custom is one that my people would
love," and she laughed a little, then added, "forward, friends, there
are many more of these kings and oil does not burn for ever."

So we moved on, and at a distance of some twenty paces found another
chair with scattered bones on and about the seat, lying where each
had fallen as the dead man decayed. Round it were the skeletons of the
unfortunates who had been doomed to accompany him upon his last journey,
every one of them behind his tray of golden objects, or of simple
treasure. In front of this king's chair also were the bones of a dog
with a jewelled collar.

Again we proceeded to a third mortuary, if it may so be called, and here
Maqueda pointed out the skeleton of a man, in front of which stood a
tray piled up with what evidently had been the medicine bottles of the
period and among them a number of rude surgical instruments.

"Say, O Physician Adams," she remarked with a smile, "would you have
wished to be court doctor to the kings of Mur, if indeed that was then
their city's name?"

"No, Lady," I answered; "but I do wish to examine his instruments if
I have your leave," and while she hurried forward I stooped down and
filled my pockets. Here I may remark, that upon subsequent inspection
I found among these instruments, manufactured I know not what number of
thousands of years ago--for on that point controversy rages among the
learned--many that with modifications are still in use to-day.

Of that strange and dreadful sepulchre there is little more to tell.
From monarch to monarch we marched on till at length we grew weary of
staring at bones and gold. Even Quick grew weary, who had passed his
early youth in assisting his father, the parish sexton, and therefore,
like myself, regarded these relics with professional interest, though of
a different degree. At any rate, he remarked that this family vault was
uncommonly hot, and perhaps, if it pleased her Majesty, as he called
Maqueda, we might take the rest of the deceased gentlemen as read, like
a recruit's attestation questions.

But just then we came to No. 25, according to my counting, and were
obliged to stop to wonder, for clearly this king had been the greatest
of them all, since round him lay about two or three times the average
number of dead, and an enormous quantity of wealth, some of it in the
form of little statues of men and women, or perhaps of gods. Yet, oddly
enough, he was hunchback with a huge skull, almost a monstrosity indeed.
Perhaps his mind partook of the abnormal qualities of his body, since no
less than eleven little children had been sacrificed at his obsequies,
two of whom, judging from their crooked bones, must have been his own.

One wonders what chanced in Mur and the surrounding territories which
then acknowledged its sway when King Hunchback ruled. Alas! history
writes no record.



CHAPTER X

QUICK LIGHTS A MATCH

"Here we begin to turn, for this cave is a great circle," said Maqueda
over her shoulder.

But Oliver, whom she addressed, had left her side and was engaged
in taking observations behind the hunchback's funeral chair with an
instrument which he had produced from his pocket.

She followed him and asked curiously what this thing might be, and why
he made use of it here.

"We call it a compass," he answered, "and it tells me that beyond us
lies the east, where the sun rises; also it shows at what height we
stand above the sea, that great water which you have never seen, O Child
of Kings. Say now, if we could walk through this rock, what should we
find out yonder?"

"The lion-headed idol of the Fung, I have been told," she answered.
"That which you saw before you blew up the gate of the city Harmac. But
how far off it may be I do not know, for I cannot see through stone.
Friend Adams, help me to refill the lamps, for they burn low, and all
these dead would be ill company in the dark. So at least my people
think, since there is not one of them that dares to enter this place.
When first we found it only a few years ago and saw the company it held,
they fled, and left me to search it alone. Look, yonder are my footsteps
in the dust."

So I refilled the shallow hand-lamps, and while I did so Orme took
some hasty observations of which he jotted down the results in his
pocket-book.

"What have you learned?" she asked, when at last he rejoined us somewhat
unwillingly, for she had been calling to him to come.

"Not so much as I should have done if you could have given me more
time," he replied, adding in explanation, "Lady, I was brought up as
an engineer, that is, one who executes works, and to do so takes
measurements and makes calculations. For instance, those dead men who
hollowed or dressed these caves must have been engineers and no mean
ones."

"We have such among us now," she said. "They raise dams and make drains
and houses, though not so good as those which were built of old. But
again I ask--what have you learned, O wise Engineer?"

"Only that here we stand not so very far above the city Harmac, of which
I chanced to take the level, and that behind yonder chair there was,
I think, once a passage which has been built up. But be pleased to say
nothing of the matter, Lady, and to ask me no more questions at present,
as I cannot answer them with certainty."

"I see that you are discreet as well as wise," she replied with some
sarcasm. "Well, since I may not be trusted with your counsel, keep it to
yourself."

Oliver bowed and obeyed this curt instruction.

Then we began our return journey, passing many more groups of skeletons
which now we scarcely troubled to look at, perhaps because the heavy air
filled with dust that once had been the flesh of men, was telling on
our energies. Only I noticed, or rather the observant Quick called my
attention to the fact, that as we went the kings in their chairs
were surrounded by fewer and fewer attendants and women, and that the
offerings placed at their feet were of an ever-lessening value. Indeed,
after we had passed another five or six of them, their murdered retinues
dwindled to a few female skeletons, doubtless those of favourite wives
who had been singled out for this particular honour.

At length there were none at all, the poor monarchs, who now were
crowded close together, being left to explore the shades alone, adorned
merely with their own jewellery and regalia. Ultimately even these were
replaced by funeral gold-foil ornaments, and the trays of treasure by
earthenware jars which appeared to have contained nothing but food and
wine, and added to these a few spears and other weapons. The last of
the occupied chairs, for there were empty ones beyond, contained bones
which, from their slenderness and the small size of the bracelets among
them, I saw at once had belonged to a woman who had been sent to the
grave without companions or any offerings at all.

"Doubtless," said Maqueda, when I pointed this out to her, "at that time
the ancients had grown weak and poor, since after so many kings they
permitted a woman to rule over them and had no wealth to waste upon her
burial. That may have been after the earthquake, when only a few people
were left in Mur before the Abati took possession of it."

"Where, then, are those of your own house buried?" asked Oliver, staring
at the empty chairs.

"Oh! not in this place," she answered; "I have told you it was
discovered but a few years ago. We rest in tombs outside, and for my
part I will sleep in the simple earth, so that I may live on in grass
and flowers, if in no other way. But enough of death and doom. Soon,
who can tell how soon? we shall be as these are," and she shuddered.
"Meanwhile, we breathe, so let us make the best of breath. You have seen
your fee, say, does it content you?"

"What fee?" he asked. "Death, the reward of Life? How can I tell until I
have passed its gate?"

Here this philosophical discussion was interrupted by the sudden decease
of Quick's lamp.

"Thought there was something wrong with the blooming thing," said the
Sergeant, "but couldn't turn it up, as it hasn't got a screw, without
which these old-fashioned colza oils never were no good. Hullo! Doctor,
there goes yours," and as he spoke, go it did.

"The wicks!" exclaimed Maqueda, "we forgot to bring new wicks, and
without them of what use is oil? Come, be swift; we are still far from
the mouth of this cave, where none except the high priests will dare to
seek us," and, taking Oliver by the hand, she began to run, leaving us
two to follow as best we could.

"Steady, Doctor," said Quick, "steady. In the presence of disaster
comrades should always stick together, as it says in the Red-book
presented by the crown to warrant officers, but paid for out of their
deferred allowance. Take my arm, Doctor. Ah! I thought so, the more
haste the less speed. Look there," and he pointed to the flying shapes
ahead, now a long way off, and with only one lamp between them.

Next instant Maqueda turned round holding up this remaining lamp and
called to us. I saw the faint light gleam upon her beautiful face and
glitter down the silver ornaments of her dress. Very wild and strange
she looked in that huge vault, seen thus for a single moment, then seen
no more, for presently where the flame had been was but a red spark, and
then nothing at all.

"Stop still till we come back to you," cried Oliver, "and shout at
intervals."

"Yes, sir," said Quick, and instantly let off a fearful yell,
which echoed backward and forward across the vault till I was quite
bewildered.

"All right, coming," answered Oliver, and his voice sounded so far to
the left that Quick thought it wise to yell again.

To cut a long story short, we next heard him on our right and then
behind us.

"Can't trust sounds here, sir, echoes are too uncertain," said the
Sergeant; "but come on, I think I've placed them now," and calling
to _them_ not to move, we headed in what we were sure was the right
direction.

The end of that adventure was that presently I tripped up over a
skeleton and found myself lying half stunned amidst trays of treasure,
affectionately clasping a skull under the impression that it was Quick's
boot.

He hauled me up again somehow, and, as we did not know what to do, we
sat down amidst the dead and listened. By now the others were apparently
so far off that the sound of Oliver's calling only reached us in faint,
mysterious notes that came from we knew not whence.

"As, like idiots, we started in such a hurry that we forgot to bring any
matches with us, there is nothing to be done, except wait," I said. "No
doubt in due course those Abati will get over their fear of ghosts and
come to look for us."

"Wish I could do the same, sir. I didn't mind those deaders in the
light, but the dark's a different matter. Can't you hear them rattling
their shanks and talking all round us?"

"Certainly I do hear something," I answered, "but I think it must be the
echo of our own voices."

"Well, let us hold our jaw, sir, and perhaps they will hold theirs, for
this kind of conversation ain't nice."

So we were silent, but the strange murmuring still went on, coming
apparently from the wall of the cave behind us, and it occurred to me
that I had once heard something like it before, though at the time I
could not think where. Afterwards I remembered that it was when, as
a boy, I had been taken to see the Whispering Gallery in St. Paul's
Cathedral in London.

Half-an-hour or so went by in this fashion, and still there were no
signs of the Abati or of our missing pair. Quick began to fumble among
his clothes. I asked him what he was doing.

"Can't help thinking I've got a wax match somewhere, Doctor. I remember
feeling it in one of the pockets of this coat on the day before we left
London, and thinking afterwards it wasn't safe to have had it packed in
a box marked 'Hold.' Now if only I could find that match, we have got
plenty of torches, for I've stuck to my bundle all through, although I
never thought of them when the lamps were going out."

Having small belief in the Sergeant's match, I made no answer, and the
search went on till presently I heard him ejaculate:

"By Jingo, here it is, in the lining. Yes, and the head feels all right.
Now, Doctor, hold two of the torches toward me; make ready, present,
fire!" and he struck the match and applied it to the heads of the
resinous torches.

Instantly these blazed up, giving an intense light in that awful
darkness. By this light, for one moment only, we saw a strange, and not
unattractive spectacle. I think I forgot to say that in the centre of
this vault stood a kind of altar, which until that moment, indeed, I
had not seen. This altar, which, doubtless, had been used for ceremonial
purposes at the funerals of the ancient Kings, consisted of a plain
block of basalt stone, whereon was cut the symbol of a human eye, the
stone being approached by steps and supported upon carved and crouching
sphinxes.

On the lowest of these steps, near enough to enable us to see them quite
clearly, were seated Oliver Orme and Maqueda, Child of Kings. They were
seated very close together; indeed, if I must tell the truth, Oliver's
arm was about Maqueda's waist, her head rested upon his shoulder, and
apparently he was engaged in kissing her upon the lips.

"Right about face," hissed the Sergeant, in a tone of command, "and mark
time!"

So we right-abouted for a decent period, then, coughing loudly--because
of the irritant smoke of the torches--advanced to cross the cavern,
and by accident stumbled upon our lost companions. I confess that I had
nothing to say, but Quick rose to the occasion nobly.

"Glad to see you, Captain," he said to Oliver. "Was getting very anxious
about you, sir, until by good luck I found a match in the lining of my
coat. If the Professor had been here he'd have had plenty, which is an
argument in favour of continuous smoking, even when ladies are present.
Ah! no wonder her Majesty is faint in this hot place, poor young thing.
It's lucky you didn't leave hold of her, sir. Do you think you could
manage to support her, sir, as we ought to be moving. Can't offer to do
so myself, as I have lamed my foot with the tooth of a dead king, also
my arms are full of torches. But if you prefer the Doctor--what do you
say, sir? That you _can_ manage? There is such an echo in this vault
that it is difficult to hear--very well, let us go on, for these torches
won't last for ever, and you wouldn't like us to have to spend a whole
night here with the lady in such a delicate condition, would you,
especially as those nasty-tempered Abati might say that you had done
it on purpose? Take her Majesty's arm, Doctor, and let us trek. I'll go
ahead with the torches."

To all this artless harangue Oliver answered not a single word, but
glared at us suspiciously over the shape of Maqueda, who apparently had
fainted. Only when I ventured to offer her some professional assistance
she recovered, and said that she could get on quite well alone, which
meant upon Orme's arm.

Well, the end of it was that she got on, and so did we, for the torches
lasted until we reached the narrow, sloping passage, and, rounding the
corner, saw the lantern burning in the hole in the wall, after which, of
course, things were easy.



"Doctor," said Oliver to me in a voice of studied nonchalance that
night, as we were preparing to turn in, "did you notice anything in the
Vault of Kings this afternoon?"

"Oh, yes," I answered, "lots! Of course, myself, I am not given to
archæology, like poor Higgs, but the sight struck me as absolutely
unique. If I were inclined to moralize, for instance, what a contrast
between those dead rulers and their young and beautiful successor, full
of life and love"--here he looked at me sharply--"love of her people,
such as I have no doubt in their day----"

"Oh, shut it, Adams! I don't want a philosophical lecture with
historical comparisons. Did you notice anything except bones and gold
when that unutterable ass, Quick, suddenly turned on the lights--I mean
struck the match which unfortunately he had with him."

Now I gave it up and faced the situation.

"Well, if you want the truth," I said, "not _very_ much myself, for
my sight isn't as good as it used to be. But the Sergeant, who has
extraordinarily sharp eyes, thought that he saw you kissing Maqueda,
a supposition that your relative attitudes seemed to confirm, which
explains, moreover, some of the curious sounds we heard before he lit
the torches. That's why he asked me to turn my back. But, of course, we
may have been mistaken. Do I understand you to say that the Sergeant was
mistaken?"

Oliver consigned the Sergeant's eyes to an ultimate fate worse than
that which befell those of Peeping Tom; then, in a burst of candour, for
subterfuge never was his forte, owned up:

"You made no mistake," he said, "we love each other, and it came out
suddenly in the dark. I suppose that the unusual surroundings acted on
our nerves."

"From a moral point of view I am glad that you love each other," I
remarked, "since embraces that are merely nervous cannot be commended.
But from every other, in our circumstances the resulting situation
strikes me as a little short of awful, although Quick, a most observant
man, warned me to expect it from the first."

"Curse Quick," said Oliver again, with the utmost energy. "I'll give him
a month's notice this very night."

"Don't," I said, "for then you'll oblige him to take service with
Barung, where he would be most dangerous. Look here, Orme, to drop
chaff, this is a pretty mess."

"Why? What's wrong about it, Doctor?" he asked indignantly. "Of course,
she's a Jew of some diluted sort or other, and I'm a Christian; but
those things adapt themselves. Of course, too, she's my superior, but
after all hers is a strictly local rank, and in Europe we should be
on much the same footing. As for her being an Eastern, what does that
matter? Surely it is not an objection which should have weight with
_you_. And for the rest, did you ever see her equal?"

"Never, never, _never_!" I answered with enthusiasm. "The young lady
to whom any gentleman has just engaged himself is always absolutely
unequalled, and, let me admit at once that this is perhaps the most
original and charming that I have ever met in all Central Africa. Only,
whatever may be the case with you, I don't know whether this fact will
console me and Quick when our throats are being cut. Look here, Orme," I
added, "didn't I tell you long ago that the one thing you must _not_ do
was to make love to the Child of Kings?"

"Did you? Really, I forget; you told me such a lot of things, Doctor,"
he answered coolly enough, only unfortunately the colour that rose in
his cheeks betrayed his lips.

At this moment, Quick, who had entered the room unobserved, gave a dry
cough, and remarked:

"Don't blame the Captain, Doctor, because he don't remember. There's
nothing like shock from an explosion for upsetting the memory. I've
seen that often in the Boer war, when, after a big shell had gone off
somewhere near them, the very bravest soldiers would clean forget that
it was their duty to stand still and not run like rabbits; indeed, it
happened to me myself."

I laughed, and Oliver said something which I could not hear, but Quick
went on imperturbably:

"Still, truth is truth, and if the Captain has forgotten, the more
reason that we should remind him. That evening at the Professor's house
in London you did warn him, sir, and he answered that you needn't bother
your head about the fascinations of a nigger woman----"

"Nigger woman," broke out Oliver; "I never used such words; I never
even thought them, and you are an impertinent fellow to put them into my
mouth. Nigger woman! Good heavens! It's desecration."

"Very sorry, Captain, now I come to think of it, I believe you said
black woman, speaking in your haste. Yes and I begged you not to brag,
seeing that if you did we might live to see you crawling after her, with
myself, Samuel Quick bringing up the rear. Well, there it is we are, and
the worst of it is that I can't blame you, being as anticipated in the
prophecy--for that's what it was though I didn't know it myself at
the time--exactly in the same state myself, though, of course, at a
distance, bringing up the rear respectfully, as said."

"You don't mean that you are in love with the Child of Kings?" said
Oliver, staring at the Sergeant's grim and battered figure.

"Begging your pardon, Captain, that is exactly what I do mean. If a cat
may look at a queen, why mayn't a man love her? Howsoever, my kind of
love ain't likely to interfere with yours. My kind means sentry-go and
perhaps a knife in my gizzard; yours--well, we saw what yours means
this afternoon, though what it will all lead to we didn't see. Still,
Captain, speaking as one who hasn't been keen on the sex heretofore,
I say--sail in, since it's worth it, even if you've got to sink
afterwards, for this lady, although she is half a Jew, and I never
could abide Jews, is the sweetest and the loveliest and the best and the
bravest little woman that ever walked God's earth."

At this point Oliver seized his hand and shook it warmly, and I may
mention that I think some report of Quick's summary of her character
must have reached Maqueda's ears. At any rate, thenceforward until the
end she always treated the old fellow with what the French call the
"most distinguished consideration."

But, as I was not in love, no one shook my hand, so, leaving the other
two to discuss the virtues and graces of the Child of Kings, I went off
to bed filled with the gloomiest forbodings. What a fool I had been not
to insist that whatever expert accompanied Higgs should be a married
man. And yet, now when I came to think of it, that might not have
bettered matters, and perhaps would only have added to the transaction
a degree of moral turpitude which at present was lacking, since even
married men are sometimes weak.

The truth was that Maqueda's attractions were extraordinarily great. To
her remarkable beauty she added a wonderful charm of manner and force
of mind. Also her situation must touch the heart and pity of any man,
so helpless was she in the midst of all her hollow grandeur, so lonely
amongst a nation of curs whom she strove in vain to save, and should
she escape destruction with them, doomed to so sad and repulsive a fate,
namely to become the wife of a fat poltroon who was her own uncle. Well,
we know to what emotion pity is akin, and the catastrophe had occurred a
little sooner than I had expected, that was all.

Doubtless to her, in comparison with the men to whom she was accustomed
and allowed by etiquette to take as her associates, this brave and
handsome young Englishman, who had come into her care sick and shattered
after the doing of a great deed, must have seemed a veritable fairy
prince. And she had helped to nurse him, and he had shown himself
grateful for her kindness and condescension, and--the rest followed, as
surely as the day follows the night.

But how would it end? Sooner or later the secret must come out, for
already the Abati nobles, if I may call them so for want of a better
name, and especially Joshua, were bitterly jealous of the favour their
lady showed to the foreigner, and watched them both. Then what--what
would happen? Under the Abati law it was death for any one outside of
the permitted degree of relationship to tamper with the affections of
the Child of Kings. Nor was this wonderful, since that person held her
seat in virtue of her supposed direct descent from Solomon and the first
Maqueda, Queen of Sheba, and therefore the introduction of any alien
blood could not be tolerated.

Moreover, Orme, having sworn an oath of allegiance, had become subject
to those laws. Lastly, I could not in the least hope from the character
of the pair concerned that this was but a passing flirtation.

Oh! without a doubt these two had signed their own death-warrant yonder
in the Cave of Death, and incidentally ours also. This must be the end
of our adventure and my long search for the son whom I had lost.



CHAPTER XI

THE RESCUE FAILS

Our breakfast on the following morning was a somewhat gloomy meal. By
common consent no allusion was made to the events of the previous day,
or to our conversation at bedtime.

Indeed, there was no talk at all to speak of, since, not knowing
what else to do, I thought I could best show my attitude of mind by
preserving a severe silence, while Quick seemed to be absorbed
in philosophical reflections, and Orme looked rather excited and
dishevelled, as though he had been writing poetry, as I daresay was
the case. In the midst of this dreary meal a messenger arrived, who
announced that the Walda Nagasta would be pleased to see us all within
half-an-hour.

Fearing lest Orme should say something foolish, I answered briefly that
we would wait upon her, and the man went, leaving us wondering what had
happened to cause her to desire our presence.

At the appointed time we were shown into the small audience room, and,
as we passed its door, I ventured to whisper to Oliver:

"For your own sake and hers, as well as that of the rest of us, I
implore you to be careful. Your face is watched as well as your words."

"All right, old fellow," he answered, colouring a little. "You may trust
me."

"I wish I could," I muttered.

Then we were shown in ceremoniously, and made our bows to Maqueda, who
was seated, surrounded by some of the judges and officers, among them,
Prince Joshua, and talking to two rough-looking men clad in ordinary
brown robes. She greeted us, and after the exchange of the usual
compliments, said:

"Friends, I have summoned you for this reason. This morning when the
traitor Shadrach was being led out to execution at the hands of these
men, the officers of the law, he begged for a delay. When asked why, as
his petition for reprieve had been refused, he said that if his life
was spared he could show how your companion, he whom they call Black
Windows, may be rescued from the Fung."

"How?" asked Orme and I in one breath.

"I do not know," she answered, "but wisely they spared the man. Let him
be brought in."

A door opened, and Shadrach entered, his hands bound behind his back and
shackles on his feet. He was a very fearful and much chastened Shadrach,
for his eyes rolled and his teeth chattered with terror, as, having
prostrated himself to the Walda Nagasta, he wriggled round and tried to
kiss Orme's boot. The guards pulled him to his feet again, and Maqueda
said:

"What have you to tell us, traitor, before you die?"

"The thing is secret, O Bud of the Rose. Must I speak before so many?"

"Nay," she answered, and ordered most of those present to leave the
room, including the executioners and soldiers.

"The man is desperate, and there will be none left to guard him," said
Joshua nervously.

"I'll do that, your Highness," answered Quick in his bad Arabic, and
stepping up behind Shadrach he added in English, "Now then, Pussy, you
behave, or it will be the worse for you."

When all had gone again Shadrach was commanded to speak and say how he
could save the Englishman whom he had betrayed into the hands of the
Fung.

"Thus, Child of Kings," he answered, "Black Windows, as we know, is
imprisoned in the body of the great idol."

"How do you know it, man?"

"O Lady, I do know it, and also the Sultan said so, did he not? Well,
I can show a secret road to that idol whence he may be reached and
rescued. In my boyhood I, who am called Cat, because I can climb so
well, found that road, and when the Fung took me afterward and threw
me to the lions, where I got these scars upon my face, by it I escaped.
Spare me, and I will show it to you."

"It is not enough to show the road," said Maqueda. "Dog, you must save
the foreign lord whom you betrayed. If you do not save him you die. Do
you understand?"

"That is a hard saying, Lady," answered the man. "Am I God that I should
promise to save this stranger who perchance is already dead? Yet I
will do my best, knowing that if I fail you will kill me, and that if
I succeed I shall be spared. At any rate, I will show you the road to
where he is or was imprisoned, although I warn you that it is a rough
one."

"Where you can travel we can follow," said Maqueda. "Tell us now what we
must do."

So he told her, and when he had done the Prince Joshua intervened,
saying that it was not fitting that the Child of Kings in her own sacred
person should undertake such a dangerous journey. She listened to his
remonstrances and thanked him for his care of her.

"Still I am going," she said, "not for the sake of the stranger who is
called Black Windows, but because, if there is a secret way out of Mur
I think it well that I should know that way. Yet I agree with you,
my uncle, that on such a journey I ought not to be unprotected, and
therefore I pray that you will be ready to start with us at noon, since
I am sure that then we shall all be safe."

Now Joshua began to make excuses, but she would not listen to them.

"No, no," she said, "you are too honest. The honour of the Abati is
involved in this manner, since, alas! it was an Abati that betrayed
Black Windows, and an Abati--namely, yourself--must save him. You have
often told me, my uncle, how clever you are at climbing rocks, and now
you shall make proof of your skill and courage before these foreigners.
It is a command, speak no more," and she rose, to show that the audience
was finished.



That same afternoon Shadrach, by mountain paths that were known to him,
led a little company of people to the crest of the western precipice of
Mur. Fifteen hundred feet or more beneath us lay the great plains upon
which, some miles away, could be seen the city of Harmac. But the idol
in the valley we could not see, because here the precipice bent over and
hid it from our sight.

"What now, fellow," said Maqueda, who was clad in the rough sheepskin
of a peasant woman, which somehow looked charming upon her. "Here is the
cliff, there lies the plain; I see no road between the two, and my wise
uncle, the prince, tells me that he never heard of one."

"Lady," answered the man, "now I take command, and you must follow me.
But first let us see that nobody and nothing are lacking."

Then he went round the company and numbered them. In all we were
sixteen; Maqueda and Joshua, we three Englishmen, armed with repeating
rifles and revolvers, our guide Shadrach, and some picked Mountaineers
chosen for their skill and courage. For even in Mur there were brave men
left, especially among the shepherds and huntsmen, whose homes were on
the cliffs. These sturdy guides were laden with ropes, lamps, and long,
slender ladders that could be strapped together.

When everything had been checked and all the ladders and straps tested,
Shadrach went to a clump of bushes which grew feebly on the wind-swept
crest of the precipice. In the midst of these he found and removed a
large flat stone, revealing what evidently had been the head of a stair,
although now its steps were much worn and crumbled by the water that in
the wet season followed this natural drain to the depths below.

"This is that road the ancients made for purposes of their own,"
explained Shadrach, "which, as I have said, I chanced to discover when
I was a boy. But let none follow it who are afraid, for it is steep and
rough."

Now Joshua, who was already weary with his long ride and walk up to the
crest of the precipice, implored Maqueda almost passionately to abandon
the idea of entering this horrid hole, while Oliver backed up his
entreaties with few words but many appealing glances, for on this point,
though for different reasons, the prince and he were at one.

But she would not listen.

"My uncle," she said, "with you, the experienced mountaineer, why should
I be afraid? If the Doctor here, who is old enough to be the father of
either of us" (so far as Joshua was concerned this remark lacked truth),
"is willing to go, surely I can go also? Moreover, if I remained behind,
you would wish to stay to guard me, and never should I forgive myself
if I deprived you of such a great adventure. Also, like you, I love
climbing. Come, let us waste no more time."

So we were roped up. First went Shadrach, with Quick next to him, a
position which the Sergeant insisted upon occupying as his custodian,
and several of the Mountaineers, carrying ladders, lamps, oil, food and
other things. Then in a second gang came two more of these men, Oliver,
Maqueda, myself, and next to me, Joshua. The remaining mountaineers
brought up the rear, carrying spare stores, ladders, and so forth. When
all was ready the lamps were lit, and we started upon a very strange
journey.

For the first two hundred feet or so the stairs, though worn and almost
perpendicular, for the place was like the shaft of a mine, were not
difficult to descend, to any of us except Joshua, whom I heard puffing
and groaning behind me. Then came a gallery running eastward at a steep
slope for perhaps fifty paces, and at the end of it a second shaft of
about the same depth as the first, but with the stairs much more worn,
apparently by the washing of water, of which a good deal trickled out of
the sides of the shaft. Another difficulty was that the air rushing up
from below made it hard to keep the lamps alight.

Toward the bottom of this section there was scarcely any stair left, and
the climbing became very dangerous. Here, indeed, Joshua slipped, and
with a wail of terror slid down the shaft and landed with his legs
across my back in such a fashion that had I not happened to have
good hand and foot hold at the time, he would have propelled me on to
Maqueda, and we must have all rolled down headlong, probably to our
deaths.

As it was, this fat and terrified fellow cast his arms about my neck, to
which he clung, nearly choking me, until, just when I was about to faint
beneath his weight and pressure, the Mountaineers in the third party
arrived and dragged him off. When they had got him in charge, for I
refused to move another step while he was immediately behind me, we
descended by a ladder which the first party had set up, to the second
level, where began another long, eastward sloping passage that ended at
the mouth of a third pit.

Here arose the great question as to what was to be done with the Prince
Joshua, who vowed that he could go no farther, and demanded loudly to be
taken back to the top of the cliff, although Shadrach assured him that
thenceforward the road was much easier. At length we were obliged to
refer the matter to Maqueda, who settled it in very few words.

"My uncle," she said, "you tell us that you cannot come on, and it
is certain that we cannot spare the time and men to send you back.
Therefore, it seems that you must stop where you are until we return,
and if we should not return, make the best of your own way up the shaft.
Farewell, my uncle, this place is safe and comfortable, and if you are
wise you will rest awhile."

"Heartless woman!" gobbled Joshua, who was shaking like a jelly with
fear and rage. "Would you leave your affianced lord and lover alone in
this haunted hole while you scramble down rocks like a wild cat with
strangers? If I must stay, do you stay with me?"

"Certainly not," replied Maqueda with decision. "Shall it be said that
the Child of Kings is afraid to go where her guests can travel?"

Well, the end of it was that Joshua came on in the centre of the third
body of Mountaineers, who were practically obliged to carry him.

Shadrach was right, since for some reason or other the stairs
thenceforward remained more perfect. Only they seemed almost endless,
and before we reached our goal I calculated that we must have descended
quite twelve hundred feet into the bowels of the rock. At length, when I
was almost tired out and Maqueda was so breathless that she was obliged
to lean on Oliver, dragging me behind her like a dog on a string, of a
sudden we saw a glimmer of daylight that crept into the tunnel through a
small hole. By the mouth of yet another pit or shaft, we found Shadrach
and the others waiting for us. Saluting, he said that we must unrope,
leave our lamps behind, and follow him. Oliver asked him whither this
last shaft led.

"To a still lower level, lord," he answered, "but one which you will
scarcely care to explore, since it ends in the great pit where the Fung
keep their sacred lions."

"Indeed," said Oliver, much interested for reasons of his own, and he
glanced at Quick, who nodded his head and whistled.

Then we all followed Shadrach to find ourselves presently upon a plateau
about the size of a racquet court which, either by nature or by the hand
of man, had been recessed into the face of that gigantic cliff. Going
to the edge of this plateau, whereon grew many tree-ferns and some thick
green bushes that would have made us invisible from below even had there
been any one to see us, we saw that the sheer precipice ran down beneath
for several hundred feet. Of these yawning depths, however, we did not
at the moment make out much, partly because they were plunged in shadow
and partly for another reason.

Rising out of the gulf below was what we took at first to be a rounded
hill of black rock, oblong in shape, from which projected a gigantic
shaft of stone ending in a kind of fretted bush that alone was of the
size of a cottage. The point of this bush-like rock was exactly opposite
the little plateau on to which we had emerged and distant from it not
more than thirty, or at most, forty feet.

"What is that?" asked Maqueda, of Shadrach, pointing in front of her, as
she handed back to one of the Mountaineers a cup from which she had been
drinking water.

"That, O Walda Nagasta," he answered, "is nothing else than the back
of the mighty idol of the Fung, which is shaped like a lion. The great
shaft of rock with the bush at the end of it is the tail of the lion.
Doubtless this platform on which we stand is a place whence the old
priests, when they owned Mur as well as the land of the Fung, used to
hide themselves to watch whatever it was they wanted to see. Look," and
he pointed to certain grooves in the face of the rock, "I think that
here there was once a bridge which could be let down at will on to the
tail of the lion-god, though long ago it has rotted away. Yet ere now I
have travelled this road without it."

We stared at him astonished, and in the silence that followed I heard
Maqueda whisper to Oliver:

"Perhaps that is how he whom we call Cat escaped from the Fung; or
perhaps that is how he communicates with them as a spy."

"Or perhaps he is a liar, my Lady," interrupted Quick, who had also
overheard their talk, a solution which, I confess, commended itself to
me.

"Why have you brought us here?" asked Maqueda presently.

"Did I not tell you in Mur, Lady--to rescue Black Windows? Listen, now,
it is the custom of the Fung to allow those who are imprisoned within
the idol to walk unguarded upon its back at dawn and sunset. At least,
this is their custom with Black Windows--ask me not how I know it; this
is truth, I swear it on my life, which is at stake. Now this is my plan.
We have with us a ladder which will reach from where we stand to the
tail of the idol. Should the foreign lord appear upon the back of the
god, which, if he still lives, as I believe he does, he is almost sure
to do at sundown, as a man who dwells in the dark all day will love the
light and air when he can get them, then some of us must cross and bring
him back with us. Perhaps it had best be you, my lord Orme, since if
I went alone, or even with these men, after what is past Black Windows
might not altogether trust me."

"Fool," broke in Maqueda, "how can a man do such a thing?"

"O Lady, it is not so difficult as it looks. A few steps across the
gulf, and then a hundred feet or so along the tail of the lion which
is flat on the top and so broad that one may run down it if careful to
follow the curves, that is on a still day--nothing more. But, of course,
if the Lord Orme is afraid, which I did not think who have heard so much
of his courage----" and the rogue shrugged his shoulders and paused.

"Afraid, fellow," said Oliver, "well, I am not ashamed to be afraid of
such a journey. Yet if there is need I will make it, though not before
I see my brother alone yonder on the rock, since all this may be but
a trick of yours to deliver me to the Fung, among whom I know that you
have friends."

"It is madness; you shall not go," said Maqueda. "You will fall and be
dashed to pieces. I say that you shall not go."

"Why should he not go, my niece?" interrupted Joshua. "Shadrach is
right; we have heard much of the courage of this Gentile. Now let us see
him do something."

She turned on the Prince like a tiger.

"Very good, my uncle, then you shall go with him. Surely one of the
ancient blood of the Abati will not shirk from what a 'Gentile' dares."

On hearing this Joshua relapsed into silence, and I have no clear memory
of what he did or said in connection with the rest of that thrilling
scene.

Now followed a pause in the midst of which Oliver sat down and began to
take off his boots.

"Why do you undress yourself, friend?" asked Maqueda nervously.

"Because, Lady," he answered, "if I have to walk yonder road it is safer
to do so in my stockings. Have no fear," he added gently, "from boyhood
I have been accustomed to such feats, and when I served in my country's
army it was my pleasure to give instruction in them, although it is true
that this one surpasses all that ever I attempted."

"Still I do fear," she said.

Meanwhile Quick had sat down and begun to take off _his_ boots.

"What are you doing, Sergeant?" I asked.

"Getting ready to accompany the Captain upon forlorn hope, Doctor."

"Nonsense," I said, "you are too old for the game, Sergeant. If any one
goes, I should, seeing that I believe my son is over there, but I can't
try it, as I know my head would give out, and I should fall in a second,
which would only upset everybody."

"Of course," broke in Oliver, who had overheard us, "I'm in command
here, and my orders are that neither of you shall come. Remember,
Sergeant, that if anything happens to me it is your business to take
over the stores and use them if necessary, which you alone can do. Now
go and see to the preparations, and find out the plan of campaign, for I
want to rest and keep quiet. I daresay the whole thing is humbug, and we
shall see nothing of the Professor; still, one may as well be prepared."

So Quick and I went to superintend the lashing of two of the light
ladders together and the securing of some planks which we had brought
with us upon the top of the rungs, so as to make these ladders easy to
walk on. I asked who would be of the party besides Shadrach and Orme,
and was told no one, as all were afraid. Ultimately, however, a man
named Japhet, one of the Mountaineers, volunteered upon being promised
a grant of land from the Child of Kings herself, which grant she
proclaimed before them all was to be given to his relatives in the event
of his death.

At length everything was ready, and there came another spell of silence,
for the nerves of all of us were so strained that we did not seem able
to talk. It was broken by a sound of sudden and terrible roaring that
arose from the gulf beneath.

"It is the hour of the feeding of the sacred lions which the Fung keep
in the pit about the base of the idol," explained Shadrach. Then he
added, "Unless he should be rescued, I believe that Black Windows
will be given to the lions to-night, which is that of full moon and a
festival of Harmac, though maybe he will be kept till the next full moon
when all the Fung come up to worship."

This information did not tend to raise anyone's spirits, although Quick,
who always tried to be cheerful, remarked that it was probably false.

The shadows began to gather in the Valley of Harmac, whereby we knew
that the sun was setting behind the mountains. Indeed, had it not been
for a clear and curious glow reflected from the eastern sky, the gulf
would have plunged us in gloom. Presently, far away upon a rise of rock
which we knew must be the sphinx head of the huge idol, a little figure
appeared outlined against the sky, and there began to sing. The moment
that I heard the distant voice I went near to fainting, and indeed
should have fallen had not Quick caught me.

"What is it, Adams?" asked Oliver, looking up from where he and Maqueda
sat whispering to each other while the fat Joshua glowered at them in
the background. "Has Higgs appeared?"

"No," I answered, "but, thank God, my son still lives. That is his
voice. Oh! if you can, save him, too."

Now there was much suppressed excitement, and some one thrust a pair
of field-glasses into my hand, but either they were wrongly set or the
state of my nerves would not allow me to see through them. So Quick took
them and reported.

"Tall, slim figure wearing a white robe, but at the distance in this
light can't make out the face. One might hail him, perhaps, only it
would give us away. Ah! the hymn is done and he's gone; seemed to jump
into a hole in the rock, which shows that he's all right, anyway, or
he couldn't jump. So cheer up, Doctor, for you have much to be thankful
for."

"Yes," I repeated after him, "much to be thankful for, but still I would
that I had more after all these years to search. To think that I should
be so close to him and he know nothing of it."

After the ceasing of the song and the departure of my son, there
appeared upon the back of the idol three Fung warriors, fine fellows
clad in long robes and armed with spears, and behind them a trumpeter
who carried a horn or hollowed elephant's tusk. These men marched up and
down the length of the platform from the rise of the neck to the root of
the tail, apparently to make an inspection. Having found nothing, for,
of course, they could not see us hidden behind the bushes on our little
plateau, of which no doubt they did not even know the existence, and
much less that it was connected with the mountain plain of Mur, the
trumpeter blew a shrill blast upon his horn, and before the echoes of it
had died away, vanished with his companions.

"Sunset tour of inspection. Seen the same kind of thing as at Gib.,"
said the Sergeant. "Oh! by Jingo! Pussy isn't lying after all--there
he is," and he pointed to a figure that rose suddenly out of the black
stone of the idol's back just as the guards had done.

It was Higgs, Higgs without a doubt; Higgs wearing his battered
sun-helmet and his dark spectacles; Higgs smoking his big meerschaum
pipe, and engaged in making notes in a pocket-book as calmly as though
he sat before a new object in the British Museum.

I gasped with astonishment, for somehow I had never expected that we
should really see him, but Orme, rising very quietly from his seat
beside Maqueda, only said:

"Yes, that's the old fellow right enough. Well, now for it. You,
Shadrach, run out your ladder and cross first that I may be sure you
play no trick."

"Nay," broke in Maqueda, "this dog shall not go, for never would he
return from his friends the Fung. Man," she said, addressing Japhet, the
Mountaineer to whom she had promised land, "go you over first and hold
the end of the ladder while this lord crosses. If he returns safe your
reward is doubled."

Japhet saluted, the ladder was run out and its end set upon the
roughnesses in the rock that represented the hair of the sphinx's tail.
The Mountaineer paused a moment with hands and face uplifted; evidently
he was praying. Then bidding his companions hold the hither end of the
ladder, and having first tested it with his foot and found that it hung
firm, calmly he walked across, being a brave fellow, and presently was
seen seated on the opposing mass of rock.

Now came Oliver's turn. He nodded to Maqueda, who went white as a sheet,
muttering some words to her that did not reach me. Then he turned and
shook my hand.

"If you can, save my son also," I whispered.

"I'll do my best if I can get hold of him," he answered. "Sergeant, if
anything happens to me you know your duty."

"I'll try and follow your example, Captain, under all circumstances,
though that will be hard," replied Quick in a rather shaky voice.

Oliver stepped out on the ladder. I reckoned that twelve or fourteen
short paces would take him across, and the first half of these he
accomplished with quiet certainty. When he was in the exact middle of
the passage, however, the end of one of the uprights of the ladder at
the farther side slipped a little, notwithstanding the efforts of Japhet
to keep it straight, with the result that the plank bound on the rungs
lost its level, sinking an inch or so to the right, and nearly causing
Oliver to fall from it into the gulf. He wavered like a wind-shaken
reed, attempted to step forward, hesitated, stopped, and slowly sank on
to his hands and knees.

"_Ah_!" panted Maqueda.

"The Gentile has lost his head," began Joshua in a voice full of the
triumph that he could not hide. "He--will----"

Joshua got no further, for Quick, turning, threatened him savagely with
his fist, saying in English:

"Stow your jaw if you don't want to follow him, you swine," whereon
Joshua, who understood the gesture, if not the words, relapsed into
silence.

Now the Mountaineer on the farther side spoke, saying:

"Have no fear, the ladder is safe."

For a moment Oliver remained in his crouching posture on the board,
which was all that separated him from an awful death in the gulf
beneath. Next, while we watched, agonized, he rose to his feet again,
and with perfect calmness walked across to its other end.

"Well done our side!" said Quick, addressing Joshua, "why don't your
Royal Highness cheer? No, you leave that knife alone, or presently
there'll be a hog the less in this world," and stooping down he relieved
the Prince of the weapon which he was fingering with his round eyes
fixed upon the Sergeant.

Maqueda, who had noted all, now interfered.

"My uncle," she said, "brave men are risking their lives yonder while we
sit in safety. Be silent and cease from quarrelling, I pray you."

Next moment we had forgotten all about Joshua, being utterly absorbed in
watching the drama in progress upon the farther side of the gulf. After
a slight pause to recover his nerve or breath, Orme rose, and preceded
by Japhet, climbed up the bush-like rock till he reached the shaft
of the sphinx's tail. Here he turned and waved his hand to us,
then following the Mountaineer, walked, apparently with the utmost
confidence, along the curves of the tail to where it sprang from the
body of the idol. At this spot there was a little difficulty in climbing
over the smooth slope of rock on to the broad terrace-like back. Soon,
however, they surmounted it, and vanishing for a few seconds into
the hollow of the loins, which, of course, was a good many feet deep,
re-appeared moving toward the shoulders. Between these we could see
Higgs standing with his back toward us, utterly unconscious of all that
was passing behind him.

Passing Japhet, Oliver walked up to the Professor and touched him on
the arm. Higgs turned, stared at the pair for a moment, and then, in
his astonishment, or so we guessed, sat down plump upon the rock. They
pulled him to his feet, Orme pointing to the cliff behind, and evidently
explaining the situation and what must be done. Then followed a short
and animated talk. Through the glasses we could even see Higgs shaking
his head. He told them something, they came to a determination, for
now he turned, stepped forward a pace or two, and vanished, as I learnt
afterwards, to fetch my son, without whom he would not try to escape.

A while went by; it seemed an age, but really was under a minute. We
heard the sound of shouts. Higgs's white helmet reappeared, and then his
body, with two Fung guards clinging on to him. He yelled out in English
and the words reached us faintly:

"Save yourself! I'll hold these devils. Run, you infernal fool, run!"

Oliver hesitated, although the Mountaineer was pulling at him, till the
heads of more Fung appeared. Then, with a gesture of despair, he turned
and fled. First ran Oliver, then Japhet, whom he had outpaced, and after
them came a number of priests or guards, waving knives, while in the
background Higgs rolled on the rock with his captors.

The rest was very short. Orme slid down the rump of the idol on to the
tail, followed by the Mountaineer, and after them in single file came
three Fung, who apparently thought no more of the perilous nature of
their foothold than do the sheiks of the Egyptian pyramids when they
swarm about those monuments like lizards. Nor, for the matter of that,
did Oliver or Japhet, who doubled down the tail as though it were a race
track. Oliver swung himself on to the ladder, and in a second was
half across it, we holding its other end, when suddenly he heard his
companion cry out. A Fung had got hold of Japhet by the leg and he lay
face downward on the board.

Oliver halted and slowly turned round, drawing his revolver as he did
so. Then he aimed and fired, and the Fung, leaving go of Japhet's leg,
threw up his arms and plunged headlong into the gulf beneath. The next
thing I remember is that they were both among us, and somebody shouted,
"Pull in the ladder."

"No," said Quick, "wait a bit."

Vaguely I wondered why, till I perceived that three of those courageous
Fung were following across it, resting their hands upon each other's
shoulders, while their companions cheered them.

"Now, pull, brothers, pull!" shouted the Sergeant, and pull we did. Poor
Fung! they deserved a better fate.

"Always inflict loss upon the enemy when you get a chance," remarked the
Sergeant, as he opened fire with his repeating rifle upon other Fung
who by now were clustering upon the back of the idol. This position,
however, they soon abandoned as untenable, except one or two of them who
remained there, dead or wounded.

A silence followed, in the midst of which I heard Quick saying to Joshua
in his very worst Arabic:

"Now does your Royal Highness think that we Gentiles are cowards,
although it is true those Fung are as good men as we any day?"

Joshua declined argument, and I turned to watch Oliver, who had covered
his face with his hands, and seemed to be weeping.

"What is it, O friend, what is it?" I heard Maqueda say in her gentle
voice--a voice full of tears, tears of gratitude I think. "You have done
a great deed; you have returned safe; all is well."

"Nay," he answered, forgetting her titles in his distress, "all is ill.
I have failed, and to-night they throw my brother to the lions. He told
me so."

Maqueda, finding no answer, stretched out her hand to the Mountaineer,
his companion in adventure, who kissed it.

"Japhet," she said, "I am proud of you; your reward is fourfold, and
henceforth you are a captain of my Mountaineers."

"Tell us what happened," I said to Oliver.

"This," he answered: "I remembered about your son, and so did Higgs. In
fact, he spoke of him first--they seem to have become friends. He said
he would not escape without him, and could fetch him in a moment, as
he was only just below. Well, he went to do so, and must have found the
guard instead, who, I suppose, had heard us talking. You know as much
about the rest as I do. To-night, when the full moon is two hours high,
there is to be a ceremony of sacrifice, and poor Higgs will be let down
into the den of lions. He was writing his will in a note-book when we
saw him, as Barung had promised to send it to us."

"Doctor," said the Sergeant, in a confidential voice, when he had
digested this information, "would you translate for me a bit, as I want
to have a talk with Cat there, and my Arabic don't run to it?"

I nodded, and we went to that corner of the plateau where Shadrach stood
apart, watching and listening.

"Now, Cat," said the Sergeant (I give his remarks in his own language,
leaving out my rendering) "just listen to me, and understand that if
you tell lies or play games either you or I don't reach the top of this
cliff again alive. Do you catch on?"

Shadrach replied that he caught on.

"Very well. You've told us that once you were a prisoner among the
Fung and thrown to these holy lions, but got out. Now just explain what
happened."

"This, O Quick. After ceremonies that do not matter, I was let down in
the food-basket into the feeding-den, and thrown out of the basket like
any other meat. Then the gates were lifted up by the chains, and the
lions came in to devour me according to their custom."

"And what happened next, Shadrach?"

"What happened? Why, of course I hid myself in the shadow as much as
possible, right against the walls of the precipice, until a satan of
a she-lion snuffled me out and gave a stroke at me. Look, here are the
marks of her claws," and he pointed to the scars upon his face. "Those
claws stung like scorpions; they made me mad. The terror which I had
lost when I saw their yellow eyes came back to me. I rushed at the
precipice as a cat that is hunted by a dog rushes at a wall. I clung
to its smooth side with my nails, with my toes, with my teeth. A lion
leaped up and tore the flesh of my leg, here, here," and he showed the
marks, which we could scarcely see in that dim light. "He ran back for
another spring. Above me I saw a tiny ledge, big enough for a hawk to
sit on--no more. I jumped, I caught it, drawing up my legs so that the
lion missed me. I made the effort a man makes once in his life. Somehow
I dragged myself to that ledge; I rested one thigh upon it and pressed
against the rock to steady myself. Then the rock gave, and I tumbled
backward into the bottom of a tunnel. Afterwards I escaped to the top
of the cliff in the dark, O God of Israel! in the dark, smelling my way,
climbing like a baboon, risking death a thousand times. It took me two
whole days and nights, and the last of those nights I knew not what I
did. Yet I found my way, and that is why my people name me Cat."

"I understand," said Quick in a new and more respectful voice, "and
however big a rascal you may be, you've got pluck. Now, say, remembering
what I told you," and he tapped the handle of his revolver, "is that
feeding-den where it used to be?"

"I believe so, O Quick; why should it be changed? The victims are let
down from the belly of the god, just there between his thighs where are
doors. The feeding-place lies in a hollow of the cliff; this platform on
which we stand is over it. None saw my escape, therefore none searched
for the means of it, since they thought that the lions had devoured
me, as they have devoured thousands. No one enters there, only when the
beasts have fed full they draw back to their sleeping-dens, and those
who watch above let down the bars. Listen," and as he spoke we heard a
crash and a rattle far below. "They fall now, the lions having eaten.
When Black Windows and perhaps others are thrown to them, by and by,
they will be drawn up again."

"Is that hole in the rock still there, Shadrach?"

"Without doubt, though I have not been down to look."

"Then, my boy, you are going now," remarked Quick grimly.



CHAPTER XII

THE DEN OF LIONS

We returned to the others and told them everything that we had learned
from Shadrach.

"What's your plan, Sergeant?" asked Oliver when he had heard. "Tell me,
for I have none; my head is muddled."

"This, Captain, for what it is worth; that I should go down through the
hole that Cat here speaks of, and get into the den. Then when they let
down the Professor, if they do, and pull up the gates, that I should
keep back the lions with my rifle while he bolts to the ladder which is
ready for him, and I follow if I can."

"Capital," said Orme, "but you can't go alone. I'll come too."

"And I also," I said.

"What schemes do you make?" asked Maqueda eagerly, for, of course, she
could not understand our talk.

We explained.

"What, my friend," she said to Oliver reproachfully, "would you risk
your life again to-night? Surely it is tempting the goodness of God."

"It would be tempting the goodness of God much more if I left my friend
to be eaten by lions, Lady," he answered.

Then followed much discussions. In the end it was agreed that we should
descend to the level of the den, if this were possible; that Oliver and
Quick should go down into the den with Japhet, who instantly volunteered
to accompany them, and that I, with some of the Mountaineers, should
stop in the mouth of the hole as a reserve to cover their retreat from
the lions. I pleaded to be allowed to take a more active part, but of
this they would not hear, saying with some truth, that I was by far the
best shot of the three, and could do much more to help them from above,
if, as was hoped, the moon should shine brightly.

But I knew they really meant that I was too old to be of service in such
an adventure as this. Also they desired to keep me out of risk.

Then came the question as to who should descend the last tunnel to the
place of operations. Oliver wished Maqueda to return to the top of the
cliff and wait there, but she said at once that she could not think of
attempting the ascent without our aid; also that she was determined to
see the end of the matter. Even Joshua would not go; I think, that being
an unpopular character among them, he distrusted the Mountaineers, whose
duty it would have been to escort him.

It was suggested that he should remain where he was until we returned,
if we did return, but this idea commended itself to him still less than
the other. Indeed he pointed out with much truth what we had overlooked,
namely, that now the Fung knew of the passage and were quite capable
of playing our own game, that is, of throwing a bridge across from the
sphinx's tail and attempting the storm of Mur.

"And then what should I do if they found me here alone?" he added
pathetically.

Maqueda answered that she was sure she did not know, but that meanwhile
it might be wise to block the mouth of the tunnel by which we had
reached the plateau in such a fashion that it could not easily be
forced.

"Yes," answered Oliver, "and if we ever get out of this, to blow the
shaft in and make sure that it cannot be used."

"That shaft might be useful, Captain," said Quick doubtfully.

"There is a better way, Sergeant, if we want to mine under the sphinx;
I mean through the Tomb of Kings. I took the levels roughly, and the end
of it can't be far off. Anyhow, this shaft is of no more use to us now
that the Fung have found it out."

Then we set to work to fill in the mouth of the passage with such loose
stones as we could find. It was a difficult business, but in the end the
Mountaineers made a very fair job of it under our direction, piling the
rocks in such a fashion that they could scarcely be cleared away in any
short time without the aid of explosives.

While this work was going on, Japhet, Shadrach, and the Sergeant in
charge of him, undertook to explore the last shaft which led down to the
level of the den. To our relief, just as we had finished building up
the hole, they returned with the news that now after they had removed a
fallen stone or two it was quite practicable with the aid of ropes and
ladders.

So, in the same order as before, we commenced its passage, and in about
half-an-hour, for it was under three hundred feet in depth, arrived
safely at the foot. Here we found a bat-haunted place like a room that
evidently had been hollowed out by man. As Shadrach had said, at its
eastern extremity was a large, oblong boulder, so balanced that if even
one person pushed on either of its ends it swung around, leaving on
each side a passage large enough to allow a man to walk through in a
crouching attitude.

Very silently we propped open this primæval door and looked out. Now the
full moon was up, and her brilliant light had begun to flood the gulf.
By it we saw a dense shadow, that reached from the ground to three
hundred feet or so above us. This we knew to be that thrown by the
flanks of the gigantic sphinx which projected beyond the mountain of
stone whereon it rested, those flanks whence, according to Shadrach,
Higgs would be lowered in a food-basket. In this shadow and on either
side of it, covering a space of quite a hundred yards square, lay the
feeding-den, whence arose a sickly and horrible odour such as is common
to any place frequented by cats, mingled with the more pungent smell of
decaying flesh.

This darksome den was surrounded on three sides by precipices, and on
the fourth, that toward the east, enclosed by a wall or barrier of rock
pierced with several gates made of bars of metal, or so we judged by the
light that flowed through them.

From beyond this eastern wall came dreadful sounds of roars, snarls, and
whimperings. Evidently there the sacred lions had their home.

Only one more thing need be mentioned. On the rock floor almost
immediately beneath us lay remains which, from their torn clothes and
hair, we knew must be human. As somebody explained, I think it was
Shadrach, they were those of the man whom Orme had shot upon the tail of
the sphinx, and of his companions who had been tilted off the ladder.

For awhile we gazed at this horrible hole in silence. Then Oliver took
out his watch, which was a repeater, and struck it.

"Higgs told me," he said, "that he was to be thrown to the lions two
hours after moonrise, which is within fifteen minutes or so. Sergeant, I
think we had better be getting ready."

"Yes, Captain," answered Quick; "but everything is quite ready,
including those brutes, to judge by the noise they make, excepting
perhaps Samuel Quick, who never felt less ready for anything in his
life. Now then, Pussy, run out that ladder. Here's your rifle, Captain,
and six reload clips of cartridges, five hollow-nosed bullets in each.
You'll never want more than that, and it's no use carrying extra weight.
In your right-hand pocket, Captain, don't forget. I've the same in mine.
Doctor, here's a pile for you; laid upon that stone. If you lie there,
you'll have a good light and rest for your elbow, and at this range
ought to make very pretty shooting, even in the moonlight. Best keep
your pistol on the safe, Captain; at least, I'm doing so, as we might
get a fall, and these new-fangled weapons are very hair-triggered.
Here's Japhet ready, too, so give us your marching orders, sir, and we
will go to business; the Doctor will translate to Japhet."

"We descend the ladder," said Orme, "and advance about fifty paces into
the shadow, where we can see without being seen; where also, according
to Shadrach, the food-basket is let down. There we shall stand and await
the arrival of this basket. If it contains the Professor, he whom the
Fung and the Abati know as Black Windows, Japhet, you are to seize him
and lead, or if necessary carry, him to the ladder, up which some of the
mountaineers must be ready to help him. Your duty, Sergeant, and mine,
also that of the Doctor firing from above, will be to keep off the lions
as best we can, should any lions appear, retreating as we fire. If the
brutes get one of us he must be left, since it is foolish that both
lives should be sacrificed needlessly. For the rest, you, Sergeant,
and you, Japhet, must be guided by circumstances and act upon your own
discretion. Do not wait for special orders from me which I may not be
able to give. Now, come on. If we do not return, Adams, you will see the
Child of Kings safely up the shafts and conduct her to Mur. Good-bye,
Lady."

"Good-bye," answered Maqueda in a brave voice; I could not see her
face in the darkness. "Presently, I am sure, you will return with your
brother."

Just then Joshua broke in:

"I will not be outdone in courage by these Gentiles," he said. "Lacking
their terrible weapons, I cannot advance into the den, but I will
descend and guard the foot of the ladder."

"Very well, sir," answered Orme in an astonished voice, "glad to have
your company, I am sure. Only remember that you must be quick in going
up it again, since hungry lions are active, and let all take notice that
we are not responsible for anything that may happen to you."

"Surely you had better stop where you are, my uncle," remarked Maqueda.

"To be mocked by you for ever after, my niece. No, I go to face the
lions," and very slowly he crept through the hole and began to descend
the ladder. Indeed, when Quick followed after an interval he found
him only half-way down, and had to hurry his movements by accidentally
treading on his fingers.

A minute or two later, peeping over the edge, I saw that they were all
in the den, that is, except Joshua, who had reascended the ladder to the
height of about six feet, and stood on it face outward, holding to the
rock on either side with his hands as though he had been crucified.
Fearing lest he should be seen there, even in the shadow, I suggested to
Maqueda that she should order him either to go down, or to return, which
she did vigorously, but without effect. So in the end we left him alone.

Meanwhile the three had vanished into the shadow of the sphinx, and we
could see nothing of them. The great round moon rose higher and higher,
flooding the rest of the charnel-house with light, and, save for an
occasional roar or whimper from the lions beyond the wall, the silence
was intense. Now I could make out the metal gates in this wall, and even
dark and stealthy forms which passed and repassed beyond their bars.
Then I made out something else also, the figures of men gathering on the
top of the wall, though whence they came I knew not. By degrees their
number increased till there were hundreds of them, for the wall was
broad as a roadway.

Evidently these were spectators, come to witness the ceremony of
sacrifice.

"Prince," I whispered to Joshua, "you must get down off the ladder or
you will betray us all. Nay, it is too late to come up here again, for
already the moonlight strikes just above your head. Go down, or we will
cast the ladder loose and let you fall."

So he went down and hid himself among some ferns and bushes where we
saw no more of him for a while, and, to tell the truth, forgot his
existence.

Far, far above us, from the back of the idol I suppose, came a faint
sound of solemn chanting. It sank, and we heard shouts. Then suddenly
it swelled again. Now Maqueda, who knelt near me, touched my arm and
pointed to the shadow which gradually was becoming infiltrated with the
moonlight flowing into it from either side. I looked, and high in
the air, perhaps two hundred feet from the ground, saw something dark
descending slowly. Doubtless it was the basket containing Higgs, and
whether by coincidence or no, at this moment the lions on the farther
side of the wall burst into peal upon peal of terrific roaring. Perhaps
their sentries watching at the gate saw or smelt the familiar basket,
and communicated the intelligence to their fellows.

Slowly, slowly it descended, till it was within a few feet of the
ground, when it began to sway backward and forward like a pendulum, at
each swing covering a wider arc. Presently, when it hung over the edge
of the shadow that was nearest to us, it was let down with a run and
overset, and out of it, looking very small in those vast surroundings
and that mysterious light, rolled the figure of a man. Although at
that distance we could see little of him, accident assured us of his
identity, for as he rolled the hat he wore fell from him, and I knew
it at once for Higgs's sun-helmet. He rose from the ground, limped very
slowly and painfully after the helmet, picked it up, and proceeded to
use it to dust his knees. At this moment there was a clanking sound.

"Oh! they lift the gates!" murmured Maqueda.

Then followed more sounds, this time of wild beasts raging for their
prey, and of other human beasts shrieking with excitement on the wall
above. The Professor turned and saw. For a moment he seemed about to
run, then changed his mind, clapped the helmet on his head, folded his
arms and stood still, reminding me in some curious way, perhaps, because
of the shortness of his thick figure, of a picture I had seen of the
great Napoleon contemplating a disaster.

To describe what followed is extremely difficult, for we watched not
one but several simultaneous scenes. For instance, there were the lions,
which did not behave as might have been expected. I thought that they
would rush through the doors and bound upon the victim, but whether it
was because they had already been fed that afternoon or because they
thought that a single human being was not worth the trouble, they acted
differently.

Through the open gates they came, in two indolent yellow lines, male
lions, female lions, half-grown lions, cub lions that cuffed each other
in play, in all perhaps fifty or sixty of them. Of these only two or
three looked towards the Professor, for none of them ran or galloped,
while the rest spread over the den, some of them vanishing into the
shadow at the edge of the surrounding cliff where the moonlight could
not reach.

Here one of them, at any rate, must have travelled fast enough, for it
seemed only a few seconds later that we heard a terrific yell beneath
us, and craning over the rock I saw the Prince Joshua running up the
ladder more swiftly than ever did any London lamplighter when I was a
boy.

But quickly as he came, the long, thin, sinuous thing beneath came
quicker. It reared itself on its hind legs, it stretched up a great
paw--I can see the gleaming claws in it now--and struck or hooked at
poor Joshua. The paw caught him in the small of the back, and seemed
to pin him against the ladder. Then it was drawn slowly downward,
and heaven! how Joshua howled. Up came the other paw to repeat the
operation, when, stretching myself outward and downward, with an Abati
holding me by the ankles, I managed to shoot the beast through the
head so that it fell all of a heap, taking with it a large portion of
Joshua's nether garments.

A few seconds later he was among us, and tumbled groaning into a corner,
where he lay in charge of some of the mountaineers, for I had no time to
attend to him just then.

When the smoke cleared at length, I saw that Japhet had reached Higgs,
and was gesticulating to him to run, while two lions, a male and a
female, stood at a little distance, regarding the pair in an interested
fashion. Higgs, after some brief words of explanation, pointed to his
knee. Evidently he was lamed and could not run. Japhet, rising to the
occasion, pointed to his back, and bent down. Higgs flung himself upon
it, and was hitched up like a sack of flour. The pair began to advance
toward the ladder, Japhet carrying Higgs as one schoolboy carries
another.

The lion sat down like a great dog, watching this strange proceeding
with mild interest, but the lioness, filled with feminine curiosity,
followed sniffing at Higgs, who looked over his shoulder. Taking off his
battered helmet, he threw it at the beast, hitting her on the head.
She growled, then seized the helmet, playing with it for a moment as
a kitten does with a ball of wool, and next instant, finding it
unsatisfying, uttered a short and savage roar, ran forward, and crouched
to spring, lashing her tail. I could not fire, because a bullet that
would hit her must first pass through Japhet and Higgs.

But, just when I thought that the end had come, a rifle went off in the
shadow and she rolled over, kicking and biting the rock. Thereon the
indolent male lion seemed to awake, and sprang, not at the men, but at
the wounded lioness, and a hellish fight ensued, of which the details
and end were lost in a mist of dust and flying hair.

The crowd upon the wall, becoming alive to the real situation, began to
scream in indignant excitement which quickly communicated itself to
the less savage beasts. These set up a terrible roaring, and ran about,
keeping for the most part to the shadows, while Japhet and his burden
made slow but steady progress toward the ladder.

Then from the gloom beneath the hind-quarters of the sphinx rose a
sound of rapid firing, and presently Orme and Quick emerged into the
moonlight, followed by a number of angry lions that advanced in short
rushes. Evidently the pair had kept their heads, and were acting on a
plan.

One of them emptied his rifle at the pursuing beasts, while the other
ran back a few paces, thrusting in a fresh clip of cartridges as he
went. Then he began to fire, and his companion in turn retreated behind
him. In this way they knocked over a number of lions, for the range was
too short for them to miss often, and the expanding bullets did their
work very well, paralyzing even when they did not kill. I also opened
fire over their heads, and, although in that uncertain light the
majority of my shots did no damage, the others disposed of several
animals which I saw were becoming dangerous.

So things went on until all four, that is, Japhet with Higgs upon
his back, and Orme and Quick, were within twenty paces of the ladder,
although separated from each other by perhaps half the length of a
cricket pitch. We thought that they were safe, and shouted in our joy,
while the hundreds of spectators on the wall who fortunately dared not
descend into the den because of the lions, which are undiscriminating
beasts, yelled with rage at the imminent rescue of the sacrifice.

Then of a sudden the position changed. From every quarter fresh lions
seemed to arrive, ringing the men round and clearly bent on slaughter,
although the shouting and the sound of firearms, which they had never
heard before, frightened them and made them cautious.

A half-grown cub rushed in and knocked over Japhet and Higgs. I fired
and hit it in the flank. It bit savagely at its wound, then sprang on to
the prostrate pair, and stood over them growling, but in such pain that
it forgot to kill them. The ring of beasts closed in--we could see their
yellow eyes glowing in the gloom. Orme and Quick might have got through
by the help of their rifles, but they could not leave the others. The
dreadful climax seemed at hand.

"Follow me," said Maqueda, who all this while had watched panting at my
side, and rose to run to the ladder. I thrust her back.

"Nay," I shouted. "Follow me, Abati! Shall a woman lead you?"

Of how I descended that ladder I have no recollection, nor do I in the
least know how the Mountaineers came after me, but I think that the most
of them rolled and scrambled down the thirty feet of rock. At least, to
their honour be it said, they did come, yelling like demons and waving
long knives in their hands.

The effect of our sudden arrival from above was extraordinary. Scared
by the rush and the noise, the lions gave way, then bolted in every
direction, the wounded cub, which could not, or would not move, being
stabbed to death where it stood over Higgs and Japhet.

Five minutes more and all of us were safe in the mouth of the tunnel.



That was how we rescued Higgs from the den of the sacred lions which
guarded the idol of the Fung.



CHAPTER XIII

THE ADVENTURES OF HIGGS

A more weary and dishevelled set of people than that which about the
hour of dawn finally emerged from the mouth of the ancient shaft on to
the cliffs of Mur it has seldom been my lot to behold. Yet with a single
exception the party was a happy one, for we had come triumphant through
great dangers, and actually effected our object--the rescue of
Higgs, which, under the circumstances most people would have thought
impossible. Yes, there he was in the flesh before us, having injured his
knee and lost his hat, but otherwise quite sound save for a few trifling
scratches inflicted by the cub, and still wearing what the natives
called his "black windows."

Even the Prince Joshua was happy, though wrapped in a piece of coarse
sacking because the lion had taken most of his posterior clothing, and
terribly sore from the deep cuts left by the claws.

Had he not dared the dangers of the den, and thus proved himself a hero
whose fame would last for generations? Had I not assured him that his
honourable wounds, though painful (as a matter of fact, after they had
set, they kept him stiff as a mummy for some days, so that unless he
stood upon his feet, he had to be carried, or lie rigid on his face)
would probably not prove fatal? And had he not actually survived to
reach the upper air again, which was more than he ever expected to do?
No wonder that he was happy.

I alone could not share in the general joy, since, although my friend
was restored to me, my son still remained a prisoner among the Fung. Yet
even in this matter things might have been worse, since I learned
that he was well treated, and in no danger. But of that I will write
presently.

Never shall I forget the scene after the arrival of Higgs in our hole,
when the swinging boulder had been closed and made secure and the lamps
lighted. There he sat on the floor, his red hair glowing like a torch,
his clothes torn and bloody, his beard ragged and stretching in a
Newgate frill to his ears. Indeed, his whole appearance, accentuated by
the blue spectacles with wire gauze side-pieces, was more disreputable
than words can tell; moreover, he smelt horribly of lion. He put his
hand into his pocket, and produced his big pipe, which had remained
unbroken in its case.

"Some tobacco, please," he said. (Those were his first words to us!) "I
have finished mine, saved up the last to smoke just before they put me
into that stinking basket."

I gave him some, and as he lit his pipe the light of the match fell upon
the face of Maqueda, who was staring at him with amused astonishment.

"What an uncommonly pretty woman," he said. "What's she doing down here,
and who is she?"

I told him, whereon he rose, or rather tried to, felt for his hat,
which, of course, had gone, with the idea of taking it off, and
instantly addressed her in his beautiful and fluent Arabic, saying how
glad he was to have this unexpected honour, and so forth.

She congratulated him on his escape, whereon his face grew serious.

"Yes, a nasty business," he said, "as yet I can hardly remember whether
my name is Daniel, or Ptolemy Higgs." Then he turned to us and added,
"Look here, you fellows, if I don't thank you it isn't because I am not
grateful, but because I can't. The truth is, I'm a bit dazed. Your son
is all right, Adams; he's a good fellow, and we grew great friends.
Safe? Oh! yes, he's safe as a church! Old Barung, he's the Sultan, and
another good fellow, although he did throw me to the lions--because the
priests made him--is very fond of him, and is going to marry him to his
daughter."

At this moment the men announced that everything was ready for our
ascent, and when I had attended to Joshua with a heart made thankful by
Higgs's news, we began that toilsome business, and, as I have already
said, at length accomplished it safely. But even then our labours were
not ended, since it was necessary to fill up the mouth of the shaft so
as to make it impossible that it should be used by the Fung, who now
knew of its existence.

Nor was this a business that could be delayed, for as we passed the
plateau whence Oliver and Japhet had crossed to the sphinx, we heard the
voices of men on the farther side of the rough wall that we had built
there. Evidently the priests, or idol guards, infuriated by the rescue
of their victim, had already managed to bridge the gulf and were
contemplating assault, a knowledge which caused us to hurry our
movements considerably. If they had got through before we passed them,
our fate would have been terrible, since at the best we must have slowly
starved in the pit below.

Indeed, as soon as we reached the top and had blocked it temporarily,
Quick, weary as he was, was sent off on horseback, accompanied by
Maqueda, Shadrach, now under the terms of his contract once more a free
man, and two Mountaineers, to gallop to the palace of Mur, and fetch a
supply of explosives. The rest of us, for Higgs declined to leave, and
we had no means of carrying Joshua, remained watching the place, or
rather the Abati watched while we slept with our rifles in our hands.
Before noon Quick returned, accompanied by many men with litters and all
things needful.

Then we pulled out the stones, and Oliver, Japhet, and some others
descended to the first level and arranged blasting charges. Awhile after
he reappeared with his companions, looking somewhat pale and anxious,
and shouted to us to get back. Following our retreat to a certain
distance, unwinding a wire as he came, presently he stopped and pressed
the button of a battery which he held in his hand. There was a muffled
explosion and a tremor of the soil like to that of an earthquake, while
from the mouth of the shaft stones leapt into the air.

It was over, and all that could be noted was a sinkage in the ground
where the ancient pit had been.

"I am sorry for them," said Oliver presently, "but it had to be done."

"Sorry for whom?" I asked.

"For those Fung priests or soldiers. The levels below are full of them,
dead or alive. They were pouring up at our heels. Well, no one will
travel that road again."



Later, in the guest house at Mur, Higgs told us his story. After his
betrayal by Shadrach, which, it appeared, was meant to include us all,
for the Professor overheard the hurried talk between him and a Fung
captain, he was seized and imprisoned in the body of the great sphinx,
where many chambers and dungeons had been hollowed out by the primæval
race that fashioned it. Here Barung the Sultan visited him and informed
him of his meeting with the rest of us, to whom apparently he had taken
a great liking, and also that we had refused to purchase a chance of his
release at the price of being false to our trust.

"You know," said Higgs, "that when first I heard this I was very angry
with you, and thought you a set of beasts. But on considering things
I saw the other side of it, and that you were right, although I never
could come to fancy the idea of being sacrificed to a sphinx by being
chucked like a piece of horse-flesh to a lot of holy lions. However,
Barung, an excellent fellow in his way, assured me that there was no
road out of the matter without giving grave offence to the priests, who
are very powerful among the Fung, and bringing a fearful curse on the
nation.

"Meanwhile, he made me as comfortable as he could. For instance, I
was allowed to walk upon the back of the idol, to associate with the
priests, a suspicious and most exclusive set, and to study their entire
religious system, from which I have no doubt that of Egypt was derived.
Indeed, I have made a great discovery which, if ever we get out of this,
will carry my name down to all generations. The forefathers of
these Fung were undoubtedly also the forefathers of the pre-dynastic
Egyptians, as is shown by the similarity of their customs and spiritual
theories. Further, intercourse was kept up between the Fung, who then
had their headquarters here in Mur, and the Egyptians in the time of
the ancient empire, till the Twentieth Dynasty, indeed, if not later.
My friends, in the dungeons in which I was confined there is an
inscription, or, rather, a _graffite_, made by a prisoner extradited to
Mur by Rameses II., after twenty years' residence in Egypt, which was
written by him on the night before he was thrown to the sacred lions,
that even in those days were an established institution. And I have got
a copy of that inscription in my pocket-book. I tell you," he added in
a scream of triumph, "I've got a certified copy of that inscription,
thanks to Shadrach, on whose dirty head be blessings!"

I congratulated him heartily upon this triumph, and before he proceeded
to give us further archæological details, asked him for some information
about my boy.

"Oh," said Higgs, "he is a very nice young man and extremely good
looking. Indeed, I am quite proud to have such a godson. He was much
interested to hear that you were hunting for him after so many years,
quite touched indeed. He still talks English, though with a Fung accent,
and, of course, would like to escape. Meanwhile, he is having a very
good time, being chief singer to the god, for his voice is really
beautiful, an office which carries with it all sorts of privileges. I
told you, didn't I, that he is to be married to Barung's only legitimate
daughter on the night of the next full moon but one. The ceremony is
to take place in Harmac City, and will be the greatest of its sort for
generations, a feast of the entire people in short. I should very much
like to be present at it, but being an intelligent young man he has
promised to keep notes of everything, which I hope may become available
in due course."

"And is he attached to this savage lady?" I asked dismayed.

"Attached? Oh, dear no, I think he said he had never seen her, and only
knew that she was rather plain and reported to possess a haughty temper.
He is a philosophical young man, however, as might be expected from one
who has undergone so many vicissitudes, and, therefore, takes things
as they come, thanking heaven that they are no worse. You see, as
the husband of the Sultan's daughter, unless the pair quarrel very
violently, he will be safe from the lions, and he could never quite say
as much before. But we didn't go into these domestic matters very deeply
as there were so many more important things to interest us both. He
wanted to know all about you and our plans, and naturally I wanted to
know all about the Fung and the ritual and traditions connected with the
worship of Harmac, so that we were never dull for a single moment.
In fact, I wish that we could have had longer together, for we became
excellent friends. But whatever happens, I think that I have collected
the cream of his information," and he tapped a fat note-book in his
hands, adding:

"What an awful thing it would have been if a lion had eaten this. For
myself it did not matter; there may be many better Egyptologists, but I
doubt if any one of them will again have such opportunities of original
research. However, I took every possible precaution to save my notes
by leaving a copy of the most important of them written with native
ink upon sheepskin in charge of your son. Indeed, I meant to leave the
originals also, but fortunately forgot in the excitement of my very
hurried departure."

I agreed with him that his chances had been unique and that he was a
most lucky archæologist, and presently he went on puffing at his pipe.

"Of course, when Oliver turned up in that unexpected fashion on the back
of the idol, remembering your wishes and natural desire to recover
your son, I did my best to rescue him also. But he wasn't in the room
beneath, where I thought I should find him. The priests were there
instead, and they had heard us talking above, and you know the rest.
Well, as it happens, it didn't matter, though that descent into the
den of lions--there were two or three hundred feet of it, and the rope
seemed worn uncommonly thin with use--was a trying business to the
nerves."

"What did you think about all the time?" asked Oliver curiously.

"Think about? I didn't think much, was in too great a fright. I just
wondered whether St. Paul had the same sensations when he was let down
in a basket; wondered what the early Christian martyrs felt like in
the arena; wondered whether Barung, with whom my parting was quite
affectionate, would come in the morning and look for me as Darius did
for Daniel and how much he would find if he did; hoped that my specs
would give one of those brutes appendicitis, and so forth. My word! it
was sickening, especially that kind of school-treat swing and bump at
the end. I never could bear swinging. Still, it was all for the best, as
I shouldn't have gone a yard along that sphinx's tail without tumbling
off, tight-rope walking not being in my line; and I'll tell you what,
you are just the best three fellows in the whole world. Don't you think
I forget that because I haven't said much. And now let's have your yarn,
for I want to hear how things stand, which I never expected to do this
side of Judgment-day."

So we told him all, while he listened open-mouthed. When we came to the
description of the Tomb of the Kings his excitement could scarcely be
restrained.

"You haven't touched them," he almost screamed; "don't say you have been
vandals enough to touch them, for every article must be catalogued _in
situ_ and drawings must be made. If possible, specimen groups with their
surrounding offerings should be moved so that they can be set up again
in museums. Why, there's six months' work before me, at least. And to
think that if it hadn't been for you, by now I should be in process of
digestion by a lion, a stinking, mangy, sacred lion!"

Next morning I was awakened by Higgs limping into my room in some weird
sleeping-suit that he had contrived with the help of Quick.

"I say, old fellow," he said, "tell me some more about that girl, Walda
Nagasta. What a sweet face she's got, and what pluck! Of course, such
things ain't in my line, never looked at a woman these twenty years
past, hard enough to remember her next morning, but, by Jingo! the eyes
of that one made me feel quite queer here," and he hit the sleeping-suit
somewhere in the middle, "though perhaps it was only because she was
such a contrast to the lions."

"Ptolemy," I answered in a solemn voice, "let me tell you that she is
more dangerous to meddle with than any lion, and what's more, if you
don't want to further complicate matters with a flaming row, you had
better keep to your old habits and leave her eyes alone. I mean that
Oliver is in love with her."

"Of course he is. I never expected anything else, but what's that got to
do with it? Why shouldn't I be in love with her too? Though I admit,"
he added sadly, contemplating his rotund form, "the chances are in his
favour, especially as he's got the start."

"They are, Ptolemy, for she's in love with him," and I told him what we
had seen in the Tomb of Kings.

First he roared with laughter, then on second thoughts grew exceedingly
indignant.

"I call it scandalous of Oliver, compromising us all in this way--the
lucky dog! These selfish, amorous adventures will let us in for no end
of trouble. It is even probably, Adams, that you and I may come to a
miserable end, solely because of this young man's erotic tendencies.
Just fancy neglecting business in order to run after a pretty,
round-faced Jewess, that is if she _is_ a Jewess, which I doubt, as the
blood must have got considerably mixed by now, and the first Queen of
Sheba, if she ever existed, was an Ethiopian. As a friend almost old
enough to be his father, I shall speak to him very seriously."

"All right," I called after him as he hobbled off to take his bath,
"only if you are wise, you won't speak to Maqueda, for she might
misinterpret your motives if you go on staring at her as you did
yesterday."



That morning I was summoned to see the Prince Joshua and dress his
wounds, which, although not of a serious nature, were very painful. The
moment that I entered the man's presence I noticed a change in his face.
Like the rest of us I had always set this fellow down as a mere poltroon
and windbag, a blower of his own trumpet, as Oliver had called him. Now
I got an insight into his real nature which showed me that although
he might be these things and worse, he was also a very determined and
dangerous person, animated by ambitions which he meant to satisfy at all
hazards.

When I had done what I could for him and told him that in my opinion he
had no ill results to fear from his hurts, since the thick clothes he
was wearing at the time had probably cleaned the lion's paws of any
poison that might have been on them, he said,

"Physician, I desire private words with you."

I bowed, and he went on:

"The Child of Kings, hereditary ruler of this land, somewhat against the
advice of her Council, has thought fit to employ you and your Gentile
companions in order that by your skill and certain arts of which you are
masters you may damage its ancient enemies, the Fung, and in reward has
promised to pay you well should you succeed in your endeavours. Now, I
wish you to understand that though you think yourselves great men, and
may for aught I know be great in your own country, here you are but
servants like any other mercenaries whom it may please us to hire."

His tone was so offensive that, though it might have been wiser to keep
silent, I could not help interrupting him.

"You use hard words, Prince," I said; "let me then explain what is the
real pay for which we work and undergo some risks. Mine is the hope of
recovering a son who is the slave of your enemies. That of the Captain
Orme is the quest of adventure and war, since being a rich man in his
own country he needs no further wealth. That of him whom you call Black
Windows, but whose name is Higgs, is the pure love of learning. In
England and throughout the West he is noted for his knowledge of dead
peoples, their languages, and customs, and it is to study these that he
has undertaken so terrible a journey. As for Quick, he is Orme's man,
who has known him from childhood, an old soldier who has served with him
in war and comes hither to be with the master whom he loves."

"Ah!" said Joshua, "a servant, a person of no degree, who yet dares to
threaten me, the premier prince of the Abati, to my face."

"In the presence of death all men are equal, Prince. You acted in a
fashion that might have brought his lord, who was daring a desperate
deed, to a hideous doom."

"And what do I care about his lord's desperate deeds, Physician? I see
that you set store by such things, and think those who accomplish them
great and wonderful. Well, we do not. There is no savage among the
barbarous Fung would not do all that your Orme does, and more, just
because he is a savage. We who are civilized, we who are cultivated,
we who are wise, know better. Our lives were given us to enjoy, not to
throw away or to lose at the sword's point, and, therefore, no doubt,
you would call us cowards."

"Yet, Prince, those who bear that title of coward which you hold one of
honour, are apt to perish 'at the sword's point.' The Fung wait without
your gates, O Prince."

"And therefore, O Gentile, we hire you to fight the Fung. Still, I
bear no grudge against your servant, Quick, who is himself but a
white-skinned Fung, for he acted according to his nature, and I forgive
him; only in the future let him beware! And now--for a greater matter.
The Child of Kings is beautiful, she is young and high spirited; a new
face from another land may perchance touch her fancy. But," he added
meaningly, "let the owner of that face remember who she is and what
he is; let him remember that for any outside the circle of the ancient
blood to lift his eyes to the daughter of Solomon is to earn death,
death slow and cruel for himself and all who aid and abet him. Let him
remember, lastly, that this high-born lady to whom he, an unknown and
vagrant Gentile, dares to talk as equal to equal, has from childhood
been my affianced, who will shortly be my wife, although it may please
her to seem to flout me after the fashion of maidens, and that we Abati
are jealous of the honour of our women. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Prince," I answered, for by now my temper was roused. "But I would
have you understand something also--that we are men of a high race whose
arm stretches over half the world, and that we differ from the little
tribe of the Abati, whose fame is not known to us, in this--that we are
jealous of our own honour, and do not need to hire strangers to fight
the foes we fear to face. Next time I come to attend to your wounds,
O Prince, I trust that they will be in front, and not behind. One word
more, if you will be advised by me you will not threaten that Captain
whom you call a Gentile and a mercenary, lest you should learn that it
is not always well to be a coward, of blood however ancient."

Then, in a towering rage, I left him, feeling that I had made a thorough
fool of myself. But the truth was that I could not sit still and hear
men such as my companions, to say nothing of myself, spoken of thus by
a bloated cur, who called himself a prince and boasted of his own
poltroonery. He glowered at me as I went, and the men of his party who
hung about the end of the great room and in his courts, glowered at
me also. Clearly he was a very dangerous cur, and I almost wished that
instead of threatening to slap his face down in the tunnel, Quick had
broken his neck and made an end of him.

So did the others when I told them the story, although I think it opened
their eyes, and especially those of Oliver, to the grave and growing
dangers of the situation. Afterward he informed me that he had spoken of
the matter with Maqueda, and that she was much frightened for our sakes,
and somewhat for her own. Joshua, she said, was a man capable of any
crime, who had at his back the great majority of the Abati; a jealous,
mean and intolerant race who made up in cunning for what they lacked in
courage.

Yet, as I saw well, the peril of their situation did nothing to separate
this pair or to lessen their love. Indeed, rather did it seem to bind
them closer together, and to make them more completely one. In short,
the tragedy took its appointed course, whilst we stood by and watched it
helplessly.

On the afternoon of my angry interview with Joshua we were summoned to
a meeting of the Council, whither we went, not without some trepidation,
expecting trouble. Trouble there was, but of a different sort to that
which we feared. Scarcely had we entered the great room where the Child
of Kings was seated in her chair of state surrounded by all the pomp and
ceremony of her mimic court, when the big doors at the end of it were
opened, and through them marched three gray-bearded men in white robes
whom we saw at once were heralds or ambassadors from the Fung. These
men bowed to the veiled Maqueda and, turning toward where we stood in a
little group apart, bowed to us also.

But of Joshua, who was there supported by two servants, for he could not
yet stand alone, and the other notables and priests of the Abati, they
took not the slightest heed.

"Speak," said Maqueda.

"Lady," answered the spokesman of the embassy, "we are sent by our
Sultan, Barung, son of Barung, Ruler of the Fung nation. These are the
words of Barung: O Walda Nagasta! 'By the hands and the wit of the white
lords whom you have called to your aid, you have of late done much evil
to the god Harmac and to me his servant. You have destroyed one of the
gates of my city, and with it many of my people. You have rescued a
prisoner out of my hands, robbing Harmac of his sacrifice and thereby
bringing his wrath upon us. You have slain sundry of the sacred beasts
that are the mouth of sacrifice, you have killed certain of the priests
and guards of Harmac in a hole of the rocks. Moreover my spies tell me
that you plan further ills against the god and against me. Now I send
to tell you that for these and other offences I will make an end of the
people of the Abati, whom hitherto I have spared. In a little while I
marry my daughter to the white man, that priest of Harmac who is called
Singer of Egypt, and who is said to be the son of the physician in
your service, but after I have celebrated this feast and my people have
finished the hoeing of their crops, I take up the sword in earnest, nor
will I lay it down again until the Abati are no more.

"'Learn that last night after the holy beasts had been slain and
the sacrifice snatched away, the god Harmac spoke to his priests in
prophecy. And this was his prophecy; that before the gathering in of the
harvest his _head_ should sleep above the plain of Mur. We know not the
interpretation of the saying, but this I know, that before the gathering
of the harvest I, or those who rule after me, will lie down to sleep
within my city of Mur.'

"'Now, choose--surrender forthwith and, save for the dog, Joshua, who
the other day tried to entrap me against the custom of peoples, and ten
others whom I shall name, I will spare the lives of all of you, though
Joshua and these ten I will hang, since they are not worthy to die by
the sword. Or resist, and by Harmac himself I swear that every man among
the Abati shall die save the white lords whom I honour because they are
brave, and that servant of yours who stood with them last night in the
den of lions, and that every woman shall be made a slave, save you, O
Walda Nagasta, because of your great heart. Your answer, O Lady of the
Abati!'"

Now Maqueda looked around the faces of her Council, and saw fear written
upon them all. Indeed, as we noted, many of them shook in their terror.

"My answer will be short, ambassadors of Barung," she replied, "still, I
am but one woman, and it is fitting that those who represent the people
should speak for the people. My uncle, Joshua, you are the first of my
Council, what have you to say? Are you willing to give up your life with
ten others whose names I do not know, that there may be peace between us
and the Fung?"

"What?" answered Joshua, with a splutter of rage, "do I live to hear a
Walda Nagasta suggest that the first prince of the land, her uncle and
affianced husband, should be surrendered to our hereditary foes to be
hanged like a worn-out hound, and do you, O unknown ten, who doubtless
stand in this chamber, live to hear it also?"

"My uncle, you do not. I asked if such was your wish, that is all."

"Then I answer that it is not my wish, nor the wish of the ten, nor the
wish of the Abati. Nay, we will fight the Fung and destroy them, and
of their beast-headed idol Harmac we will make blocks to build our
synagogues and stones to pave our roads. Do you hear, savages of Fung?"
and assisted by his two servants he hobbled towards them, grinning in
their faces.

The envoys looked him up and down with their quiet eyes. "We hear and we
are very glad to hear," their spokesman answered, "since we Fung love
to settle our quarrels with the sword and not by treaty. But to you,
Joshua, we say: Make haste to die before we enter Mur, since the rope is
not the only means of death whereof we know."

Very solemnly the three ambassadors saluted, first the Child of Kings
and next ourselves, then turned to go.

"Kill them!" shouted Joshua, "they have threatened and insulted me, the
Prince!"

But no one lifted a hand against the men, who passed safely out of the
palace to the square, where an escort waited with their horses.



CHAPTER XIV

HOW PHARAOH MET SHADRACH

When the ambassadors had gone, at first there was silence, a very heavy
silence, since even the frivolous Abati felt that the hour was big with
fate. Of a sudden, however, the members of the Council began to chatter
like so many monkeys, each talking without listening to what his
neighbour said, till at length a gorgeously dressed person, I understood
that he was a priest, stepped forward, and shouted down the others.

Then he spoke in an excited and venomous fashion. He pointed out that we
Gentiles had brought all this trouble upon Mur, since before we came the
Abati, although threatened, had lived in peace and glory--he actually
used the word glory!--for generations. But now we had stung the Fung, as
a hornet stings a bull, and made them mad, so that they wished to toss
the Abati. He proposed, therefore, that we should at once be ejected
from Mur.

At this point I saw Joshua whisper into the ear of a man, who called
out:--

"No, no, for then they would go to their friend, Barung, a savage like
themselves, and having learned our secrets, would doubtless use them
against us. I say that they must be killed instantly," and he drew a
sword, and waved it.

Quick walked up to the fellow and clapped a pistol to his head.

"Drop that sword," he said, "or _you_'ll never hear the end of the
story," and he obeyed, whereupon Quick came back.

Now Maqueda began to speak, quietly enough, although I could see that
she was quaking with passion.

"These men are our guests," she said, "come hither to serve us. Do you
desire to murder our guests? Moreover, of what use would that be? One
thing alone can save us, the destruction of the god of the Fung,
since, according to the ancient saying of that people, when the idol is
destroyed the Fung will leave their city of Harmac. Moreover, as to this
new prophecy of the priests of the idol, that before the gathering in
of the harvest his head shall sleep above the plain of Mur, how can
that happen if it is destroyed, unless indeed it means that Harmac shall
sleep in the heavens. Therefore what have you to fear from threats built
upon that which cannot happen?

"But can _you_ destroy this false god Harmac, or dare _you_ fight the
Fung? You know that it is not so, for had it been so what need was there
for me to send for these Westerns? And if you murder them, will Barung
thereby be appeased? Nay, I tell you that being a brave and honourable
man, although our enemy, he will become ten times more wroth with you
than he was before, and exact a vengeance even more terrible. I tell you
also, that then you must find another Walda Nagasta to rule over you,
since I, Maqueda, will do so no more."

"That is impossible," said some one, "you are the last woman of the true
blood."

"Then you can choose one of blood that is not true, or elect a king,
as the Jews elected Saul, for if my guests are butchered I shall die of
very shame."

These words of hers seemed to cow the Council, one of whom asked what
would she have them do?

"Do?" she replied, throwing back her veil, "why, be men, raise an army
of every male who can carry a sword; help the foreigners, and they will
lead you to victory. People of the Abati, would you be slaughtered,
would you see your women slaves, and your ancient name blotted out from
the list of peoples?"

Now some of them cried, "No."

"Then save yourselves. You are still many, the strangers here have skill
in war, they can lead if you will follow. Be brave a while, and I swear
to you that by harvest the Abati shall sit in the city of Harmac and not
the Fung in Mur. I have spoken, now do what you will," and rising from
her chair of state Maqueda left the chamber, motioning to us to do
likewise.



The end of all this business was that a peace was made between us and
the Council of the Abati. After their pompous, pedantic fashion they
swore solemnly on the roll of the Law that they would aid us in every
way to overcome the Fung, and even obey such military orders as we
might give them, subject to the confirmation of these orders by a small
council of their generals. In short, being very frightened, for a time
they forgot their hatred of us foreigners.

So a scheme of operations was agreed upon, and some law passed by the
Council, the only governing body among the Abati, for they possessed no
representative institutions, under which law a kind of conscription was
established for a while. Let me say at once that it met with the most
intense opposition. The Abati were agriculturalists who loathed military
service. From their childhood they had heard of the imminence of
invasion, but no actual invasion had ever yet taken place. The Fung were
always without, and they were always within, an inland isle, the wall of
rock that they thought impassable being their sea which protected them
from danger.

They had no experience of slaughter and rapine, their imaginations were
not sufficiently strong to enable them to understand what these things
meant; they were lost in the pettiness of daily life and its pressing
local interests. Their homes in flames, they themselves massacred, their
women and children dragged off to be the slaves of the victors, a poor
remnant left to die of starvation among the wasted fields or to become
wild men of the rocks! All these things they looked upon as a mere tale,
a romance such as their local poets repeated in the evenings of a
wet season, dim and far-off events which might have happened to the
Canaanites and Jebusites and Amalekites in the ancient days whereof the
book of their Law told them, but which could never happen to _them_, the
comfortable Abati. In that book the Israelites always conquered in the
end, although the Philistines, alias Fung, sat at their gates. For it
will be remembered that it includes no account of the final fall of
Jerusalem and awful destruction of its citizens, of which they had
little if any knowledge.

So it came about that our recruiting parties, perhaps press gangs would
be a better term, were not well received. I know it, for this branch of
the business was handed over to me, of course as adviser to the Abati
captains, and on several occasions, when riding round the villages on
the shores of their beautiful lake, we were met by showers of stones,
and were even the object of active attacks which had to be put down with
bloodshed. Still, an army of five or six thousand men was got together
somehow, and formed into camps, whence desertions were incessant, once
or twice accompanied by the murder of officers.

"It's 'opeless, downright 'opeless, Doctor," said Quick to me, dropping
his h's, as he sometimes did in the excitement of the moment. "What can
one do with a crowd of pigs, everyone of them bent on bolting to his own
sty, or anywhere except toward the enemy? The sooner the Fung get them
the better for all concerned, say I, and if it wasn't for our Lady
yonder" (Quick always called Maqueda after "our Lady," after it had been
impressed upon him that "her Majesty" was an incorrect title), "my advice
to the Captain and you gentlemen would be: Get out of this infernal hole
as quick as your legs can carry you, and let's do a bit of hunting on
the way home, leaving the Abati to settle their own affairs."

"You forget, Sergeant, that I have a reason for staying in this part of
the world, and so perhaps have the others. For instance, the Professor
is very fond of those old skeletons down in the cave," and I paused.

"Yes, Doctor, and the Captain is very fond of something much better than
a skeleton, and so are we all. Well, we've got to see it through, but
somehow I don't think that every one of us will have that luck, though
it's true that when a man has lived fairly straight according to his
lights a few years more or less don't matter much one way or the other.
After all, except you gentlemen, who is there that will miss Samuel
Quick?"

Then without waiting for an answer, drawing himself up straight as a
ramrod he marched off to assist some popinjays of Abati officers, whom
he hated and who hated him, to instil the elements of drill into a newly
raised company, leaving me to wonder what fears or premonitions filled
his honest soul.

But this was not Quick's principal work, since for at least six hours
of every day he was engaged in helping Oliver in our great enterprise of
driving a tunnel from the end of the Tomb of Kings deep into the solid
rock that formed the base of the mighty idol of the Fung. The task
was stupendous, and would indeed have been impossible had not Orme's
conjecture that some passage had once run from the extremity of the cave
toward the idol proved to be perfectly accurate. Such a passage indeed
was found walled up at the back of the chair containing the bones of the
hunchbacked king. It descended very sharply for a distance of several
hundred yards, after which for another hundred yards or more its walls
and roof were so riven and shaky that, for fear of accidents, we found
it necessary to timber them as we went.

At last we came to a place where they had fallen in altogether, shaken
down, I presume, by the great earthquake which had destroyed so much
of the ancient cave-city. At this spot, if Oliver's instruments and
calculations could be trusted, we were within about two hundred feet
of the floor of the den of lions, to which it seemed probable that the
passage once led, and of course the question arose as to what should be
done.

A Council was held to discuss this problem, at which Maqueda and a few
of the Abati notables were present. To these Oliver explained that even
if that were possible it would be useless to clear out the old passage
and at the end find ourselves once more in the den of lions.

"What, then, is your plan?" asked Maqueda.

"Lady," he answered, "I, your servant, am instructed to attempt to
destroy the idol Harmac, by means of the explosives which we have
brought with us from England. First, I would ask you if you still cling
to that design?"

"Why should it be abandoned?" inquired Maqueda. "What have you against
it?"

"Two things, Lady. As an act of war the deed seems useless, since
supposing that the sphinx is shattered and a certain number of priests
and guards are destroyed, how will that advance your cause? Secondly,
such destruction will be very difficult, if it can be done at all. The
stuff we have with us, it is true, is of fearful strength, yet who can
be sure that there is enough of it to move this mountain of hard rock,
of which I cannot calculate the weight, not having the measurements or
any knowledge of the size of the cavities within its bulk. Lastly, if
the attempt is to be made, a tunnel must be hollowed of not less than
three hundred feet in length, first downward and then upward into the
very base of the idol, and if this is to be done within six weeks, that
is, by the night of the marriage of the daughter of Barung, the work
will be very hard, if indeed it can be completed at all, although
hundreds of men labour day and night."

Now Maqueda thought a while, then looked up and said:

"Friend, you are brave and skilful, tell us all your mind. If you sat in
my place, what would you do?"

"Lady, I would lead out every able-bodied man and attack the city of the
Fung, say, on the night of the great festival when they are off their
guard. I would blow in the gates of the city of Harmac, and storm it and
drive away the Fung, and afterwards take possession of the idol, and if
it is thought necessary, destroy it piecemeal from within."

Now Maqueda consulted with her councillors, who appeared to be much
disturbed at this suggestion, and finally called us back and gave us her
decision.

"These lords of the Council," she said, speaking with a ring of contempt
in her voice, "declare that your plan is mad, and that they will never
sanction it because the Abati could not be persuaded to undertake so
dangerous an enterprise as an attack upon the city of Harmac, which
would end, they think, in all of them being killed. They point out, O
Orme, that the prophecy is that the Fung will leave the plain of Harmac
when their god is destroyed and not before, and that therefore it must
be destroyed. They say, further, O Orme, that for a year you and your
companions are the sworn servants of the Abati, and that it is your
business to receive orders, not to give them, also that the condition
upon which you earn your pay is that you destroy the idol of the Fung.
This is the decision of the Council, spoken by the mouth of the prince
Joshua, who command further that you shall at once set about the
business to execute which you and your companions are present here in
Mur."

"Is that _your_ command also, O Child of Kings?" answered Oliver,
colouring.

"Since I also think that the Abati can never be forced to attack the
city of the Fung, it is, O Orme, though the words in which it is couched
are not my words."

"Very well, O Child of Kings, I will do my best. Only blame us not if
the end of this matter is other than these advisers of yours expect.
Prophecies are two-edged swords to play with, and I do not believe that
a race of fighting men like the Fung will fly and leave you triumphant
just because a stone image is shattered, if that can be done in the time
and with the means which we possess. Meanwhile, I ask that you should
give me two hundred and fifty picked men of the Mountaineers, not of
the townspeople, under the captaincy of Japhet, who must choose them, to
assist us in our work."

"It shall be done," she answered, and we made our bows and went. As we
passed through the Council we heard Joshua say in a loud voice meant for
us to hear:

"Thanks be to God, these hired Gentiles have been taught their place at
last."

Oliver turned on him so fiercely that he recoiled, thinking that he was
about to strike him.

"Be careful, Prince Joshua," he said, "that before this business is
finished you are not taught yours, which I think may be lowly," and he
looked meaningly at the ground.

So the labour began, and it was heavy indeed as well as dangerous.
Fortunately, in addition to the picrate compounds that Quick called
"azure stinging bees," we had brought with us a few cases of dynamite,
of which we now made use for blasting purposes. A hole was drilled in
the face of the tunnel, and the charge inserted. Then all retreated back
into the Tomb of Kings till the cartridge had exploded, and the smoke
cleared off, which took a long while, when our people advanced with iron
bars and baskets, and cleared away the débris, after which the process
must be repeated.

Oh! the heat of that narrow hole deep in the bowels of the rock, and
the reek of the stagnant air which sometimes was so bad that the lights
would scarcely burn. Indeed, after a hundred feet had been completed,
we thought that it would be impossible to proceed, since two men died
of asphyxiation and the others, although they were good fellows enough,
refused to return into the tunnel. At length, however, Orme and Japhet
persuaded some of the best of them to do so, and shortly after this the
atmosphere improved very much, I suppose because we cut some cranny or
shaft which communicated with the open air.

There were other dangers also, notably of the collapse of the whole
roof where the rock was rotten, as we found it to be in places. Then
it proved very hard to deal with the water, for once or twice we
struck small springs impregnated with copper or some other mineral that
blistered the feet and skin, since every drop of this acid water had to
be carried out in wooden pails. That difficulty we overcame at last by
sinking a narrow well down to the level of the ancient tunnel of which I
have spoken as having been shaken in by the earthquake.

Thus we, or rather Oliver and Quick with the Mountaineers, toiled on.
Higgs did his best, but after a while proved quite unable to bear the
heat, which became too much for so stout a man. The end of it was that
he devoted himself to the superintendence of the removal of the rubbish
into the Tomb of Kings, the care of the stores and so forth. At least
that was supposed to be his business, but really he employed most of his
time in drawing and cataloguing the objects of antiquity and the groups
of bones that were buried there, and in exploring the remains of the
underground city. In truth, this task of destruction was most repellent
to the poor Professor.

"To think," he said to us, "to think that I, who all my life have
preached the iniquity of not conserving every relic of the past, should
now be employed in attempting to obliterate the most wonderful object
ever fashioned by the ancients! It is enough to make a Vandal weep, and
I pray heaven that you may not succeed in your infamous design. What
does it matter if the Abati are wiped out, as lots of better people have
been before them? What does it matter if we accompany them to oblivion
so long as that noble sphinx is preserved to be the wonder of future
generations? Well, thank goodness, at any rate I have seen it, which is
more, probably, than any of you will ever do. There, another brute is
dumping his rubbish over the skull of No. 14!"

Thus we laboured continually, each at his different task, for the work
in the mine never stopped, Oliver being in charge during the day and
Quick at night for a whole week, since on each Sunday they changed with
their gangs, Quick taking the day shift and Oliver the night, or _vice
versa_. Sometimes Maqueda came down the cave to inspect progress,
always, I noticed, at those hours when Oliver happened to be off duty.
Then on this pretext or on that they would wander away together to visit
I know not what in the recesses of the underground city, or elsewhere.
In vain did I warn them that their every step was dogged, and that
their every word and action were noted by spies who crept after them
continually, since twice I caught one of these gentry in the act. They
were infatuated, and would not listen.

At this time Oliver only left the underground city twice or thrice a
week to breathe the fresh air for an hour or two. In truth, he had no
leisure. For this same reason he fitted himself up a bed in what had
been a priest's chamber, or a sanctuary in the old temple, and slept
there, generally with no other guard but the great dog, Pharaoh, his
constant companion even in the recesses of the mine.

It was curious to see how this faithful beast accustomed itself to the
darkness, and made its other senses, especially that of smell, serve
the purpose of eyes as do the blind. By degrees, too, it learned all
the details of the operations; thus, when the cartridge was in place for
firing, it would rise and begin to walk out of the tunnel even before
the men in charge.

One night the tragedy that I feared very nearly happened, and indeed
must have happened had it not been for this same hound, Pharaoh. About
six o'clock in the evening Oliver came off duty after an eight-hour
shift in the tunnel, leaving Higgs in command for a little while until
it was time for Quick to take charge. I had been at work outside all day
in connection with the new conscript army, a regiment of which was
in revolt, because the men, most of whom were what we should call
small-holders, declared that they wanted to go home to weed their crops.
Indeed, it had proved necessary for the Child of Kings herself to be
summoned to plead with them and condemn some of the ringleaders to
punishment.

When at length this business was over we left together, and the poor
lady, exasperated almost to madness, sharply refusing the escort of any
of her people, requested me to accompany her to the mine.

At the mouth of the tunnel she met Oliver, as probably she had arranged
to do, and after he had reported progress to her, wandered away with him
as usual, each of them carrying a lamp, into some recess of the buried
city. I followed them at a distance, not from curiosity, or because I
wished to see more of the wonders of that city whereof I was heartily
sick, but because I suspected that they were being spied upon.

The pair vanished round a corner that I knew ended in a _cul-de-sac_, so
extinguishing my lamp, I sat down on a fallen column and waited till I
should see their light reappear, when I proposed to effect my retreat.
Whilst I sat thus, thinking on many things and, to tell the truth, very
depressed in mind, I heard a sound as of some one moving and instantly
struck a match. The light of it fell full upon the face of a man whom
I recognized at once as a body-servant of the prince Joshua, though
whether he was passing me toward the pair or returning from their
direction I could not be sure.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"What is that to you, Physician?" he answered.

Then the match burnt out, and before I could light another he had
vanished, like a snake into a stone wall.

My first impulse was to warn Maqueda and Oliver that they were being
watched, but reflecting that the business was awkward, and that the spy
would doubtless have given over his task for this day, I left it alone,
and went down to the Tomb of the Kings to help Higgs. Just afterwards
Quick came on duty, long before his time, the fact being that he had no
confidence in the Professor as a director of mining operations. When he
appeared Higgs and I retreated from that close and filthy tunnel,
and, by way of recreation, put in an hour or so at the cataloguing and
archæological research in which his soul delighted.

"If only we could get all this lot out of Mur," he said, with a sweep of
his hand, "we should be the most famous men in Europe for at least three
days, and rich into the bargain."

"Ptolemy," I answered, "we shall be fortunate if we get ourselves alive
out of Mur, let alone these bones and ancient treasures," and I told him
what I had seen that evening.

His fat and kindly face grew anxious.

"Ah!" he said. "Well, I don't blame him; should probably do the same
myself if I got the chance, and so would you--if you were twenty years
younger. No, I don't blame him, or her either, for the fact is that
although their race, education, and circumstances are so different, they
are one of Nature's pairs, and while they are alive nothing will keep
them apart. You might as well expect a magnet and a bit of iron to
remain separate on a sheet of notepaper. Moreover, they give themselves
away, as people in that state always do. The pursuit of archæology has
its dangers, but it is a jolly sight safer than that of woman, though it
did land me in a den of lions. What's going to happen, old fellow?"

"Can't say, but I think it very probable that Oliver will be murdered,
and that we shall follow the same road, or, if we are lucky, be only
bundled out of Mur. Well, it's time for dinner; if I get a chance I will
give them a hint."

So we made our way to the old temple in the great cave, where we kept
our stores and Oliver had his headquarters. Here we found him waiting
for us and our meal ready, for food was always brought to us by the
palace servants. When we had eaten and these men had cleared away, we
lit our pipes and fed the dog Pharaoh upon the scraps that had been
reserved for him. Then I told Oliver about the spy whom I had caught
tracking him and Maqueda.

"Well, what of it?" he said, colouring in his tell-tale fashion; "she
only took me to see what she believed to be an ancient inscription on a
column in that northern aisle."

"Then she'd have done better to take me, my boy," said Higgs. "What was
the character like?"

"Don't know," he answered guiltily. "She could not find it again."

An awkward silence followed, which I broke.

"Oliver," I said, "I don't think you ought to go on sleeping here alone.
You have too many enemies in this place."

"Rubbish," he answered, "though it's true Pharaoh seemed uneasy last
night, and that once I woke up and thought I heard footsteps in the
court outside. I set them down to ghosts, in which I have almost come to
believe in this haunted place, and went to sleep again."

"Ghosts be blowed!" said Higgs vulgarly, "if there were such things I
have slept with too many mummies not to see them. That confounded Joshua
is the wizard who raises your ghosts. Look here, old boy," he added,
"let me camp with you to-night, since Quick must be in the tunnel, and
Adams has to sleep outside in case he is wanted on the army business."

"Not a bit of it," he answered; "you know you are too asthmatical to get
a wink in this atmosphere. I won't hear of such a thing."

"Then come and sleep with us in the guest-house."

"Can't be done; the Sergeant has got a very nasty job down there about
one o'clock, and I promised to be handy in case he calls me up," and he
pointed to the portable field telephone that fortunately we had brought
with us from England, which was fixed closed by, adding, "if only that
silly thing had another few hundred yards of wire, I'd come; but, you
see, it hasn't and I must be in touch with the work."

At this moment the bell tinkled, and Orme made a jump for the receiver
through which for the next five minutes he was engaged in giving rapid
and to us quite unintelligible directions.

"There you are," he said, when he had replaced the mouthpiece on its
hook, "if I hadn't been here they would probably have had the roof
of the tunnel down and killed some people. No, no; I can't leave that
receiver unless I go back to the mine, which I am too tired to do.
However, don't you fret. With a pistol, a telephone, and Pharaoh I'm
safe enough. And now, good night; you fellows had better be getting home
as I must be up early to-morrow and want to sleep while I can."



On the following morning about five o'clock Higgs and I were awakened by
some one knocking at our door. I rose and opened it, whereon in walked
Quick, a grim and grimy figure, for, as his soaked clothes and soiled
face told us, he had but just left his work in the mine.

"Captain wants to see you as soon as possible, gentlemen," he said.

"What's the matter, Sergeant?" asked Higgs, as we got into our garments.

"You'll see for yourself presently, Professor," was the laconic reply,
nor could we get anything more out of him.

Five minutes later we were advancing at a run through the dense darkness
of the underground city, each of us carrying a lamp. I reached the ruins
of the old temple first, for Quick seemed very tired and lagged behind,
and in that atmosphere Higgs was scant of breath and could not travel
fast. At the doorway of the place where he slept stood the tall form
of Oliver holding a lamp aloft. Evidently he was waiting for us. By his
side sat the big yellow dog, Pharaoh, that, when he smelt us, gambolled
forward, wagging his tail in greeting.

"Come here," said Orme, in a low and solemn voice, "I have something to
show you," and he led the way into the priest's chamber, or sanctuary,
whatever it may have been, where he slept upon a rough, native-made
bedstead. At the doorway he halted, lowered the lamp he held, and
pointed to something dark on the floor to the right of his bedstead,
saying, "Look!"

There lay a dead man, and by his side a great knife that evidently had
fallen from his hand. At the first glance we recognised the face which,
by the way, was singularly peaceful, as though it were that of one
plunged in deep sleep. This seemed odd, since the throat below was
literally torn out.

"Shadrach!" we said, with one voice.

Shadrach it was; Shadrach, our former guide, who had betrayed us;
Shadrach who, to save his own life, had shown us how to rescue Higgs,
and for that service been pardoned, as I think I mentioned. Shadrach and
no other!

"Pussy seems to have been on the prowl and to have met a dog," remarked
Quick.

"Do you understand what has happened?" asked Oliver, in a dry, hard
voice. "Perhaps I had better explain before anything is moved. Shadrach
must have crept in here last night--I don't know at what time, for I
slept through it all--for purposes of his own. But he forgot his old
enemy Pharaoh, and Pharaoh killed him. See his throat? When Pharaoh
bites he doesn't growl, and, of course, Shadrach could say nothing, or,
as he had dropped his knife, for the matter of that, do anything either.
When I was woke up about an hour ago by the telephone bell the dog was
fast asleep, for he is accustomed to that bell, with his head resting
upon the body of Shadrach. Now why did Shadrach come into my room at
night with a drawn knife in his hand?"

"Doesn't seem a difficult question to answer," replied Higgs, in the
high voice which was common to him when excited. "He came here to murder
you, and Pharaoh was too quick for him, that's all. That dog was the
cheapest purchase you ever made, friend Oliver."

"Yes," answered Orme, "he came here to murder me--you were right about
the risk, after all--but what I wonder is, who sent him?"

"And so you may go on wondering for the rest of your life, Captain,"
exclaimed Quick. "Still, I think we might guess if we tried."

Then news of what had happened was sent to the palace, and within little
over an hour Maqueda arrived, accompanied by Joshua and several other
members of her Council. When she saw and understood everything she was
horrified, and sternly asked Joshua what he knew of this business. Of
course, he proved to be completely innocent, and had not the slightest
idea of who had set the murderer on to work this deed of darkness.
Nor had anybody else, the general suggestion being that Shadrach had
attempted it out of revenge, and met with the due reward of his crime.

Only that day poor Pharaoh was poisoned. Well, he had done his work, and
his memory is blessed.



CHAPTER XV

SERGEANT QUICK HAS A PRESENTIMENT

From this time forward all of us, and especially Oliver, were guarded
night and day by picked men who it was believed could not be corrupted.
As a consequence, the Tsar of Russia scarcely leads a life more irksome
than ours became at Mur. Of privacy there was none left to us, since
sentries and detectives lurked at every corner, while tasters were
obliged to eat of each dish and drink from each cup before it touched
our lips, lest our fate should be that of Pharaoh, whose loss we mourned
as much as though the poor dog had been some beloved human being.

Most of all was it irksome, I think, to Oliver and Maqueda, whose
opportunities of meeting were much curtailed by the exigencies of this
rigid espionage. Who can murmur sweet nothings to his adored when two
soldiers armed to the teeth have been instructed never to let him out
of their sight? Particularly is this so if the adored happens to be the
ruler of those soldiers to whom the person guarded has no right to
be making himself agreeable. For when off duty even the most faithful
guardians are apt to talk. Of course, the result was that the pair took
risks which did not escape observation. Indeed, their intimate relations
became a matter of gossip throughout the land.

Still, annoying as they might be, these precautions succeeded, for none
of us were poisoned or got our throats cut, although we were constantly
the victims of mysterious accidents. Thus, a heavy rock rolled down upon
us when we sat together one evening upon the hill-side, and a flight
of arrows passed between us while we were riding along the edge of
a thicket, by one of which Higgs's horse was killed. Only when the
mountain and the thicket were searched no one could be found. Moreover,
a great plot against us was discovered in which some of the lords
and priests were implicated, but such was the state of feeling in the
country that, beyond warning them privately that their machinations were
known, Maqueda did not dare to take proceedings against these men.

A little later on things mended so far as we were concerned, for the
following reason: One day two shepherds arrived at the palace with some
of their companions, saying that they had news to communicate. On being
questioned, these peasants averred that while they were herding their
goats upon the western cliffs many miles away, suddenly on the top of
the hills appeared a body of fifteen Fung, who bound and blindfolded
them, telling them in mocking language to take a message to the Council
and to the white men.

This was the message: That they had better make haste to destroy the
god Harmac, since otherwise his head would move to Mur according to the
prophecy, and that when it did so, the Fung would follow as they knew
how to do. Then they set the two men on a rock where they could be
seen, and on the following morning were in fact found by some of their
fellows, those who accompanied them to the Court and corroborated this
story.

Of course the matter was duly investigated, but as I know, for I went
with the search party, when we got to the place no trace of the Fung
could be found, except one of their spears, of which the handle had been
driven into the earth and the blade pointed toward Mur, evidently
in threat or defiance. No other token of them remained, for, as it
happened, a heavy rain had fallen and obliterated their footprints,
which in any case must have been faint on this rocky ground.

Notwithstanding the most diligent search by skilled men, their mode of
approach and retreat remained a mystery, as, indeed, it does to this
day. The only places where it was supposed to be possible to scale
the precipice of Mur were watched continually, so that they could have
climbed up by none of these. The inference was, therefore, that the Fung
had discovered some unknown path, and, if fifteen men could climb that
path, why not fifteen thousand!

Only, where was this path? In vain were great rewards in land and
honours offered to him who should discover it, for although such
discoveries were continually reported, on investigation these were
found to be inventions or mares' nests. Nothing but a bird could have
travelled by such roads.

Then at last we saw the Abati thoroughly frightened, for, with
additions, the story soon passed from mouth to mouth till the whole
people talked of nothing else. It was as though we English learned that
a huge foreign army had suddenly landed on our shores and, having cut
the wires and seized the railways, was marching upon London. The effect
of such tidings upon a nation that always believed invasion to be
impossible may easily be imagined, only I hope that we should take them
better than did the Abati.

Their swagger, their self-confidence, their talk about the "rocky walls
of Mur," evaporated in an hour. Now it was only of the disciplined and
terrible regiments of the Fung, among whom every man was trained to war,
and of what would happen to them, the civilized and domesticated Abati,
a peace-loving people who rightly enough, as they declared, had refused
all martial burdens, should these regiments suddenly appear in their
midst. They cried out that they were betrayed--they clamoured for the
blood of certain of the Councillors. That carpet knight, Joshua, lost
popularity for a while, while Maqueda, who was known always to have been
in favour of conscription and perfect readiness to repel attack, gained
what he had lost.

Leaving their farms, they crowded together into the towns and villages,
where they made what in South Africa are called laagers. Religion, which
practically had been dead among them, for they retained but few traces
of the Jewish faith if, indeed, they had ever really practised it,
became the craze of the hour. Priests were at a premium; sheep and
cattle were sacrificed; it was even said that, after the fashion of
their foes the Fung, some human beings shared the same fate. At any
rate the Almighty was importuned hourly to destroy the hated Fung and
to protect His people--the Abati--from the results of their own base
selfishness and cowardly neglect.

Well, the world has seen such exhibitions before to-day, and will
doubtless see more of them in the instance of greater peoples who allow
luxury and pleasure-seeking to sap their strength and manhood.

The upshot of it all was that the Abati became obsessed with the
saying of the Fung scouts to the shepherds, which, after all, was but
a repetition of that of their envoys delivered to the Council a little
while before: that they should hasten to destroy the idol Harmac, lest
he should move himself to Mur. How an idol of such proportions, or even
its head, could move at all they did not stop to inquire. It was obvious
to them, however, that if he was destroyed there would be nothing to
move and, further, that we Gentiles were the only persons who could
possibly effect such destruction. So we also became popular for a little
while. Everybody was pleasant and flattered us--everybody, even Joshua,
bowed when we approached, and took a most lively interest in the
progress of our work, which many deputations and prominent individuals
urged us to expedite.

Better still, the untoward accidents such as those I have mentioned,
ceased. Our dogs, for we had obtained some others, were no longer
poisoned; rocks that appeared fixed did not fall; no arrows whistled
among us when we went out riding. We even found it safe occasionally to
dispense with our guards, since it was every one's interest to keep us
alive--for the present. Still, I for one was not deceived for a single
moment, and in season and out of season warned the others that the wind
would soon blow again from a less favourable quarter.

We worked, we worked, we worked! Heaven alone knows how we did work.
Think of the task, which, after all, was only one of several. A tunnel
must be bored, for I forget how far, through virgin rock, with the
help of inadequate tools and unskilled labour, and this tunnel must be
finished by a certain date. A hundred unexpected difficulties arose, and
one by one were conquered. Great dangers must be run, and were avoided,
while the responsibility of this tremendous engineering feat lay upon
the shoulders of a single individual, Oliver Orme, who, although he had
been educated as an engineer, had no great practical experience of such
enterprises.

Truly the occasion makes the man, for Orme rose to it in a way that
I can only call heroic. When he was not actually in the tunnel he was
labouring at his calculations, of which many must be made, or taking
levels with such instruments as he had. For if there proved to be the
slightest error all this toil would be in vain, and result only in the
blowing of a useless hole through a mass of rock. Then there was a
great question as to the effect which would be produced by the amount of
explosive at his disposal, since terrible as might be the force of the
stuff, unless it were scientifically placed and distributed it would
assuredly fail to accomplish the desired end.

At last, after superhuman efforts, the mine was finished. Our stock of
concentrated explosive, about four full camel loads of it, was set in
as many separate chambers, each of them just large enough to receive the
charge, hollowed in the primæval rock from which the idol had been hewn.

These chambers were about twenty feet from each other, although if there
had been time to prolong the tunnel, the distance should have been
at least forty in order to give the stuff a wider range of action.
According to Oliver's mathematical reckoning, they were cut in the exact
centre of the base of the idol, and about thirty feet below the actual
body of the crouching sphinx. As a matter of fact this reckoning was
wrong in several particulars, the charges having been set farther
toward the east or head of the sphinx and higher up in the base than
he supposed. When it is remembered that he had found no opportunity
of measuring the monument which practically we had only seen once from
behind under conditions not favourable to accuracy in such respects, or
of knowing its actual length and depth, these trifling errors were not
remarkable.

What was remarkable is that his general plan of operations, founded upon
a mere hypothetical estimate, should have proved as accurate as it did.

At length all was prepared, and the deadly cast-iron flasks had been
packed in sand, together with dynamite cartridges, the necessary
detonators, electric wires, and so forth, an anxious and indeed awful
task executed entirely in that stifling atmosphere by the hands of Orme
and Quick. Then began another labour, that of the filling in of the
tunnels. This, it seems, was necessary, or so I understood, lest the
expanding gases, following the line of least resistance, should blow
back, as it were, through the vent-hole. What made that task the more
difficult was the need of cutting a little channel in the rock to
contain the wires, and thereby lessen the risk of the fracture of these
wires in the course of the building-up process. Of course, if by any
accident this should happen, the circuit would be severed, and no
explosion would follow when the electric battery was set to work.

The arrangement was that the mine should be fired on the night of
that full moon on which we had been told, and spies confirmed the
information, the feast of the marriage of Barung's daughter to my son
would be celebrated in the city of Harmac. This date was fixed because
the Sultan had announced that so soon as that festivity, which coincided
with the conclusion of the harvest, was ended, he meant to deliver his
attack on Mur.

Also, we were anxious that it should be adhered to for another reason,
since we knew that on this day but a small number of priests and guards
would be left in charge of the idol, and my son could not be among them.
Now, whatever may have been the views of the Abati, we as Christians who
bore them no malice did not at all desire to destroy an enormous number
of innocent Fung, as might have happened if we had fired our mine when
the people were gathered to sacrifice to their god.


The fatal day arrived at last. All was completed, save for the blocking
of the passage, which still went on, or, rather, was being reinforced by
the piling up of loose rocks against its mouth, at which a hundred or so
men laboured incessantly. The firing wires had been led into that little
chamber in the old temple where the dog Pharaoh tore out the throat of
Shadrach, and no inch of them was left unguarded for fear of accident or
treachery.

The electric batteries--two of them, in case one should fail--had been
tested but not connected with the wires. There they stood upon the
floor, looking innocent enough, and we four sat round them like wizards
round their magic pot, who await the working of some spell. We were not
cheerful; who could be under so intense a strain? Orme, indeed, who
had grown pale and thin with continuous labour of mind and body, seemed
quite worn out. He could not eat nor smoke, and with difficulty I
persuaded him to drink some of the native wine. He would not even go to
look at the completion of the work or to test the wires.

"You can see to it," he said; "I have done all I can. Now things must
take their chance."

After our midday meal he lay down and slept quite soundly for several
hours. About four o'clock those who were labouring at the piling up of
débris over the mouth of the tunnel completed their task, and, in charge
of Quick, were marched out of the underground city.

Then Higgs and I took lamps and went along the length of the wires,
which lay in a little trench covered over with dust, removing the dust
and inspecting them at intervals. Discovering nothing amiss, we returned
to the old temple, and at its doorway met the mountaineer, Japhet, who
throughout all these proceedings had been our prop and stay. Indeed,
without his help and that of his authority over the Abati the mine could
never have been completed, at any rate within the time.

The light of the lamp showed that his face was very anxious.

"What is the matter?" I asked.

"O Physician," he answered, "I have words for the ear of the Captain
Orme. Be pleased to lead me to him."

We explained that he slept and could not be disturbed, but Japhet only
answered as before, adding:

"Come you with me, my words are for your ears as well as his."

So we went into the little room and awoke Oliver, who sprang up in a
great fright, thinking that something untoward had happened at the mine.

"What's wrong?" he asked of Japhet. "Have the Fung cut the wires?"

"Nay, O Orme, a worse thing; I have discovered that the Prince Joshua
has laid a plot to steal away 'Her-whose-name-is-high.'"

"What do you mean? Set out all the story, Japhet," said Oliver.

"It is short, lord. I have some friends, one of whom--he is of my own
blood, but ask me not his name--is in the service of the Prince. We
drank a cup of wine together, which I needed, and I suppose it loosed
his tongue. At any rate, he told me, and I believed him. This is the
story. For his own sake and that of the people the Prince desires that
you should destroy the idol of Fung, and therefore he has kept his
hands off you of late. Yet should you succeed, he does not know what may
happen. He fears lest the Abati in their gratitude should set you up as
great men."

"Then he is an ass!" interrupted Quick; "for the Abati have no
gratitude."

"He fears," went on Japhet, "other things also. For instance, that the
Child of Kings may express that gratitude by a mark of her signal favour
toward one of you," and he stared at Orme, who turned his head aside.
"Now, the Prince is affianced to this great lady, whom he desires to wed
for two reasons: First, because this marriage will make him the chief
man amongst the Abati, and, secondly, because of late he has come to
think that he loves her whom he is afraid that he may lose. So he has
set a snare."

"What snare?" asked one of us, for Japhet paused.

"I don't know," answered Japhet, "and I do not think that my friend knew
either, or, if he did, he would not tell me. But I understand the plot
is that the Child of Kings is to be carried off to the Prince Joshua's
castle at the other end of the lake, six hours' ride away, and there be
forced to marry him at once."

"Indeed," said Orme, "and when is all this to happen?"

"I don't know, lord. I know nothing except what my friend told me, which
I thought it right to communicate to you instantly. I asked him the
time, however, and he said that he believed the date was fixed for one
night after next Sabbath."

"Next Sabbath is five days hence, so that this matter does not seem to
be very pressing," remarked Oliver with a sigh of relief. "Are you sure
that you can trust your friend, Japhet?"

"No, lord, I am not sure, especially as I have always known him to be a
liar. Still, I thought that I ought to tell you."

"Very kind of you, Japhet, but I wish that you had let me have my sleep
out first. Now go down the line and see that all is right, then return
and report."

Japhet saluted in his native fashion and went.

"What do you think of this story?" asked Oliver, as soon as he was out
of hearing.

"All bosh," answered Higgs; "the place is full of talk and rumours, and
this is one of them."

He paused and looked at me.

"Oh!" I said, "I agree with Higgs. If Japhet's friend had really
anything to tell he would have told it in more detail. I daresay there
are a good many things Joshua would like to do, but I expect he will
stop there, at any rate, for the present. If you take my advice you will
say nothing of the matter, especially to Maqueda."

"Then we are all agreed. But what are you thinking of, Sergeant?"
asked Oliver, addressing Quick, who stood in a corner of the room, lost
apparently in contemplation of the floor.

"I, Captain," he replied, coming to attention. "Well, begging their
pardon, I was thinking that I don't hold with these gentlemen, except in
so far that I should say nothing of this job to our Lady, who has plenty
to bother her just now, and won't need to be frightened as well. Still,
there may be something in it, for though that Japhet is stupid, he's
honest, and honest men sometimes get hold of the right end of the stick.
At least, he believes there is something, and that's what weighs with
me."

"Well, if that's your opinion, what's best to be done Sergeant? I agree
that the Child of Kings should not be told, and I shan't leave this
place till after ten o'clock to-night at the earliest, if we stick to
our plans, as we had better do, for all that stuff in the tunnel wants
a little time to settle, and for other reasons. What are you drawing
there?" and he pointed to the floor, in the dust of which Quick was
tracing something with his finger.

"A plan of our Lady's private rooms, Captain. She told you she was going
to rest at sundown, didn't she, or earlier, for she was up most of last
night, and wanted to get a few hours' sleep before--something happens.
Well, her bed-chamber is there, isn't it? and another before it, in
which her maids sleep, and nothing behind except a high wall and a ditch
which cannot be climbed."

"That's quite true," interrupted Higgs. "I got leave to make a plan
of the palace, only there is a passage six feet wide and twenty long
leading from the guard chamber to the ladies' anteroom."

"Just so, Professor, and that passage has a turn in it, if I remember
right, so that two well-armed men could hold it against quite a lot.
Supposing now that you and I, Professor, should go and take a nap in
that guard-room, which will be empty, for the watch is set at the palace
gate. We shan't be wanted here, since if the Captain can't touch off
that mine, no one can, with the Doctor to help him just in case anything
goes wrong, and Japhet guarding the line. I daresay there's nothing
in this yarn, but who knows? There might be, and then we should blame
ourselves. What do you say, Professor?"

"I? Oh, I'll do anything you wish, though I should rather have liked to
climb the cliff and watch what happens."

"You'd see nothing, Higgs," interrupted Oliver, "except perhaps the
reflection of a flash in the sky; so, if you don't mind, I wish you
would go with the Sergeant. Somehow, although I am quite certain that
we ought not to alarm Maqueda, I am not easy about her, and if you two
fellows were there, I should know she was all right, and it would be a
weight off my mind."

"That settles it," said Higgs; "we'll be off presently. Look here, give
us that portable telephone, which is of no use anywhere else now. The
wire will reach to the palace, and if the machine works all right we can
talk to you and tell each other how things are going on."

Ten minutes later they had made their preparations. Quick stepped up to
Oliver and stood at attention, saying:

"Ready to march. Any more orders, Captain?"

"I think not, Sergeant," he answered, lifting his eyes from the little
batteries that he was watching as though they were live things. "You
know the arrangements. At ten o'clock--that is about two hours hence--I
touch this switch. Whatever happens it must not be done before, for fear
lest the Doctor's son should not have left the idol, to say nothing of
all the other poor beggars. The spies say that the marriage feast will
not be celebrated until at least three hours after moonrise."

"And that's what I heard when I was a prisoner," interrupted Higgs.

"I daresay," answered Orme; "but it is always well to allow a margin
in case the procession should be delayed, or something. So until ten
o'clock I've got to stop where I am, and you may be sure, Doctor, that
under no circumstances shall I fire the mine before that hour, as indeed
you will be here to see. After that I can't say what will happen, but
if we don't appear, you two had better come to look for us--in case
of accidents, you know. Do your best at your end according to
circumstances; the Doctor and I will do our best at ours. I think that
is all, Sergeant. Report yourselves by the telephone if the wire is long
enough and it will work, which I daresay it won't, and, anyway, look out
for us about half-past ten. Good-bye!"

"Good-bye, Captain," answered Quick, then stretched out his hand,
shook that of Orme, and without another word took his lamp and left the
chamber.

An impulse prompted me to follow him, leaving Orme and Higgs discussing
something before they parted. When he had walked about fifty yards in
the awful silence of that vast underground town, of which the ruined
tenements yawned on either side of us, the Sergeant stopped and said
suddenly:

"You don't believe in presentiments, do you, Doctor?"

"Not a bit," I answered.

"Glad of it, Doctor. Still, I have got a bad one now, and it is that I
shan't see the Captain or you any more."

"Then that's a poor look-out for us, Quick."

"No, Doctor, for me. I think you are both all right, and the Professor,
too. It's my name they are calling up aloft, or so it seems to me. Well,
I don't care much, for, though no saint, I have tried to do my duty,
and if it is done, it's done. If it's written, it's got to come to pass,
hasn't it? For everything is written down for us long before we begin,
or so I've always thought. Still, I'll grieve to part from the Captain,
seeing that I nursed him as a child, and I'd have liked to know him well
out of this hole, and safely married to that sweet lady first, though I
don't doubt that it will be so."

"Nonsense, Sergeant," I said sharply; "you are not yourself; all this
work and anxiety has got on your nerves."

"As it well might, Doctor, not but I daresay that's true. Anyhow, if the
other is the true thing, and you should all see old England again with
some of the stuff in that dead-house, I've got three nieces living down
at home whom you might remember. Don't say nothing of what I told you to
the Captain till this night's game is played, seeing that it might upset
him, and he'll need to keep cool up to ten o'clock, and afterwards too,
perhaps. Only if we shouldn't meet again, say that Samuel Quick sent him
his duty and God's blessing. And the same on yourself, Doctor, and your
son, too. And now here comes the Professor, so good-bye."



A minute later they had left me, and I stood watching them until the two
stars of light from their lanterns vanished into the blackness.



CHAPTER XVI

HARMAC COMES TO MUR

Slowly and in very bad spirits I retraced my steps to the old temple,
following the line of the telephone wire which Higgs and Quick had
unreeled as they went. In the Sergeant's prognostications of evil I
had no particular belief, as they seemed to me to be born of the
circumstances which surrounded us, and in different ways affected all
our minds, even that of the buoyant Higgs.

To take my own case, for instance. Here I was about to assist in an act
which for aught I knew might involve the destruction of my only son. It
was true we believed that this was the night of his marriage at the town
of Harmac, some miles away, and that the tale of our spies supported
this information. But how could we be sure that the date, or the place
of the ceremony, had not been changed at the last moment? Supposing,
for instance, that it was held, not in the town, as arranged, but in the
courts of the idol, and that the fearful activities of the fiery agent
which we were about to wake to life should sweep the celebrants into
nothingness.

The thought made me turn cold, and yet the deed must be done; Roderick
must take his chance. And if all were well, and he escaped that danger,
were there not worse behind? Think of him, a Christian man, the husband
of a savage woman who worshipped a stone image with a lion's head, bound
to her and her tribe, a state prisoner, trebly guarded, whom, so far
as I could see, there would be no hope of rescuing. It was awful. Then
there were other complications. If the plan succeeded and the idol was
destroyed, my own belief was that the Fung must thereby be exasperated.
Evidently they knew some road into this stronghold. It would be used.
They would pour their thousands up it, a general massacre would follow,
of which, justly, we should be the first victims.

I reached the chamber where Oliver sat brooding alone, for Japhet was
patrolling the line.

"I am not happy about Maqueda, Doctor," he said to me. "I am afraid
there is something in that story. She wanted to be with us; indeed, she
begged to be allowed to come almost with tears. But I wouldn't have it,
since accidents may always happen; the vibration might shake in the roof
or something; in fact, I don't think you should be here. Why don't you
go away and leave me?"

I answered that nothing would induce me to do so, for such a job should
not be left to one man.

"No, you're right," he said; "I might faint or lose my head or anything.
I wish now that we had arranged to send the spark from the palace,
which perhaps we might have done by joining the telephone wire on to
the others. But, to tell you the truth, I'm afraid of the batteries.
The cells are new but very weak, for time and the climate have affected
them, and I thought it possible the extra difference might make the
difference and that they would fail to work. That's why I fixed this as
the firing point. Hullo, there's the bell. What have they got to say?"

I snatched the receiver, and presently heard the cheerful voice of
Higgs announcing that they had arrived safely in the little anteroom to
Maqueda's private apartments.

"The palace seems very empty," he added; "we only met one sentry, for I
think that everybody else, except Maqueda and a few of her ladies,
have cleared out, being afraid lest rocks should fall on them when the
explosion occurs."

"Did the man say so?" I asked of Higgs.

"Yes, something of that sort; also he wanted to forbid us to come here,
saying that it was against the Prince Joshua's orders that we Gentiles
should approach the private apartments of the Child of Kings. Well, we
soon settled that, and he bolted. Where to? Oh! I don't know; to report,
he said."

"How's Quick?" I asked.

"Much the same as usual. In fact, he is saying his prayers in the
corner, looking like a melancholy brigand with rifles, revolvers, and
knives stuck all over him. I wish he wouldn't say his prayers," added
Higgs, and his voice reached me in an indignant squeak; "it makes me
feel uncomfortable, as though I ought to join him. But not having been
brought up a Dissenter or a Moslem, I can't pray in public as he does.
Hullo! Wait a minute, will you?"

Then followed a longish pause, and after it Higgs's voice again.

"It's all right," it said. "Only one of Maqueda's ladies who had heard
us and come to see who we were. When she learns I expect she will join
us here, as the girl says she's nervous and can't sleep."

Higgs proved right in his anticipations, for in about ten minutes we
were rung up again, this time by Maqueda herself, whereon I handed the
receiver to Oliver and retired to the other end of the room.

Nor, to tell the truth, was I sorry for the interruption, since it
cheered up Oliver and helped to pass the time.

The next thing worth telling that happened was that, an hour or more
later, Japhet arrived, looking very frightened. We asked him our usual
question: if anything was wrong with the wires. With a groan he answered
"No," the wires seemed all right, but he had met a ghost.

"What ghost, you donkey?" I said.

"The ghost of one of the dead kings, O Physician, yonder in the burial
cave. It was he with the bent bones who sits in the farthest chair. Only
he had put some flesh on his bones, and I tell you he looked fearful, a
very fierce man, or rather ghost."

"Indeed, and did he say anything to you, Japhet?"

"Oh! yes, plenty, O Physician, only I could not understand it all,
because his language was somewhat different to mine, and he spat out
his words as a green log spits out sparks. I think that he asked me,
however, how my miserable people dared to destroy his god, Harmac. I
answered that I was only a servant and did not know, adding that he
should put his questions to you."

"And what did he say to that, Japhet?"

"I think he said that Harmac would come to Mur and settle his account
with the Abati, and that the foreign men would be wise to fly fast and
far. That's all I understood; ask me no more, who would not return into
that cave to be made a prince."

"He's got hold of what Barung's envoys told us," said Oliver,
indifferently, "and no wonder, this place is enough to make anybody see
ghosts. I'll repeat it to Maqueda; it will amuse her."

"I wouldn't if I were you," I answered, "for it isn't exactly a cheerful
yarn, and perhaps she's afraid of ghosts too. Also," and I pointed
to the watch that lay on the table beside the batteries, "it is five
minutes to ten."

Oh! that last five minutes! It seemed as many centuries. Like stone
statues we sat, each of us lost in his own thoughts, though for my part
the power of clear thinking appeared to have left me. Visions of a sort
flowed over my mind without sinking into it, as water flows over marble.
All I could do was fix my eyes on the face of that watch, of which in
the flickering lamp-light the second-hand seemed to my excited fancy to
grow enormous and jump from one side of the room to the other.

Orme began to count aloud. "One, two, three, four, five--_now_!" and
almost simultaneously he touched the knob first of one battery and next
of the other. Before his finger pressed the left-hand knob I felt the
solid rock beneath us surge--no other word conveys its movement. Then
the great stone cross-piece, weighing several tons, that was set as
a transom above the tall door of our room, dislodged itself, and fell
quite gently into the doorway, which it completely blocked.

Other rocks fell also at a distance, making a great noise, and somehow
I found myself on the ground, my stool had slid away from me. Next
followed a muffled, awful roar, and with it came a blast of wind blowing
where wind never blew before since the beginning of the world, that with
a terrible wailing howled itself to silence in the thousand recesses of
the cave city. As it passed our lamps went out. Lastly, quite a minute
later I should think, there was a thud, as though something of enormous
weight had fallen on the surface of the earth far above us.

Then all was as it had been; all was darkness and utter quietude.

"Well, that's over," said Oliver, in a strained voice which sounded very
small and far away through that thick darkness; "all over for good or
ill. I needn't have been anxious; the first battery was strong enough,
for I felt the mine spring as I touched the second. I wonder," he went
on, as though speaking to himself, "what amount of damage nearly a ton
and a half of that awful azo-imide compound has done to the old sphinx.
According to my calculations it ought to have been enough to break the
thing up, if we could have spread the charge more. But, as it is, I
am by no means certain. It may only have driven a hole in its bulk,
especially if there were hollows through which the gases could run.
Well, with luck, we may know more about it later. Strike a match, Adams,
and light those lamps. Why, what's that? Listen!"

As he spoke, from somewhere came a series of tiny noises, that,
though they were so faint and small, suggested rifles fired at a great
distance. Crack, crack, crack! went the infinitesimal noises.

I groped about, and finding the receiver of the field telephone, set
it to my ear. In an instant all grew plain to me. Guns were being fired
near the other end of the wire, and the transmitter was sending us the
sound of them. Very faintly but with distinctness I could hear Higgs's
high voice saying, "Look out, Sergeant, there's another rush coming!"
and Quick answering, "Shoot low, Professor; for the Lord's sake shoot
low. You are empty, sir. Load up, load up! Here's a clip of cartridges.
Don't fire too fast. Ah! that devil got me, but I've got him; he'll
never throw another spear."

"They are being attacked!" I exclaimed. "Quick is wounded. Now Maqueda
is talking to you. She says, 'Oliver, come! Joshua's men assail me.
Oliver, come!'"

Then followed a great sound of shouting answered by more shots, and just
as Orme snatched the receiver from my hand the wire went dead. In vain
he called down it in an agonized voice. As well might he have addressed
the planet Saturn.

"The wire's cut," he exclaimed, dashing down the receiver and seizing
the lantern which Japhet had just succeeded in re-lighting; "come
on, there's murder being done," and he sprang to the doorway, only to
stagger back again from the great stone with which it was blocked.

"Good God!" he screamed, "we're shut in. How can we get out? How can
we get out?" and he began to run round and round the room, and even to
spring at the walls like a frightened cat. Thrice he sprang, striving to
climb to the coping, for the place had no roof, each time falling back,
since it was too high for him to grasp. I caught him round the middle,
and held him by main force, although he struck at me.

"Be quiet," I said; "do you want to kill yourself? You will be no good
dead or maimed. Let me think."

Meanwhile Japhet was acting on his own account, for he, too, had heard
the tiny, ominous sounds given out by the telephone and guessed their
purport. First he ran to the massive transom that blocked the doorway
and pushed. It was useless; not even an elephant could have stirred it.
Then he stepped back, examining it carefully.

"I think it can be climbed, Physician," he said. "Help me now," and he
motioned to me to take one end of the heavy table on which the batteries
stood. We dragged it to the doorway, and, seeing his purpose, Oliver
jumped on to it with him. Then at Japhet's direction, while I supported
the table to prevent its oversetting, Orme rested his forehead
against the stone, making what schoolboy's call "a back," up which the
mountaineer climbed actively until he stood upon his shoulders, and
by stretching himself was able to grasp the end of the fallen transom.
Next, while I held up the lamp to give him light, he gripped the
roughnesses of the hewn stone with his toes, and in a few moments was
upon the coping of the wall, twenty feet or more above the floor line.

The rest was comparatively easy, for taking off his linen robe, Japhet
knotted it once or twice, and let it down to us. By the help of this
improvised rope, with Orme supporting me beneath, I, too, was dragged
up to the coping of the wall. Then both of us pulled up Oliver, who,
without a word, swung himself over the wall, hanging to Japhet's arms,
and loosing his hold, dropped to the ground on the farther side. Next
came my turn. It was a long fall, and had not Oliver caught me I think
that I should have hurt myself. As it was, the breath was shaken out
of me. Lastly, Japhet swung himself down, landing lightly as a cat. The
lamps he had already dropped to us, and in another minute they were all
lighted, and we were speeding down the great cavern.

"Be careful," I cried; "there may be fallen rocks about."

As it happened I was right, for at that moment Oliver struck his legs
against one of them and fell, cutting himself a good deal. In a moment
he was up again, but after this our progress grew slow, for hundreds of
tons of stone had been shaken from the roof and blocked the path. Also,
whole buildings of the ancient and underground city had been thrown
down, although these were mostly blown inward by the rush of air. At
length we came to the end of the cave, and halted dismayed, for here,
where the blast of the explosion had been brought to a full stop, the
place seemed to be crowded with rocks which it had rolled before it.

"My God! I believe we are shut in," exclaimed Oliver in despair.

But Japhet, lantern in hand, was already leaping from block to block,
and presently, from the top of the débris, called to us to come to him.

"I think there is a road left, though a bad one, lords," he said, and
pointed to a jagged, well-like hole blown out, as I believe, by the
recoil of the blast. With difficulty and danger, for many of the piled
up stones were loose, we climbed down this place, and at its bottom
squeezed ourselves through a narrow aperture on to the floor of the
cave, praying that the huge door which led to the passage beyond might
not be jammed, since if it were, as we knew well, our small strength
would not avail to move it. Happily, this fear at least proved
groundless, since it opened outward, and the force of the compressed air
had torn it from its massive stone hinges and thrown it shattered to the
ground.

We scrambled over it, and advanced down the passage, our revolvers
in our hands. We reached the audience hall, which was empty and in
darkness. We turned to the left, crossing various chambers, and in the
last of them, through which one of the gates of the palace could be
approached, met with the first signs of the tragedy, for there were
bloodstains on the floor.

Orme pointed to them as he hurried on, and suddenly a man leapt out of
the darkness as a buck leaps from a bush, and ran past us, holding his
hands to his side, where evidently he had some grievous hurt. Now we
entered the corridor leading to the private apartments of the Child of
Kings, and found ourselves walking on the bodies of dead and dying men.
One of the former I observed, as one does notice little things at such
a moment, held in his hand the broken wire of the field telephone. I
presume that he had snatched and severed it in his death pang at the
moment when communication ceased between us and the palace.

We rushed into the little antechamber, in which lights were burning, and
there saw a sight that I for one never shall forget.

In the foreground lay more dead men, all of them wearing the livery of
Prince Joshua. Beyond was Sergeant Quick, seated on a chair. He seemed
to be literally hacked to pieces. An arrow that no one had attempted to
remove was fast in his shoulder; his head, which Maqueda was sponging
with wet cloths--well, I will not describe his wounds.

Leaning against the wall near by stood Higgs, also bleeding, and
apparently quite exhausted. Behind, besides Maqueda herself, were two or
three of her ladies, wringing their hands and weeping. In face of this
terrible spectacle we came to a sudden halt. No word was spoken of by
any one, for the power of speech had left us.

The dying Quick opened his eyes, lifted his hand, upon which there was
a ghastly sword-cut, to his forehead, as though to shade them from the
light--ah! how well I recall that pathetic motion--and from beneath this
screen stared at us a while. Then he rose from the chair, touched his
throat to show that he could not speak, as I suppose, saluted Orme,
turned and pointed to Maqueda, and with a triumphant smile sank down
and--died.

Such was the noble end of Sergeant Quick.

To describe what followed is not easy, for the scene was confused. Also
shock and sorrow have blurred its recollection in my mind. I remember
Maqueda and Orme falling into each other's arms before everybody.
I remember her drawing herself up in that imperial way of hers, and
saying, as she pointed to the body of Quick:

"There lies one who has shown us how to die. This countryman of yours
was a hero, O Oliver, and you should hold his memory in honour, since he
saved me from worse than death."

"What's the story?" asked Orme of Higgs.

"A simple one enough," he answered. "We got here all right, as we told
you over the wire. Then Maqueda talked to you for a long while until
you rang off, saying you wanted to speak to Japhet. After that, at ten
o'clock precisely, we heard the thud of the explosion. Next, as we were
preparing to go out to see what had happened, Joshua arrived alone,
announced that the idol Harmac had been destroyed, and demanded that
the Child of Kings, 'for State reasons,' should accompany him to his own
castle. She declined and, as he insisted, I took it upon myself to kick
him out of the place. He retired, and we saw no more of him, but a few
minutes later there came a shower of arrows down the passage, and after
them a rush of men, who called, 'Death to the Gentiles. Rescue the
Rose.'

"So we began to shoot and knocked over a lot of them, but Quick got
that arrow through his shoulder. Three times they came on like that, and
three times we drove them back. At last our cartridges ran low, and we
only had our revolvers left, which we emptied into them. They hung a
moment, but moved forward again, and all seemed up.

"Then Quick went mad. He snatched the sword of a dead Abati and ran at
them roaring like a bull. They hacked and cut at him, but the end of
it was that he drove them right out of the passage, while I followed,
firing past him.

"Well, those who were left of the blackguards bolted, and when they had
gone the Sergeant tumbled down. The women and I carried him back here,
but he never said another word, and at last you turned up. Now he's
gone, God rest him, for if ever there was a hero in this world he was
christened Samuel Quick!" and, turning aside, the Professor pushed up
the blue spectacles he always wore on to his forehead, and wiped his
eyes with the back of his hand.

With grief more bitter than I can describe we lifted up the body of the
gallant Quick and, bearing it into Maqueda's private apartment, placed
it on her own bed, for she insisted that the man who had died to protect
her should be laid nowhere else. It was strange to see the grim old
soldier, whose face, now that I had washed his wounds, looked calm and
even beautiful, laid out to sleep his last sleep upon the couch of the
Child of Kings. That bed, I remember, was a rich and splendid thing,
made of some black wood inlaid with scrolls of gold, and having hung
about it curtains of white net embroidered with golden stars, such as
Maqueda wore upon her official veil.

There upon the scented pillows and silken coverlet we set our burden
down, the work-worn hands clasped upon the breast in an attitude of
prayer, and one by one bid our farewell to this faithful and upright
man, whose face, as it chanced, we were never to see again, except in
the glass of memory. Well, he had died as he had lived and would have
wished to die--doing his duty and in war. And so we left him. Peace be
to his honoured spirit!

In the blood-stained ante-room, while I dressed and stitched up the
Professor's wounds, a sword-cut on the head, an arrow-graze along the
face, and a spear-prick in the thigh, none of them happily at all deep
or dangerous, we held a brief council.

"Friends," said Maqueda, who was leaning on her lover's arm, "it is
not safe that we should stop here. My uncle's plot has failed for the
moment, but it was only a small and secret thing. I think that soon he
will return again with a thousand at his back, and then----"

"What is in your mind?" asked Oliver. "To fly from Mur?"

"How can we fly," she answered, "when the pass is guarded by Joshua's
men, and the Fung wait for us without? The Abati hate you, my friends,
and now that you have done your work I think that they will kill you if
they can, whom they bore with only till it was done. Alas! alas! that I
should have brought you to this false and ungrateful country," and she
began to weep, while we stared at each other, helpless.

Then Japhet, who all this while had been crouched on the floor, rocking
himself too and fro and mourning in his Eastern fashion for Quick,
whom he had loved, rose, and, coming to the Child of Kings, prostrated
himself before her.

"O Walda Nagasta," he said, "hear the words of your servant. Only three
miles away, near to the mouth of the pass, are encamped five hundred
men of my own people, the Mountaineers, who hate Prince Joshua and his
following. Fly to them, O Walda Nagasta, for they will cleave to you and
listen to me whom you have made a chief among them. Afterwards you can
act as may seem wisest."

Maqueda looked at Oliver questioningly.

"I think that is good advice," he said. "At any rate, we can't be worse
off among the Mountaineers than we are in this undefended place. Tell
your women to bring cloaks that we can throw over our heads, and let us
go."

Five minutes later, a forlorn group filled with fears, we had stolen
over the dead and dying in the passage, and made our way to the side
gate of the palace that we found open, and over the bridge that spanned
the moat beyond, which was down. Doubtless Joshua's ruffians had used
it in their approach and retreat. Disguised in the long cloaks with
monk-like hoods that the Abati wore at night or when the weather was
cold and wet, we hurried across the great square. Here, since we could
not escape them, we mingled with the crowd that was gathered at its
farther end, all of them--men, women and children--chattering like
monkeys in the tree-tops, and pointing to the cliff at the back of the
palace, beneath which, it will be remembered, lay the underground city.

A band of soldiers rode by, thrusting their way through the people, and
in order to avoid them we thought it wise to take refuge in the shadow
of a walk of green-leaved trees which grew close at hand, for we feared
lest they might recognize Oliver by his height. Here we turned and
looked up at the cliff, to discover what it was at which every one was
staring. At that moment the full moon, which had been obscured by a
cloud, broke out, and we saw a spectacle that under the circumstances
was nothing less than terrifying.

The cliff behind the palace rose to a height of about a hundred and
fifty feet, and, as it chanced, just there a portion of it jutted out
in an oblong shape, which the Abati called the Lion Rock, although
personally, heretofore, I had never been able to see in it any great
resemblance to a lion. Now, however, it was different, for on the very
extremity of this rock, staring down at Mur, sat the head and neck of
the huge lion-faced idol of the Fung. Indeed, in that light, with the
promontory stretching away behind it, it looked as though it were
the idol itself, moved from the valley upon the farther side of the
precipice to the top of the cliff above.

"Oh! oh! oh!" groaned Japhet, "the prophecy is fulfilled--the head of
Harmac has come to sleep at Mur."

"You mean that we have sent him there," whispered Higgs. "Don't be
frightened, man; can't you understand that the power of our medicine has
blown the head off the sphinx high into the air, and landed it where it
sits now?"

"Yes," I put in, "and what we felt in the cave was the shock of its
fall."

"I don't care what brought him," replied Japhet, who seemed quite
unstrung by all that he had gone through. "All I know is that the
prophecy is fulfilled, and Harmac has come to Mur, and where Harmac goes
the Fung follow."

"So much the better," said the irreverent Higgs. "I may be able to
sketch and measure him now."

But I saw that Maqueda was trembling, for she, too, thought this
occurrence a very bad omen, and even Oliver remained silent, perhaps
because he feared its effect upon the Abati.

Nor was this wonderful since, from the talk around us, clearly that
effect was great. Evidently the people were terrified, like Japhet. We
could hear them foreboding ill, and cursing us Gentiles as wizards,
who had not destroyed the idol of the Fung as we promised, but had only
caused him to fly to Mur.

Here I may mention that as a matter of fact they were right. As we
discovered afterwards, the whole force of the explosion, instead of
shattering the vast bulk of the stone image, had rushed up through the
hollow chambers in its interior until it struck against the solid head.
Lifting this as though it were a toy, the expanding gas had hurled that
mighty mass an unknown distance into the air, to light upon the crest of
the cliffs of Mur, where probably it will remain forever.

"Well," I said, when we had stared a little while at this extraordinary
phenomenon, "thank God it did not travel farther, and fall upon the
palace."

"Oh! had it done so," whispered Maqueda in a tearful voice, "I think you
might have thanked God indeed, for then at least I should be free
from all my troubles. Come, friends, let us be going before we are
discovered."



CHAPTER XVII

I FIND MY SON

Our road toward the pass ran through the camping ground of the newly
created Abati army, and what we saw on our journey thither told us
more vividly than any words or reports could do, how utter was the
demoralization of that people. Where should have been sentries were
no sentries; where should have been soldiers were groups of officers
talking with women; where should have been officers were camp followers
drinking.

Through this confusion and excitement we made our way unobserved, or,
at any rate, unquestioned, till at length we came to the regiment of the
Mountaineers, who, for the most part, were goatherds, poor people who
lived upon the slopes of the precipices that enclosed the land of Mur.
These folk, having little to do with their more prosperous brethren of
the plain, were hardy and primitive of nature, and therefore retained
some of the primeval virtues of mankind, such as courage and loyalty.

It was for the first of these reasons, and, indeed, for the second also,
that they had been posted by Joshua at the mouth of the pass, which he
knew well they alone could be trusted to defend in the event of serious
attack. Moreover, it was desirable, from his point of view, to keep them
out of the way while he developed his plans against the person of the
Child of Kings, for whom these simple-minded men had a hereditary and
almost a superstitious reverence.

As soon as we were within the lines of these Mountaineers we found the
difference between them and the rest of the Abati. The other regiments
we had passed unchallenged, but here we were instantly stopped by a
picket. Japhet whispered something into the ear of its officer that
caused him to stare hard at us. Then this officer saluted the veiled
figure of the Child of Kings and led us to where the commander of the
band and his subordinates were seated near a fire sitting together. At
some sign or word that did not reach us the commander, an old fellow
with a long grey beard, rose and said:

"Your pardon, but be pleased to show your faces."

Maqueda threw back her hood and turned so that the light of the moon
fell full upon her, whereon the old man dropped to his knee, saying:

"Your commands, O Walda Nagasta."

"Summon your regiment and I will give them," she answered, and seated
herself on a bench by the fire, we three and Japhet standing behind her.

The commander issued orders to his captains, and presently the
Mountaineers formed up on three sides of a square above us, to the
number of a little over five hundred men. When all were gathered Maqueda
mounted the bench upon which she had been sitting, threw back her hood
so that every one could see her face in the light of the fire, and
addressed them:

"Men of the mountain-side, this night just after the idol of the Fung
had been destroyed, the Prince Joshua, my uncle, came to me demanding
my surrender to him, whether to kill me or to imprison me in his castle
beyond the end of the lake, for reasons of State as he said, or for
other vile purposes, I do not know."

At these words a murmur rose from the audience.

"Wait," said Maqueda, holding up her hand, "there is worse to come.
I told my uncle, Prince Joshua, that he was a traitor and had best be
gone. He went, threatening me and, when I do not know, withdrew the
guards that should be stationed at my palace gates. Now, some rumour of
my danger had reached the foreigners in my service, and two of them,
he who is called Black Windows, whom we rescued from the Fung, and the
soldier named Quick, came to watch over me, while the Lord Orme and the
Doctor Adams stayed in the cave to send out that spark of fire which
should destroy the idol. Nor did they come back without need, for
presently arrived a band of Prince Joshua's men to take me.

"Then Black Windows and the soldier his companion fought a good fight,
they two holding the narrow passage against many, and slaying a number
of them with their terrible weapons. The end of it was, men of the
mountains, that the warrior Quick, charging down the passage, drove
away those servants of Joshua who remained alive. But in so doing he was
wounded to the death. Yes, that brave man lies dead, having given his
life to save the Child of Kings from the hands of her own people. Black
Windows also was wounded--see the bandages about his head. Then came the
Lord Orme and the Doctor Adams, and with them your brother Japhet, who
had barely escaped with their lives from the cave city, and knowing that
I was no longer safe in the palace, where even my sleeping-room has been
drenched with blood, with them I have fled to you for succour. Will you
not protect me, O men of the mountain-side?"

"Yes, yes," they answered with a great shout. "Command we obey. What
shall we do, O Child of Kings?"

Now Maqueda called the officers of the regiment apart and consulted with
them, asking their opinions, one by one. Some of them were in favour of
finding out where Joshua might be, and attacking him at once. "Crush the
snake's head and its tail will soon cease wriggling!" these said, and I
confess this was a view that in many ways commended itself to us.

But Maqueda would have none of it.

"What!" she exclaimed, "shall I begin a civil war among my people when
for aught I know the enemy is at our gates?" adding aside to us, "also,
how can these few hundred men, brave though they be, hope to stand
against the thousands under the command of Joshua?"

"What, then, would you do?" asked Orme.

"Return to the palace with these Mountaineers, O Oliver, and by help of
that garrison, hold it against all enemies."

"Very well," he replied. "To those who are quite lost one road is as
good as another; they must trust to the stars to guide them."

"Quite so," echoed Higgs; "and the sooner we go the better, for my leg
hurts, and I want a sleep."

So Maqueda gave her commands to the officers, by whom they were conveyed
to the regiment, which received them with a shout, and instantly began
to strike its camp.

Then it was, coming hot-foot after so much sorrow, loss and doubt, that
there followed the happiest event of all my life. Utterly tired out and
very despondent, I was seated on an arrow-chest awaiting the order to
march, idly watching Oliver and Maqueda talking with great earnestness
at a little distance, and in the intervals trying to prevent poor Higgs
at my side from falling asleep. While I was thus engaged, suddenly I
heard a disturbance, and by the bright moonlight caught sight of a man
being led into the camp in charge of a guard of Abati soldiers, whom
from their dress I knew to belong to a company that just then was
employed in watching the lower gates of the pass.

I took no particular heed of the incident, thinking only that they might
have captured some spy, till a murmur of astonishment, and the general
stir, warned me that something unusual had occurred. So I rose from my
box and strolled towards the man, who now was hidden from me by a group
of Mountaineers. As I advanced this group opened, the men who composed
it bowing to me with a kind of wondering respect that impressed me, I
did not know why.

Then for the first time I saw the prisoner. He was a tall, athletic
young man, dressed in festal robes with a heavy gold chain about his
neck, and I wondered vaguely what such a person should be doing here
in this time of national commotion. He turned his head so that the
moonlight showed his dark eyes, his somewhat oval-shaped face ending in
a peaked black beard, and his finely cut features. In an instant I knew
him.

_It was my son Roderick!_

Next moment, for the first time for very many years, he was in my arms.

The first thing that I remember saying to him was a typically
Anglo-Saxon remark, for however much we live in the East or elsewhere,
we never really shake off our native conventions, and habits of speech.
It was, "How are you, my boy, and how on earth did you come here?"
to which he answered, slowly, it is true, and speaking with a foreign
accent:

"All right, thank you, father. I ran upon my legs."

By this time Higgs hobbled up, and was greeting my son warmly, for, of
course, they were old friends.

"Thought you were to be married to-night, Roderick?" he said.

"Yes, yes," he answered, "I am half married according to Fung custom,
which counts not to my soul. Look, this is the dress of marriage," and
he pointed to his fine embroidered robe and rich ornaments.

"Then, where's your wife?" asked Higgs.

"I do not know and I do not care," he answered, "for I did not like
that wife. Also it is all nothing as I am not quite married to her.
Fung marriage between big people takes two days to finish, and if not
finished does not matter. So she marry some one else if she like, and I
too."

"What happened then?" I asked.

"Oh, this, father. When we had eaten the marriage feast, but before we
past before priest, suddenly we hear a thunder and see a pillar of fire
shoot up into sky, and sitting on top of it head of Harmac, which vanish
into heaven and stop there. Then everybody jump up and say:

"'Magic of white man! Magic of white man! White man kill the god who
sit there from beginning of world, now day of Fung finished according to
prophecy. Run away, people of Fung, run away!'

"Barung the Sultan tear his clothes too, and say--'Run away, Fung,'
and my half-wife, she tear _her_ clothes and say nothing, but run like
antelope. So they all run toward east, where great river is, and leave
me alone. Then I get up and run too--toward west, for I know from Black
Windows," and he pointed to Higgs, "when we shut up together in belly of
god before he let down to lions, what all this game mean, and therefore
not frightened. Well, I run, meeting no one in night, till I come to
pass, run up it, and find guards, to whom I tell story, so they not kill
me, but let me through, and at last I come here, quite safe, without
Fung wife, thank God, and that end of tale."

"I am afraid you are wrong there, my boy," I said, "out of the
frying-pan into the fire, that's all."

"Out of frying-pan into fire," he repeated. "Not understand; father must
remember I only little fellow when Khalifa's people take me, and
since then speak no English till I meet Black Windows. Only he give me
Bible-book that he have in pocket when he go down to be eat by lions."
(Here Higgs blushed, for no one ever suspected him, a severe critic of
all religions, of carrying a Bible in his pocket, and muttered something
about "ancient customs of the Hebrews.")

"Well," went on Roderick, "read that book ever since, and, as you see,
all my English come back."

"The question is," said Higgs, evidently in haste to talk of something
else, "will the Fung come back?"

"Oh! Black Windows, don't know, can't say. Think not. Their prophecy was
that Harmac move to Mur, but when they see his head jump into sky and
stop there, they run every man toward the sunrise, and I think go on
running."

"But Harmac has come to Mur, Roderick," I said; "at least his head has
fallen on to the cliff that overlooks the city."

"Oh! my father," he answered, "then that make great difference. When
Fung find out that head of Harmac has come here, no doubt they come
after him, for head his most holy bit, especially as they want hang all
the Abati whom they not like."

"Well, let's hope that they don't find out anything about it," I
replied, to change the subject. Then taking Roderick by the hand I led
him to where Maqueda stood a yard or two apart, listening to our talk,
but, of course, understanding very little of it, and introduced him to
her, explaining in a few words the wonderful thing that had happened.
She welcomed him very kindly, and congratulated me upon my son's escape.
Meanwhile, Roderick had been staring at her with evident admiration. Now
he turned to us and said in his quaint broken English:

"Walda Nagasta most lovely woman! No wonder King Solomon love her
mother. If Barung's daughter, my wife, had been like her, think I run
through great river into rising sun with Fung."

Oliver instantly translated this remark, which made us all laugh,
including Maqueda herself, and very grateful we were to find the
opportunity for a little innocent merriment upon that tragic night.

By this time the regiment was ready to start, and had formed up into
companies. Before the march actually began, however, the officer of the
Abati patrol, in whose charge Roderick had been brought to us,
demanded his surrender that he might deliver his prisoner to the
Commander-in-Chief, Prince Joshua. Of course, this was refused, whereon
the man asked roughly:

"By whose order?"

As it happened, Maqueda, of whose presence he was not aware, heard him,
and acting on some impulse, came forward, and unveiled.

"By mine," she said. "Know that the Child of Kings rules the Abati, not
the Prince Joshua, and that prisoners taken by her soldiers are hers,
not his. Be gone back to your post!"

The captain stared, saluted, and went with his companions, not to the
pass, indeed, as he had been ordered, but to Joshua. To him he reported
the arrival of the Gentile's son, and the news he brought that the
nation of the Fung, dismayed by the destruction of their god, were in
full flight from the plains of Harmac, purposing to cross the great
river and to return no more.

This glad tidings spread like wildfire; so fast, indeed, that almost
before we had begun our march, we heard the shouts of exultation with
which it was received by the terrified mob gathered in the great square.
The cloud of terror was suddenly lifted from them. They went mad
in their delight; they lit bonfires, they drank, they feasted, they
embraced each other and boasted of their bravery that had caused the
mighty nation of the Fung to flee away for ever.

Meanwhile, our advance had begun, nor in the midst of the general
jubilation was any particular notice taken of us till we were in the
middle of the square of Mur and within half a mile of the palace,
when we saw by the moonlight that a large body of troops, two or three
thousand of them, were drawn up in front of us, apparently to bar our
way. Still we went on till a number of officers rode up, and addressing
the commander of the regiment of Mountaineers, demanded to know why he
had left his post, and whither he went.

"I go whither I am ordered," he answered, "for there is one here greater
than I."

"If you mean the Gentile Orme and his fellows, the command of the Prince
Joshua is that you hand them over to us that they may make report to him
of their doings this night."

"And the command of the Child of Kings is," replied the captain of the
Mountaineers, "that I take them with her back to the palace."

"It has no weight," said the spokesman insolently, "not being endorsed
by the Council. Surrender the Gentiles, hand over to us the person of
the Child of Kings of whom you have taken possession, and return to your
post till the pleasure of the Prince Joshua be known."

Then the wrath of Maqueda blazed up.

"Seize those men!" she said, and it was done instantly. "Now, cut the
head from him who dared to demand the surrender of my person and of
my officers, and give it to his companions to take back to the Prince
Joshua as my answer to his message."

The man heard, and being a coward like all the Abati, flung himself upon
his face before Maqueda, trying to kiss her robe and pleading for mercy.

"Dog!" she answered, "you were one of those who this very night dared
to attack my chamber. Oh! lie not, I knew your voice and heard your
fellow-traitors call you by your name. Away with him!"

We tried to interfere, but she would not listen, even to Orme.

"Would you plead for your brother's murderer?" she asked, alluding to
Quick. "I have spoken!"

So they dragged him off behind us, and presently we saw a melancholy
procession returning whence they came, carrying something on a shield.
It reached the opposing ranks, whence there arose a murmur of wrath and
fear.

"March on!" said Maqueda, "and gain the palace."

So the regiment formed into a square, and, setting Maqueda and ourselves
in the centre of it, advanced again.

Then the fight began. Great numbers of the Abati surrounded us and, as
they did not dare to make a direct attack, commenced shooting arrows,
which killed and wounded a number of men. But the Highlanders also were
archers, and carried stronger bows. The square was halted, the first
ranks kneeling and the second standing behind them. Then, at a given
word, the stiff bows which these hardy people used against the lion and
the buffalo upon their hills were drawn to the ear and loosed again and
again with terrible effect.

On that open place it was almost impossible to miss the mobs of the
Abati who, having no experience of war, were fighting without order. Nor
could the light mail they wore withstand the rush of the heavy barbed
arrows which pierced them through and through. In two minutes they began
to give, in three they were flying back to their main body, those who
were left of them, a huddled rout of men and horses. So the French
must have fled before the terrible longbows of the English at Crécy
and Poitiers, for, in fact, we were taking part in just such a mediæval
battle.

Oliver, who was watching intently, went to Japhet and whispered
something in his ear. He nodded and ran to seek the commander of the
regiment. Presently the result of that whisper became apparent, for
the sides of the hollow square wheeled outward and the rear moved up to
strengthen the centre.

Now the Mountaineers were ranged in a double or triple line, behind
which were only about a dozen soldiers, who marched round Maqueda,
holding their shields aloft in order to protect her from stray arrows.
With these, too, came our four selves, a number of camp-followers and
others, carrying on their shields those of the regiment who were too
badly wounded to walk.

Leaving the dead where they lay, we began to advance, pouring in volleys
of arrows as we went. Twice the Abati tried to charge us, and twice
those dreadful arrows drove them back. Then at the word of command, the
Highlanders slung their bows upon their backs, drew their short swords,
and in their turn charged.

Five minutes afterwards everything was over. Joshua's soldiers threw
down their arms, and ran or galloped to right and left, save a number
of them who fled through the gates of the palace, which they had opened,
and across the drawbridge into the courtyards within. After them, or,
rather, mixed up with them, followed the Mountaineers, killing all whom
they could find, for they were out of hand and would not listen to the
commands of Maqueda and their officers, that they should show mercy.

So, just as the dawn broke this strange moonlit battle ended, a small
affair, it is true, for there were only five hundred men engaged upon
our side and three or four thousand on the other, yet one that cost
a great number of lives and was the beginning of all the ruin that
followed.

Well, we were safe for a while, since it was certain, after the lesson
which he had just learned, that Joshua would not attempt to storm the
double walls and fosse of the palace without long preparation. Yet even
now a new trouble awaited us, for by some means, we never discovered
how, that wing of the palace in which Maqueda's private rooms were
situated suddenly burst into flames.

Personally, I believe that the fire arose through the fact that a lamp
had been left burning near the bed of the Child of Kings upon which
was laid the body of Sergeant Quick. Perhaps a wounded man hidden there
overturned the lamp; perhaps the draught blowing through the open doors
brought the gold-spangled curtains into contact with the wick.

At any rate, the wood-panelled chambers took fire, and had it not
happened that the set of the wind was favourable, the whole palace
might have been consumed. As it was, we succeeded in confining the
conflagration to this particular part of it, which within two hours had
burnt out, leaving nothing standing but the stark, stone walls.

Such was the funeral pyre of Sergeant Quick, a noble one, I thought to
myself, as I watched it burn.

When the fire was so well under control, for we had pulled down the
connecting passage where Higgs and Quick fought their great fight, that
there was no longer any danger of its spreading, and the watches had
been set, at length we got some rest.

Maqueda and two or three of her ladies, one of them, I remember, her
old nurse who had brought her up, for her mother died at her birth, took
possession of some empty rooms, of which there were many in the palace,
while we lay, or rather fell, down in the guest-chambers, where we had
always slept, and never opened our eyes again until the evening.

I remember that I woke thinking that I was the victim of some wonderful
dream of mingled joy and tragedy. Oliver and Higgs were sleeping like
logs, but my son Roderick, still dressed in his bridal robes, had risen
and sat by my bed staring at me, a puzzled look upon his handsome face.

"So you are here," I said, taking his hand. "I thought I dreamed."

"No, Father," he answered in his odd English, "no dream; all true.
This is a strange world, Father. Look at me! For how many
years--twelve--fourteen, slave of savage peoples for whom I sing, priest
of Fung idol, always near death but never die. Then Sultan Barung
take fancy to me, say I come of white blood and must be his daughter's
husband. Then your brother Higgs made prisoner with me and tell me that
you hunt me all these years. Then Higgs thrown to lions and you save
him. Then yesterday I married to Sultan's daughter, whom I never see
before but twice at fast of idol. Then Harmac's head fly off to heaven,
and all Fung people run away, and I run too, and find you. Then battle,
and many killed, and arrow scratch my neck but not hurt me," and he
pointed to a graze just over his jugular vein, "and now we together. Oh!
Father, very strange world! I think there God somewhere who look after
us!"

"I think so, too, my boy," I answered, "and I hope that He will continue
to do so, for I tell you we are in a worse place than ever you were
among the Fung."

"Oh, don't mind that, Father," he answered gaily, for Roderick is a
cheerful soul. "As Fung say, there no house without door, although
plenty people made blind and can't see it. But we not blind, or we dead
long ago. Find door by and by, but here come man to talk to you."

The man proved to be Japhet, who had been sent by the Child of Kings to
summon us, as she had news to tell. So I woke the others, and after I
had dressed the Professor's flesh wounds, which were stiff and sore,
we joined her where she sat in the gateway tower of the inner wall. She
greeted us rather sadly, asked Oliver how he had slept and Higgs if his
cuts hurt him. Then she turned to my son, and congratulated him upon his
wonderful escape and upon having found a father if he had lost a wife.

"Truly," she added, "you are a fortunate man to be so well loved, O
son of Adams. To how many sons are given fathers who for fourteen long
years, abandoning all else, would search for them in peril of their
lives, enduring slavery and blows and starvation and the desert's heat
and cold for the sake of a long-lost face? Such faithfulness is that of
my forefather David for his brother Jonathan, and such love it is that
passes the love of women. See that you pay it back to him, and to his
memory until the last hour of your life, child of Adams."

"I will, indeed, I will, O Walda Nagasta," answered Roderick, and
throwing his arms about my neck he embraced me before them all. It is
not too much to say that this kiss of filial devotion more than repaid
me for all I had undergone for his beloved sake. For now I knew that I
had not toiled and suffered for one of no worth, as is so often the lot
of true hearts in this bitter world.

Just then some of Maqueda's ladies brought food, and at her bidding we
breakfasted.

"Be sparing," she said with a melancholy little laugh, "for I know not
how long our store will last. Listen! I have received a last offer from
my uncle Joshua. An arrow brought it--not a man; I think that no man
would come lest his fate should be that of the traitor of yesterday,"
and she produced a slip of parchment that had been tied to the shaft of
an arrow and, unfolding it, read as follows--

"O Walda Nagasta, deliver up to death the Gentiles who have bewitched
you and led you to shed the blood of so many of your people, and with
them the officers of the Mountaineers, and the rest shall be spared. You
also I will forgive and make my wife. Resist, and all who cling to you
shall be put to the sword, and to yourself I promise nothing.

"Written by order of the Council,

"Joshua, Prince of the Abati."


"What answer shall I send?" she asked, looking at us curiously.

"Upon my word," replied Orme, shrugging his shoulders, "if it were not
for those faithful officers I am not sure but that you would be wise
to accept the terms. We are cooped up here, but a few surrounded by
thousands, who, if they dare not assault, still can starve us out, as
this place is not victualled for a siege."

"You forget one of those terms, O Oliver!" she said slowly, pointing
with her finger to the passage in the letter which stated that Joshua
would make her his wife, "Now do you still counsel surrender?"

"How can I?" he answered, flushing, and was silent.

"Well, it does not matter what you counsel," she went on with a smile,
"seeing that I have already sent my answer, also by arrow. See, here is
a copy of it," and she read--

"To my rebellious People of the Abati:

"Surrender to me Joshua, my uncle, and the members of the Council who
have lifted sword against me, to be dealt with according to the ancient
law, and the rest of you shall go unharmed. Refuse, and I swear to you
that before the night of the new moon has passed there shall be such woe
in Mur as fell upon the city of David when the barbarian standards were
set upon her walls. Such is the counsel that has come to me, the Child
of Solomon, in the watches of the night, and I tell you that it is true.
Do what you will, people of the Abati, or what you must, since your fate
and ours are written. But be sure that in me and the Western lords lies
your only hope.

"Walda Nagasta."


"What do you mean, O Maqueda," I asked, "about the counsel that came to
you in the watches of the night?"

"What I say, O Adams," she answered calmly. "After we parted at dawn I
slept heavily, and in my sleep a dark and royal woman stood before
me whom I knew to be my great ancestress, the beloved of Solomon. She
looked on me sadly, yet as I thought with love. Then she drew back, as
it were, a curtain of thick cloud that hid the future and revealed to me
the young moon riding the sky and beneath it Mur, a blackened ruin, her
streets filled with dead. Yes, and she showed to me other things, though
I may not tell them, which also shall come to pass, then held her hands
over me as if in blessing, and was gone."

"Old Hebrew prophet business! Very interesting," I heard Higgs mutter
below his breath, while in my own heart I set the dream down to
excitement and want of food. In fact, only two of us were impressed, my
son very much, and Oliver a little, perhaps because everything Maqueda
said was gospel to him.

"Doubtless all will come to pass as you say, Walda Nagasta," said
Roderick with conviction. "The day of the Abati is finished."

"Why do you say that, Son?" I asked.

"Because, Father, among the Fung people from a child I have two offices,
that of Singer to the God and that of Reader of Dreams. Oh! do not
laugh. I can tell you many that have come true as I read them; thus the
dream of Barung which I read to mean that the head of Harmac would come
to Mur, and see, there it sit," and turning, he pointed through the
doorway of the tower to the grim lion-head of the idol crouched upon the
top of the precipice, watching Mur as a beast of prey watches the victim
upon which it is about to spring. "I know when dreams true and when
dreams false; it my gift, like my voice. I know that this dream true,
that all," and as he ceased speaking I saw his eyes catch Maqueda's, and
a very curious glance pass between them.

As for Orme, he only said:

"You Easterns are strange people, and if you believe a thing, Maqueda,
there may be something in it. But you understand that this message of
yours means war to the last, a very unequal war," and he looked at the
hordes of the Abati gathering on the great square.

"Yes," she answered quietly, "I understand, but however sore our
straits, and however strange may seem the things that happen, have no
fear of the end of that war, O my friends."



CHAPTER XVIII

THE BURNING OF THE PALACE

Orme was right. Maqueda's defiance did mean war, "an unequal war." This
was our position. We were shut up in a long range of buildings, of which
one end had been burned, that on account of their moat and double wall,
if defended with any vigour, could only be stormed by an enemy of great
courage and determination, prepared to face a heavy sacrifice of
life. This was a circumstance in our favour, since the Abati were not
courageous, and very much disliked the idea of being killed, or even
injured.

But here our advantage ended. Deducting those whom we had lost on
the previous night, the garrison only amounted to something over four
hundred men, of whom about fifty were wounded, some of them dangerously.
Moreover, ammunition was short, for they had shot away most of their
arrows in the battle of the square, and we had no means of obtaining
more. But, worst of all, the palace was not provisioned for a siege,
and the mountaineers had with them only three days' rations of sun-dried
beef or goat's flesh, and a hard kind of biscuit made of Indian corn
mixed with barley meal. Thus, as we saw from the beginning, unless we
could manage to secure more food our case must soon grow hopeless.

There remained yet another danger. Although the palace itself was
stone-built, its gilded domes and ornamental turrets were of timber, and
therefore liable to be fired, as indeed had already happened. The roof
also was of ancient cedar beams, thinly covered with concrete, while the
interior containing an enormous quantity of panels, or rather boarding,
cut from some resinous wood.

The Abati, on the other hand, were amply supplied with every kind of
store and weapon, and could bring a great force to blockade us, though
that force was composed of a timid and undisciplined rabble.

Well, we made the best preparations that we could, although of these I
did not see much, since all that day my time was occupied in attending
to the wounded with the help of my son and a few rough orderlies, whose
experience in doctoring had for the most part been confined to cattle.
A pitiful business it proved without the aid of anæsthetics or a proper
supply of bandages and other appliances. Although my medicine chest had
been furnished upon a liberal scale, it proved totally inadequate to the
casualties of battle. Still I did my best and saved some lives, though
many cases developed gangrene and slipped through my fingers.

Meanwhile Higgs, who worked nobly, notwithstanding his flesh wounds,
which pained him considerably, and Orme were also doing their best
with the assistance of Japhet and the other officers of the highland
regiment. The palace was thoroughly examined, and all weak places in its
defences were made good. The available force was divided into watches
and stationed to the best advantage. A number of men were set to work to
manufacture arrow shafts from cedar beams, of which there were plenty
in the wooden stables and outhouses that lay at the back of the main
building, and to point and wing the same from a supply of iron barbs and
feathers which fortunately was discovered in one of the guard-houses. A
few horses that remained in a shed were killed and salted down for food,
and so forth.

Also every possible preparation was made to repel attempts to storm,
paving stones being piled up to throw upon the heads of assailants and
fires lighted on the walls to heat pitch and oil and water for the same
purpose.

But, to our disappointment, no direct assault was delivered, such
desperate methods not commending themselves to the Abati. Their plan of
attack was to take cover wherever they could, especially among the trees
of the garden beyond the gates, and thence shoot arrows at any one who
appeared upon the walls, or even fire them in volleys at the clouds, as
the Normans did at Hastings, so that they might fall upon the heads
of persons in the courtyards. Although these cautious tactics cost us
several men, they had the advantage of furnishing us with a supply of
ammunition which we sorely needed. All the spent arrows were carefully
collected and made use of against the enemy, at whom we shot whenever
opportunity offered. We did them but little damage, however, since they
were extremely careful not to expose themselves.

In this fashion three dreary days went past, unrelieved by any incident
except a feint, for it was scarcely more, which the Abati made upon
the second night, apparently with the object of forcing the great gates
under cover of a rainstorm. The advance was discovered at once, and
repelled by two or three volleys of arrows and some rifle shots. Of
these rifles, indeed, whereof we possessed about a score, the Abati were
terribly afraid. Picking out some of the most intelligent soldiers we
taught them how to handle our spare guns, and though, of course, their
shooting was extremely erratic, the result of it, backed up by our
own more accurate marksmanship, was to force the enemy to take cover.
Indeed, after one or two experiences of the effect of bullets, not a man
would show himself in the open within five hundred yards until night had
fallen.

On the third afternoon we held a council to determine what must be done,
since for the last twenty-four hours it had been obvious that things
could not continue as they were. To begin with, we had only sufficient
food left to keep our force from starvation for two more days. Also
the spirits of our soldiers, brave men enough when actual fighting
was concerned, were beginning to flag in this atmosphere of inaction.
Gathered into groups, they talked of their wives and children, and of
what would happen to them at the hands of Joshua; also of their cattle
and crops, saying that doubtless these were being ravaged and their
houses burned. In vain did Maqueda promise them five-fold their loss
when the war was ended, for evidently in their hearts they thought it
could only end one way. Moreover, as they pointed out, she could not
give them back their children if these were killed.

At this melancholy council every possible plan was discussed, to find
that these resolved themselves into two alternatives--to surrender,
or to take the bull by the horns, sally out of the palace at night and
attack Joshua. On the face of it, this latter scheme had the appearance
of suicide, but, in fact, it was not so desperate as it seemed. The
Abati being such cowards it was quite probable that they would run in
their thousands before the onset of a few hundred determined men, and
that, if once victory declared itself for the Child of Kings, the bulk
of her subjects would return to their allegiance. So we settled on it in
preference to surrender, which we knew meant death to ourselves, and for
Maqueda a choice between that last grim solution of her troubles and a
forced marriage.

But there were others to be convinced, namely, the Mountaineers. Japhet,
who had been present at the council, was sent to summon all of them
except those actually on guard, and when they were assembled in the
large inner court Maqueda went out and addressed them.

I do not remember the exact words of her speech, and I made no note of
them, but it was extremely beautiful and touching. She pointed out her
plight, and that we could halt no longer between two opinions, who must
either fight or yield. For herself she said she did not care, since,
although she was young and their ruler, she set no store upon her life,
and would give it up gladly rather than be driven into a marriage
which she considered shameful, and forced to pass beneath the yoke of
traitors.

But for us foreigners she did care. We had come to her country at her
invitation, we had served her nobly, one of us had given his life to
protect her person, and now, in violation of her safeguard and that of
the Council, we were threatened with a dreadful death. Were they, her
subjects, so lacking in honour and hospitality that they would suffer
such a thing with no blow struck to save us?

Now the majority of them shouted "No," but some were silent, and one old
captain advanced, saluted, and spoke.

"Child of Kings," he said, "let us search out the truth of this matter.
Is it not because of your love of the foreign soldier, Orme, that all
this trouble has arisen? Is not that love unlawful according to our law,
and are you not solemnly affianced to the Prince Joshua?"

Maqueda considered awhile before she replied, and said slowly:

"Friend, my heart is my own, therefore upon this point answer your
question for yourself. As regards my uncle Joshua, if there existed any
abiding contract between us it was broken when a few nights ago he sent
his servants armed to attack and drag me off I know not whither. Would
you have me marry a traitor and a coward? I have spoken."

"No," again shouted the majority of the soldiers.

Then in the silence that followed the old captain replied, with a
canniness that was almost Scotch:

"On the point raised by you, O Child of Kings, I give no opinion, since
you, being but a woman, if a high-born one, would not listen to me if I
did, but will doubtless follow that heart of yours of which you speak to
whatever end is appointed. Settle the matter with your betrothed Joshua
as you will. But we also have a matter to settle with Joshua, who is a
toad with a long tongue that if he seems slow yet never misses his fly.
We took up your cause, and have killed a great number of his people, as
he has killed some of ours. This he will not forget. Therefore it seems
to me that it will be wise that we should make what we can of the nest
that we have built, since it is better to die in battle than on the
gallows. For this reason, then, since we can stay here no longer, for
my part I am willing to go out and fight for you this night, although
Joshua's people being so many and ours so few, I shall think myself
fortunate if I live to see another sun."

This hard and reasoned speech seemed to appeal to the dissentients, with
the result that they withdrew their opposition, and it was agreed that
we should attempt to break our way through the besieging army about one
hour before the dawn, when they would be heavily asleep and most liable
to panic.

Yet, as it chanced, that sortie was destined never to take place, which
perhaps was fortunate for us, since I am convinced that it would have
ended in failure. It is true that we might have forced our way through
Joshua's army, but afterwards those of us who remained alive would have
been surrounded, starved out, and, when our strength and ammunition were
exhausted taken prisoners or cut down.

However that may be, events shaped a different course for us, perhaps
because the Abati got wind of our intention and had no stomach for
a pitched battle with desperate men. As it happened, this night from
sunset on to moonrise was one of a darkness so remarkable that it was
impossible to see anything even a foot away, also a wind blowing from
the east made sounds very inaudible. Only a few of our men were on
guard, since it was necessary that they should be rested till it was
time for them to prepare for their great effort. Also, we had little
fear of any direct attack.

About eight o'clock, however, my son Roderick, one of the watch
stationed in the gateway towers, who was gifted with very quick ears,
reported that he thought he heard people moving on the farther side of
the massive wooden doors beyond the moat. Accordingly some of us went to
listen, but could distinguish nothing, and concluded therefore that he
was mistaken. So we retired to our posts and waited patiently for the
moon to rise. But as it chanced no moon rose, or rather we could not
see her, because the sky was completely covered by thick banks of
thunder-clouds presaging the break-up of a period of great heat. These,
as the wind had now died down, remained quite stationary upon the face
of the sky, blotting out all light.

Perhaps another hour had passed when, chancing to look behind me, I saw
what I thought was a meteor falling from the crest of the cliff against
which the palace was built, that cliff whither the head of the idol
Harmac had been carried by the force of the explosion.

"Look at that shooting star," I said to Oliver, who was at my side.

"It is not a shooting star, it is fire," he replied in a startled voice,
and, as he spoke, other streaks of light, scores of them, began to rain
down from the brow of the cliff and land upon the wooden buildings to
the rear of the palace that were dry as tinder with the drought, and,
what was worse, upon the gilded timber domes of the roof.

"Don't you understand the game?" he went on. "They have tied firebrands
to arrows and spears to burn us out. Sound the alarm. Sound the alarm!"

It was done, and presently the great range of buildings began to hum
like a hive of bees. The soldiers still half asleep, rushed hither
and thither shouting. The officers also, developing the characteristic
excitement of the Abati race in this hour of panic, yelled and screamed
at them, beating them with their fists and swords till some kind of
control was established.

Then attempts were made to extinguish the flames, which by this time
had got hold in half-a-dozen places. From the beginning the effort was
absolutely hopeless. It is true that there was plenty of water in the
moat, which was fed by a perennial stream that flowed down the face of
the precipice behind; but pumping engines of any sort were quite unknown
to the Abati, who, if a building took fire, just let it burn, contenting
themselves with safeguarding those in its neighbourhood. Moreover,
even in the palace, such articles as pails, jugs, or other vessels were
comparatively few and far between.

Those that we could find, however, were filled with water and passed
by lines of men to the places in most danger--that is, practically
everywhere--while other men tried to cut off the advance of the flames
by pulling down portions of the building.

But as fast as one fire was extinguished others broke out, for the rain
of burning darts and of lighted pots or lamps filled with oil descended
continuously from the cliff above. A strange and terrible sight it was
to see them flashing down through the darkness, like the fiery darts
that shall destroy the wicked in the day of Armageddon.

Still, we toiled on despairingly. On the roof we four white men, and
some soldiers under the command of Japhet, were pouring water on to
several of the gilded domes, which now were well alight. Close by,
wrapped in a dark cloak, and attended by some of her ladies, stood
Maqueda. She was quite calm, although sundry burning arrows and spears,
falling with great force from the cliff above, struck the flat roofs
close to where she stood.

Her ladies, however, were not calm. They wept and wrung their hands,
while one of them went into violent hysterics in her very natural
terror. Maqueda turned and bade them descend to the courtyard of the
gateway, where she said she would join them presently. They rushed off,
rejoicing to escape the sight of those burning arrows, one of which had
just pierced a man and set his clothes and hair on fire, causing him to
leap from the roof in his madness.

At Oliver's request I ran to the Child of Kings to lead her to some
safer place, if it could be found. But she would not stir.

"Let me be, O Adams," she said. "If I am to die, I will die here. But
I do not think that is fated," and with her foot she kicked aside a
burning spear that had struck the cement roof, and, rebounding, fallen
quite close to her. "If my people will not fight," she went on, with
bitter sarcasm, "at least they understand the other arts of war, for
this trick of theirs is clever. They are cruel also. Listen to them
mocking us in the square. They ask whether we will roast alive or come
out and have our throats cut. Oh!" she went on, clenching her hands,
"oh! that I should have been born the head of such an accursed race. Let
Sheol take them all, for in the day of their tribulation no finger will
I lift to save them."

She was silent for a moment, and down below, near the gateway, I heard
some brute screaming, "Pretty pigeons! Pretty pigeons, are your feathers
singeing? Come then into our pie, pretty pigeons, pretty pigeons!"
followed by shouts of ribald laughter.

But it chanced it was this hound himself who went into the "pie."
Presently, when the flames were brighter, I saw him, in the midst of a
crowd of his admirers, singing his foul song, another verse of it about
Maqueda, which I will not repeat, and by good fortune managed to put a
bullet through his head. It was not a bad shot considering the light and
circumstances, and the only one I fired that night. I trust also that it
will be the last I shall ever fire at any human being.

Just as I was about to leave Maqueda and return with her message to
Orme, to the effect that she would not move, the final catastrophe
occurred. Amongst the stables was a large shed filled with dry fodder
for the palace horses and camels. Suddenly this burst into a mass of
flame that spread in all directions. Then came the last, hideous panic.
From every part of the palace, the Mountaineers, men and officers
together, rushed down to the gateway. In a minute, with the single
exception of Japhet, we four and Maqueda were left alone upon the
roof, where we stood overwhelmed, not knowing what to do. We heard
the drawbridge fall; we heard the great doors burst upon beneath the
pressure of a mob of men; we heard a coarse voice--I thought it was that
of Joshua--yell:

"Kill whom you will, my children, but death to him who harms the Child
of Kings. She is my spoil!"

Then followed terrible sights and sounds. The cunning Abati had
stretched ropes outside the doors; it was the noise they made at this
work which had reached Roderick's ears earlier during the darkness. The
terrified soldiers, flying from the fire, stumbled and fell over these
ropes, nor could they rise again because of those who pressed behind.
What happened to them all I am sure I do not know, but doubtless many
were crushed to death and many more killed by Joshua's men. I trust,
however, that some of them escaped, since, compared to the rest of the
Abati, they were as lions are to cats, although, like all their race,
they lacked the stamina to fight an uphill game.

It was at the commencement of this terrific scene that I shot the
foul-mouthed singer.

"You shouldn't have done that, old fellow," screamed Higgs in his high
voice, striving to make himself heard above the tumult, "as it will show
those swine where we are."

"I don't think they will look for us here, anyway," I answered.

Then we watched awhile in silence.

"Come," said Orme at length, taking Maqueda by the hand.

"Where are you going, O Oliver?" she asked, hanging back. "Sooner will I
burn than yield to Joshua."

"I am going to the cave city," he answered; "we have nowhere else to
go, and little time to lose. Four men with rifles can hold that place
against a thousand. Come."

"I obey," she answered, bowing her head.

We went down the stairway that led from the roof on which the
inhabitants of the palace were accustomed to spend much of their day,
and even to sleep in hot weather, as is common in the East. Another
minute and we should have been too late. The fire from one of the domes
had spread to the upper story, and was already appearing in little
tongues of flame mingled with jets of black smoke through cracks in the
crumbling partition wall.

As a matter of fact this wall fell in just as my son Roderick, the last
of us, was passing down the stairs. With the curiosity of youth he had
lingered for a few moments to watch the sad scene below, a delay which
nearly cost him his life.

On the ground floor we found ourselves out of immediate danger, since
the fire was attacking this part of the palace from above and burning
downward. We had even time to go to our respective sleeping-places and
collect such of our possessions and valuables as we were able to carry.
Fortunately, among other things, these included all our note-books,
which to-day are of priceless value. Laden with these articles, we met
again in the audience hall, which, although it was very hot, seemed as
it had always been, a huge, empty place, whereof the roof, painted with
stars, was supported upon thick cedar columns, each of them hewn from a
single tree.

Passing down that splendid apartment, which an hour later had ceased to
exist, lamps in hand, for these we had found time to fetch and light,
we reached the mouth of the passage that led to the underground city
without meeting a single human being.

Had the Abati been a different race they could perfectly well have
dashed in and made us prisoners, for the drawbridge was still intact.
But their cowardice was our salvation, for they feared lest they should
be trapped by the fire. So I think at least, but justice compels me to
add that, on the spur of the moment, they may have found it impossible
to clear the gateways of the mass of fallen or dead soldiers over which
it would have been difficult to climb.

Such, at any rate, was the explanation that we heard afterwards.

We reached the mouth of the vast cave in perfect safety, and clambered
through the little orifice which was left between the rocks rolled
thither by the force of the explosion, or shaken down from the roof.
This hole, for it was nothing more, we proceeded to stop with a few
stones in such a fashion that it could not be forced without much toil
and considerable noise, only leaving one little tortuous channel through
which, if necessary, a man could creep.

The labour of rock-carrying, in which even Maqueda shared, occupied our
minds for awhile, and induced a kind of fictitious cheerfulness. But
when it was done, and the chilly silence of that enormous cave, so
striking in comparison with the roar of the flames and the hideous human
tumult which we had left without, fell upon us like sudden cold and
blinding night upon a wanderer in windy, sunlit mountains, all our
excitement perished. In a flash, we understood our terrible position,
we who had but escaped from the red fire to perish slowly in the black
darkness.

Still we strove to keep our spirits as best we could. Leaving Higgs to
watch the blocked passage, a somewhat superfluous task, since the fire
without was our best watchman, the rest of us threaded our way up the
cave, following the telephone wire which poor Quick had laid on the
night of the blowing-up of the god Harmac, till we came to what had been
our headquarters during the digging of the mine. Into the room which
was Oliver's, whence we had escaped with so much difficulty after
that event, we could not enter because of the transom that blocked the
doorway. Still, there were plenty of others at hand in the old temple,
although they were foul with the refuse of the bats that wheeled about
us in thousands, for these creatures evidently had some unknown access
to the open air. One of these rooms had served as our store-chamber, and
after a few rough preparations we assigned it to Maqueda.

"Friends," she said, as she surveyed its darksome entrance, "it looks
like the door of a tomb. Well, in the tomb there is rest, and rest I
must have. Leave me to sleep, who, were it not for you, O Oliver, would
pray that I might never wake again.

"Man," she added passionately, before us all, for now in face of the
last peril every false shame and wish to conceal the truth had left her;
"man, why were you born to bring woe upon my head and joy to my heart?
Well, well, the joy outweighs the woe, and even if the angel who led you
hither is named Azrael, still I shall bless him who has revealed to me
my soul. Yet for you I weep, and if only your life could be spared to
fulfil itself in happiness in the land that bore you, oh! for you I
would gladly die."

Now Oliver, who seemed deeply moved, stepped to her and began to whisper
into her ear, evidently making some proposal of which I think I can
guess the nature. She listened to him, smiling sadly, and made a motion
with her hand as though to thrust him away.

"Not so," she said, "it is nobly offered, but did I accept, through
whatever universes I may wander, those who came after me would know me
by my trail of blood, the blood of him who loved me. Perhaps, too, by
that crime I should be separated from you for ever. Moreover, I tell
you that though all seems black as this thick darkness, I believe that
things will yet end well for you and me--in this world or another."

Then she was gone, leaving Orme staring after her like a man in a
trance.

"I daresay they will," remarked Higgs _sotto voce_ to me, "and that's
first-rate so far as they are concerned. But what I should jolly well
like to know is how they are going to end for _us_ who haven't got a
charming lady to see us across the Styx."

"You needn't puzzle your brain over that," I answered gloomily, "for
I think there will soon be a few more skeletons in this beastly cave,
that's all. Don't you see that those Abati will believe we are burned in
the palace?"



CHAPTER XIX

STARVATION

I was right. The Abati did think that we had been burned. It never
occurred to them that we might have escaped to the underground city.
So at least I judged from the fact that they made no attempt to seek
us there until they learned the truth in the fashion that I am about to
describe. If anything, this safety from our enemies added to the trials
of those hideous days and nights. Had there been assaults to repel and
the excitement of striving against overwhelming odds, at any rate we
should have found occupation for our minds and remaining energies.

But there were none. By turns we listened at the mouth of the passage
for the echo of footsteps that never came. Nothing came to break a
silence so intense that at last our ears, craving for sound, magnified
the soft flitter of the bats into a noise as of eagle's wings, till
at last we spoke in whispers, because the full voice of man seemed to
affront the solemn quietude, seemed intolerable to our nerves.

Yet for the first day or two we found occupation of a sort. Of course
our first need was to secure a supply of food, of which we had only a
little originally laid up for our use in the chambers of the old temple,
tinned meats that we had brought from London and so forth, now nearly
all consumed. We remembered that Maqueda had told us of corn from
her estates which was stored annually in pits to provide against the
possibility of a siege of Mur, and asked her where it was.

She led us to a place where round stone covers with rings attached to
them were let into the floor of the cave, not unlike those which stop
the coal-shoots in a town pavement, only larger. With great difficulty
we prised one of these up; to me it did not seem to have been moved
since the ancient kings ruled in Mur and, after leaving it open for a
long while for the air within to purify, lowered Roderick by a rope we
had to report its contents. Next moment we heard him saying: "Want to
come up, please. This place is not pleasant."

We pulled him out and asked what he had found.

"Nothing good to eat," he answered, "only plenty of dead bones and one
rat that ran up my leg."

We tried the next two pits with the same result--they were full of human
bones. Then we cross-examined Maqueda, who, after reflection, informed
us that she now remembered that about five generations before a great
plague had fallen on Mur, which reduced its population by one-half. She
had heard, also, that those stricken with the plague were driven into
the underground city in order that they might not infect the others,
and supposed that the bones we saw were their remains. This information
caused us to close up those pits again in a great hurry, though really
it did not matter whether we caught the plague or no.

Still, as she was sure that corn was buried somewhere, we went to
another group of pits in a distant chamber, and opened the first one.
This time our search was rewarded, to the extent that we found at the
bottom of it some mouldering dust that years ago had been grain. The
other pits, two of which had been sealed up within three years as the
date upon the wax showed, were quite empty.

Then Maqueda understood what had happened.

"Surely the Abati are a people of rogues," she said. "See now, the
officers appointed to store away my corn which I gave them have stolen
it! Oh! may they live to lack bread even more bitterly than we do
to-day."

We went back to our sleeping-place in silence. Well might we be silent,
for of food we had only enough left for a single scanty meal. Water
there was in plenty, but no food. When we had recovered a little from
our horrible disappointment we consulted together.

"If we could get through the mine tunnel," said Oliver, "we might
escape into the den of lions, which were probably all destroyed by the
explosion, and so out into the open country."

"The Fung would take us there," suggested Higgs.

"No, no," broke in Roderick, "Fung all gone, or if they do, anything
better than this black hole, yes, even my wife."

"Let us look," I said, and we started.

When we reached the passage that led from the city to the Tomb of Kings,
it was to find that the wall at the end of it had been blown bodily back
into the parent cave, leaving an opening through which we could walk
side by side. Of course the contents of the tomb itself were scattered.
In all directions lay bones, objects of gold and other metals, or
overturned thrones. The roof and walls alone remained as they had been.

"What vandalism!" exclaimed Higgs, indignant even in his misery. "Why
wouldn't you let me move the things when I wanted to, Orme?"

"Because they would have thought that we were stealing them, old fellow.
Also those Mountaineers were superstitious, and I did not want them to
desert. But what does it matter, anyway? If you had, they would have
been burned in the palace."

By this time we had reached that end of the vast tomb where the
hunchbacked king used to sit, and saw at once that our quest was vain.
The tunnel which we had dug beyond was utterly choked with masses of
fallen rock that we could never hope to move, even with the aid of
explosives, of which we had none left.

So we returned, our last hope gone.

Also another trouble stared us in the face; our supply of the crude
mineral oil which the Abati used for lighting purposes was beginning to
run low. Measurement of what remained of the store laid up for our use
while the mine was being made, revealed the fact that there was only
enough left to supply four lamps for about three days and nights: one
for Maqueda, one for ourselves, one for the watchman near the tunnel
mouth, and one for general purposes.

This general-purpose lamp, as a matter of fact, was mostly made use of
by Higgs. Truly, he furnished a striking instance of the ruling passion
strong in death. All through those days of starvation and utter misery,
until he grew too weak and the oil gave out, he trudged backward and
forward between the old temple and the Tomb of Kings carrying a large
basket on his arm. Going out with this basket empty, he would bring
it back filled with gold cups and other precious objects that he had
collected from among the bones and scattered rubbish in the Tomb. These
objects he laboriously catalogued in his pocket-book at night, and
afterwards packed away in empty cases that had contained our supplies of
explosive and other goods, carefully nailing them down when filled.

"What on earth are you doing that for, Higgs?" I asked petulantly, as he
finished off another case, I think it was his twentieth.

"I don't know, Doctor," he answered in a thin voice, for like the rest
of us he was growing feeble on a water-diet. "I suppose it amuses me
to think how jolly it would be to open all these boxes in my rooms in
London after a first-rate dinner of fried sole and steak cut thick," and
he smacked his poor, hungry lips. "Yes, yes," he went on, "to take them
out one by one and show them to ---- and ----," and he mentioned by name
officials of sundry great museums with whom he was at war, "and see them
tear their hair with rage and jealousy, while they wondered in their
hearts if they could not manage to seize the lot for the Crown as
treasure-trove, or do me out of them somehow," and he laughed a little
in his old, pleasant fashion.

"Of course I never shall," he added sadly, "but perhaps one day some
other fellow will find them here and get them to Europe, and if he is
a decent chap, publish my notes and descriptions, of which I have put
a duplicate in each box, and so make my name immortal. Well, I'm off
again. There are four more cases to fill before the oil gives out, and
I must get that great gold head into one of them, though it is an awful
job to carry it far at a time. Doctor, what disease is it that makes
your legs suddenly give way beneath you, so that you find yourself
sitting in a heap on the floor without knowing how you came there? You
don't know? Well, no more do I, but I've got it bad. I tell you I'm
downright sore behind from continual and unexpected contact with the
rock."

Poor old Higgs! I did not like to tell him that his disease was
starvation.

Well, he went on with his fetching and carrying and cataloguing and
packing. I remember that the last load he brought in was the golden head
he had spoken of, the wonderful likeness of some prehistoric king which
has since excited so much interest throughout the world. The thing being
too heavy for him to carry in his weakened state, for it is much over
life-size, he was obliged to roll it before him, which accounts for the
present somewhat damaged condition of the nose and semi-Egyptian diadem.

Never shall I forget the sight of the Professor as he appeared out of
the darkness, shuffling along upon his knees where his garments were
worn into holes, and by the feeble light of the lamp that he moved from
time to time, painfully pushing the great yellow object forward, only a
foot or two at each push.

"Here it is at last," he gasped triumphantly, whilst we watched him with
indifferent eyes. "Japhet, help me to wrap it up in the mat and lift
it into the box. No, no, you donkey--face upward--so. Never mind the
corners, I'll fill them with ring-money and other trifles," and out of
his wide pockets he emptied a golden shower, amongst which he sifted
handfuls of dust from the floor and anything else he could find to serve
as packing, finally covering all with a goat's-hair blanket which he
took from his bed.

Then very slowly he found the lid of the box and nailed it down, resting
between every few strokes of the hammer whilst we watched him in our
intent, but idle, fashion, wondering at the strange form of his madness.

At length the last nail was driven, and seated on the box he put his
hand into an inner pocket to find his note-book, then incontinently
fainted. I struggled to my feet and sprinkled water over his face till
he revived and rolled on to the floor, where presently he sank into
sleep or torpor. As he did so the first lamp gave out.

"Light it, Japhet," said Maqueda, "it is dark in this place."

"O Child of Kings," answered the man, "I would obey if I could, but
there is no more oil."

Half-an-hour later the second lamp went out. By the light that remained
we made such arrangements as we could, knowing that soon darkness would
be on us. They were few and simple: the fetching of a jar or two
of water, the placing of arms and ammunition to our hands, and the
spreading out of some blankets on which to lie down side by side upon
what I for one believed would be our bed of death.

While we were thus engaged, Japhet crawled into our circle from the
outer gloom. Suddenly I saw his haggard face appear, looking like that
of a spirit rising from the grave.

"My lamp is burned out," he moaned; "it began to fail whilst I was
on watch at the tunnel mouth, and before I was half-way here it died
altogether. Had it not been for the wire of the 'thing-that-speaks'
which guided me, I could never have reached you. I should have been lost
in the darkness of the city and perished alone among the ghosts."

"Well, you are here now," said Oliver. "Have you anything to report?"

"Nothing, lord, or at least very little. I moved some of the small rocks
that we piled up, and crept down the hole till I came to a place where
the blessed light of day fell upon me, only one little ray of it, but
still the light of day. I think that something has fallen upon the
tunnel and broken it, perhaps one of the outer walls of the palace.
At least I looked through a crack and saw everywhere ruins--ruins that
still smoke. From among them I heard the voices of men shouting to each
other.

"One of them called to his companion that it was strange, if the
Gentiles and the Child of Kings had perished in the fire, that they had
not found their bones which would be known by the guns they carried. His
friend answered that it was strange indeed, but being magicians, perhaps
they had hidden away somewhere. For his part he hoped so, as then sooner
or later they would be found and put to death slowly, as they deserved,
who had led astray the Child of Kings and brought so many of the
heaven-descended Abati to their death. Then fearing lest they should
find and kill me, for they drew near as I could tell by their voices, I
crept back again, and that is all my story."

We said nothing; there seemed to be nothing to say, but sat in our sad
circle and watched the dying lamp. When it began to flicker, leaping up
and down like a thing alive, a sudden panic seized poor Japhet.

"O Walda Nagasta," he cried, throwing himself at her feet, "you have
called me a brave man, but I am only brave where the sun and the stars
shine. Here in the dark amongst so many angry spirits, and with hunger
gnawing at my bowels, I am a great coward; Joshua himself is not such a
coward as I. Let us go out into the light while there is yet time. Let
us give ourselves up to the Prince. Perhaps he will be merciful and
spare our lives, or at least he will spare yours, and if we die, it will
be with the sun shining on us."

But Maqueda only shook her head, whereon he turned to Orme and went on:

"Lord, would you have the blood of the Child of Kings upon your hands?
Is it thus that you repay her for her love? Lead her forth. No harm will
come to her who otherwise must perish here in misery."

"You hear what the man says, Maqueda?" said Orme heavily. "There is some
truth in it. It really does not matter to us whether we die in the power
of the Abati or here of starvation; in fact, I think that we should
prefer the former end, and doubtless no hand will be laid on you. Will
you go?"

"Nay," she answered passionately. "A hand would be laid on me, the hand
of Joshua, and rather than that he should touch me I will die a hundred
deaths. Let fate take its course, for as I have told you, I believe that
then it will open to us some gate we cannot see. And if I believe in
vain, why there is another gate which we can pass together, O Oliver,
and beyond that gate lies peace. Bid the man be silent, or drive him
away. Let him trouble me no more."



The lamp flame sank low. It flickered, once, twice, thrice, each time
showing the pale, drawn faces of us six seated about it, like wizards
making an incantation, like corpses in a tomb.

Then it went out.

How long were we in that place after this? At least three whole days and
nights, I believe, if not more, but of course we soon lost all count of
time. At first we suffered agonies from famine, which we strove in vain
to assuage with great draughts of water. No doubt these kept us alive,
but even Higgs, who it may be remembered was a teetotaller, afterwards
confessed to me that he has loathed the sight and taste of water ever
since. Indeed he now drinks beer and wine like other people. It was
torture; we could have eaten anything. In fact the Professor did manage
to catch and eat a bat that got entangled in his red hair. He offered me
a bite of it, I remember, and was most grateful when I declined.

The worst of it was also that we had a little food, a few hard ship's
biscuits, which we had saved up for a purpose, namely, to feed Maqueda.
This was how we managed it. At certain intervals I would announce that
it was time to eat, and hand Maqueda her biscuit. Then we would all
pretend to eat also, saying how much we felt refreshed by the food and
how we longed for more, smacking our lips and biting on a piece of wood
so that she could not help hearing us.

This piteous farce went on for forty-eight hours or more until at
last the wretched Japhet, who was quite demoralized and in no mood for
acting, betrayed us, exactly how I cannot remember. After this Maqueda
would touch nothing more, which did not greatly matter as there was only
one biscuit left. I offered it to her, whereon she thanked me and all
of us for our courtesy toward a woman, took the biscuit, and gave it to
Japhet, who ate it like a wolf.

It was some time after this incident that we discovered Japhet to be
missing; at least we could no longer touch him, nor did he answer when
we called. Therefore, we concluded that he had crept away to die and,
I am sorry to say, thought little more about it for, after all, what he
suffered, or had suffered, we suffered also.

I recall that before we were overtaken by the last sleep, a strange
fit came upon us. Our pangs passed away, much as the pain does when
mortification follows a wound, and with them that horrible craving for
nutriment. We grew cheerful and talked a great deal. Thus Roderick gave
me the entire history of the Fung people and of his life among them and
other savage tribes. Further, he explained every secret detail of their
idol worship to Higgs, who was enormously interested, and tried to
make some notes by the aid of our few remaining matches. When even that
subject was exhausted, he sang to us in his beautiful voice--English
hymns and Arab songs. Oliver and Maqueda also chatted together quite
gaily, for I heard them laughing, and gathered that he was engaged in
trying to teach her English.

The last thing that I recollect is the scene as it was revealed by the
momentary light of one of the last matches. Maqueda sat by Oliver. His
arm was about her waist, her head rested upon his shoulder, her long
hair flowed loose, her large and tender eyes stared from her white, wan
face up toward his face, which was almost that of a mummy.

Then on the other side stood my son, supporting himself against the wall
of the room, and beyond him Higgs, a shadow of his former self, feebly
waving a pencil in the air and trying, apparently, to write a note upon
his Panama straw hat, which he held in his left hand, as I suppose,
imagining it to be his pocket-book. The incongruity of that sun-hat in
a place where no sun had ever come made me laugh, and as the match went
out I regretted that I had forgotten to look at his face to ascertain
whether he was still wearing his smoked spectacles.

"What is the use of a straw hat and smoked spectacles in kingdom-come?"
I kept repeating to myself, while Roderick, whose arm I knew was about
me, seemed to answer:

"The Fung wizards say that the sphinx Harmac once wore a hat, but, my
father, I do not know if he had spectacles."

Then a sensation as of being whirled round and round in some vast
machine, down the sloping sides of which I sank at last into a vortex of
utter blackness, whereof I knew the name was death.

Dimly, very dimly, I became aware that I was being carried. I heard
voices in my ears, but what they said I could not understand. Then a
feeling of light struck upon my eyeballs which gave me great pain. Agony
ran all through me as it does through the limbs of one who is being
brought back from death by drowning. After this something warm was
poured down my throat, and I went to sleep.

When I awoke again it was to find myself in a large room that I did not
know. I was lying on a bed, and by the light of sunrise which streamed
through the window-places I saw the three others, my son Roderick, Orme
and Higgs lying on the other beds, but they were still asleep.

Abati servants entered the room bringing food, a kind of rough soup with
pieces of meat in it of which they gave me a portion in a wooden bowl
that I devoured greedily. Also they shook my companions until they awoke
and almost automatically ate up the contents of similar bowls, after
which they went to sleep again, as I did, thanking heaven that we were
all still alive.

Every few hours I had a vision of these men entering with the bowls
of soup or porridge, until at last life and reason came back to me in
earnest, and I saw Higgs sitting up on the bed opposite and staring at
me.

"I say, old fellow," he said, "are we alive, or is this Hades?"

"Can't be Hades," I answered, "because there are Abati here."

"Quite right," he replied. "If the Abati go anywhere, it's to hell,
where they haven't whitewashed walls and four-post beds. Oliver, wake
up. We are out of that cave, anyway."

Orme raised himself on his hand and stared at us.

"Where's Maqueda?" he asked, a question to which of course, we could
give no answer, till presently Roderick woke also and said:

"I remember something. They carried us all out of the cave; Japhet was
with them. They took the Child of Kings one way and us another, that is
all I know."

Shortly afterwards the Abati servants arrived, bearing food more solid
than the soup, and with them came one of their doctors, not that old
idiot of a court physician, who examined us, and announced that
we should all recover, a fact which we knew already. We asked many
questions of him and the servants, but could get no answer, for
evidently they were sworn to silence. However, we persuaded them to
bring us water to wash in. It came, and with it a polished piece of
metal, such as the Abati use for a looking-glass, in which we saw our
faces, the terrible, wasted faces of those who have gone within a hair's
breadth of death by starvation in the dark.

Yet although our gaolers would say nothing, something in their aspect
told us that we were in sore peril of our lives. They looked at us
hungrily, as a terrier looks at rats in a wire cage of which the door
will presently be opened. Moreover, Roderick, who, as I think I have
said, has very quick ears, overheard one of the attendants whisper to
another:

"When does our service on these hounds of Gentiles come to an end?" to
which his fellow answered, "The Council has not yet decided, but I think
to-morrow or the next day, if they are strong enough. It will be a great
show."

Also that evening, about sunset, we heard a mob shouting outside the
barrack in which we were imprisoned, for that was its real use, "Give us
the Gentiles! Give us the Gentiles! We are tired of waiting," until at
length some soldiers drove them away.

Well, we talked the thing over, only to conclude that there was nothing
to be done. We had no friend in the place except Maqueda, and she,
it appeared, was a prisoner like ourselves, and therefore could not
communicate with us. Nor could we see the slightest possibility of
escape.

"Out of the frying-pan into the fire," remarked Higgs gloomily. "I wish
now that they had let us die in the cave. It would have been better than
being baited to death by a mob of Abati."

"Yes," answered Oliver with a sigh, for he was thinking of Maqueda, "but
that's why they saved us, the vindictive beasts, to kill us for what
they are pleased to call high treason."

"High treason!" exclaimed Higgs. "I hope to goodness their punishment
for the offence is not that of mediæval England; hanging is bad
enough--but the rest----!"

"I don't think the Abati study European history," I broke in; "but it
is no use disguising from you that they have methods of their own. Look
here, friends," I added, "I have kept something about me in case
the worst should come to the worst," and I produced a little bottle
containing a particularly swift and deadly poison done up into tabloids,
and gave one to each of them. "My advice is," I added, "that if you see
we are going to be exposed to torture or to any dreadful form of death,
you should take one of these, as I mean to do, and cheat the Abati of
their vengeance."

"That is all very fine," said the Professor as he pocketed his tabloid,
"but I never could swallow a pill without water at the best of times,
and I don't believe those beasts will give one any. Well, I suppose I
must suck it, that's all. Oh! if only the luck would turn, if only the
luck would turn!"

Three more days went by without any sign of Higgs's aspiration being
fulfilled. On the contrary, except in one respect, the luck remained
steadily against us. The exception was that we got plenty to eat and
consequently regained our normal state of health and strength more
rapidly than might have been expected. With us it was literally a case
of "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."

Only somehow I don't think that any of us really believed that we should
die, though whether this was because we had all, except poor Quick,
survived so much, or from a sneaking faith in Maqueda's optimistic
dreams, I cannot say. At any rate we ate our food with appetite, took
exercise in an inner yard of the prison, and strove to grow as strong as
we could, feeling that soon we might need all our powers. Oliver was the
most miserable among us, not for his own sake, but because, poor fellow,
he was haunted with fears as to Maqueda and her fate, although of these
he said little or nothing to us. On the other hand, my son Roderick was
by far the most cheerful. He had lived for so many years upon the brink
of death that this familiar gulf seemed to have no terrors for him.

"All come right somehow, my father," he said airily. "Who can know what
happen? Perhaps Child of King drag us out of mud-hole, for after all
she was very strong cow, or what you call it, heifer, and I think toss
Joshua if he drive her into corner. Or perhaps other thing occur."

"What other thing, Roderick?" I asked.

"Oh! don't know, can't say, but I think Fung thing. Believe we not done
with Fung yet, believe they not run far. Believe they take thought for
morrow and come back again. Only," he added sadly, "hope my wife not
come back, for that old girl too full of lofty temper for me. Still,
cheer up, not dead yet by long day's march, and meanwhile food good
and this very jolly rest after beastly underground city. Now I tell
Professor some more stories about Fung religion, den of lions, and so
forth."

On the morning after this conversation a crisis came. Just as we had
finished breakfast the doors of our chamber were thrown open and in
marched a number of soldiers wearing Joshua's badge. They were headed by
an officer of his household, who commanded us to rise and follow him.

"Where to?" asked Orme.

"To take your trial before the Child of Kings and her Council, Gentile,
upon the charge of having murdered certain of her subjects," answered
the officer sternly.

"That's all right," said Higgs with a sigh of relief. "If Maqueda is
chairman of the Bench we are pretty certain of an acquittal, for Orme's
sake if not for our own."

"Don't you be too sure of that," I whispered into his ear. "The
circumstances are peculiar, and women have been known to change their
minds."

"Adams," he replied, glaring at me through his smoked spectacles, "If
you talk like that we shall quarrel. Maqueda change her mind indeed!
Why, it is an insult to suggest such a thing, and if you take my advice
you won't let Oliver hear you. Don't you remember, man, that she's in
love with him?"

"Oh, yes," I answered, "but I remember also that Prince Joshua is in
love with her, and that she is his prisoner."



CHAPTER XX

THE TRIAL AND AFTER

They set us in a line, four ragged-looking fellows, all of us with
beards of various degrees of growth, that is, all the other three, for
mine had been an established fact for years, and everything having been
taken away from us, we possessed neither razor nor scissors.

In the courtyard of our barrack we were met by a company of soldiers,
who encircled us about with a triple line of men, as we thought to
prevent any attempt of escape. So soon as we passed the gates I found,
however, that this was done for a different reason, namely, to protect
us from the fury of the populace. All the way from the barrack to the
courthouse, whither we were being taken now that the palace was burned,
the people were gathered in hundreds, literally howling for our blood.
It was a strange, and, in a way, a dreadful sight to see even the
brightly dressed women and children shaking their fists and spitting at
us with faces distorted by hate.

"Why they love you so little, father, when you do so much for them?"
asked Roderick, shrugging his shoulders and dodging a stone that nearly
hit him on the head.

"For two reasons," I answered. "Because their Lady loves one of us too
much, and because through us many of their people have lost their lives.
Also they hate strangers, and are by nature cruel, like most cowards,
and now that they have no more fear of the Fung, they think it will be
safe to kill us."

"Ah!" said Roderick; "yet Harmac has come to Mur," and he pointed to the
great head of the idol seated on the cliff, "and I think where Harmac
goes, Fung follow, and if so they make them pay plenty for my life, for
I great man among Fung; Fung myself husband of Sultan's daughter. These
fools, like children, because they see no Fung, think there are no Fung.
Well, in one year, or perhaps one month, they learn."

"I daresay, my boy," I answered, "but I am afraid that won't help us."

By now we were approaching the court-house where the Abati priests and
learned men tried civil and some criminal cases. Through a mob of nobles
and soldiers who mocked us as we went, we were hustled into the large
hall of judgment that was already full to overflowing.

Up the centre of it we marched to a clear space reserved for the parties
to a cause, or prisoners and their advocates, beyond which, against the
wall, were seats for the judges. These were five members of the Council,
one of whom was Joshua, while in the centre as President of the Court,
and wearing her veil and beautiful robes of ceremony, sat Maqueda
herself.

"Thank God, she's safe!" muttered Oliver with a gasp of relief.

"Yes," answered Higgs, "but what's she doing there? She ought to be in
the dock, too, not on the Bench."

We reached the open space, and were thrust by soldiers armed with swords
to where we must stand, and although each of us bowed to her, I observed
that Maqueda took not the slightest notice of our salutations. She only
turned her head and said something to Joshua on her right, which caused
him to laugh.

Then with startling suddenness the case began. A kind of public
prosecutor stood forward and droned out the charge against us. It was
that we, who were in the employ of the Abati, had traitorously taken
advantage of our position as mercenary captains to stir up a civil
war, in which many people had lost their lives, and some been actually
murdered by ourselves and our companion who was dead. Moreover, that
we had caused their palace to be burned and, greatest crime of all, had
seized the sacred person of the Walda Nagasta, Rose of Mur, and dragged
her away into the recesses of the underground city, whence she was only
rescued by the chance of an accomplice of ours, one Japhet, betraying
our hiding-place.

This was the charge which, it will be noted, contained no allusion
whatever to the love entanglement between Maqueda and Oliver. When it
was finished the prosecutor asked us what we pleaded, whereon Oliver
answered as our spokesman that it was true there had been fighting and
men killed, also that we had been driven into the cave, but as to all
the rest the Child of Kings knew the truth, and must speak for us as she
wished.

Now the audience began to shout, "They plead guilty! Give them to
death!" and so forth, while the judges rising from their seats, gathered
round Maqueda and consulted her.

"By heaven! I believe she is going to give us away!" exclaimed Higgs,
whereon Oliver turned on him fiercely and bade him hold his tongue,
adding:

"If you were anywhere else you should answer for that slander!"

At length the consultation was finished; the judges resumed their seats,
and Maqueda held up her hand. Thereon an intense silence fell upon the
place. Then she began to speak in a cold, constrained voice:

"Gentiles," she said, addressing us, "you have pleaded guilty to the
stirring up of civil war in Mur, and to the slaying of numbers of its
people, facts of which there is no need for evidence, since many widows
and fatherless children can testify to them to-day. Moreover, you did,
as alleged by my officer, commit the crime of bearing off my person into
the cave and keeping me there by force to be a hostage for your safety."

We heard and gasped, Higgs ejaculating, "Good gracious, what a lie!" But
none of the rest of us said anything.

"For these offences," went on Maqueda, "you are all of you justly worthy
of a cruel death." Then she paused and added, "Yet, as I have the power
to do, I remit the sentence. I decree that this day you and all the
goods that remain to you which have been found in the cave city, and
elsewhere, together with camels for yourselves and your baggage, shall
be driven from Mur, and that if any one of you returns hither, he shall
without further trial be handed over to the executioners. This I do
because at the beginning of your service a certain bargain was made with
you, and although you have sinned so deeply I will not suffer that
the glorious honour of the Abati people shall be tarnished even by the
breath of suspicion. Get you gone, Wanderers, and let us see your faces
no more for ever!"

Now the mob gathered in the hall shouted in exultation, though I heard
some crying out, "No, kill them! Kill them!"

When the tumult had died down Maqueda spoke again saying:

"O noble and generous Abati, you approve of this deed of mercy; you who
would not be held merciless in far lands, O Abati, where, although you
may not have heard of them, there are, I believe, other peoples who
think themselves as great as you. You would not have it whispered, I
say, that we who are the best of the world, we, the children of Solomon,
have dealt harshly even with stray dogs that have wandered to our gates?
Moreover, we called these dogs to hunt a certain beast for us, the
lion-headed beast called Fung, and, to be just to them, they hunted
well. Therefore spare them the noose, though they may have deserved it,
and let them run hence with their bone, say you, the bone which they
think that they have earned. What does a bone more or less matter to the
rich Abati, if only their holy ground is not defiled with the blood of
Gentile dogs?"

"Nothing at all! Nothing at all!" they shouted. "Tie it to their tails
and let them go!"

"It shall be done, O my people! And now that we have finished with these
dogs, I have another word to say to you. You may have thought or heard
that I was too fond of them, and especially of one of them," and she
glanced toward Oliver. "Well, there are certain dogs who will not work
unless you pat them on the head. Therefore I patted this one on the
head, since, after all, he is a clever dog who knows things that we do
not know; for instance, how to destroy the idol of the Fung. O great
Abati, can any of you really have believed that I, of the ancient race
of Solomon and Sheba, I, the Child of Kings, purposed to give my noble
hand to a vagrant Gentile come hither for hire? Can you really have
believed that I, the solemnly betrothed to yonder Prince of Princes,
Joshua, my uncle, would for a moment even in my heart have preferred to
him such a man as that?" And once again she looked at Oliver, who made
a wild motion, as though he were about to speak. But before he could so
much as open his lips Maqueda went on:

"Well, if you believed, not guessing all the while I was working for the
safety of my people, soon shall you be undeceived, since to-morrow night
I invite you to the great ceremony of my nuptials, when, according to
the ancient custom, I break the glass with him whom on the following
night I take to be my husband," and rising, she bowed thrice to the
audience, then stretched out her hand to Joshua.

He, too, rose, puffing himself out like a great turkey-cock, and, taking
her hand, kissed it, gobbling some words which we did not catch.

Wild cheering followed, and in the momentary silence which followed
Oliver spoke.

"Lady," he said, in a cold and bitter voice, "we 'Gentiles' have heard
your words. We thank you for your kind acknowledgment of our services,
namely, the destruction of the idol of the Fung at the cost of some
risk and labour to ourselves. We thank you also for your generosity in
allowing us, as the reward of that service, to depart from Mur, with
insult and hard words, and such goods as remain to us, instead of
consigning us to death by torture, as you and your Council have the
power to do. It is indeed a proof of your generosity, and of that of the
Abati people which we shall always remember and repeat in our own land,
should we live to reach it. Also, we trust that it will come to the
ears of the savage Fung, so that at length they may understand that
true nobility and greatness lie not in brutal deeds of arms, but in the
hearts of men. But now, Walda Nagasta, I have a last request to make of
you, namely, that I may see your face once more to be sure that it is
you who have spoken to us, and not another beneath your veil, and that
if this be so, I may carry away with me a faithful picture of one so
true to her country and noble to her guests as you have shown yourself
this day."

She listened, then very slowly lifted her veil, revealing such a
countenance as I had never seen before. It was Maqueda without a doubt,
but Maqueda changed. Her face was pale, which was only to be expected
after all she had gone through; her eyes glowed in it like coals, her
lips were set. But it was her expression, at once defiant and agonized,
which impressed me so much that I never shall forget it. I confess I
could not read it in the least, but it left upon my mind the belief that
she was a false woman, and yet ashamed of her own falsity. There was the
greatest triumph of her art, that in those terrible circumstances she
should still have succeeded in conveying to me, and to the hundreds of
others who watched, this conviction of her own turpitude.

For a moment her eyes met those of Orme, but although he searched
them with pleading and despair in his glance, I could trace in hers no
relenting sign, but only challenge not unmixed with mockery. Then with
a short, hard laugh she let fall her veil again and turned to talk with
Joshua. Oliver stood silent a little while, long enough for Higgs to
whisper to me:

"I say, isn't this downright awful? I'd rather be back in the den of
lions than live to see it."

As he spoke I saw Oliver put his hand to where his revolver usually
hung, but, of course, it had been taken from him. Next he began to
search in his pocket, and finding that tabloid of poison which I had
given him, lifted it toward his mouth. But just as it touched his lips,
my son, who was next to him, saw also. With a quick motion he struck it
from his fingers, and ground it to powder on the floor beneath his heel.

Oliver raised his arm as though to hit him, then without a sound fell
senseless. Evidently Maqueda noted all this also, for I saw a kind of
quiver go through her, and her hands gripped the arms of her chair till
the knuckles showed white beneath the skin. But she only said:

"This Gentile has fainted because he is disappointed with his reward.
Take him hence and let his companion, the Doctor Adams, attend to him.
When he is recovered, conduct them all from Mur as I have decreed. See
that they go unharmed, taking with them plenty of food lest it be said
that we only spared their lives here in order that they might starve
without our gates."

Then waving her hand to show that the matter was done with, she rose
and, followed by the judges and officers, left the court by some door
behind them.

While she spoke a strong body of guards had surrounded us, some of whom
came forward and lifted the senseless Oliver on to a stretcher. They
carried him down the court, the rest of us following.

"Look," jeered the Abati as he passed, "look at the Gentile pig who
thought to wear the Bud of the Rose upon his bosom. He has got the thorn
now, not the rose. Is the swine dead, think you?"

Thus they mocked him and us.

We reached our prison in safety, and there I set to work to revive
Oliver, a task in which I succeeded at length. When he had come to
himself again he drank a cup of water, and said quite quietly:

"You fellows have seen all, so there is no need for talk and
explanations. One thing I beg of you, if you are any friends of mine,
and it is that you will not reproach or even speak of Maqueda to me.
Doubtless she had reasons for what she did; moreover, her bringing up
has not been the same as ours, and her code is different. Do not let us
judge her. I have been a great fool, that is all, and now I am paying
for my folly, or, rather, I have paid. Come, let us have some dinner,
for we don't know when we shall get another meal."

We listened to this speech in silence, only I saw Roderick turn aside to
hide a smile and wondered why he smiled.

Scarcely had we finished eating, or pretending to eat, when an officer
entered the room and informed us roughly that it was time for us to
be going. As he did so some attendants who had followed him threw us
bundles of clothes, and with them four very beautiful camel-hair cloaks
to protect us from the cold. With some of these garments we replaced our
rags, for they were little more, tying them and the rest of the outfit
up into bundles.

Then, clothed as Abati of the upper class, we were taken to the gates
of the barrack, where we found a long train of riding camels waiting for
us. The moment that I saw these beasts I knew that they were the best
in the whole land, and of very great value. Indeed, that to which Oliver
was conducted was Maqueda's own favourite dromedary, which upon state
occasions she sometimes rode instead of a horse. He recognized it at
once, poor fellow, and coloured to the eyes at this unexpected mark of
kindness, the only one she had vouchsafed to him.

"Come, Gentiles," said the officer, "and take count of your goods, that
you may not say that we have stolen anything from you. Here are your
firearms and all the ammunition that is left. These will be given to you
at the foot of the pass, but not before, lest you should do more murder
on the road. On those camels are fastened the boxes in which you brought
up the magic fire. We found them in your quarters in the cave city,
ready packed, but what they contain we neither know nor care. Full or
empty, take them, they are yours. Those," and he pointed to two other
beasts, "are laden with your pay, which the Child of Kings sends to you,
requesting that you will not count it till you reach Egypt or your own
land, since she wishes no quarrelling with you as to the amount. The
rest carry food for you to eat; also, there are two spare beasts. Now,
mount and begone."

So we climbed into the embroidered saddles of the kneeling dromedaries,
and a few minutes later were riding through Mur toward the pass,
accompanied by our guard and hooting mobs that once or twice became
threatening, but were driven off by the soldiers.

"I say, Doctor," said Higgs to me excitedly, "do you know that we
have got all the best of the treasure of the Tomb of Kings in those
five-and-twenty crates? I have thought since that I was crazy when I
packed them, picking out the most valuable and rare articles with such
care, and filling in the cracks with ring money and small curiosities,
but now I see it was the inspiration of genius. My subliminal self knew
what was going to happen, and was on the job, that's all. Oh, if only
we can get it safe away, I shall not have played Daniel and been nearly
starved to death for nothing. Why, I'd go through it all again for that
golden head alone. Shove on, shove on, before they change their minds;
it seems too good to be true."

Just then a rotten egg thrown by some sweet Abati youth landed full on
the bridge of his nose, and dispersing itself into his mouth and over
his smoked spectacles, cut short the Professor's eloquence, or rather
changed its tenor. So absurd was the sight that in spite of myself I
burst out laughing, and with that laugh felt my heart grow lighter, as
though our clouds of trouble were lifting at length.

At the mouth of the pass we found Joshua himself waiting for us, clad
in all his finery and chain armour, and looking more like a porpoise on
horseback than he had ever done.

"Farewell, Gentiles," he said, bowing to us in mockery, "we wish you a
quick journey to Sheol, or wherever such swine as you may go. Listen,
you Orme. I have a message for you from the Walda Nagasta. It is that
she is sorry she could not ask you to stop for her nuptial feast, which
she would have done had she not been sure that, if you stayed, the
people would have cut your throat, and she did not wish the holy soil of
Mur to be defiled with your dog's blood. Also she bids me say that she
hopes that your stay here will have taught you a lesson, and that in
future you will not believe that every woman who makes use of you for
her own ends is therefore a victim of your charms. To-morrow night and
the night after, I pray you think of our happiness and drink a cup of
wine to the Walda Nagasta and her husband. Come, will you not wish me
joy, O Gentile?"

Orme turned white as a sheet and gazed at him steadily. Then a strange
look came into his grey eyes, almost a look of inspiration.

"Prince Joshua," he said in a very quiet voice, "who knows what may
happen before the sun rises thrice on Mur? All things that begin well do
not end well, as I have learned, and as you also may live to learn. At
least, soon or late, your day of reckoning must come, and you, too, may
be betrayed as I have been. Rather should you ask me to forgive your
soul the insults that in your hour of triumph you have not been ashamed
to heap upon one who is powerless to avenge them," and he urged his
camel past him.

As we followed I saw Joshua's face turn as pale as Oliver's had done,
and his great round eyes protrude themselves like those of a fish.

"What does he mean?" said the prince to his companions. "Pray God he is
not a prophet of evil. Even now I have a mind--no, let him go. To break
my marriage vow might bring bad luck upon me. Let him go!" and he glared
after Oliver with fear and hatred written on his coarse features.

That was the last we ever saw of Joshua, uncle of Maqueda, and first
prince among the Abati.



Down the pass we went and through the various gates of the
fortifications, which were thrown open as we came and closed behind us.
We did not linger on that journey. Why should we when our guards were
anxious to be rid of us and we of them? Indeed, so soon as the last gate
was behind us, either from fear of the Fung or because they were in a
hurry to return to share in the festivities of the approaching marriage,
suddenly the Abati wheeled round, bade us farewell with a parting curse,
and left us to our own devices.

So, having roped the camels into a long line, we went on alone, truly
thankful to be rid of them, and praying, every one of us, that never
in this world or the next might we see the face or hear the voice of
another Abati.

We emerged on to the plain at the spot where months before we had held
our conference with Barung, Sultan of the Fung, and where poor Quick had
forced his camel on to Joshua's horse and dismounted that hero. Here we
paused awhile to arrange our little caravan and arm ourselves with
the rifles, revolvers, and cartridges which until now we had not been
allowed to touch.

There were but four of us to manage the long train of camels, so we were
obliged to separate. Higgs and I went ahead, since I was best acquainted
with the desert and the road, Oliver took the central station, and
Roderick brought up the rear, because he was very keen of sight and
hearing and from his long familiarity with them, knew how to drive
camels that showed signs of obstinacy or a wish to turn.

On our right lay the great city of Harmac. We noted that it seemed to be
quite deserted. There, rebuilt now, frowned the gateway through which we
had escaped from the Fung after we had blown so many of them to pieces,
but beneath it none passed in or out. The town was empty, and although
they were dead ripe the rich crops had not yet been reaped. Apparently
the Fung people had now left the land.

Now we were opposite to the valley of Harmac, and saw that the huge
sphinx still sat there as it had done for unknown thousands of years.
Only its head was gone, for that had "moved to Mur," and in its neck
and shoulders appeared great clefts, caused by the terrific force of the
explosion. Moreover, no sound came from the enclosures where the sacred
lions used to be. Doubtless every one of them was dead.

"Don't you think," suggested Higgs, whose archæological zeal was
rekindling fast, "that we might spare half-an-hour to go up the valley
and have a look at Harmac from the outside? Of course, both Roderick and
I are thoroughly acquainted with his inside, and the den of lions, and
so forth, but I would give a great deal just to study the rest of him
and take a few measurements. You know one must camp somewhere, and if we
can't find the camera, at dawn one might make a sketch."

"Are you mad?" I asked by way of answer, and Higgs collapsed, but to
this hour he has never forgiven me.

We looked our last upon Harmac, the god whose glory we had destroyed,
and went on swiftly till darkness overtook us almost opposite to that
ruined village where Shadrach had tried to poison the hound Pharaoh,
which afterwards tore out his throat. Here we unloaded the camels, no
light task, and camped, for near this spot there was water and a patch
of maize on which the beasts could feed.

Before the light quite faded Roderick rode forward for a little way to
reconnoitre, and presently returned announcing shortly that he had seen
no one. So we ate of the food with which the Abati had provided us, not
without fear lest it should be poisoned, and then held a council of war.

The question was whether we should take the old road toward Egypt, or
now that the swamps were dry, strike up northward by the other route of
which Shadrach had told us. According to the map this should be shorter,
and Higgs advocated it strongly, as I discovered afterwards because he
thought there might be more archæological remains in that direction.

I, on the other hand, was in favour of following the road we knew,
which, although long and very wearisome, was comparatively safe, as in
that vast desert there were few people to attack us, while Oliver, our
captain, listened to all we had to say, and reserved his opinion.

Presently, however, the question was settled for us by Roderick, who
remarked that if we travelled to the north we should probably fall in
with the Fung. I asked what he meant, and he replied that when he made
his reconnaissance an hour or so before, although it was true that he
had seen no one, not a thousand yards from where we sat he had come
across the track of a great army. This army, from various indications,
he felt sure was that of Barung, which had passed there within twelve
hours.

"Perhaps my wife with them, so I no want to go that way, father," he
added with sincere simplicity.

"Where could they be travelling?" I asked.

"Don't know," he answered, "but think they go round to attack Mur from
other side, or perhaps to find new land to north."

"We will stick to the old road," said Oliver briefly. "Like Roderick I
have had enough of all the inhabitants of this country. Now let us rest
awhile; we need it."

About two o'clock we were up again and before it was dawn on the
following morning we had loaded our camels and were on the road. By the
first faint light we saw that what Roderick had told us was true. We
were crossing the track of an army of many thousand men who had passed
there recently with laden camels and horses. Moreover, those men were
Fung, for we picked up some articles that could have belonged to no
other people, such as a head-dress that had been lost or thrown away,
and an arrow that had fallen from a quiver.

However, we saw nothing of them, and, travelling fast, to our great
relief by midday reached the river Ebur, which we crossed without
difficulty, for it was now low. That night we camped in the forest-lands
beyond, having all the afternoon marched up the rising ground at the
foot of which ran the river.

Toward dawn Higgs, whose turn it was to watch the camels, came and woke
me.

"Sorry to disturb you, old fellow," he said, "but there is a most
curious sky effect behind us which I thought you might like to see."

I rose and looked. In the clear, starlight night I could just discern
the mighty outline of the mountains of Mur. Above them the firmament was
suffused with a strange red glow. I formed my own conclusion at once,
but only said:

"Let us go to tell Orme," and led the way to where he had lain down
under a tree.

He was not sleeping; indeed, I do not think he had closed his eyes all
night, the night of Maqueda's marriage. On the contrary, he was standing
on a little knoll staring at the distant mountains and the glow above
them.

"Mur is on fire," he said solemnly. "Oh, my God, Mur is on fire!" and
turning he walked away.

Just then Roderick joined us.

"Fung got into Mur," he said, "and now cut throat of all Abati. We well
out of that, but pig Joshua have very warm wedding feast, because Barung
hate Joshua who try to catch him not fairly, which he never forget;
often talk of it."

"Poor Maqueda!" I said to Higgs, "what will happen to her?"

"I don't know," he answered, "but although once, like everybody else,
I adored that girl, really as a matter of justice she deserves all she
gets, the false-hearted little wretch. Still it is true," he added,
relenting, "she gave us very good camels, to say nothing of their
loads."

But I only repeated, "Poor Maqueda!"



That day we made but a short journey, since we wished to rest ourselves
and fill the camels before plunging into the wilderness, and feeling
sure that we should not be pursued, had no cause to hurry. At night we
camped in a little hollow by a stream that ran at the foot of a rise. As
dawn broke we were awakened by the voice of Roderick, who was on watch,
calling to us in tones of alarm to get up, as we were followed. We
sprang to our feet, seizing our rifles.

"Where are they?" I asked.

"There, there," he said, pointing toward the rise behind us.

We ran round some intervening bushes and looked, to see upon its crest a
solitary figure seated on a very tired horse, for it panted and its head
drooped. This figure, which was entirely hidden in a long cloak with
a hood, appeared to be watching our camp just as a spy might do. Higgs
lifted his rifle and fired at it, but Oliver, who was standing by him,
knocked the barrel up so that the bullet went high, saying:

"Don't be a fool. If it is only one man there's no need to shoot him,
and if there are more you will bring them on to us."

Then the figure urged the weary horse and advanced slowly, and I noticed
that it was very small. "A boy," I thought to myself, "who is bringing
some message."

The rider reached us, and slipping from the horse, stood still.

"Who are you?" asked Oliver, scanning the cloaked form.

"One who brings a token to you, lord," was the answer, spoken in a low
and muffled voice. "Here it is," and a hand, a very delicate hand, was
stretched out, holding between the fingers a ring.

I knew it at once; it was Sheba's ring which Maqueda had lent to me in
proof of her good faith when I journeyed for help to England. This ring,
it will be remembered, we returned to her with much ceremony at our
first public audience. Oliver grew pale at the sight of it.

"How did you come by this?" he asked hoarsely. "Is she who alone may
wear it dead?"

"Yes, yes," answered the voice, a feigned voice as I thought. "The Child
of Kings whom you knew is dead, and having no more need for this ancient
symbol of her power, she bequeathed it to you whom she remembered kindly
at the last."

Oliver covered his face with his hands and turned away.

"But," went on the speaker slowly, "the woman Maqueda whom once it is
said you loved----"

He dropped his hands and stared.

"----the woman Maqueda whom once it is said you--loved--still lives."

Then the hood slipped back, and in the glow of the rising sun we saw the
face beneath.

It was that of Maqueda herself!

A silence followed that in its way was almost awful.

"My Lord Oliver," asked Maqueda presently, "do you accept my offering of
Queen Sheba's ring?"



NOTE BY MAQUEDA

Once called Walda Nagasta and Takla Warda, that is, Child of Kings and
Bud of the Rose, once also by birth Ruler of the Abati people, the Sons
of Solomon and Sheba.

I, Maqueda, write this by the command of Oliver, my lord, who desires
that I should set out certain things in my own words.

Truly all men are fools, and the greatest of them is Oliver, my lord,
though perhaps he is almost equalled by the learned man whom the Abati
called Black Windows, and by the doctor, Son of Adam. Only he who is
named Roderick, child of Adam, is somewhat less blind, because having
been brought up among the Fung and other people of the desert, he has
gathered a little wisdom. This I know because he has told me that he
alone saw through my plan to save all their lives, but said nothing of
it because he desired to escape from Mur, where certain death waited on
him and his companions. Perhaps, however, he lies to please me.

Now, for the truth of the matter, which not being skilled in writing I
will tell briefly.

I was carried out of the cave city with my lord and the others,
starving, starving, too weak to kill myself, which otherwise I would
have done rather than fall into the hands of my accursed uncle, Joshua.
Yet I was stronger than the rest, because as I have learned, they
tricked me about those biscuits, pretending to eat when they were not
eating, for which never will I forgive them. It was Japhet, a gallant
man on one side, but a coward on the other like the rest of the Abati,
who betrayed us, driven thereto by emptiness within, which, after all,
is an ill enemy to fight. He went out and told Joshua where we lay hid,
and then, of course, they came.

Well, they took away my lord and the others, and me too they bore to
another place and fed me till my strength returned, and oh! how good was
that honey which first I ate, for I could touch nothing else. When I was
strong again came Prince Joshua to me and said, "Now I have you in my
net; now you are mine."

Then I answered Joshua, "Fool, your net is of air; I will fly through
it."

"How?" he asked. "By death," I answered, "of which a hundred means lie
to my hand. You have robbed me of one, but what does that matter when so
many remain? I will go where you and your love cannot pursue me."

"Very well, Child of Kings," he said, "but how about that tall Gentile
who has caught your eyes, and his companions? They, too, have recovered,
and they shall die every one of them after a certain fashion (which, I
Maqueda, will not set down, since there are some things that ought not
to be written). If you die, they die; as I told you, they die as a wolf
dies that is caught by the shepherds; they die as a baboon dies that is
caught by the husbandman."

Now I looked this way and that, and found that there was no escape. So I
made a bargain.

"Joshua," I said, "let these men go and I swear upon the name of our
mother, she of Sheba, that I will marry you. Keep them and kill them,
and you will have none of me."

Well, in the end, because he desired me and the power that went with me,
he consented.

Then I played my part. My lord and his companions were brought before
me, and in presence of all the people I mocked them; I spat in their
faces, and oh! fools, fools, fools, they believed me! I lifted my veil,
and showed them my eyes, and they believed also what they seemed to see
in my eyes, forgetting that I am a woman who can play a part at need.
Yes, they forgot that there were others to deceive as well, all the
Abati people, who, if they thought I tricked them, would have torn the
foreigners limb from limb. That was my bitterest morsel, that I should
have succeeded in making even my own lord believe that of all the wicked
women that ever trod this world, I was the most vile. Yet I did so, and
he cannot deny it, for often we have talked of this thing till he will
hear of it no more.

Well, they went with all that I could give them, though I knew well that
my lord cared nothing, for what I could give, nor the doctor, Child of
Adam, either, who cared only for his son that God had restored to him.
Only Black Windows cared, not because he loves wealth, but because he
worships all that is old and ugly, for of such things he fashions up his
god.

They went, for their going was reported to me, and I, I entered into
hell because I knew that my lord thought me false, and that he would
never learn the truth, namely, that what I did I did to save his life,
until at length he came to his own country, if ever he came there, and
opened the chests of treasure, if ever he opened them, which perhaps he
would not care to do. And all that while he would believe me the wife
of Joshua, and--oh! I cannot write of it. And I, I should be dead; I, I
could not tell him the truth until he joined me in that land of death,
if there men and women can talk together any more.

For this and no other was the road that I had planned to walk. When he
and his companions had gone so far that they could not be followed,
then I would tell Joshua and the Abati all the truth in such language as
should never be forgotten for generations, and kill myself before their
eyes, so that Joshua might lack a wife and the Abati a Child of Kings.

I sat through the Feast of Preparation and smiled and smiled. It passed
and the next day passed, and came the night of the Feast of Marriage.
The glass was broken, the ceremony was fulfilled. Joshua rose up to
pledge me before all the priests, lords, and headmen. He devoured me
with his hateful eyes, me, who was already his. But I, I handled the
knife in my robe, wishing, such was the rage in my heart, that I could
kill him also.

Then God spoke, and the dream that I had dreamed came true. Far away
there rose a single cry, and after it other cries, and the sounds of
shouting and of marching feet. Far away tongues of fire leapt into the
air, and each man asked his neighbour, "What is this?" Then from all the
thousands of the feasting people rose one giant scream, and that scream
said, "Fung! Fung! The Fung are on us! Fly, fly, fly!"

"Come," shouted Joshua, seizing me by the arm, but I drew my dagger on
him and he let go. Then he fled with the other lords, and I remained in
my high seat beneath the golden canopy alone.

The people fled past me without fighting; they fled into the cave city,
they fled to the rocks; they hid themselves among the precipices, and
after them came the Fung, slaying and burning, till all Mur went up in
flames. And I, I sat and watched, waiting till it was time for me to die
also.

At last, I know not how long afterwards, appeared before me Barung, a
red sword in his hand, which he lifted to me in salute.

"Greeting, Child of Kings," he said. "You see Harmac is come to sleep at
Mur."

"Yes," I answered, "Harmac is come to sleep at Mur, and many of those
who dwelt there sleep with him. What of it? Say, Barung, will you kill
me, or shall I kill myself?"

"Neither, Child of Kings," he answered in his high fashion. "Did I not
make you a promise yonder in the Pass of Mur, when I spoke with you and
the Western men, and does a Fung Sultan break his word? I have taken
back the city that was ours, as I swore to do, and purified it with
fire," and he pointed to the raging flames. "Now I will rebuild it, and
you shall rule under me."

"Not so," I answered; "but in place of that promise I ask of you three
things."

"Name them," said Barung.

"They are these: First, that you give me a good horse and five days'
food, and let me go where I will. Secondly, that if he still lives you
advance one Japhet, a certain Mountaineer who befriended me and brought
others to do likewise, to a place of honour under you. Thirdly, that you
spare the rest of the Abati people."

"You shall go whither you desire, and I think I know where you will go,"
answered Barung. "Certain spies of mine last night saw four white men
riding on fine camels towards Egypt, and reported it to me as I led my
army to the secret pass that Harmac showed me, which you Abati could
never find. But I said, 'Let them go; it is right that brave men who
have been the mock of the Abati should be allowed their freedom.' Yes,
I said this, although one of them was my daughter's husband, or near to
it. But she will have no more of him who fled to his father rather than
with her, so it was best that he should go also, since, if I brought him
back it must be to his death."

"Yes," I answered boldly, "I go after the Western men; I who have done
with these Abati. I wish to see new lands."

"And find an old love who thinks ill of you just now," he said, stroking
his beard. "Well, no wonder, for here has been a marriage feast. Say,
what were you about to do, O Child of Kings? Take the fat Joshua to your
breast?"

"Nay, Barung, I was about to take _this_ husband to my breast," and I
showed him the knife that was hidden in my marriage robe.

"No," he said, smiling, "I think the knife was for Joshua first. Still,
you are a brave woman who could save the life of him you love at
the cost of your own. Yet, bethink you, Child of Kings, for many a
generation your mothers have been queens, and under me you may still
remain a queen. How will one whose blood has ruled so long endure to
serve a Western man in a strange land?"

"That is what I go to find out, Barung, and if I cannot endure, then I
shall come back again, though not to rule the Abati, of whom I wash my
hands for ever. Yet, Barung, my heart tells me I shall endure."

"The Child of Kings has spoken," he said, bowing to me. "My best horse
awaits her, and five of my bravest guards shall ride with her to keep
her safe till she sights the camp of the Western men. I say happy is he
of them who was born to wear the sweet-scented Bud of the Rose upon his
bosom. For the rest, the man Japhet is in my hands. He yielded himself
to me who would not fight for his own people because of what they had
done to his friends, the white men. Lastly, already I have given orders
that the slaying should cease, since I need the Abati to be my slaves,
they who are cowards, but cunning in many arts. Only one more man shall
die," he added sternly, "and that is Joshua, who would have taken me by
a trick in the mouth of the pass. So plead not for him, for by the head
of Harmac it is in vain."

Now hearing this I did not plead, fearing lest I should anger Barung,
and but waste my breath.



At daybreak I started on the horse, having with me the five Fung
captains. As we crossed the marketplace I met those that remained alive
of the Abati, being driven in hordes like beasts, to hear their doom.
Among them was Prince Joshua, my uncle, whom a man led by a rope about
his neck, while another man thrust him forward from behind, since Joshua
knew that he went to his death and the road was one which he did not
wish to travel. He saw me, and cast himself down upon the ground, crying
to me to save him. I told him that I could not, though it is the truth,
I swear it before God, that, notwithstanding all the evil he had worked
toward me, toward Oliver my lord, and his companions, bringing to his
end that gallant man who died to protect me, I would still have saved
him if I could. But I could not, for although I tried once more, Barung
would not listen. So I answered:

"Plead, O Joshua, with him who has the power in Mur to-day, for I have
none. You have fashioned your own fate, and must travel the road you
chose."

"What road do you ride, mounted on a horse of the plains, Maqueda? Oh!
what need is there for me to ask? You go to see that accursed Gentile
whom I would I had killed by inches, as I would that I could kill you."

Then calling me by evil names, Joshua sprang at me as though to strike
me down, but he who held the rope about his neck jerked him backward, so
that he fell and I saw his face no more.

But oh! it was sad, that journey across the great square, for the
captive Abati by hundreds--men, women, and children together--with tears
and lamentations cried to me to preserve them from death or slavery at
the hands of the Fung. But I answered:

"Your sins against me and the brave foreign men who fought so well
for you I forgive, but search your hearts, O Abati, and say if you can
forgive yourselves? If you had listened to me and to those whom I called
in to help us, you might have beaten back the Fung, and remained free
for ever. But you were cowards; you would not learn to bear arms like
men, you would not even watch your mountain walls, and soon or late the
people who refuse to be ready to fight must fall and become the servants
of those who are ready."

And now, my Oliver, I have no more to write, save that I am glad to have
endured so many things, and thereby win the joy that is mine to-day.
Not yet have I, Maqueda, wished to reign again in Mur, who have found
another throne.





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