Part 2 out of 6
"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.
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
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--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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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-
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.
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
"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
"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
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.
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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.
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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,
"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.
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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,
"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
"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
"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