Part 3 out of 6
ceremony--that is to say, she was always accompanied by several of her
ladies, that thorn in my flesh, the old doctor, and one or two
secretaries and officers-in-waiting.
But as Oliver was now moved by day into a huge reception room, and
these people of the court were expected to stop at one end of it while
she conversed with him at the other, to all intents and purposes, save
for the presence of myself and Quick, her calls were of a private
nature. Nor were we always present, since, now that my patient was out
of danger the Sergeant and I went out riding a good deal--
investigating Mur and its surroundings.
It may be asked what they talked about on these occasions. I can only
answer that, so far as I heard, the general subject was the politics
of Mur and its perpetual war with the Fung. Still, there must have
been other topics which I did not hear, since incidently I discovered
that Orme was acquainted with many of Maqueda's private affairs
whereof he could only have learned from her lips.
Thus when I ventured to remark that perhaps it was not altogether wise
for a young man in his position to become so intimate with the
hereditary ruler of an exclusive tribe like the Abati, he replied
cheerfully that this did not in the least matter, as, of course,
according to their ancient laws, she could only marry with one of her
own family, a fact which made all complications impossible. I inquired
which of her cousins, of whom I knew she had several, was the happy
man. He replied:
"None of them. As a matter of fact, I believe that she is officially
affianced to that fat uncle of hers, the fellow who blows his own
trumpet so much, but I needn't add that this is only a form to which
she submits in order to keep the others off."
"Ah!" I said. "I wonder if Prince Joshua thinks it only a form?"
"Don't know what he thinks, and don't care," he replied, yawning; "I
only know that things stand as I say, and that the porpoise-man has as
much chance of becoming the husband of Maqueda as you have of marrying
the Empress of China. And now, to drop this matrimonial conversation
and come to something more important, have you heard anything about
Higgs and your son?"
"You are more in the way of learning state secrets than I am, Orme," I
answered sarcastically, being rather irritated at the course of events
and his foolishness. "What have you heard?"
"This, old fellow. I can't say how she knows it, but Maqueda says that
they are both in good health and well treated. Only our friend Barung
sticks to his word and proposes to sacrifice poor old Higgs on this
day fortnight. Now, of course, that must be prevented somehow, and
prevented it shall be if it costs me my life. Don't you suppose that I
have been thinking about myself all the time, for it isn't so, only
the trouble is that I can't find any plan of rescue which will hold
"Then what's to be done, Orme? I haven't spoken much of the matter
before for fear of upsetting you when you were still weak, but now
that you are all right again we must come to some decision."
"I know, I know," he answered earnestly; "and I tell you this, that
rather than let Higgs die alone there, I will give myself up to
Barung, and, if I can't save him, suffer with him, or for him if I
can. Listen: there is to be a great council held by the Child of Kings
on the day after to-morrow which we must attend, for it has only been
postponed until I was well enough. At this council that rogue Shadrach
is to be put upon his trial, and will, I believe, be condemned to
death. Also we are formally to return Sheba's ring which Maqueda lent
to you to be used in proof of her story. Well, we may learn something
then, or at any rate must make up our minds to definite action. And
now I am to have my first ride, am I not? Come on, Pharaoh," he added
to the dog, which had stuck at his bedside all through his illness so
closely that it was difficult to entice him away even to eat; "we are
going for a ride, Pharaoh; do you hear that, you faithful beast?"
THE SWEARING OF THE OATH
Two or three days after this conversation, I forget exactly which it
was, Maqueda held her council in the great hall of the palace. When we
entered the place in charge of a guard, as though we were prisoners,
we found some hundreds of Abati gathered there who were seated in
orderly rows upon benches. At the farther end, in an apse-shaped
space, sat the Child of Kings herself on a gilded or perhaps a golden
chair of which the arms terminated in lions' heads. She was dressed in
a robe of glittering silver, and wore a ceremonial veil embroidered
with stars, also of silver, and above it, set upon her dark hair, a
little circlet of gold, in which shone a single gem that looked like a
ruby. Thus attired, although her stature is small, her appearance was
very dignified and beautiful, especially as the gossamer veil added
mystery to her face.
Behind the throne stood soldiers armed with spears and swords, and at
its sides and in front of it were gathered her court to the number of
a hundred or more, including her waiting-ladies, who in two companies
were arranged to the right and left. Each member of this court was
gorgeously dressed according to his profession.
There were the generals and captains with Prince Joshua at the head of
them in their Norman-like chain armour. There were judges in black
robes and priests in gorgeous garments; there were territorial lords,
of whose attire I remember only that they wore high boots, and men who
were called Market-masters, whose business it was to regulate the rate
of exchange of products, and with them the representatives of other
In short, here was collected all the aristocracy of the little
population of the town and territory of Mur, every one of whom, as we
found afterwards, possessed some high-sounding title answering to
those of our dukes and lords and Right Honourables, and knights, to
say nothing of the Princes of the Blood, of whom Joshua was the first.
Really, although it looked so fine and gay, the spectacle was, in a
sense, piteous, being evidently but a poor mockery and survival of the
pageantry of a people that had once been great. The vast hall in which
they were assembled showed this, since, although the occasion was one
that excited public interest, it was after all but a quarter filled by
those who had a right to be present.
With much dignity and to the sound of music we were marched up the
broad nave, if I may describe it thus, for the building, with its apse
and supporting cedar columns, bore some resemblance to a cathedral,
till we reached the open space in front of the throne, where our
guards prostrated themselves in their Eastern fashion, and we saluted
its occupant in our own. Then, chairs having been given to us, after a
pause a trumpet blew, and from a side chamber was produced our late
guide, Shadrach, heavily manacled and looking extremely frightened.
The trial that followed I need not describe at length. It took a long
while, and the three of us were called upon to give evidence as to the
quarrel between our companion, the Professor, and the prisoner about
the dog Pharaoh and other matters. The testimony, however, that
proclaimed the guilt of Shadrach was that of his companion guides,
who, it appeared, had been threatened with floggings unless they told
These men swore, one after the other, that the abandonment of Higgs
had been a preconceived plan. Several of them added that Shadrach was
in traitorous communication with the Fung, whom he had warned of our
advent by firing the reeds, and had even contrived to arrange that we
were to be taken while he and the other Abati, with the camels laden
with our rifles and goods which they hoped to steal, passed through in
In defence Shadrach boldly denied the whole story, and especially that
he had pushed the Gentile, Higgs, off his dromedary, as was alleged,
and mounted it himself because his own beast had broken down or been
However, his lies availed him little, since, after consultation with
the Child of Kings, presently one of the black-robed judges condemned
him to suffer death in a very cruel fashion which was reserved for
traitors. Further, his possessions were to be forfeited to the State,
and his wife and children and household to become public slaves, which
meant that the males would be condemned to serve as soldiers, and the
females allotted to certain officials in the order of their rank.
Several of those who had conspired with him to betray us to the Fung
were also deprived of their possessions and condemned to the army,
which was their form of penal servitude.
Thus amidst a mighty wailing of those concerned and of their friends
and relatives ended this remarkable trial, of which I give some
account because it throws light upon the social conditions of Abati.
What hope is there for a people when its criminals are sent, not to
jail, but to serve as soldiers, and their womenfolk however innocent,
are doomed to become the slaves of the judges or whoever these may
appoint. Be it added, however, that in this instance Shadrach and his
friends deserved all they got, since, even allowing for a certain
amount of false evidence, undoubtedly, for the purposes of robbery and
private hate, they did betray those whom their ruler had sent them to
guide and protect.
When this trial was finished and Shadrach had been removed, howling
for mercy and attempting to kiss our feet like the cur he was, the
audience who had collected to hear it and to see us, the Gentile
strangers, dispersed, and the members of the Privy Council, if I may
call it so, were summoned by name to attend to their duties. When all
had gathered, we three were requested to advance and take seats which
had been placed for us among the councillors.
Then came a pause, and, as I had been instructed that I should do, I
advanced and laid Sheba's ring upon a cushion held by one of the court
officers, who carried it to Maqueda.
"Child of Kings," I said, "take back this ancient token which you lent
to me to be a proof of your good faith and mine. Know that by means of
it I persuaded our brother who is captive, a man learned in all that
has to do with the past, to undertake this mission, and through him
the Captain Orme who stands before you, and his servant, the soldier."
She took it and, after examination, showed it to several of the
priests, by whom it was identified.
"Though I parted from it with fear and doubt, the holy ring has served
its purpose well," she said, "and I thank you, Physician, for
returning it to my people and to me in safety."
Then she replaced it on the finger from which it had been withdrawn
when she gave it to me many months before.
There, then, that matter ended.
Now an officer cried:
"Walda Nagasta speaks!" whereon every one repeated, "Walda Nagasta
speaks," and was silent.
Then Maqueda began to address us in her soft and pleasant voice.
"Strangers from the Western country called England," she said, "be
pleased to hear me. You know our case with the Fung--that they
surround us and would destroy us. You know that in our extremity I
took advantage of the wandering hither of one of you a year ago to beg
him to go to his own land and there obtain firestuffs and those who
understand them, with which to destroy the great and ancient idol of
the Fung. For that people declare that if this idol is destroyed they
will leave the land they dwell in for another, such being their
"Pardon, O Child of Kings," interrupted Orme, "but you will remember
that only the other day Barung, Sultan of the Fung, said that in this
event his nation would still live on to avenge their god, Harmac. Also
he said that of all the Abati he would leave you alive alone."
Now at these ill-omened words a shiver and a murmur went through the
Council. But Maqueda only shrugged her shoulders, causing the silver
trimmings on her dress to tinkle.
"I have told you the ancient prophecy," she answered, "and for the
rest words are not deeds. If the foul fiend, Harmac, goes I think that
the Fung will follow him. Otherwise, why do they make sacrifice to
Earthquake as the evil god they have to fear? And when some five
centuries ago, such an earthquake shook down part of the secret city
in the bowels of the mountains that I will show to you afterwards, why
did they fly from Mur and take up their abode in the plain, as they
said, to protect the god?"
"I do not know," answered Oliver. "If our brother were here, he whom
the Fung have captured, he might know, being learned in the ways of
idol-worshipping, savage peoples."
"Alas! O Son of Orme," she said, "thanks to that traitor whom but now
we have condemned, he is not here and, perhaps, could tell us nothing
if he were. At least, the saying runs as I have spoken it, and for
many generations, because of it, we Abati have desired to destroy the
idol of the Fung to which so many of us have been offered in sacrifice
through the jaws of their sacred lions. Now I ask," and she leaned
forward, looking at Oliver, "will you do this for me?"
"Speak of the reward, my niece," broke in Joshua in his thick voice
when he saw that we hesitated what to answer, "I have heard that these
Western Gentiles are a very greedy people, who live and die for the
gold which we despise."
"Ask him, Captain," exclaimed Quick, "if they despise land also, since
yesterday afternoon I saw one of them try to cut the throat of another
over a piece not bigger than a large dog-kennel."
"Yes," I added, for I confess that Joshua's remarks nettled me, "and
ask him whether the Jews did not despoil the Egyptians of their
ornaments of gold in the old days, and whether Solomon, whom he claims
as a forefather, did not trade in gold to Ophir, and lastly whether he
knows that most of his kindred in other lands make a very god of
So Orme, as our spokesman, put these questions with great gusto to
Joshua, whom he disliked intensely, whereat some of the Council, those
who were not of the party of the Prince, smiled or even laughed, and
the silvery ornaments upon Maqueda's dress began to shake again as
though she also were laughing behind her veil. Still, she did not seem
to think it wise to allow Joshua to answer--if he could--but did so
"The truth is, O my friends, that here we set small store by gold
because, being shut in and unable to trade, it is of no use to us save
as an ornament. Were it otherwise, doubtless we should value it as
much as the rest of the world, Jew or Gentile, and shall do so when we
are freed from our foes who hem us in. Therefore, my uncle is wrong to
claim as a virtue that which is only a necessity, especially when, as
your servant says," and she pointed to the Sergeant, "our people make
land their gold and will spend their lives in gaining more of it, even
when they have enough."
"Then do the Gentiles seek no reward for their services?" sneered
"By no means, Prince," answered Oliver, "we are soldiers of fortune,
since otherwise why should we have come here to fight your quarrel
(laying an unpleasant emphasis on the "your") "against a chief who, if
half savage, to us seems to have some merits, those of honour and
courage, for instance? If we risk our lives and do our work, we are
not too proud to take whatever we can earn. Why should we be, seeing
that some of us need wealth, and that our brother, who is as good as
dead yonder, owing to the treachery of those who were sent to guard
him, has relatives in England who are poor and should be compensated
for his loss?"
"Why, indeed?" ejaculated Maqueda. "Listen, now, my friends. In my own
name and in that of the Abati people I promised to you as many camel-
loads of this gold as you can carry away from Mur, and before the day
is done I will show it to you if you dare follow me to where it lies
"First the work, then the pay," said Oliver. "Now tell us, Child of
Kings, what is that work?"
"This, O Son of Orme. You must swear--if this is not against your
consciences as Christians--that for the space of one year from to-day
you will serve me and fight for me and be subject to my laws, striving
all the while to destroy the idol Harmac by your Western skill and
weapons, after which you shall be free to go whither you will with
"And if we swear, Lady," asked Oliver after reflection, "tell us what
rank shall we hold in your service?"
"You shall be my chief captain for this enterprise, O Son of Orme, and
those with you shall serve under you in such positions as you may
At these words a murmur of dissatisfaction arose from the mail-clad
generals in the Council.
"Are we then, to obey this stranger, O Child of Kings?" queried Joshua
as their spokesman.
"Aye, my uncle, so far as this great enterprise is concerned, as I
have said. Can you handle the firestuffs of which they alone have the
secret? Could any three of you have held the gate of Harmac against
the armies of the Fung and sent it flying skyward?"
She paused and waited in the midst of a sullen silence.
"You do not answer because you cannot," continued Maqueda. "Then for
this purpose be content to serve awhile under the command of those who
have the skill and power which you lack."
Still there was no answer.
"Lady," said Orme in this ominous quiet, "you are so good as to make
me a general among your soldiers, but will they obey me? And who are
your soldiers? Does every man of the Abati bear arms?"
"Alas! no," she replied, fixing upon this latter question perhaps
because she could not answer the first. "Alas! no. In the old days it
was otherwise, when my great ancestresses ruled, and then we did not
fear the Fung. But now the people will not serve as soldiers. They say
it takes them from their trades and the games they love; they say they
cannot give the time in youth; they say that it degrades a man to obey
the orders of those set over him; they say that war is barbarous and
should be abolished, and all the while the brave Fung wait without to
massacre our men and make our women slaves. Only the very poor and the
desperate, and those who have offended against the laws will serve in
my army, except it be as officers. Oh! and therefore are the Abati
doomed," and, throwing back her veil, suddenly, she burst into tears
before us all.
I do not know that I ever remember seeing a sight more pathetic in its
way than that of this beautiful and high-spirited young woman weeping
in the presence of her Council over the utter degeneracy of the race
she was called upon to rule. Being old and accustomed to these Eastern
expressions of emotion, I remained silent, however; but Oliver was so
deeply affected that I feared lest he should do something foolish. He
went red, he went white, and was rising from his seat to go to her,
had I not caught him by the arm and pulled him back. As for Quick, he
turned his eyes to the ceiling, as though engaged in prayer, and I
heard him muttering:
"The Lord help the poor thing, the Lord help her; the one pearl in the
snout of all these gilded swine! Well, I understand I am a bit of a
general now, and if I don't make 'em sit up for her sake my name ain't
Meanwhile there was much consternation and indignant murmuring amongst
the Court, which felt that reflections had been thrown upon it
collectively and individually. At such a crisis, as usual, Prince
Joshua took the lead. Rising from his seat, he knelt, not without
difficulty, before the throne, and said:
"O Child of Kings, why do you distress us with such words? Have you
not the God of Solomon to protect you?"
"God protects those who protect themselves," sobbed Maqueda.
"And have you not many brave officers?"
"What are officers without an army?"
"And have you not me, your uncle, your affianced, your lover?" and he
laid his hand where he conceived his heart to be, and stared up at her
with his rolling, fish-like eyes. "Had it not been for the
interference of these Gentiles, in whom you seem to put such trust,"
he went on, "should I not have taken Barung captive the other day, and
left the Fung without a head?"
"And the Abati without such shreds of honour as still belong to them,
"Let us be wed, O Bud of the Rose, O Flower of Mur, and soon I will
free you from the Fung. We are helpless because we are separate, but
together we shall triumph. Say, O Maqueda, when shall we be wed?"
"When the idol Harmac is utterly destroyed, and the Fung have departed
for ever, my uncle," she answered impatiently. "But is this a time to
talk of marriage? I declare the Council closed. Let the priests bring
the rolls that these strangers from the West may take the oath, and
then pardon me if I leave you."
Now from behind the throne there appeared a gorgeous gentleman arrayed
in a head-dress that reminded me faintly of a bishop's mitre, and
wearing over his robes a breastplate of precious stones roughly
polished, which was half hidden by a very long white beard.
This person, who it seemed was the high priest, carried in his hand a
double roll of parchment written over with characters which we
afterwards discovered were bastard Hebrew, very ancient and only
decipherable by three or four of the Abati, if indeed any of them
could really read it. At least it was said to be the roll of the law
brought by their forefathers centuries ago from Abyssinia, together
with Sheba's ring and a few other relics, among them the cradle (a
palpable forgery), in which the child of Solomon and Maqueda, or
Belchis, the first known Queen of Sheba, was traditionally reported to
have been rocked. This roll of the law, which for generations had been
used at all important ceremonies among the Abati, such as the
swearing-in of their queens and chief officers, was now tendered to us
to hold and kiss while we took the oath of obedience and allegiance in
the names of Jehovah and of Solomon (a strange mixture, it struck us),
solemnly vowing to perform those things which I have already set out.
"This seems a pretty wide promise," said Oliver, after it had been
read to us and translated by me to Quick. "Do you think that we ought
to take it on?"
I answered "Yes," that was from my point of view, since otherwise I
saw no chance of achieving the object that had caused me to enter upon
this adventure. Then, being especially requested to do so, the
Sergeant, after reflecting awhile, gave his considered opinion.
"Sir," he said to Orme, "we are three white men here consorting with a
mob of quarter-bred African Jews and one real lady. It seems to me
that we had best swear anything they want us to, trusting to the lady
to see us through the mess, since otherwise we shall be mere
filibusters in the country without official rank, and liable therefore
to be shot on sight by the enemy, or any mutineers who get the upper
hand here. Also, we have the Professor and the Doctor's son to think
of. Therefore I say: Swear to anything in reason, reserving allegiance
to the Crown of Great Britain, and trust to luck. You see, Captain, we
are in their power anyway, and this oath may help, but can't hurt us,
while to refuse it must give offence to all these skunks, and perhaps
to the lady also, which is of more consequence."
"I think you are probably right, Sergeant," said Orme. "Anyway, in for
a penny, in for a pound."
Then he turned to Maqueda, who had been watching this conference in an
unknown tongue with some anxiety, or so it seemed to me, and added in
Arabic: "O Child of Kings, we will take your oath, although it is
wide, trusting to your honour to protect us from any pitfalls which it
may cover, for we would ask you to remember that we are strangers in
your land who do not understand its laws and customs. Only we
stipulate that we retain our allegiance to our own ruler far away,
remaining the subjects of that monarch with all rights thereto
appertaining. Also, we stipulate that before we enter on our duties,
or at any rate during those duties, we shall be at full liberty to
attempt the rescue of our friend and companion, now a prisoner in the
hands of the Fung, and of the son of one of us who is believed to be a
slave to them, and that we shall have all the assistance which you can
give us in this matter. Moreover, we demand that if we should be tried
for any offence under this oath, you to whom we swear allegiance shall
be our judge alone, none others intermeddling in the trial. If you
accept these terms we will swear the oath; otherwise we swear nothing,
but will act as occasion may arise."
Now we were requested to stand back while the Child of Kings consulted
with her advisers, which she did for a considerable time, since
evidently the questions raised involved differences of opinion. In the
end, however, she and those who supported her seemed to overrule the
objectors, and we were called up and told that our terms had been
accepted and engrossed upon the form of the oath, and that everything
there included would be faithfully observed by the Ruler and Council
of the Abati.
So we signed and swore, kissing the book, or rather the roll, in the
civilized fashion. Afterwards, very tired, for all this business had
been anxious, we were conducted back to our own quarters to lunch, or
rather to dine, for the Abati ate their heaviest meal at midday,
taking a siesta after it according to the common Eastern custom.
About four o'clock of that afternoon I was awakened from my nap by the
growls of Pharaoh, and looked up to see a man crouching against the
door, evidently in fear of the dog's fangs. He proved to be a
messenger from Maqueda, sent to ask us if we cared to accompany her to
a place that we had never seen. Of course we answered "Yes," and were
at once led by the messenger to a disused and dusty hall at the back
of the palace, where presently Maqueda and three of her ladies joined
us, and with them a number of men who carried lighted lamps, gourds of
oil, and bundles of torches.
"Doubtless, friends," said Maqueda, who was unveiled and appeared to
have quite recovered from our outburst of the morning, "you have seen
many wonderful places in this Africa and other lands, but now I am
about to show you one that, I think, is stranger than them all."
Following her, we came to a door at the end of the hall which the men
unbolted and shut again behind us, and thence passed into a long
passage cut in the rock, that sloped continuously downwards and at
length led through another doorway to the vastest cave that we had
ever heard of or seen. So vast was it, indeed, that the feeble light
of our lamps did not suffice to reach the roof, and only dimly showed
to right and left the outlines of what appeared to be shattered
buildings of rock.
"Behold the cave city of Mur," said Maqueda, waving the lamp she held.
"Here it was that the ancients whom we believe to have been the
forefathers of the Fung, had their secret stronghold. These walls were
those of their granaries, temples, and places of ceremonial, but, as I
have told you, centuries ago an earthquake shattered them, leaving
them as they are now. Also, it broke down much of the cave itself,
causing the roof to fall, so that there are many parts where it is not
safe to enter. Come now and see what is left."
We followed her into the depth of the wonderful place, our lanterns
and torches making little stars of light in that great blackness. We
saw the ruins of granaries still filled with the dust of what I
suppose had once been corn, and came at length to a huge, roofless
building of which the area was strewn with shattered columns, and
among them overgrown statues, covered so thick by dust that we could
only discover that most of them seemed to be shaped like sphinxes.
"If only Higgs were here," said Oliver with a sigh, and passed on to
Maqueda, who was calling him to look at something else.
Leaving the temple in which it was unsafe to walk, she led us to where
a strong spring, the water supply of the place, bubbled up into a rock
basin, and overflowing thence through prepared openings, ran away we
knew not whither.
"Look, this fountain is very ancient," said Maqueda, pointing to the
lip of the basin that was worn away to the depth of several inches
where those who drew water had for many generations rested their hands
upon the hard rock.
"How did they light so vast a cavern?" asked Oliver.
"We do not know," she answered, "since lamps would scarcely have
served them. It is a secret of the past which none of the Abati have
cared to recover, and another is how the air is always kept fresh so
deep in the bowels of the mountain. We cannot even say whether this
place is natural, as I think, or hollowed out by men."
"Both, I expect," I answered. "But tell me, Lady, do the Abati make
any use of this great cave?"
"Some corn is still stored here in pits in case of siege," she
replied, adding sadly, "but it is not enough to be of real service,
since almost all of it comes from the estates of the Child of Kings.
In vain have I prayed the people to contribute, if only a hundredth
part of their harvest, but they will not. Each says that he would give
if his neighbour gave, and so none give. And yet a day may come when a
store of corn alone would stand between them and death by hunger--if
the Fung held the valley, for instance," and she turned impatiently
and walked forward to show us the stables where the ancients kept
their horses and the marks of their chariot wheels in the stone floor.
"Nice people, the Abati, sir," said Quick to me. "If it weren't for
the women and children, and, above all, for this little lady, whom I
am beginning to worship like my master, as in duty bound, I'd like to
see them do a bit of hungering."
"There is one more place to show you," said Maqueda, when we had
inspected the stables and argued as to what possible causes could have
induced the ancients to keep horses underground, "which perhaps you
will think worth a visit, since it holds the treasures that are, or
shall be, yours. Come!"
We started forward again along various passages, the last of which
suddenly widened into a broad and steep incline of rock, which we
followed for quite fifty paces till it ended in what seemed to be a
blank wall. Here Maqueda bade her ladies and attendants halt, which
indeed they seemed very anxious to do, though at the moment we did not
know why. Then she went to one end of the wall where it joined that of
the passage, and, showing us some loose stones, asked me to pull them
out, which I did, not without difficulty. When an aperture had been
made large enough for a man to creep through, she turned to her people
"You, I know, believe this place to be haunted, nor would the bravest
of you enter it save by express command. But I and these strangers
have no such fears. Therefore give us a gourd of oil and some torches
and bide where you are till we return, setting a lamp in the hole in
the wall to guide us in case our own should become extinguished. No,
do not reason but obey. There is no danger, for though hot, the air
within is pure, as I know who have breathed it more than once."
Then she gave her hand to Oliver, and with his assistance crept
through the hole. We followed, to find ourselves in another cavern,
where, as she had said, the temperature was much hotter than that
"What is this place?" asked Orme in a low voice, for its aspect seemed
to awe him.
"The tomb of the old kings of Mur," she replied. "Presently you shall
see," and once more she took his hand, for the slope was sharp and
On we went, always descending, for perhaps four hundred yards, our
footfalls echoing loudly in the intense silence, and our lamps, round
which the bats circled in hundreds, making four stars of light in the
utter blackness, till at length the passage widened out into what
appeared to be a vast circular arena, with a lofty dome-like roof of
rock. Maqueda turned to the right, and, halting before some objects
that glimmered whitely, held up her light, saying, "Look!"
This was what we saw: A great stone chair and, piled upon its seat and
upon its base, human bones. Amongst these was a skull, and on it,
grotesquely tilted, a crown of gold, while other ornaments--sceptres,
rings, necklaces, weapons and armour--were mingled with the bones. Nor
was this all, for in a wide circle round the chair were other
skeletons, fifty or more of them, and amongst them the ornaments that
their owners had worn.
Also, in front of each stood a tray of some metal, which we afterwards
discovered to be silver or copper, and heaped upon it every kind of
valuable, such as golden cups and vases, toilet utensils, necklaces,
pectorals, bracelets, leglets, earrings and beads that seemed to be
cut from precious stones, piles of ring money, and a hundred other
things such as have been prized by mankind since the beginning of
"You understand," said Maqueda, as we stared, open-mouthed at this
awful and marvellous sight, "he in the chair was the king. Those about
him were his officers, guards, and women. When he was buried they
brought his household here, bearing his wealth, sat them down about
him, and killed them. Blow away the dust, and you will see that the
rock beneath is still stained with their blood; also, there are the
sword-marks on their skulls, and neckbones."
Quick, who was of an inquiring mind, stepped forward and verified
"Golly!" he said, throwing down the skull of a man over whom the tired
executioners had evidently bungled badly, "I'm glad I didn't serve the
old kings of Mur. But the same game goes on in a small way to-day in
Africa, for when I was campaigning on the West Coast I came across it
not a fortnight old, only there they had buried the poor beggars
"Perhaps," said Maqueda, when the Sergeant's remarks had been
translated to her. "Yet I do not think the custom is one that my
people would love," and she laughed a little, then added, "forward,
friends, there are many more of these kings and oil does not burn for
So we moved on, and at a distance of some twenty paces found another
chair with scattered bones on and about the seat, lying where each had
fallen as the dead man decayed. Round it were the skeletons of the
unfortunates who had been doomed to accompany him upon his last
journey, every one of them behind his tray of golden objects, or of
simple treasure. In front of this king's chair also were the bones of
a dog with a jewelled collar.
Again we proceeded to a third mortuary, if it may so be called, and
here Maqueda pointed out the skeleton of a man, in front of which
stood a tray piled up with what evidently had been the medicine
bottles of the period and among them a number of rude surgical
"Say, O Physician Adams," she remarked with a smile, "would you have
wished to be court doctor to the kings of Mur, if indeed that was then
their city's name?"
"No, Lady," I answered; "but I do wish to examine his instruments if I
have your leave," and while she hurried forward I stooped down and
filled my pockets. Here I may remark, that upon subsequent inspection
I found among these instruments, manufactured I know not what number
of thousands of years ago--for on that point controversy rages among
the learned--many that with modifications are still in use to-day.
Of that strange and dreadful sepulchre there is little more to tell.
From monarch to monarch we marched on till at length we grew weary of
staring at bones and gold. Even Quick grew weary, who had passed his
early youth in assisting his father, the parish sexton, and therefore,
like myself, regarded these relics with professional interest, though
of a different degree. At any rate, he remarked that this family vault
was uncommonly hot, and perhaps, if it pleased her Majesty, as he
called Maqueda, we might take the rest of the deceased gentlemen as
read, like a recruit's attestation questions.
But just then we came to No. 25, according to my counting, and were
obliged to stop to wonder, for clearly this king had been the greatest
of them all, since round him lay about two or three times the average
number of dead, and an enormous quantity of wealth, some of it in the
form of little statues of men and women, or perhaps of gods. Yet,
oddly enough, he was hunchback with a huge skull, almost a monstrosity
indeed. Perhaps his mind partook of the abnormal qualities of his
body, since no less than eleven little children had been sacrificed at
his obsequies, two of whom, judging from their crooked bones, must
have been his own.
One wonders what chanced in Mur and the surrounding territories which
then acknowledged its sway when King Hunchback ruled. Alas! history
writes no record.
QUICK LIGHTS A MATCH
"Here we begin to turn, for this cave is a great circle," said Maqueda
over her shoulder.
But Oliver, whom she addressed, had left her side and was engaged in
taking observations behind the hunchback's funeral chair with an
instrument which he had produced from his pocket.
She followed him and asked curiously what this thing might be, and why
he made use of it here.
"We call it a compass," he answered, "and it tells me that beyond us
lies the east, where the sun rises; also it shows at what height we
stand above the sea, that great water which you have never seen, O
Child of Kings. Say now, if we could walk through this rock, what
should we find out yonder?"
"The lion-headed idol of the Fung, I have been told," she answered.
"That which you saw before you blew up the gate of the city Harmac.
But how far off it may be I do not know, for I cannot see through
stone. Friend Adams, help me to refill the lamps, for they burn low,
and all these dead would be ill company in the dark. So at least my
people think, since there is not one of them that dares to enter this
place. When first we found it only a few years ago and saw the company
it held, they fled, and left me to search it alone. Look, yonder are
my footsteps in the dust."
So I refilled the shallow hand-lamps, and while I did so Orme took
some hasty observations of which he jotted down the results in his
"What have you learned?" she asked, when at last he rejoined us
somewhat unwillingly, for she had been calling to him to come.
"Not so much as I should have done if you could have given me more
time," he replied, adding in explanation, "Lady, I was brought up as
an engineer, that is, one who executes works, and to do so takes
measurements and makes calculations. For instance, those dead men who
hollowed or dressed these caves must have been engineers and no mean
"We have such among us now," she said. "They raise dams and make
drains and houses, though not so good as those which were built of
old. But again I ask--what have you learned, O wise Engineer?"
"Only that here we stand not so very far above the city Harmac, of
which I chanced to take the level, and that behind yonder chair there
was, I think, once a passage which has been built up. But be pleased
to say nothing of the matter, Lady, and to ask me no more questions at
present, as I cannot answer them with certainty."
"I see that you are discreet as well as wise," she replied with some
sarcasm. "Well, since I may not be trusted with your counsel, keep it
Oliver bowed and obeyed this curt instruction.
Then we began our return journey, passing many more groups of
skeletons which now we scarcely troubled to look at, perhaps because
the heavy air filled with dust that once had been the flesh of men,
was telling on our energies. Only I noticed, or rather the observant
Quick called my attention to the fact, that as we went the kings in
their chairs were surrounded by fewer and fewer attendants and women,
and that the offerings placed at their feet were of an ever-lessening
value. Indeed, after we had passed another five or six of them, their
murdered retinues dwindled to a few female skeletons, doubtless those
of favourite wives who had been singled out for this particular
At length there were none at all, the poor monarchs, who now were
crowded close together, being left to explore the shades alone,
adorned merely with their own jewellery and regalia. Ultimately even
these were replaced by funeral gold-foil ornaments, and the trays of
treasure by earthenware jars which appeared to have contained nothing
but food and wine, and added to these a few spears and other weapons.
The last of the occupied chairs, for there were empty ones beyond,
contained bones which, from their slenderness and the small size of
the bracelets among them, I saw at once had belonged to a woman who
had been sent to the grave without companions or any offerings at all.
"Doubtless," said Maqueda, when I pointed this out to her, "at that
time the ancients had grown weak and poor, since after so many kings
they permitted a woman to rule over them and had no wealth to waste
upon her burial. That may have been after the earthquake, when only a
few people were left in Mur before the Abati took possession of it."
"Where, then, are those of your own house buried?" asked Oliver,
staring at the empty chairs.
"Oh! not in this place," she answered; "I have told you it was
discovered but a few years ago. We rest in tombs outside, and for my
part I will sleep in the simple earth, so that I may live on in grass
and flowers, if in no other way. But enough of death and doom. Soon,
who can tell how soon? we shall be as these are," and she shuddered.
"Meanwhile, we breathe, so let us make the best of breath. You have
seen your fee, say, does it content you?"
"What fee?" he asked. "Death, the reward of Life? How can I tell until
I have passed its gate?"
Here this philosophical discussion was interrupted by the sudden
decease of Quick's lamp.
"Thought there was something wrong with the blooming thing," said the
Sergeant, "but couldn't turn it up, as it hasn't got a screw, without
which these old-fashioned colza oils never were no good. Hullo!
Doctor, there goes yours," and as he spoke, go it did.
"The wicks!" exclaimed Maqueda, "we forgot to bring new wicks, and
without them of what use is oil? Come, be swift; we are still far from
the mouth of this cave, where none except the high priests will dare
to seek us," and, taking Oliver by the hand, she began to run, leaving
us two to follow as best we could.
"Steady, Doctor," said Quick, "steady. In the presence of disaster
comrades should always stick together, as it says in the Red-book
presented by the crown to warrant officers, but paid for out of their
deferred allowance. Take my arm, Doctor. Ah! I thought so, the more
haste the less speed. Look there," and he pointed to the flying shapes
ahead, now a long way off, and with only one lamp between them.
Next instant Maqueda turned round holding up this remaining lamp and
called to us. I saw the faint light gleam upon her beautiful face and
glitter down the silver ornaments of her dress. Very wild and strange
she looked in that huge vault, seen thus for a single moment, then
seen no more, for presently where the flame had been was but a red
spark, and then nothing at all.
"Stop still till we come back to you," cried Oliver, "and shout at
"Yes, sir," said Quick, and instantly let off a fearful yell, which
echoed backward and forward across the vault till I was quite
"All right, coming," answered Oliver, and his voice sounded so far to
the left that Quick thought it wise to yell again.
To cut a long story short, we next heard him on our right and then
"Can't trust sounds here, sir, echoes are too uncertain," said the
Sergeant; "but come on, I think I've placed them now," and calling to
/them/ not to move, we headed in what we were sure was the right
The end of that adventure was that presently I tripped up over a
skeleton and found myself lying half stunned amidst trays of treasure,
affectionately clasping a skull under the impression that it was
He hauled me up again somehow, and, as we did not know what to do, we
sat down amidst the dead and listened. By now the others were
apparently so far off that the sound of Oliver's calling only reached
us in faint, mysterious notes that came from we knew not whence.
"As, like idiots, we started in such a hurry that we forgot to bring
any matches with us, there is nothing to be done, except wait," I
said. "No doubt in due course those Abati will get over their fear of
ghosts and come to look for us."
"Wish I could do the same, sir. I didn't mind those deaders in the
light, but the dark's a different matter. Can't you hear them rattling
their shanks and talking all round us?"
"Certainly I do hear something," I answered, "but I think it must be
the echo of our own voices."
"Well, let us hold our jaw, sir, and perhaps they will hold theirs,
for this kind of conversation ain't nice."
So we were silent, but the strange murmuring still went on, coming
apparently from the wall of the cave behind us, and it occurred to me
that I had once heard something like it before, though at the time I
could not think where. Afterwards I remembered that it was when, as a
boy, I had been taken to see the Whispering Gallery in St. Paul's
Cathedral in London.
Half-an-hour or so went by in this fashion, and still there were no
signs of the Abati or of our missing pair. Quick began to fumble among
his clothes. I asked him what he was doing.
"Can't help thinking I've got a wax match somewhere, Doctor. I
remember feeling it in one of the pockets of this coat on the day
before we left London, and thinking afterwards it wasn't safe to have
had it packed in a box marked 'Hold.' Now if only I could find that
match, we have got plenty of torches, for I've stuck to my bundle all
through, although I never thought of them when the lamps were going
Having small belief in the Sergeant's match, I made no answer, and the
search went on till presently I heard him ejaculate:
"By Jingo, here it is, in the lining. Yes, and the head feels all
right. Now, Doctor, hold two of the torches toward me; make ready,
present, fire!" and he struck the match and applied it to the heads of
the resinous torches.
Instantly these blazed up, giving an intense light in that awful
darkness. By this light, for one moment only, we saw a strange, and
not unattractive spectacle. I think I forgot to say that in the centre
of this vault stood a kind of altar, which until that moment, indeed,
I had not seen. This altar, which, doubtless, had been used for
ceremonial purposes at the funerals of the ancient Kings, consisted of
a plain block of basalt stone, whereon was cut the symbol of a human
eye, the stone being approached by steps and supported upon carved and
On the lowest of these steps, near enough to enable us to see them
quite clearly, were seated Oliver Orme and Maqueda, Child of Kings.
They were seated very close together; indeed, if I must tell the
truth, Oliver's arm was about Maqueda's waist, her head rested upon
his shoulder, and apparently he was engaged in kissing her upon the
"Right about face," hissed the Sergeant, in a tone of command, "and
So we right-abouted for a decent period, then, coughing loudly--
because of the irritant smoke of the torches--advanced to cross the
cavern, and by accident stumbled upon our lost companions. I confess
that I had nothing to say, but Quick rose to the occasion nobly.
"Glad to see you, Captain," he said to Oliver. "Was getting very
anxious about you, sir, until by good luck I found a match in the
lining of my coat. If the Professor had been here he'd have had
plenty, which is an argument in favour of continuous smoking, even
when ladies are present. Ah! no wonder her Majesty is faint in this
hot place, poor young thing. It's lucky you didn't leave hold of her,
sir. Do you think you could manage to support her, sir, as we ought to
be moving. Can't offer to do so myself, as I have lamed my foot with
the tooth of a dead king, also my arms are full of torches. But if you
prefer the Doctor--what do you say, sir? That you /can/ manage? There
is such an echo in this vault that it is difficult to hear--very well,
let us go on, for these torches won't last for ever, and you wouldn't
like us to have to spend a whole night here with the lady in such a
delicate condition, would you, especially as those nasty-tempered
Abati might say that you had done it on purpose? Take her Majesty's
arm, Doctor, and let us trek. I'll go ahead with the torches."
To all this artless harangue Oliver answered not a single word, but
glared at us suspiciously over the shape of Maqueda, who apparently
had fainted. Only when I ventured to offer her some professional
assistance she recovered, and said that she could get on quite well
alone, which meant upon Orme's arm.
Well, the end of it was that she got on, and so did we, for the
torches lasted until we reached the narrow, sloping passage, and,
rounding the corner, saw the lantern burning in the hole in the wall,
after which, of course, things were easy.
"Doctor," said Oliver to me in a voice of studied nonchalance that
night, as we were preparing to turn in, "did you notice anything in
the Vault of Kings this afternoon?"
"Oh, yes," I answered, "lots! Of course, myself, I am not given to
archæology, like poor Higgs, but the sight struck me as absolutely
unique. If I were inclined to moralize, for instance, what a contrast
between those dead rulers and their young and beautiful successor,
full of life and love"--here he looked at me sharply--"love of her
people, such as I have no doubt in their day----"
"Oh, shut it, Adams! I don't want a philosophical lecture with
historical comparisons. Did you notice anything except bones and gold
when that unutterable ass, Quick, suddenly turned on the lights--I
mean struck the match which unfortunately he had with him."
Now I gave it up and faced the situation.
"Well, if you want the truth," I said, "not /very/ much myself, for my
sight isn't as good as it used to be. But the Sergeant, who has
extraordinarily sharp eyes, thought that he saw you kissing Maqueda, a
supposition that your relative attitudes seemed to confirm, which
explains, moreover, some of the curious sounds we heard before he lit
the torches. That's why he asked me to turn my back. But, of course,
we may have been mistaken. Do I understand you to say that the
Sergeant was mistaken?"
Oliver consigned the Sergeant's eyes to an ultimate fate worse than
that which befell those of Peeping Tom; then, in a burst of candour,
for subterfuge never was his forte, owned up:
"You made no mistake," he said, "we love each other, and it came out
suddenly in the dark. I suppose that the unusual surroundings acted on
"From a moral point of view I am glad that you love each other," I
remarked, "since embraces that are merely nervous cannot be commended.
But from every other, in our circumstances the resulting situation
strikes me as a little short of awful, although Quick, a most
observant man, warned me to expect it from the first."
"Curse Quick," said Oliver again, with the utmost energy. "I'll give
him a month's notice this very night."
"Don't," I said, "for then you'll oblige him to take service with
Barung, where he would be most dangerous. Look here, Orme, to drop
chaff, this is a pretty mess."
"Why? What's wrong about it, Doctor?" he asked indignantly. "Of
course, she's a Jew of some diluted sort or other, and I'm a
Christian; but those things adapt themselves. Of course, too, she's my
superior, but after all hers is a strictly local rank, and in Europe
we should be on much the same footing. As for her being an Eastern,
what does that matter? Surely it is not an objection which should have
weight with /you/. And for the rest, did you ever see her equal?"
"Never, never, /never/!" I answered with enthusiasm. "The young lady
to whom any gentleman has just engaged himself is always absolutely
unequalled, and, let me admit at once that this is perhaps the most
original and charming that I have ever met in all Central Africa.
Only, whatever may be the case with you, I don't know whether this
fact will console me and Quick when our throats are being cut. Look
here, Orme," I added, "didn't I tell you long ago that the one thing
you must /not/ do was to make love to the Child of Kings?"
"Did you? Really, I forget; you told me such a lot of things, Doctor,"
he answered coolly enough, only unfortunately the colour that rose in
his cheeks betrayed his lips.
At this moment, Quick, who had entered the room unobserved, gave a dry
cough, and remarked:
"Don't blame the Captain, Doctor, because he don't remember. There's
nothing like shock from an explosion for upsetting the memory. I've
seen that often in the Boer war, when, after a big shell had gone off
somewhere near them, the very bravest soldiers would clean forget that
it was their duty to stand still and not run like rabbits; indeed, it
happened to me myself."
I laughed, and Oliver said something which I could not hear, but Quick
went on imperturbably:
"Still, truth is truth, and if the Captain has forgotten, the more
reason that we should remind him. That evening at the Professor's
house in London you did warn him, sir, and he answered that you
needn't bother your head about the fascinations of a nigger woman----"
"Nigger woman," broke out Oliver; "I never used such words; I never
even thought them, and you are an impertinent fellow to put them into
my mouth. Nigger woman! Good heavens! It's desecration."
"Very sorry, Captain, now I come to think of it, I believe you said
black woman, speaking in your haste. Yes and I begged you not to brag,
seeing that if you did we might live to see you crawling after her,
with myself, Samuel Quick bringing up the rear. Well, there it is we
are, and the worst of it is that I can't blame you, being as
anticipated in the prophecy--for that's what it was though I didn't
know it myself at the time--exactly in the same state myself, though,
of course, at a distance, bringing up the rear respectfully, as said."
"You don't mean that you are in love with the Child of Kings?" said
Oliver, staring at the Sergeant's grim and battered figure.
"Begging your pardon, Captain, that is exactly what I do mean. If a
cat may look at a queen, why mayn't a man love her? Howsoever, my kind
of love ain't likely to interfere with yours. My kind means sentry-go
and perhaps a knife in my gizzard; yours--well, we saw what yours
means this afternoon, though what it will all lead to we didn't see.
Still, Captain, speaking as one who hasn't been keen on the sex
heretofore, I say--sail in, since it's worth it, even if you've got to
sink afterwards, for this lady, although she is half a Jew, and I
never could abide Jews, is the sweetest and the loveliest and the best
and the bravest little woman that ever walked God's earth."
At this point Oliver seized his hand and shook it warmly, and I may
mention that I think some report of Quick's summary of her character
must have reached Maqueda's ears. At any rate, thenceforward until the
end she always treated the old fellow with what the French call the
"most distinguished consideration."
But, as I was not in love, no one shook my hand, so, leaving the other
two to discuss the virtues and graces of the Child of Kings, I went
off to bed filled with the gloomiest forbodings. What a fool I had
been not to insist that whatever expert accompanied Higgs should be a
married man. And yet, now when I came to think of it, that might not
have bettered matters, and perhaps would only have added to the
transaction a degree of moral turpitude which at present was lacking,
since even married men are sometimes weak.
The truth was that Maqueda's attractions were extraordinarily great.
To her remarkable beauty she added a wonderful charm of manner and
force of mind. Also her situation must touch the heart and pity of any
man, so helpless was she in the midst of all her hollow grandeur, so
lonely amongst a nation of curs whom she strove in vain to save, and
should she escape destruction with them, doomed to so sad and
repulsive a fate, namely to become the wife of a fat poltroon who was
her own uncle. Well, we know to what emotion pity is akin, and the
catastrophe had occurred a little sooner than I had expected, that was
Doubtless to her, in comparison with the men to whom she was
accustomed and allowed by etiquette to take as her associates, this
brave and handsome young Englishman, who had come into her care sick
and shattered after the doing of a great deed, must have seemed a
veritable fairy prince. And she had helped to nurse him, and he had
shown himself grateful for her kindness and condescension, and--the
rest followed, as surely as the day follows the night.
But how would it end? Sooner or later the secret must come out, for
already the Abati nobles, if I may call them so for want of a better
name, and especially Joshua, were bitterly jealous of the favour their
lady showed to the foreigner, and watched them both. Then what--what
would happen? Under the Abati law it was death for any one outside of
the permitted degree of relationship to tamper with the affections of
the Child of Kings. Nor was this wonderful, since that person held her
seat in virtue of her supposed direct descent from Solomon and the
first Maqueda, Queen of Sheba, and therefore the introduction of any
alien blood could not be tolerated.
Moreover, Orme, having sworn an oath of allegiance, had become subject
to those laws. Lastly, I could not in the least hope from the
character of the pair concerned that this was but a passing
Oh! without a doubt these two had signed their own death-warrant
yonder in the Cave of Death, and incidentally ours also. This must be
the end of our adventure and my long search for the son whom I had
THE RESCUE FAILS
Our breakfast on the following morning was a somewhat gloomy meal. By
common consent no allusion was made to the events of the previous day,
or to our conversation at bedtime.
Indeed, there was no talk at all to speak of, since, not knowing what
else to do, I thought I could best show my attitude of mind by
preserving a severe silence, while Quick seemed to be absorbed in
philosophical reflections, and Orme looked rather excited and
dishevelled, as though he had been writing poetry, as I daresay was
the case. In the midst of this dreary meal a messenger arrived, who
announced that the Walda Nagasta would be pleased to see us all within
Fearing lest Orme should say something foolish, I answered briefly
that we would wait upon her, and the man went, leaving us wondering
what had happened to cause her to desire our presence.
At the appointed time we were shown into the small audience room, and,
as we passed its door, I ventured to whisper to Oliver:
"For your own sake and hers, as well as that of the rest of us, I
implore you to be careful. Your face is watched as well as your
"All right, old fellow," he answered, colouring a little. "You may
"I wish I could," I muttered.
Then we were shown in ceremoniously, and made our bows to Maqueda, who
was seated, surrounded by some of the judges and officers, among them,
Prince Joshua, and talking to two rough-looking men clad in ordinary
brown robes. She greeted us, and after the exchange of the usual
"Friends, I have summoned you for this reason. This morning when the
traitor Shadrach was being led out to execution at the hands of these
men, the officers of the law, he begged for a delay. When asked why,
as his petition for reprieve had been refused, he said that if his
life was spared he could show how your companion, he whom they call
Black Windows, may be rescued from the Fung."
"How?" asked Orme and I in one breath.
"I do not know," she answered, "but wisely they spared the man. Let
him be brought in."
A door opened, and Shadrach entered, his hands bound behind his back
and shackles on his feet. He was a very fearful and much chastened
Shadrach, for his eyes rolled and his teeth chattered with terror, as,
having prostrated himself to the Walda Nagasta, he wriggled round and
tried to kiss Orme's boot. The guards pulled him to his feet again,
and Maqueda said:
"What have you to tell us, traitor, before you die?"
"The thing is secret, O Bud of the Rose. Must I speak before so many?"
"Nay," she answered, and ordered most of those present to leave the
room, including the executioners and soldiers.
"The man is desperate, and there will be none left to guard him," said
"I'll do that, your Highness," answered Quick in his bad Arabic, and
stepping up behind Shadrach he added in English, "Now then, Pussy, you
behave, or it will be the worse for you."
When all had gone again Shadrach was commanded to speak and say how he
could save the Englishman whom he had betrayed into the hands of the
"Thus, Child of Kings," he answered, "Black Windows, as we know, is
imprisoned in the body of the great idol."
"How do you know it, man?"
"O Lady, I do know it, and also the Sultan said so, did he not? Well,
I can show a secret road to that idol whence he may be reached and
rescued. In my boyhood I, who am called Cat, because I can climb so
well, found that road, and when the Fung took me afterward and threw
me to the lions, where I got these scars upon my face, by it I
escaped. Spare me, and I will show it to you."
"It is not enough to show the road," said Maqueda. "Dog, you must save
the foreign lord whom you betrayed. If you do not save him you die. Do
"That is a hard saying, Lady," answered the man. "Am I God that I
should promise to save this stranger who perchance is already dead?
Yet I will do my best, knowing that if I fail you will kill me, and
that if I succeed I shall be spared. At any rate, I will show you the
road to where he is or was imprisoned, although I warn you that it is
a rough one."
"Where you can travel we can follow," said Maqueda. "Tell us now what
we must do."
So he told her, and when he had done the Prince Joshua intervened,
saying that it was not fitting that the Child of Kings in her own
sacred person should undertake such a dangerous journey. She listened
to his remonstrances and thanked him for his care of her.
"Still I am going," she said, "not for the sake of the stranger who is
called Black Windows, but because, if there is a secret way out of Mur
I think it well that I should know that way. Yet I agree with you, my
uncle, that on such a journey I ought not to be unprotected, and
therefore I pray that you will be ready to start with us at noon,
since I am sure that then we shall all be safe."
Now Joshua began to make excuses, but she would not listen to them.
"No, no," she said, "you are too honest. The honour of the Abati is
involved in this manner, since, alas! it was an Abati that betrayed
Black Windows, and an Abati--namely, yourself--must save him. You have
often told me, my uncle, how clever you are at climbing rocks, and now
you shall make proof of your skill and courage before these
foreigners. It is a command, speak no more," and she rose, to show
that the audience was finished.
That same afternoon Shadrach, by mountain paths that were known to
him, led a little company of people to the crest of the western
precipice of Mur. Fifteen hundred feet or more beneath us lay the
great plains upon which, some miles away, could be seen the city of
Harmac. But the idol in the valley we could not see, because here the
precipice bent over and hid it from our sight.
"What now, fellow," said Maqueda, who was clad in the rough sheepskin
of a peasant woman, which somehow looked charming upon her. "Here is
the cliff, there lies the plain; I see no road between the two, and my
wise uncle, the prince, tells me that he never heard of one."
"Lady," answered the man, "now I take command, and you must follow me.
But first let us see that nobody and nothing are lacking."
Then he went round the company and numbered them. In all we were
sixteen; Maqueda and Joshua, we three Englishmen, armed with repeating
rifles and revolvers, our guide Shadrach, and some picked Mountaineers
chosen for their skill and courage. For even in Mur there were brave
men left, especially among the shepherds and huntsmen, whose homes
were on the cliffs. These sturdy guides were laden with ropes, lamps,
and long, slender ladders that could be strapped together.
When everything had been checked and all the ladders and straps
tested, Shadrach went to a clump of bushes which grew feebly on the
wind-swept crest of the precipice. In the midst of these he found and
removed a large flat stone, revealing what evidently had been the head
of a stair, although now its steps were much worn and crumbled by the
water that in the wet season followed this natural drain to the depths
"This is that road the ancients made for purposes of their own,"
explained Shadrach, "which, as I have said, I chanced to discover when
I was a boy. But let none follow it who are afraid, for it is steep
Now Joshua, who was already weary with his long ride and walk up to
the crest of the precipice, implored Maqueda almost passionately to
abandon the idea of entering this horrid hole, while Oliver backed up
his entreaties with few words but many appealing glances, for on this
point, though for different reasons, the prince and he were at one.
But she would not listen.
"My uncle," she said, "with you, the experienced mountaineer, why
should I be afraid? If the Doctor here, who is old enough to be the
father of either of us" (so far as Joshua was concerned this remark
lacked truth), "is willing to go, surely I can go also? Moreover, if I
remained behind, you would wish to stay to guard me, and never should
I forgive myself if I deprived you of such a great adventure. Also,
like you, I love climbing. Come, let us waste no more time."
So we were roped up. First went Shadrach, with Quick next to him, a
position which the Sergeant insisted upon occupying as his custodian,
and several of the Mountaineers, carrying ladders, lamps, oil, food
and other things. Then in a second gang came two more of these men,
Oliver, Maqueda, myself, and next to me, Joshua. The remaining
mountaineers brought up the rear, carrying spare stores, ladders, and
so forth. When all was ready the lamps were lit, and we started upon a
very strange journey.
For the first two hundred feet or so the stairs, though worn and
almost perpendicular, for the place was like the shaft of a mine, were
not difficult to descend, to any of us except Joshua, whom I heard
puffing and groaning behind me. Then came a gallery running eastward
at a steep slope for perhaps fifty paces, and at the end of it a
second shaft of about the same depth as the first, but with the stairs
much more worn, apparently by the washing of water, of which a good
deal trickled out of the sides of the shaft. Another difficulty was
that the air rushing up from below made it hard to keep the lamps
Toward the bottom of this section there was scarcely any stair left,
and the climbing became very dangerous. Here, indeed, Joshua slipped,
and with a wail of terror slid down the shaft and landed with his legs
across my back in such a fashion that had I not happened to have good
hand and foot hold at the time, he would have propelled me on to
Maqueda, and we must have all rolled down headlong, probably to our
As it was, this fat and terrified fellow cast his arms about my neck,
to which he clung, nearly choking me, until, just when I was about to
faint beneath his weight and pressure, the Mountaineers in the third
party arrived and dragged him off. When they had got him in charge,
for I refused to move another step while he was immediately behind me,
we descended by a ladder which the first party had set up, to the
second level, where began another long, eastward sloping passage that
ended at the mouth of a third pit.
Here arose the great question as to what was to be done with the
Prince Joshua, who vowed that he could go no farther, and demanded
loudly to be taken back to the top of the cliff, although Shadrach
assured him that thenceforward the road was much easier. At length we
were obliged to refer the matter to Maqueda, who settled it in very
"My uncle," she said, "you tell us that you cannot come on, and it is
certain that we cannot spare the time and men to send you back.
Therefore, it seems that you must stop where you are until we return,
and if we should not return, make the best of your own way up the
shaft. Farewell, my uncle, this place is safe and comfortable, and if
you are wise you will rest awhile."
"Heartless woman!" gobbled Joshua, who was shaking like a jelly with
fear and rage. "Would you leave your affianced lord and lover alone in
this haunted hole while you scramble down rocks like a wild cat with
strangers? If I must stay, do you stay with me?"
"Certainly not," replied Maqueda with decision. "Shall it be said that
the Child of Kings is afraid to go where her guests can travel?"
Well, the end of it was that Joshua came on in the centre of the third
body of Mountaineers, who were practically obliged to carry him.
Shadrach was right, since for some reason or other the stairs
thenceforward remained more perfect. Only they seemed almost endless,
and before we reached our goal I calculated that we must have
descended quite twelve hundred feet into the bowels of the rock. At
length, when I was almost tired out and Maqueda was so breathless that
she was obliged to lean on Oliver, dragging me behind her like a dog
on a string, of a sudden we saw a glimmer of daylight that crept into
the tunnel through a small hole. By the mouth of yet another pit or
shaft, we found Shadrach and the others waiting for us. Saluting, he
said that we must unrope, leave our lamps behind, and follow him.
Oliver asked him whither this last shaft led.
"To a still lower level, lord," he answered, "but one which you will
scarcely care to explore, since it ends in the great pit where the
Fung keep their sacred lions."
"Indeed," said Oliver, much interested for reasons of his own, and he
glanced at Quick, who nodded his head and whistled.
Then we all followed Shadrach to find ourselves presently upon a
plateau about the size of a racquet court which, either by nature or
by the hand of man, had been recessed into the face of that gigantic
cliff. Going to the edge of this plateau, whereon grew many tree-ferns
and some thick green bushes that would have made us invisible from
below even had there been any one to see us, we saw that the sheer
precipice ran down beneath for several hundred feet. Of these yawning
depths, however, we did not at the moment make out much, partly
because they were plunged in shadow and partly for another reason.
Rising out of the gulf below was what we took at first to be a rounded
hill of black rock, oblong in shape, from which projected a gigantic
shaft of stone ending in a kind of fretted bush that alone was of the
size of a cottage. The point of this bush-like rock was exactly
opposite the little plateau on to which we had emerged and distant
from it not more than thirty, or at most, forty feet.
"What is that?" asked Maqueda, of Shadrach, pointing in front of her,
as she handed back to one of the Mountaineers a cup from which she had
been drinking water.
"That, O Walda Nagasta," he answered, "is nothing else than the back
of the mighty idol of the Fung, which is shaped like a lion. The great
shaft of rock with the bush at the end of it is the tail of the lion.
Doubtless this platform on which we stand is a place whence the old
priests, when they owned Mur as well as the land of the Fung, used to
hide themselves to watch whatever it was they wanted to see. Look,"
and he pointed to certain grooves in the face of the rock, "I think
that here there was once a bridge which could be let down at will on
to the tail of the lion-god, though long ago it has rotted away. Yet
ere now I have travelled this road without it."
We stared at him astonished, and in the silence that followed I heard
Maqueda whisper to Oliver:
"Perhaps that is how he whom we call Cat escaped from the Fung; or
perhaps that is how he communicates with them as a spy."
"Or perhaps he is a liar, my Lady," interrupted Quick, who had also
overheard their talk, a solution which, I confess, commended itself to
"Why have you brought us here?" asked Maqueda presently.
"Did I not tell you in Mur, Lady--to rescue Black Windows? Listen,
now, it is the custom of the Fung to allow those who are imprisoned
within the idol to walk unguarded upon its back at dawn and sunset. At
least, this is their custom with Black Windows--ask me not how I know
it; this is truth, I swear it on my life, which is at stake. Now this
is my plan. We have with us a ladder which will reach from where we
stand to the tail of the idol. Should the foreign lord appear upon the
back of the god, which, if he still lives, as I believe he does, he is
almost sure to do at sundown, as a man who dwells in the dark all day
will love the light and air when he can get them, then some of us must
cross and bring him back with us. Perhaps it had best be you, my lord
Orme, since if I went alone, or even with these men, after what is
past Black Windows might not altogether trust me."
"Fool," broke in Maqueda, "how can a man do such a thing?"
"O Lady, it is not so difficult as it looks. A few steps across the
gulf, and then a hundred feet or so along the tail of the lion which
is flat on the top and so broad that one may run down it if careful to
follow the curves, that is on a still day--nothing more. But, of
course, if the Lord Orme is afraid, which I did not think who have
heard so much of his courage----" and the rogue shrugged his shoulders
"Afraid, fellow," said Oliver, "well, I am not ashamed to be afraid of
such a journey. Yet if there is need I will make it, though not before
I see my brother alone yonder on the rock, since all this may be but a
trick of yours to deliver me to the Fung, among whom I know that you
"It is madness; you shall not go," said Maqueda. "You will fall and be
dashed to pieces. I say that you shall not go."
"Why should he not go, my niece?" interrupted Joshua. "Shadrach is
right; we have heard much of the courage of this Gentile. Now let us
see him do something."
She turned on the Prince like a tiger.
"Very good, my uncle, then you shall go with him. Surely one of the
ancient blood of the Abati will not shirk from what a 'Gentile'
On hearing this Joshua relapsed into silence, and I have no clear
memory of what he did or said in connection with the rest of that
Now followed a pause in the midst of which Oliver sat down and began
to take off his boots.
"Why do you undress yourself, friend?" asked Maqueda nervously.
"Because, Lady," he answered, "if I have to walk yonder road it is
safer to do so in my stockings. Have no fear," he added gently, "from
boyhood I have been accustomed to such feats, and when I served in my
country's army it was my pleasure to give instruction in them,
although it is true that this one surpasses all that ever I
"Still I do fear," she said.
Meanwhile Quick had sat down and begun to take off /his/ boots.
"What are you doing, Sergeant?" I asked.
"Getting ready to accompany the Captain upon forlorn hope, Doctor."
"Nonsense," I said, "you are too old for the game, Sergeant. If any
one goes, I should, seeing that I believe my son is over there, but I
can't try it, as I know my head would give out, and I should fall in a
second, which would only upset everybody."
"Of course," broke in Oliver, who had overheard us, "I'm in command
here, and my orders are that neither of you shall come. Remember,
Sergeant, that if anything happens to me it is your business to take
over the stores and use them if necessary, which you alone can do. Now
go and see to the preparations, and find out the plan of campaign, for
I want to rest and keep quiet. I daresay the whole thing is humbug,
and we shall see nothing of the Professor; still, one may as well be
So Quick and I went to superintend the lashing of two of the light
ladders together and the securing of some planks which we had brought
with us upon the top of the rungs, so as to make these ladders easy to
walk on. I asked who would be of the party besides Shadrach and Orme,
and was told no one, as all were afraid. Ultimately, however, a man
named Japhet, one of the Mountaineers, volunteered upon being promised
a grant of land from the Child of Kings herself, which grant she
proclaimed before them all was to be given to his relatives in the
event of his death.
At length everything was ready, and there came another spell of
silence, for the nerves of all of us were so strained that we did not
seem able to talk. It was broken by a sound of sudden and terrible
roaring that arose from the gulf beneath.
"It is the hour of the feeding of the sacred lions which the Fung keep
in the pit about the base of the idol," explained Shadrach. Then he
added, "Unless he should be rescued, I believe that Black Windows will
be given to the lions to-night, which is that of full moon and a
festival of Harmac, though maybe he will be kept till the next full
moon when all the Fung come up to worship."
This information did not tend to raise anyone's spirits, although
Quick, who always tried to be cheerful, remarked that it was probably
The shadows began to gather in the Valley of Harmac, whereby we knew
that the sun was setting behind the mountains. Indeed, had it not been
for a clear and curious glow reflected from the eastern sky, the gulf
would have plunged us in gloom. Presently, far away upon a rise of
rock which we knew must be the sphinx head of the huge idol, a little
figure appeared outlined against the sky, and there began to sing. The
moment that I heard the distant voice I went near to fainting, and
indeed should have fallen had not Quick caught me.
"What is it, Adams?" asked Oliver, looking up from where he and
Maqueda sat whispering to each other while the fat Joshua glowered at
them in the background. "Has Higgs appeared?"
"No," I answered, "but, thank God, my son still lives. That is his
voice. Oh! if you can, save him, too."
Now there was much suppressed excitement, and some one thrust a pair
of field-glasses into my hand, but either they were wrongly set or the
state of my nerves would not allow me to see through them. So Quick
took them and reported.
"Tall, slim figure wearing a white robe, but at the distance in this
light can't make out the face. One might hail him, perhaps, only it
would give us away. Ah! the hymn is done and he's gone; seemed to jump
into a hole in the rock, which shows that he's all right, anyway, or
he couldn't jump. So cheer up, Doctor, for you have much to be
"Yes," I repeated after him, "much to be thankful for, but still I
would that I had more after all these years to search. To think that I
should be so close to him and he know nothing of it."
After the ceasing of the song and the departure of my son, there
appeared upon the back of the idol three Fung warriors, fine fellows
clad in long robes and armed with spears, and behind them a trumpeter
who carried a horn or hollowed elephant's tusk. These men marched up
and down the length of the platform from the rise of the neck to the
root of the tail, apparently to make an inspection. Having found
nothing, for, of course, they could not see us hidden behind the
bushes on our little plateau, of which no doubt they did not even know
the existence, and much less that it was connected with the mountain
plain of Mur, the trumpeter blew a shrill blast upon his horn, and
before the echoes of it had died away, vanished with his companions.
"Sunset tour of inspection. Seen the same kind of thing as at Gib.,"
said the Sergeant. "Oh! by Jingo! Pussy isn't lying after all--there
he is," and he pointed to a figure that rose suddenly out of the black
stone of the idol's back just as the guards had done.
It was Higgs, Higgs without a doubt; Higgs wearing his battered sun-
helmet and his dark spectacles; Higgs smoking his big meerschaum pipe,
and engaged in making notes in a pocket-book as calmly as though he
sat before a new object in the British Museum.
I gasped with astonishment, for somehow I had never expected that we
should really see him, but Orme, rising very quietly from his seat
beside Maqueda, only said:
"Yes, that's the old fellow right enough. Well, now for it. You,
Shadrach, run out your ladder and cross first that I may be sure you
play no trick."
"Nay," broke in Maqueda, "this dog shall not go, for never would he
return from his friends the Fung. Man," she said, addressing Japhet,
the Mountaineer to whom she had promised land, "go you over first and
hold the end of the ladder while this lord crosses. If he returns safe
your reward is doubled."
Japhet saluted, the ladder was run out and its end set upon the
roughnesses in the rock that represented the hair of the sphinx's
tail. The Mountaineer paused a moment with hands and face uplifted;
evidently he was praying. Then bidding his companions hold the hither
end of the ladder, and having first tested it with his foot and found
that it hung firm, calmly he walked across, being a brave fellow, and
presently was seen seated on the opposing mass of rock.
Now came Oliver's turn. He nodded to Maqueda, who went white as a
sheet, muttering some words to her that did not reach me. Then he
turned and shook my hand.
"If you can, save my son also," I whispered.
"I'll do my best if I can get hold of him," he answered. "Sergeant, if
anything happens to me you know your duty."
"I'll try and follow your example, Captain, under all circumstances,
though that will be hard," replied Quick in a rather shaky voice.
Oliver stepped out on the ladder. I reckoned that twelve or fourteen
short paces would take him across, and the first half of these he
accomplished with quiet certainty. When he was in the exact middle of
the passage, however, the end of one of the uprights of the ladder at
the farther side slipped a little, notwithstanding the efforts of
Japhet to keep it straight, with the result that the plank bound on
the rungs lost its level, sinking an inch or so to the right, and
nearly causing Oliver to fall from it into the gulf. He wavered like a
wind-shaken reed, attempted to step forward, hesitated, stopped, and
slowly sank on to his hands and knees.
"/Ah/!" panted Maqueda.
"The Gentile has lost his head," began Joshua in a voice full of the
triumph that he could not hide. "He--will----"
Joshua got no further, for Quick, turning, threatened him savagely
with his fist, saying in English:
"Stow your jaw if you don't want to follow him, you swine," whereon
Joshua, who understood the gesture, if not the words, relapsed into
Now the Mountaineer on the farther side spoke, saying:
"Have no fear, the ladder is safe."
For a moment Oliver remained in his crouching posture on the board,
which was all that separated him from an awful death in the gulf
beneath. Next, while we watched, agonized, he rose to his feet again,
and with perfect calmness walked across to its other end.
"Well done our side!" said Quick, addressing Joshua, "why don't your
Royal Highness cheer? No, you leave that knife alone, or presently
there'll be a hog the less in this world," and stooping down he
relieved the Prince of the weapon which he was fingering with his
round eyes fixed upon the Sergeant.
Maqueda, who had noted all, now interfered.
"My uncle," she said, "brave men are risking their lives yonder while
we sit in safety. Be silent and cease from quarrelling, I pray you."
Next moment we had forgotten all about Joshua, being utterly absorbed
in watching the drama in progress upon the farther side of the gulf.
After a slight pause to recover his nerve or breath, Orme rose, and
preceded by Japhet, climbed up the bush-like rock till he reached the
shaft of the sphinx's tail. Here he turned and waved his hand to us,
then following the Mountaineer, walked, apparently with the utmost
confidence, along the curves of the tail to where it sprang from the
body of the idol. At this spot there was a little difficulty in
climbing over the smooth slope of rock on to the broad terrace-like
back. Soon, however, they surmounted it, and vanishing for a few
seconds into the hollow of the loins, which, of course, was a good
many feet deep, re-appeared moving toward the shoulders. Between these
we could see Higgs standing with his back toward us, utterly
unconscious of all that was passing behind him.
Passing Japhet, Oliver walked up to the Professor and touched him on
the arm. Higgs turned, stared at the pair for a moment, and then, in
his astonishment, or so we guessed, sat down plump upon the rock. They
pulled him to his feet, Orme pointing to the cliff behind, and
evidently explaining the situation and what must be done. Then
followed a short and animated talk. Through the glasses we could even
see Higgs shaking his head. He told them something, they came to a
determination, for now he turned, stepped forward a pace or two, and
vanished, as I learnt afterwards, to fetch my son, without whom he
would not try to escape.
A while went by; it seemed an age, but really was under a minute. We
heard the sound of shouts. Higgs's white helmet reappeared, and then
his body, with two Fung guards clinging on to him. He yelled out in
English and the words reached us faintly:
"Save yourself! I'll hold these devils. Run, you infernal fool, run!"
Oliver hesitated, although the Mountaineer was pulling at him, till
the heads of more Fung appeared. Then, with a gesture of despair, he
turned and fled. First ran Oliver, then Japhet, whom he had outpaced,
and after them came a number of priests or guards, waving knives,
while in the background Higgs rolled on the rock with his captors.
The rest was very short. Orme slid down the rump of the idol on to the
tail, followed by the Mountaineer, and after them in single file came
three Fung, who apparently thought no more of the perilous nature of
their foothold than do the sheiks of the Egyptian pyramids when they
swarm about those monuments like lizards. Nor, for the matter of that,
did Oliver or Japhet, who doubled down the tail as though it were a
race track. Oliver swung himself on to the ladder, and in a second was
half across it, we holding its other end, when suddenly he heard his
companion cry out. A Fung had got hold of Japhet by the leg and he lay
face downward on the board.
Oliver halted and slowly turned round, drawing his revolver as he did
so. Then he aimed and fired, and the Fung, leaving go of Japhet's leg,
threw up his arms and plunged headlong into the gulf beneath. The next
thing I remember is that they were both among us, and somebody
shouted, "Pull in the ladder."
"No," said Quick, "wait a bit."
Vaguely I wondered why, till I perceived that three of those
courageous Fung were following across it, resting their hands upon
each other's shoulders, while their companions cheered them.
"Now, pull, brothers, pull!" shouted the Sergeant, and pull we did.
Poor Fung! they deserved a better fate.
"Always inflict loss upon the enemy when you get a chance," remarked
the Sergeant, as he opened fire with his repeating rifle upon other
Fung who by now were clustering upon the back of the idol. This
position, however, they soon abandoned as untenable, except one or two
of them who remained there, dead or wounded.
A silence followed, in the midst of which I heard Quick saying to
Joshua in his very worst Arabic:
"Now does your Royal Highness think that we Gentiles are cowards,
although it is true those Fung are as good men as we any day?"
Joshua declined argument, and I turned to watch Oliver, who had
covered his face with his hands, and seemed to be weeping.
"What is it, O friend, what is it?" I heard Maqueda say in her gentle
voice--a voice full of tears, tears of gratitude I think. "You have
done a great deed; you have returned safe; all is well."
"Nay," he answered, forgetting her titles in his distress, "all is
ill. I have failed, and to-night they throw my brother to the lions.
He told me so."
Maqueda, finding no answer, stretched out her hand to the Mountaineer,
his companion in adventure, who kissed it.
"Japhet," she said, "I am proud of you; your reward is fourfold, and
henceforth you are a captain of my Mountaineers."
"Tell us what happened," I said to Oliver.
"This," he answered: "I remembered about your son, and so did Higgs.
In fact, he spoke of him first--they seem to have become friends. He
said he would not escape without him, and could fetch him in a moment,
as he was only just below. Well, he went to do so, and must have found
the guard instead, who, I suppose, had heard us talking. You know as
much about the rest as I do. To-night, when the full moon is two hours
high, there is to be a ceremony of sacrifice, and poor Higgs will be
let down into the den of lions. He was writing his will in a note-book
when we saw him, as Barung had promised to send it to us."
"Doctor," said the Sergeant, in a confidential voice, when he had
digested this information, "would you translate for me a bit, as I
want to have a talk with Cat there, and my Arabic don't run to it?"
I nodded, and we went to that corner of the plateau where Shadrach
stood apart, watching and listening.
"Now, Cat," said the Sergeant (I give his remarks in his own language,
leaving out my rendering) "just listen to me, and understand that if
you tell lies or play games either you or I don't reach the top of
this cliff again alive. Do you catch on?"
Shadrach replied that he caught on.
"Very well. You've told us that once you were a prisoner among the
Fung and thrown to these holy lions, but got out. Now just explain
"This, O Quick. After ceremonies that do not matter, I was let down in
the food-basket into the feeding-den, and thrown out of the basket
like any other meat. Then the gates were lifted up by the chains, and
the lions came in to devour me according to their custom."
"And what happened next, Shadrach?"
"What happened? Why, of course I hid myself in the shadow as much as
possible, right against the walls of the precipice, until a satan of a
she-lion snuffled me out and gave a stroke at me. Look, here are the
marks of her claws," and he pointed to the scars upon his face. "Those
claws stung like scorpions; they made me mad. The terror which I had
lost when I saw their yellow eyes came back to me. I rushed at the
precipice as a cat that is hunted by a dog rushes at a wall. I clung
to its smooth side with my nails, with my toes, with my teeth. A lion
leaped up and tore the flesh of my leg, here, here," and he showed the
marks, which we could scarcely see in that dim light. "He ran back for
another spring. Above me I saw a tiny ledge, big enough for a hawk to
sit on--no more. I jumped, I caught it, drawing up my legs so that the
lion missed me. I made the effort a man makes once in his life.
Somehow I dragged myself to that ledge; I rested one thigh upon it and
pressed against the rock to steady myself. Then the rock gave, and I
tumbled backward into the bottom of a tunnel. Afterwards I escaped to
the top of the cliff in the dark, O God of Israel! in the dark,
smelling my way, climbing like a baboon, risking death a thousand
times. It took me two whole days and nights, and the last of those
nights I knew not what I did. Yet I found my way, and that is why my
people name me Cat."
"I understand," said Quick in a new and more respectful voice, "and
however big a rascal you may be, you've got pluck. Now, say,
remembering what I told you," and he tapped the handle of his
revolver, "is that feeding-den where it used to be?"
"I believe so, O Quick; why should it be changed? The victims are let
down from the belly of the god, just there between his thighs where
are doors. The feeding-place lies in a hollow of the cliff; this
platform on which we stand is over it. None saw my escape, therefore
none searched for the means of it, since they thought that the lions
had devoured me, as they have devoured thousands. No one enters there,
only when the beasts have fed full they draw back to their sleeping-
dens, and those who watch above let down the bars. Listen," and as he
spoke we heard a crash and a rattle far below. "They fall now, the
lions having eaten. When Black Windows and perhaps others are thrown
to them, by and by, they will be drawn up again."
"Is that hole in the rock still there, Shadrach?"
"Without doubt, though I have not been down to look."
"Then, my boy, you are going now," remarked Quick grimly.
THE DEN OF LIONS
We returned to the others and told them everything that we had learned
"What's your plan, Sergeant?" asked Oliver when he had heard. "Tell
me, for I have none; my head is muddled."
"This, Captain, for what it is worth; that I should go down through
the hole that Cat here speaks of, and get into the den. Then when they
let down the Professor, if they do, and pull up the gates, that I
should keep back the lions with my rifle while he bolts to the ladder
which is ready for him, and I follow if I can."
"Capital," said Orme, "but you can't go alone. I'll come too."
"And I also," I said.
"What schemes do you make?" asked Maqueda eagerly, for, of course, she
could not understand our talk.
"What, my friend," she said to Oliver reproachfully, "would you risk
your life again to-night? Surely it is tempting the goodness of God."
"It would be tempting the goodness of God much more if I left my
friend to be eaten by lions, Lady," he answered.
Then followed much discussions. In the end it was agreed that we
should descend to the level of the den, if this were possible; that
Oliver and Quick should go down into the den with Japhet, who
instantly volunteered to accompany them, and that I, with some of the
Mountaineers, should stop in the mouth of the hole as a reserve to
cover their retreat from the lions. I pleaded to be allowed to take a
more active part, but of this they would not hear, saying with some
truth, that I was by far the best shot of the three, and could do much
more to help them from above, if, as was hoped, the moon should shine
But I knew they really meant that I was too old to be of service in
such an adventure as this. Also they desired to keep me out of risk.
Then came the question as to who should descend the last tunnel to the
place of operations. Oliver wished Maqueda to return to the top of the
cliff and wait there, but she said at once that she could not think of
attempting the ascent without our aid; also that she was determined to
see the end of the matter. Even Joshua would not go; I think, that
being an unpopular character among them, he distrusted the
Mountaineers, whose duty it would have been to escort him.
It was suggested that he should remain where he was until we returned,
if we did return, but this idea commended itself to him still less
than the other. Indeed he pointed out with much truth what we had
overlooked, namely, that now the Fung knew of the passage and were
quite capable of playing our own game, that is, of throwing a bridge
across from the sphinx's tail and attempting the storm of Mur.
"And then what should I do if they found me here alone?" he added
Maqueda answered that she was sure she did not know, but that
meanwhile it might be wise to block the mouth of the tunnel by which
we had reached the plateau in such a fashion that it could not easily
"Yes," answered Oliver, "and if we ever get out of this, to blow the
shaft in and make sure that it cannot be used."
"That shaft might be useful, Captain," said Quick doubtfully.
"There is a better way, Sergeant, if we want to mine under the sphinx;
I mean through the Tomb of Kings. I took the levels roughly, and the
end of it can't be far off. Anyhow, this shaft is of no more use to us
now that the Fung have found it out."
Then we set to work to fill in the mouth of the passage with such
loose stones as we could find. It was a difficult business, but in the
end the Mountaineers made a very fair job of it under our direction,
piling the rocks in such a fashion that they could scarcely be cleared
away in any short time without the aid of explosives.
While this work was going on, Japhet, Shadrach, and the Sergeant in
charge of him, undertook to explore the last shaft which led down to
the level of the den. To our relief, just as we had finished building
up the hole, they returned with the news that now after they had
removed a fallen stone or two it was quite practicable with the aid of
ropes and ladders.
So, in the same order as before, we commenced its passage, and in
about half-an-hour, for it was under three hundred feet in depth,
arrived safely at the foot. Here we found a bat-haunted place like a
room that evidently had been hollowed out by man. As Shadrach had
said, at its eastern extremity was a large, oblong boulder, so
balanced that if even one person pushed on either of its ends it swung
around, leaving on each side a passage large enough to allow a man to
walk through in a crouching attitude.
Very silently we propped open this primæval door and looked out. Now
the full moon was up, and her brilliant light had begun to flood the
gulf. By it we saw a dense shadow, that reached from the ground to
three hundred feet or so above us. This we knew to be that thrown by
the flanks of the gigantic sphinx which projected beyond the mountain
of stone whereon it rested, those flanks whence, according to
Shadrach, Higgs would be lowered in a food-basket. In this shadow and
on either side of it, covering a space of quite a hundred yards
square, lay the feeding-den, whence arose a sickly and horrible odour
such as is common to any place frequented by cats, mingled with the
more pungent smell of decaying flesh.
This darksome den was surrounded on three sides by precipices, and on
the fourth, that toward the east, enclosed by a wall or barrier of
rock pierced with several gates made of bars of metal, or so we judged
by the light that flowed through them.
From beyond this eastern wall came dreadful sounds of roars, snarls,
and whimperings. Evidently there the sacred lions had their home.
Only one more thing need be mentioned. On the rock floor almost
immediately beneath us lay remains which, from their torn clothes and
hair, we knew must be human. As somebody explained, I think it was
Shadrach, they were those of the man whom Orme had shot upon the tail
of the sphinx, and of his companions who had been tilted off the
For awhile we gazed at this horrible hole in silence. Then Oliver took
out his watch, which was a repeater, and struck it.
"Higgs told me," he said, "that he was to be thrown to the lions two
hours after moonrise, which is within fifteen minutes or so. Sergeant,
I think we had better be getting ready."
"Yes, Captain," answered Quick; "but everything is quite ready,
including those brutes, to judge by the noise they make, excepting
perhaps Samuel Quick, who never felt less ready for anything in his
life. Now then, Pussy, run out that ladder. Here's your rifle,
Captain, and six reload clips of cartridges, five hollow-nosed bullets
in each. You'll never want more than that, and it's no use carrying
extra weight. In your right-hand pocket, Captain, don't forget. I've
the same in mine. Doctor, here's a pile for you; laid upon that stone.
If you lie there, you'll have a good light and rest for your elbow,
and at this range ought to make very pretty shooting, even in the
moonlight. Best keep your pistol on the safe, Captain; at least, I'm