Part 4 out of 6
doing so, as we might get a fall, and these new-fangled weapons are
very hair-triggered. Here's Japhet ready, too, so give us your
marching orders, sir, and we will go to business; the Doctor will
translate to Japhet."
"We descend the ladder," said Orme, "and advance about fifty paces
into the shadow, where we can see without being seen; where also,
according to Shadrach, the food-basket is let down. There we shall
stand and await the arrival of this basket. If it contains the
Professor, he whom the Fung and the Abati know as Black Windows,
Japhet, you are to seize him and lead, or if necessary carry, him to
the ladder, up which some of the mountaineers must be ready to help
him. Your duty, Sergeant, and mine, also that of the Doctor firing
from above, will be to keep off the lions as best we can, should any
lions appear, retreating as we fire. If the brutes get one of us he
must be left, since it is foolish that both lives should be sacrificed
needlessly. For the rest, you, Sergeant, and you, Japhet, must be
guided by circumstances and act upon your own discretion. Do not wait
for special orders from me which I may not be able to give. Now, come
on. If we do not return, Adams, you will see the Child of Kings safely
up the shafts and conduct her to Mur. Good-bye, Lady."
"Good-bye," answered Maqueda in a brave voice; I could not see her
face in the darkness. "Presently, I am sure, you will return with your
Just then Joshua broke in:
"I will not be outdone in courage by these Gentiles," he said.
"Lacking their terrible weapons, I cannot advance into the den, but I
will descend and guard the foot of the ladder."
"Very well, sir," answered Orme in an astonished voice, "glad to have
your company, I am sure. Only remember that you must be quick in going
up it again, since hungry lions are active, and let all take notice
that we are not responsible for anything that may happen to you."
"Surely you had better stop where you are, my uncle," remarked
"To be mocked by you for ever after, my niece. No, I go to face the
lions," and very slowly he crept through the hole and began to descend
the ladder. Indeed, when Quick followed after an interval he found him
only half-way down, and had to hurry his movements by accidentally
treading on his fingers.
A minute or two later, peeping over the edge, I saw that they were all
in the den, that is, except Joshua, who had reascended the ladder to
the height of about six feet, and stood on it face outward, holding to
the rock on either side with his hands as though he had been
crucified. Fearing lest he should be seen there, even in the shadow, I
suggested to Maqueda that she should order him either to go down, or
to return, which she did vigorously, but without effect. So in the end
we left him alone.
Meanwhile the three had vanished into the shadow of the sphinx, and we
could see nothing of them. The great round moon rose higher and
higher, flooding the rest of the charnel-house with light, and, save
for an occasional roar or whimper from the lions beyond the wall, the
silence was intense. Now I could make out the metal gates in this
wall, and even dark and stealthy forms which passed and repassed
beyond their bars. Then I made out something else also, the figures of
men gathering on the top of the wall, though whence they came I knew
not. By degrees their number increased till there were hundreds of
them, for the wall was broad as a roadway.
Evidently these were spectators, come to witness the ceremony of
"Prince," I whispered to Joshua, "you must get down off the ladder or
you will betray us all. Nay, it is too late to come up here again, for
already the moonlight strikes just above your head. Go down, or we
will cast the ladder loose and let you fall."
So he went down and hid himself among some ferns and bushes where we
saw no more of him for a while, and, to tell the truth, forgot his
Far, far above us, from the back of the idol I suppose, came a faint
sound of solemn chanting. It sank, and we heard shouts. Then suddenly
it swelled again. Now Maqueda, who knelt near me, touched my arm and
pointed to the shadow which gradually was becoming infiltrated with
the moonlight flowing into it from either side. I looked, and high in
the air, perhaps two hundred feet from the ground, saw something dark
descending slowly. Doubtless it was the basket containing Higgs, and
whether by coincidence or no, at this moment the lions on the farther
side of the wall burst into peal upon peal of terrific roaring.
Perhaps their sentries watching at the gate saw or smelt the familiar
basket, and communicated the intelligence to their fellows.
Slowly, slowly it descended, till it was within a few feet of the
ground, when it began to sway backward and forward like a pendulum, at
each swing covering a wider arc. Presently, when it hung over the edge
of the shadow that was nearest to us, it was let down with a run and
overset, and out of it, looking very small in those vast surroundings
and that mysterious light, rolled the figure of a man. Although at
that distance we could see little of him, accident assured us of his
identity, for as he rolled the hat he wore fell from him, and I knew
it at once for Higgs's sun-helmet. He rose from the ground, limped
very slowly and painfully after the helmet, picked it up, and
proceeded to use it to dust his knees. At this moment there was a
"Oh! they lift the gates!" murmured Maqueda.
Then followed more sounds, this time of wild beasts raging for their
prey, and of other human beasts shrieking with excitement on the wall
above. The Professor turned and saw. For a moment he seemed about to
run, then changed his mind, clapped the helmet on his head, folded his
arms and stood still, reminding me in some curious way, perhaps,
because of the shortness of his thick figure, of a picture I had seen
of the great Napoleon contemplating a disaster.
To describe what followed is extremely difficult, for we watched not
one but several simultaneous scenes. For instance, there were the
lions, which did not behave as might have been expected. I thought
that they would rush through the doors and bound upon the victim, but
whether it was because they had already been fed that afternoon or
because they thought that a single human being was not worth the
trouble, they acted differently.
Through the open gates they came, in two indolent yellow lines, male
lions, female lions, half-grown lions, cub lions that cuffed each
other in play, in all perhaps fifty or sixty of them. Of these only
two or three looked towards the Professor, for none of them ran or
galloped, while the rest spread over the den, some of them vanishing
into the shadow at the edge of the surrounding cliff where the
moonlight could not reach.
Here one of them, at any rate, must have travelled fast enough, for it
seemed only a few seconds later that we heard a terrific yell beneath
us, and craning over the rock I saw the Prince Joshua running up the
ladder more swiftly than ever did any London lamplighter when I was a
But quickly as he came, the long, thin, sinuous thing beneath came
quicker. It reared itself on its hind legs, it stretched up a great
paw--I can see the gleaming claws in it now--and struck or hooked at
poor Joshua. The paw caught him in the small of the back, and seemed
to pin him against the ladder. Then it was drawn slowly downward, and
heaven! how Joshua howled. Up came the other paw to repeat the
operation, when, stretching myself outward and downward, with an Abati
holding me by the ankles, I managed to shoot the beast through the
head so that it fell all of a heap, taking with it a large portion of
Joshua's nether garments.
A few seconds later he was among us, and tumbled groaning into a
corner, where he lay in charge of some of the mountaineers, for I had
no time to attend to him just then.
When the smoke cleared at length, I saw that Japhet had reached Higgs,
and was gesticulating to him to run, while two lions, a male and a
female, stood at a little distance, regarding the pair in an
interested fashion. Higgs, after some brief words of explanation,
pointed to his knee. Evidently he was lamed and could not run. Japhet,
rising to the occasion, pointed to his back, and bent down. Higgs
flung himself upon it, and was hitched up like a sack of flour. The
pair began to advance toward the ladder, Japhet carrying Higgs as one
schoolboy carries another.
The lion sat down like a great dog, watching this strange proceeding
with mild interest, but the lioness, filled with feminine curiosity,
followed sniffing at Higgs, who looked over his shoulder. Taking off
his battered helmet, he threw it at the beast, hitting her on the
head. She growled, then seized the helmet, playing with it for a
moment as a kitten does with a ball of wool, and next instant, finding
it unsatisfying, uttered a short and savage roar, ran forward, and
crouched to spring, lashing her tail. I could not fire, because a
bullet that would hit her must first pass through Japhet and Higgs.
But, just when I thought that the end had come, a rifle went off in
the shadow and she rolled over, kicking and biting the rock. Thereon
the indolent male lion seemed to awake, and sprang, not at the men,
but at the wounded lioness, and a hellish fight ensued, of which the
details and end were lost in a mist of dust and flying hair.
The crowd upon the wall, becoming alive to the real situation, began
to scream in indignant excitement which quickly communicated itself to
the less savage beasts. These set up a terrible roaring, and ran
about, keeping for the most part to the shadows, while Japhet and his
burden made slow but steady progress toward the ladder.
Then from the gloom beneath the hind-quarters of the sphinx rose a
sound of rapid firing, and presently Orme and Quick emerged into the
moonlight, followed by a number of angry lions that advanced in short
rushes. Evidently the pair had kept their heads, and were acting on a
One of them emptied his rifle at the pursuing beasts, while the other
ran back a few paces, thrusting in a fresh clip of cartridges as he
went. Then he began to fire, and his companion in turn retreated
behind him. In this way they knocked over a number of lions, for the
range was too short for them to miss often, and the expanding bullets
did their work very well, paralyzing even when they did not kill. I
also opened fire over their heads, and, although in that uncertain
light the majority of my shots did no damage, the others disposed of
several animals which I saw were becoming dangerous.
So things went on until all four, that is, Japhet with Higgs upon his
back, and Orme and Quick, were within twenty paces of the ladder,
although separated from each other by perhaps half the length of a
cricket pitch. We thought that they were safe, and shouted in our joy,
while the hundreds of spectators on the wall who fortunately dared not
descend into the den because of the lions, which are undiscriminating
beasts, yelled with rage at the imminent rescue of the sacrifice.
Then of a sudden the position changed. From every quarter fresh lions
seemed to arrive, ringing the men round and clearly bent on slaughter,
although the shouting and the sound of firearms, which they had never
heard before, frightened them and made them cautious.
A half-grown cub rushed in and knocked over Japhet and Higgs. I fired
and hit it in the flank. It bit savagely at its wound, then sprang on
to the prostrate pair, and stood over them growling, but in such pain
that it forgot to kill them. The ring of beasts closed in--we could
see their yellow eyes glowing in the gloom. Orme and Quick might have
got through by the help of their rifles, but they could not leave the
others. The dreadful climax seemed at hand.
"Follow me," said Maqueda, who all this while had watched panting at
my side, and rose to run to the ladder. I thrust her back.
"Nay," I shouted. "Follow me, Abati! Shall a woman lead you?"
Of how I descended that ladder I have no recollection, nor do I in the
least know how the Mountaineers came after me, but I think that the
most of them rolled and scrambled down the thirty feet of rock. At
least, to their honour be it said, they did come, yelling like demons
and waving long knives in their hands.
The effect of our sudden arrival from above was extraordinary. Scared
by the rush and the noise, the lions gave way, then bolted in every
direction, the wounded cub, which could not, or would not move, being
stabbed to death where it stood over Higgs and Japhet.
Five minutes more and all of us were safe in the mouth of the tunnel.
That was how we rescued Higgs from the den of the sacred lions which
guarded the idol of the Fung.
THE ADVENTURES OF HIGGS
A more weary and dishevelled set of people than that which about the
hour of dawn finally emerged from the mouth of the ancient shaft on to
the cliffs of Mur it has seldom been my lot to behold. Yet with a
single exception the party was a happy one, for we had come triumphant
through great dangers, and actually effected our object--the rescue of
Higgs, which, under the circumstances most people would have thought
impossible. Yes, there he was in the flesh before us, having injured
his knee and lost his hat, but otherwise quite sound save for a few
trifling scratches inflicted by the cub, and still wearing what the
natives called his "black windows."
Even the Prince Joshua was happy, though wrapped in a piece of coarse
sacking because the lion had taken most of his posterior clothing, and
terribly sore from the deep cuts left by the claws.
Had he not dared the dangers of the den, and thus proved himself a
hero whose fame would last for generations? Had I not assured him that
his honourable wounds, though painful (as a matter of fact, after they
had set, they kept him stiff as a mummy for some days, so that unless
he stood upon his feet, he had to be carried, or lie rigid on his
face) would probably not prove fatal? And had he not actually survived
to reach the upper air again, which was more than he ever expected to
do? No wonder that he was happy.
I alone could not share in the general joy, since, although my friend
was restored to me, my son still remained a prisoner among the Fung.
Yet even in this matter things might have been worse, since I learned
that he was well treated, and in no danger. But of that I will write
Never shall I forget the scene after the arrival of Higgs in our hole,
when the swinging boulder had been closed and made secure and the
lamps lighted. There he sat on the floor, his red hair glowing like a
torch, his clothes torn and bloody, his beard ragged and stretching in
a Newgate frill to his ears. Indeed, his whole appearance, accentuated
by the blue spectacles with wire gauze side-pieces, was more
disreputable than words can tell; moreover, he smelt horribly of lion.
He put his hand into his pocket, and produced his big pipe, which had
remained unbroken in its case.
"Some tobacco, please," he said. (Those were his first words to us!)
"I have finished mine, saved up the last to smoke just before they put
me into that stinking basket."
I gave him some, and as he lit his pipe the light of the match fell
upon the face of Maqueda, who was staring at him with amused
"What an uncommonly pretty woman," he said. "What's she doing down
here, and who is she?"
I told him, whereon he rose, or rather tried to, felt for his hat,
which, of course, had gone, with the idea of taking it off, and
instantly addressed her in his beautiful and fluent Arabic, saying how
glad he was to have this unexpected honour, and so forth.
She congratulated him on his escape, whereon his face grew serious.
"Yes, a nasty business," he said, "as yet I can hardly remember
whether my name is Daniel, or Ptolemy Higgs." Then he turned to us and
added, "Look here, you fellows, if I don't thank you it isn't because
I am not grateful, but because I can't. The truth is, I'm a bit dazed.
Your son is all right, Adams; he's a good fellow, and we grew great
friends. Safe? Oh! yes, he's safe as a church! Old Barung, he's the
Sultan, and another good fellow, although he did throw me to the lions
--because the priests made him--is very fond of him, and is going to
marry him to his daughter."
At this moment the men announced that everything was ready for our
ascent, and when I had attended to Joshua with a heart made thankful
by Higgs's news, we began that toilsome business, and, as I have
already said, at length accomplished it safely. But even then our
labours were not ended, since it was necessary to fill up the mouth of
the shaft so as to make it impossible that it should be used by the
Fung, who now knew of its existence.
Nor was this a business that could be delayed, for as we passed the
plateau whence Oliver and Japhet had crossed to the sphinx, we heard
the voices of men on the farther side of the rough wall that we had
built there. Evidently the priests, or idol guards, infuriated by the
rescue of their victim, had already managed to bridge the gulf and
were contemplating assault, a knowledge which caused us to hurry our
movements considerably. If they had got through before we passed them,
our fate would have been terrible, since at the best we must have
slowly starved in the pit below.
Indeed, as soon as we reached the top and had blocked it temporarily,
Quick, weary as he was, was sent off on horseback, accompanied by
Maqueda, Shadrach, now under the terms of his contract once more a
free man, and two Mountaineers, to gallop to the palace of Mur, and
fetch a supply of explosives. The rest of us, for Higgs declined to
leave, and we had no means of carrying Joshua, remained watching the
place, or rather the Abati watched while we slept with our rifles in
our hands. Before noon Quick returned, accompanied by many men with
litters and all things needful.
Then we pulled out the stones, and Oliver, Japhet, and some others
descended to the first level and arranged blasting charges. Awhile
after he reappeared with his companions, looking somewhat pale and
anxious, and shouted to us to get back. Following our retreat to a
certain distance, unwinding a wire as he came, presently he stopped
and pressed the button of a battery which he held in his hand. There
was a muffled explosion and a tremor of the soil like to that of an
earthquake, while from the mouth of the shaft stones leapt into the
It was over, and all that could be noted was a sinkage in the ground
where the ancient pit had been.
"I am sorry for them," said Oliver presently, "but it had to be done."
"Sorry for whom?" I asked.
"For those Fung priests or soldiers. The levels below are full of
them, dead or alive. They were pouring up at our heels. Well, no one
will travel that road again."
Later, in the guest house at Mur, Higgs told us his story. After his
betrayal by Shadrach, which, it appeared, was meant to include us all,
for the Professor overheard the hurried talk between him and a Fung
captain, he was seized and imprisoned in the body of the great sphinx,
where many chambers and dungeons had been hollowed out by the primæval
race that fashioned it. Here Barung the Sultan visited him and
informed him of his meeting with the rest of us, to whom apparently he
had taken a great liking, and also that we had refused to purchase a
chance of his release at the price of being false to our trust.
"You know," said Higgs, "that when first I heard this I was very angry
with you, and thought you a set of beasts. But on considering things I
saw the other side of it, and that you were right, although I never
could come to fancy the idea of being sacrificed to a sphinx by being
chucked like a piece of horse-flesh to a lot of holy lions. However,
Barung, an excellent fellow in his way, assured me that there was no
road out of the matter without giving grave offence to the priests,
who are very powerful among the Fung, and bringing a fearful curse on
"Meanwhile, he made me as comfortable as he could. For instance, I was
allowed to walk upon the back of the idol, to associate with the
priests, a suspicious and most exclusive set, and to study their
entire religious system, from which I have no doubt that of Egypt was
derived. Indeed, I have made a great discovery which, if ever we get
out of this, will carry my name down to all generations. The
forefathers of these Fung were undoubtedly also the forefathers of the
pre-dynastic Egyptians, as is shown by the similarity of their customs
and spiritual theories. Further, intercourse was kept up between the
Fung, who then had their headquarters here in Mur, and the Egyptians
in the time of the ancient empire, till the Twentieth Dynasty, indeed,
if not later. My friends, in the dungeons in which I was confined
there is an inscription, or, rather, a /graffite/, made by a prisoner
extradited to Mur by Rameses II., after twenty years' residence in
Egypt, which was written by him on the night before he was thrown to
the sacred lions, that even in those days were an established
institution. And I have got a copy of that inscription in my pocket-
book. I tell you," he added in a scream of triumph, "I've got a
certified copy of that inscription, thanks to Shadrach, on whose dirty
head be blessings!"
I congratulated him heartily upon this triumph, and before he
proceeded to give us further archæological details, asked him for some
information about my boy.
"Oh," said Higgs, "he is a very nice young man and extremely good
looking. Indeed, I am quite proud to have such a godson. He was much
interested to hear that you were hunting for him after so many years,
quite touched indeed. He still talks English, though with a Fung
accent, and, of course, would like to escape. Meanwhile, he is having
a very good time, being chief singer to the god, for his voice is
really beautiful, an office which carries with it all sorts of
privileges. I told you, didn't I, that he is to be married to Barung's
only legitimate daughter on the night of the next full moon but one.
The ceremony is to take place in Harmac City, and will be the greatest
of its sort for generations, a feast of the entire people in short. I
should very much like to be present at it, but being an intelligent
young man he has promised to keep notes of everything, which I hope
may become available in due course."
"And is he attached to this savage lady?" I asked dismayed.
"Attached? Oh, dear no, I think he said he had never seen her, and
only knew that she was rather plain and reported to possess a haughty
temper. He is a philosophical young man, however, as might be expected
from one who has undergone so many vicissitudes, and, therefore, takes
things as they come, thanking heaven that they are no worse. You see,
as the husband of the Sultan's daughter, unless the pair quarrel very
violently, he will be safe from the lions, and he could never quite
say as much before. But we didn't go into these domestic matters very
deeply as there were so many more important things to interest us
both. He wanted to know all about you and our plans, and naturally I
wanted to know all about the Fung and the ritual and traditions
connected with the worship of Harmac, so that we were never dull for a
single moment. In fact, I wish that we could have had longer together,
for we became excellent friends. But whatever happens, I think that I
have collected the cream of his information," and he tapped a fat
note-book in his hands, adding:
"What an awful thing it would have been if a lion had eaten this. For
myself it did not matter; there may be many better Egyptologists, but
I doubt if any one of them will again have such opportunities of
original research. However, I took every possible precaution to save
my notes by leaving a copy of the most important of them written with
native ink upon sheepskin in charge of your son. Indeed, I meant to
leave the originals also, but fortunately forgot in the excitement of
my very hurried departure."
I agreed with him that his chances had been unique and that he was a
most lucky archæologist, and presently he went on puffing at his pipe.
"Of course, when Oliver turned up in that unexpected fashion on the
back of the idol, remembering your wishes and natural desire to
recover your son, I did my best to rescue him also. But he wasn't in
the room beneath, where I thought I should find him. The priests were
there instead, and they had heard us talking above, and you know the
rest. Well, as it happens, it didn't matter, though that descent into
the den of lions--there were two or three hundred feet of it, and the
rope seemed worn uncommonly thin with use--was a trying business to
"What did you think about all the time?" asked Oliver curiously.
"Think about? I didn't think much, was in too great a fright. I just
wondered whether St. Paul had the same sensations when he was let down
in a basket; wondered what the early Christian martyrs felt like in
the arena; wondered whether Barung, with whom my parting was quite
affectionate, would come in the morning and look for me as Darius did
for Daniel and how much he would find if he did; hoped that my specs
would give one of those brutes appendicitis, and so forth. My word! it
was sickening, especially that kind of school-treat swing and bump at
the end. I never could bear swinging. Still, it was all for the best,
as I shouldn't have gone a yard along that sphinx's tail without
tumbling off, tight-rope walking not being in my line; and I'll tell
you what, you are just the best three fellows in the whole world.
Don't you think I forget that because I haven't said much. And now
let's have your yarn, for I want to hear how things stand, which I
never expected to do this side of Judgment-day."
So we told him all, while he listened open-mouthed. When we came to
the description of the Tomb of the Kings his excitement could scarcely
"You haven't touched them," he almost screamed; "don't say you have
been vandals enough to touch them, for every article must be
catalogued /in situ/ and drawings must be made. If possible, specimen
groups with their surrounding offerings should be moved so that they
can be set up again in museums. Why, there's six months' work before
me, at least. And to think that if it hadn't been for you, by now I
should be in process of digestion by a lion, a stinking, mangy, sacred
Next morning I was awakened by Higgs limping into my room in some
weird sleeping-suit that he had contrived with the help of Quick.
"I say, old fellow," he said, "tell me some more about that girl,
Walda Nagasta. What a sweet face she's got, and what pluck! Of course,
such things ain't in my line, never looked at a woman these twenty
years past, hard enough to remember her next morning, but, by Jingo!
the eyes of that one made me feel quite queer here," and he hit the
sleeping-suit somewhere in the middle, "though perhaps it was only
because she was such a contrast to the lions."
"Ptolemy," I answered in a solemn voice, "let me tell you that she is
more dangerous to meddle with than any lion, and what's more, if you
don't want to further complicate matters with a flaming row, you had
better keep to your old habits and leave her eyes alone. I mean that
Oliver is in love with her."
"Of course he is. I never expected anything else, but what's that got
to do with it? Why shouldn't I be in love with her too? Though I
admit," he added sadly, contemplating his rotund form, "the chances
are in his favour, especially as he's got the start."
"They are, Ptolemy, for she's in love with him," and I told him what
we had seen in the Tomb of Kings.
First he roared with laughter, then on second thoughts grew
"I call it scandalous of Oliver, compromising us all in this way--the
lucky dog! These selfish, amorous adventures will let us in for no end
of trouble. It is even probably, Adams, that you and I may come to a
miserable end, solely because of this young man's erotic tendencies.
Just fancy neglecting business in order to run after a pretty, round-
faced Jewess, that is if she /is/ a Jewess, which I doubt, as the
blood must have got considerably mixed by now, and the first Queen of
Sheba, if she ever existed, was an Ethiopian. As a friend almost old
enough to be his father, I shall speak to him very seriously."
"All right," I called after him as he hobbled off to take his bath,
"only if you are wise, you won't speak to Maqueda, for she might
misinterpret your motives if you go on staring at her as you did
That morning I was summoned to see the Prince Joshua and dress his
wounds, which, although not of a serious nature, were very painful.
The moment that I entered the man's presence I noticed a change in his
face. Like the rest of us I had always set this fellow down as a mere
poltroon and windbag, a blower of his own trumpet, as Oliver had
called him. Now I got an insight into his real nature which showed me
that although he might be these things and worse, he was also a very
determined and dangerous person, animated by ambitions which he meant
to satisfy at all hazards.
When I had done what I could for him and told him that in my opinion
he had no ill results to fear from his hurts, since the thick clothes
he was wearing at the time had probably cleaned the lion's paws of any
poison that might have been on them, he said,
"Physician, I desire private words with you."
I bowed, and he went on:
"The Child of Kings, hereditary ruler of this land, somewhat against
the advice of her Council, has thought fit to employ you and your
Gentile companions in order that by your skill and certain arts of
which you are masters you may damage its ancient enemies, the Fung,
and in reward has promised to pay you well should you succeed in your
endeavours. Now, I wish you to understand that though you think
yourselves great men, and may for aught I know be great in your own
country, here you are but servants like any other mercenaries whom it
may please us to hire."
His tone was so offensive that, though it might have been wiser to
keep silent, I could not help interrupting him.
"You use hard words, Prince," I said; "let me then explain what is the
real pay for which we work and undergo some risks. Mine is the hope of
recovering a son who is the slave of your enemies. That of the Captain
Orme is the quest of adventure and war, since being a rich man in his
own country he needs no further wealth. That of him whom you call
Black Windows, but whose name is Higgs, is the pure love of learning.
In England and throughout the West he is noted for his knowledge of
dead peoples, their languages, and customs, and it is to study these
that he has undertaken so terrible a journey. As for Quick, he is
Orme's man, who has known him from childhood, an old soldier who has
served with him in war and comes hither to be with the master whom he
"Ah!" said Joshua, "a servant, a person of no degree, who yet dares to
threaten me, the premier prince of the Abati, to my face."
"In the presence of death all men are equal, Prince. You acted in a
fashion that might have brought his lord, who was daring a desperate
deed, to a hideous doom."
"And what do I care about his lord's desperate deeds, Physician? I see
that you set store by such things, and think those who accomplish them
great and wonderful. Well, we do not. There is no savage among the
barbarous Fung would not do all that your Orme does, and more, just
because he is a savage. We who are civilized, we who are cultivated,
we who are wise, know better. Our lives were given us to enjoy, not to
throw away or to lose at the sword's point, and, therefore, no doubt,
you would call us cowards."
"Yet, Prince, those who bear that title of coward which you hold one
of honour, are apt to perish 'at the sword's point.' The Fung wait
without your gates, O Prince."
"And therefore, O Gentile, we hire you to fight the Fung. Still, I
bear no grudge against your servant, Quick, who is himself but a
white-skinned Fung, for he acted according to his nature, and I
forgive him; only in the future let him beware! And now--for a greater
matter. The Child of Kings is beautiful, she is young and high
spirited; a new face from another land may perchance touch her fancy.
But," he added meaningly, "let the owner of that face remember who she
is and what he is; let him remember that for any outside the circle of
the ancient blood to lift his eyes to the daughter of Solomon is to
earn death, death slow and cruel for himself and all who aid and abet
him. Let him remember, lastly, that this high-born lady to whom he, an
unknown and vagrant Gentile, dares to talk as equal to equal, has from
childhood been my affianced, who will shortly be my wife, although it
may please her to seem to flout me after the fashion of maidens, and
that we Abati are jealous of the honour of our women. Do you
"Yes, Prince," I answered, for by now my temper was roused. "But I
would have you understand something also--that we are men of a high
race whose arm stretches over half the world, and that we differ from
the little tribe of the Abati, whose fame is not known to us, in this
--that we are jealous of our own honour, and do not need to hire
strangers to fight the foes we fear to face. Next time I come to
attend to your wounds, O Prince, I trust that they will be in front,
and not behind. One word more, if you will be advised by me you will
not threaten that Captain whom you call a Gentile and a mercenary,
lest you should learn that it is not always well to be a coward, of
blood however ancient."
Then, in a towering rage, I left him, feeling that I had made a
thorough fool of myself. But the truth was that I could not sit still
and hear men such as my companions, to say nothing of myself, spoken
of thus by a bloated cur, who called himself a prince and boasted of
his own poltroonery. He glowered at me as I went, and the men of his
party who hung about the end of the great room and in his courts,
glowered at me also. Clearly he was a very dangerous cur, and I almost
wished that instead of threatening to slap his face down in the
tunnel, Quick had broken his neck and made an end of him.
So did the others when I told them the story, although I think it
opened their eyes, and especially those of Oliver, to the grave and
growing dangers of the situation. Afterward he informed me that he had
spoken of the matter with Maqueda, and that she was much frightened
for our sakes, and somewhat for her own. Joshua, she said, was a man
capable of any crime, who had at his back the great majority of the
Abati; a jealous, mean and intolerant race who made up in cunning for
what they lacked in courage.
Yet, as I saw well, the peril of their situation did nothing to
separate this pair or to lessen their love. Indeed, rather did it seem
to bind them closer together, and to make them more completely one. In
short, the tragedy took its appointed course, whilst we stood by and
watched it helplessly.
On the afternoon of my angry interview with Joshua we were summoned to
a meeting of the Council, whither we went, not without some
trepidation, expecting trouble. Trouble there was, but of a different
sort to that which we feared. Scarcely had we entered the great room
where the Child of Kings was seated in her chair of state surrounded
by all the pomp and ceremony of her mimic court, when the big doors at
the end of it were opened, and through them marched three gray-bearded
men in white robes whom we saw at once were heralds or ambassadors
from the Fung. These men bowed to the veiled Maqueda and, turning
toward where we stood in a little group apart, bowed to us also.
But of Joshua, who was there supported by two servants, for he could
not yet stand alone, and the other notables and priests of the Abati,
they took not the slightest heed.
"Speak," said Maqueda.
"Lady," answered the spokesman of the embassy, "we are sent by our
Sultan, Barung, son of Barung, Ruler of the Fung nation. These are the
words of Barung: O Walda Nagasta! 'By the hands and the wit of the
white lords whom you have called to your aid, you have of late done
much evil to the god Harmac and to me his servant. You have destroyed
one of the gates of my city, and with it many of my people. You have
rescued a prisoner out of my hands, robbing Harmac of his sacrifice
and thereby bringing his wrath upon us. You have slain sundry of the
sacred beasts that are the mouth of sacrifice, you have killed certain
of the priests and guards of Harmac in a hole of the rocks. Moreover
my spies tell me that you plan further ills against the god and
against me. Now I send to tell you that for these and other offences I
will make an end of the people of the Abati, whom hitherto I have
spared. In a little while I marry my daughter to the white man, that
priest of Harmac who is called Singer of Egypt, and who is said to be
the son of the physician in your service, but after I have celebrated
this feast and my people have finished the hoeing of their crops, I
take up the sword in earnest, nor will I lay it down again until the
Abati are no more.
"'Learn that last night after the holy beasts had been slain and the
sacrifice snatched away, the god Harmac spoke to his priests in
prophecy. And this was his prophecy; that before the gathering in of
the harvest his /head/ should sleep above the plain of Mur. We know
not the interpretation of the saying, but this I know, that before the
gathering of the harvest I, or those who rule after me, will lie down
to sleep within my city of Mur.'
"'Now, choose--surrender forthwith and, save for the dog, Joshua, who
the other day tried to entrap me against the custom of peoples, and
ten others whom I shall name, I will spare the lives of all of you,
though Joshua and these ten I will hang, since they are not worthy to
die by the sword. Or resist, and by Harmac himself I swear that every
man among the Abati shall die save the white lords whom I honour
because they are brave, and that servant of yours who stood with them
last night in the den of lions, and that every woman shall be made a
slave, save you, O Walda Nagasta, because of your great heart. Your
answer, O Lady of the Abati!'"
Now Maqueda looked around the faces of her Council, and saw fear
written upon them all. Indeed, as we noted, many of them shook in
"My answer will be short, ambassadors of Barung," she replied, "still,
I am but one woman, and it is fitting that those who represent the
people should speak for the people. My uncle, Joshua, you are the
first of my Council, what have you to say? Are you willing to give up
your life with ten others whose names I do not know, that there may be
peace between us and the Fung?"
"What?" answered Joshua, with a splutter of rage, "do I live to hear a
Walda Nagasta suggest that the first prince of the land, her uncle and
affianced husband, should be surrendered to our hereditary foes to be
hanged like a worn-out hound, and do you, O unknown ten, who doubtless
stand in this chamber, live to hear it also?"
"My uncle, you do not. I asked if such was your wish, that is all."
"Then I answer that it is not my wish, nor the wish of the ten, nor
the wish of the Abati. Nay, we will fight the Fung and destroy them,
and of their beast-headed idol Harmac we will make blocks to build our
synagogues and stones to pave our roads. Do you hear, savages of
Fung?" and assisted by his two servants he hobbled towards them,
grinning in their faces.
The envoys looked him up and down with their quiet eyes. "We hear and
we are very glad to hear," their spokesman answered, "since we Fung
love to settle our quarrels with the sword and not by treaty. But to
you, Joshua, we say: Make haste to die before we enter Mur, since the
rope is not the only means of death whereof we know."
Very solemnly the three ambassadors saluted, first the Child of Kings
and next ourselves, then turned to go.
"Kill them!" shouted Joshua, "they have threatened and insulted me,
But no one lifted a hand against the men, who passed safely out of the
palace to the square, where an escort waited with their horses.
HOW PHARAOH MET SHADRACH
When the ambassadors had gone, at first there was silence, a very
heavy silence, since even the frivolous Abati felt that the hour was
big with fate. Of a sudden, however, the members of the Council began
to chatter like so many monkeys, each talking without listening to
what his neighbour said, till at length a gorgeously dressed person, I
understood that he was a priest, stepped forward, and shouted down the
Then he spoke in an excited and venomous fashion. He pointed out that
we Gentiles had brought all this trouble upon Mur, since before we
came the Abati, although threatened, had lived in peace and glory--he
actually used the word glory!--for generations. But now we had stung
the Fung, as a hornet stings a bull, and made them mad, so that they
wished to toss the Abati. He proposed, therefore, that we should at
once be ejected from Mur.
At this point I saw Joshua whisper into the ear of a man, who called
"No, no, for then they would go to their friend, Barung, a savage like
themselves, and having learned our secrets, would doubtless use them
against us. I say that they must be killed instantly," and he drew a
sword, and waved it.
Quick walked up to the fellow and clapped a pistol to his head.
"Drop that sword," he said, "or /you/'ll never hear the end of the
story," and he obeyed, whereupon Quick came back.
Now Maqueda began to speak, quietly enough, although I could see that
she was quaking with passion.
"These men are our guests," she said, "come hither to serve us. Do you
desire to murder our guests? Moreover, of what use would that be? One
thing alone can save us, the destruction of the god of the Fung,
since, according to the ancient saying of that people, when the idol
is destroyed the Fung will leave their city of Harmac. Moreover, as to
this new prophecy of the priests of the idol, that before the
gathering in of the harvest his head shall sleep above the plain of
Mur, how can that happen if it is destroyed, unless indeed it means
that Harmac shall sleep in the heavens. Therefore what have you to
fear from threats built upon that which cannot happen?
"But can /you/ destroy this false god Harmac, or dare /you/ fight the
Fung? You know that it is not so, for had it been so what need was
there for me to send for these Westerns? And if you murder them, will
Barung thereby be appeased? Nay, I tell you that being a brave and
honourable man, although our enemy, he will become ten times more
wroth with you than he was before, and exact a vengeance even more
terrible. I tell you also, that then you must find another Walda
Nagasta to rule over you, since I, Maqueda, will do so no more."
"That is impossible," said some one, "you are the last woman of the
"Then you can choose one of blood that is not true, or elect a king,
as the Jews elected Saul, for if my guests are butchered I shall die
of very shame."
These words of hers seemed to cow the Council, one of whom asked what
would she have them do?
"Do?" she replied, throwing back her veil, "why, be men, raise an army
of every male who can carry a sword; help the foreigners, and they
will lead you to victory. People of the Abati, would you be
slaughtered, would you see your women slaves, and your ancient name
blotted out from the list of peoples?"
Now some of them cried, "No."
"Then save yourselves. You are still many, the strangers here have
skill in war, they can lead if you will follow. Be brave a while, and
I swear to you that by harvest the Abati shall sit in the city of
Harmac and not the Fung in Mur. I have spoken, now do what you will,"
and rising from her chair of state Maqueda left the chamber, motioning
to us to do likewise.
The end of all this business was that a peace was made between us and
the Council of the Abati. After their pompous, pedantic fashion they
swore solemnly on the roll of the Law that they would aid us in every
way to overcome the Fung, and even obey such military orders as we
might give them, subject to the confirmation of these orders by a
small council of their generals. In short, being very frightened, for
a time they forgot their hatred of us foreigners.
So a scheme of operations was agreed upon, and some law passed by the
Council, the only governing body among the Abati, for they possessed
no representative institutions, under which law a kind of conscription
was established for a while. Let me say at once that it met with the
most intense opposition. The Abati were agriculturalists who loathed
military service. From their childhood they had heard of the imminence
of invasion, but no actual invasion had ever yet taken place. The Fung
were always without, and they were always within, an inland isle, the
wall of rock that they thought impassable being their sea which
protected them from danger.
They had no experience of slaughter and rapine, their imaginations
were not sufficiently strong to enable them to understand what these
things meant; they were lost in the pettiness of daily life and its
pressing local interests. Their homes in flames, they themselves
massacred, their women and children dragged off to be the slaves of
the victors, a poor remnant left to die of starvation among the wasted
fields or to become wild men of the rocks! All these things they
looked upon as a mere tale, a romance such as their local poets
repeated in the evenings of a wet season, dim and far-off events which
might have happened to the Canaanites and Jebusites and Amalekites in
the ancient days whereof the book of their Law told them, but which
could never happen to /them/, the comfortable Abati. In that book the
Israelites always conquered in the end, although the Philistines,
alias Fung, sat at their gates. For it will be remembered that it
includes no account of the final fall of Jerusalem and awful
destruction of its citizens, of which they had little if any
So it came about that our recruiting parties, perhaps press gangs
would be a better term, were not well received. I know it, for this
branch of the business was handed over to me, of course as adviser to
the Abati captains, and on several occasions, when riding round the
villages on the shores of their beautiful lake, we were met by showers
of stones, and were even the object of active attacks which had to be
put down with bloodshed. Still, an army of five or six thousand men
was got together somehow, and formed into camps, whence desertions
were incessant, once or twice accompanied by the murder of officers.
"It's 'opeless, downright 'opeless, Doctor," said Quick to me,
dropping his h's, as he sometimes did in the excitement of the moment.
"What can one do with a crowd of pigs, everyone of them bent on
bolting to his own sty, or anywhere except toward the enemy? The
sooner the Fung get them the better for all concerned, say I, and if
it wasn't for our Lady yonder" (Quick always called Maqueda after "our
Lady," after it had been impressed upon him that "her Majesty" was an
incorrect title), my advice to the Captain and you gentlemen would be:
Get out of this infernal hole as quick as your legs can carry you, and
let's do a bit of hunting on the way home, leaving the Abati to settle
their own affairs."
"You forget, Sergeant, that I have a reason for staying in this part
of the world, and so perhaps have the others. For instance, the
Professor is very fond of those old skeletons down in the cave," and I
"Yes, Doctor, and the Captain is very fond of something much better
than a skeleton, and so are we all. Well, we've got to see it through,
but somehow I don't think that every one of us will have that luck,
though it's true that when a man has lived fairly straight according
to his lights a few years more or less don't matter much one way or
the other. After all, except you gentlemen, who is there that will
miss Samuel Quick?"
Then without waiting for an answer, drawing himself up straight as a
ramrod he marched off to assist some popinjays of Abati officers, whom
he hated and who hated him, to instil the elements of drill into a
newly raised company, leaving me to wonder what fears or premonitions
filled his honest soul.
But this was not Quick's principal work, since for at least six hours
of every day he was engaged in helping Oliver in our great enterprise
of driving a tunnel from the end of the Tomb of Kings deep into the
solid rock that formed the base of the mighty idol of the Fung. The
task was stupendous, and would indeed have been impossible had not
Orme's conjecture that some passage had once run from the extremity of
the cave toward the idol proved to be perfectly accurate. Such a
passage indeed was found walled up at the back of the chair containing
the bones of the hunchbacked king. It descended very sharply for a
distance of several hundred yards, after which for another hundred
yards or more its walls and roof were so riven and shaky that, for
fear of accidents, we found it necessary to timber them as we went.
At last we came to a place where they had fallen in altogether, shaken
down, I presume, by the great earthquake which had destroyed so much
of the ancient cave-city. At this spot, if Oliver's instruments and
calculations could be trusted, we were within about two hundred feet
of the floor of the den of lions, to which it seemed probable that the
passage once led, and of course the question arose as to what should
A Council was held to discuss this problem, at which Maqueda and a few
of the Abati notables were present. To these Oliver explained that
even if that were possible it would be useless to clear out the old
passage and at the end find ourselves once more in the den of lions.
"What, then, is your plan?" asked Maqueda.
"Lady," he answered, "I, your servant, am instructed to attempt to
destroy the idol Harmac, by means of the explosives which we have
brought with us from England. First, I would ask you if you still
cling to that design?"
"Why should it be abandoned?" inquired Maqueda. "What have you against
"Two things, Lady. As an act of war the deed seems useless, since
supposing that the sphinx is shattered and a certain number of priests
and guards are destroyed, how will that advance your cause? Secondly,
such destruction will be very difficult, if it can be done at all. The
stuff we have with us, it is true, is of fearful strength, yet who can
be sure that there is enough of it to move this mountain of hard rock,
of which I cannot calculate the weight, not having the measurements or
any knowledge of the size of the cavities within its bulk. Lastly, if
the attempt is to be made, a tunnel must be hollowed of not less than
three hundred feet in length, first downward and then upward into the
very base of the idol, and if this is to be done within six weeks,
that is, by the night of the marriage of the daughter of Barung, the
work will be very hard, if indeed it can be completed at all, although
hundreds of men labour day and night."
Now Maqueda thought a while, then looked up and said:
"Friend, you are brave and skilful, tell us all your mind. If you sat
in my place, what would you do?"
"Lady, I would lead out every able-bodied man and attack the city of
the Fung, say, on the night of the great festival when they are off
their guard. I would blow in the gates of the city of Harmac, and
storm it and drive away the Fung, and afterwards take possession of
the idol, and if it is thought necessary, destroy it piecemeal from
Now Maqueda consulted with her councillors, who appeared to be much
disturbed at this suggestion, and finally called us back and gave us
"These lords of the Council," she said, speaking with a ring of
contempt in her voice, "declare that your plan is mad, and that they
will never sanction it because the Abati could not be persuaded to
undertake so dangerous an enterprise as an attack upon the city of
Harmac, which would end, they think, in all of them being killed. They
point out, O Orme, that the prophecy is that the Fung will leave the
plain of Harmac when their god is destroyed and not before, and that
therefore it must be destroyed. They say, further, O Orme, that for a
year you and your companions are the sworn servants of the Abati, and
that it is your business to receive orders, not to give them, also
that the condition upon which you earn your pay is that you destroy
the idol of the Fung. This is the decision of the Council, spoken by
the mouth of the prince Joshua, who command further that you shall at
once set about the business to execute which you and your companions
are present here in Mur."
"Is that /your/ command also, O Child of Kings?" answered Oliver,
"Since I also think that the Abati can never be forced to attack the
city of the Fung, it is, O Orme, though the words in which it is
couched are not my words."
"Very well, O Child of Kings, I will do my best. Only blame us not if
the end of this matter is other than these advisers of yours expect.
Prophecies are two-edged swords to play with, and I do not believe
that a race of fighting men like the Fung will fly and leave you
triumphant just because a stone image is shattered, if that can be
done in the time and with the means which we possess. Meanwhile, I ask
that you should give me two hundred and fifty picked men of the
Mountaineers, not of the townspeople, under the captaincy of Japhet,
who must choose them, to assist us in our work."
"It shall be done," she answered, and we made our bows and went. As we
passed through the Council we heard Joshua say in a loud voice meant
for us to hear:
"Thanks be to God, these hired Gentiles have been taught their place
Oliver turned on him so fiercely that he recoiled, thinking that he
was about to strike him.
"Be careful, Prince Joshua," he said, "that before this business is
finished you are not taught yours, which I think may be lowly," and he
looked meaningly at the ground.
So the labour began, and it was heavy indeed as well as dangerous.
Fortunately, in addition to the picrate compounds that Quick called
"azure stinging bees," we had brought with us a few cases of dynamite,
of which we now made use for blasting purposes. A hole was drilled in
the face of the tunnel, and the charge inserted. Then all retreated
back into the Tomb of Kings till the cartridge had exploded, and the
smoke cleared off, which took a long while, when our people advanced
with iron bars and baskets, and cleared away the débris, after which
the process must be repeated.
Oh! the heat of that narrow hole deep in the bowels of the rock, and
the reek of the stagnant air which sometimes was so bad that the
lights would scarcely burn. Indeed, after a hundred feet had been
completed, we thought that it would be impossible to proceed, since
two men died of asphyxiation and the others, although they were good
fellows enough, refused to return into the tunnel. At length, however,
Orme and Japhet persuaded some of the best of them to do so, and
shortly after this the atmosphere improved very much, I suppose
because we cut some cranny or shaft which communicated with the open
There were other dangers also, notably of the collapse of the whole
roof where the rock was rotten, as we found it to be in places. Then
it proved very hard to deal with the water, for once or twice we
struck small springs impregnated with copper or some other mineral
that blistered the feet and skin, since every drop of this acid water
had to be carried out in wooden pails. That difficulty we overcame at
last by sinking a narrow well down to the level of the ancient tunnel
of which I have spoken as having been shaken in by the earthquake.
Thus we, or rather Oliver and Quick with the Mountaineers, toiled on.
Higgs did his best, but after a while proved quite unable to bear the
heat, which became too much for so stout a man. The end of it was that
he devoted himself to the superintendence of the removal of the
rubbish into the Tomb of Kings, the care of the stores and so forth.
At least that was supposed to be his business, but really he employed
most of his time in drawing and cataloguing the objects of antiquity
and the groups of bones that were buried there, and in exploring the
remains of the underground city. In truth, this task of destruction
was most repellent to the poor Professor.
"To think," he said to us, "to think that I, who all my life have
preached the iniquity of not conserving every relic of the past,
should now be employed in attempting to obliterate the most wonderful
object ever fashioned by the ancients! It is enough to make a Vandal
weep, and I pray heaven that you may not succeed in your infamous
design. What does it matter if the Abati are wiped out, as lots of
better people have been before them? What does it matter if we
accompany them to oblivion so long as that noble sphinx is preserved
to be the wonder of future generations? Well, thank goodness, at any
rate I have seen it, which is more, probably, than any of you will
ever do. There, another brute is dumping his rubbish over the skull of
Thus we laboured continually, each at his different task, for the work
in the mine never stopped, Oliver being in charge during the day and
Quick at night for a whole week, since on each Sunday they changed
with their gangs, Quick taking the day shift and Oliver the night, or
/vice versa/. Sometimes Maqueda came down the cave to inspect
progress, always, I noticed, at those hours when Oliver happened to be
off duty. Then on this pretext or on that they would wander away
together to visit I know not what in the recesses of the underground
city, or elsewhere. In vain did I warn them that their every step was
dogged, and that their every word and action were noted by spies who
crept after them continually, since twice I caught one of these gentry
in the act. They were infatuated, and would not listen.
At this time Oliver only left the underground city twice or thrice a
week to breathe the fresh air for an hour or two. In truth, he had no
leisure. For this same reason he fitted himself up a bed in what had
been a priest's chamber, or a sanctuary in the old temple, and slept
there, generally with no other guard but the great dog, Pharaoh, his
constant companion even in the recesses of the mine.
It was curious to see how this faithful beast accustomed itself to the
darkness, and made its other senses, especially that of smell, serve
the purpose of eyes as do the blind. By degrees, too, it learned all
the details of the operations; thus, when the cartridge was in place
for firing, it would rise and begin to walk out of the tunnel even
before the men in charge.
One night the tragedy that I feared very nearly happened, and indeed
must have happened had it not been for this same hound, Pharaoh. About
six o'clock in the evening Oliver came off duty after an eight-hour
shift in the tunnel, leaving Higgs in command for a little while until
it was time for Quick to take charge. I had been at work outside all
day in connection with the new conscript army, a regiment of which was
in revolt, because the men, most of whom were what we should call
small-holders, declared that they wanted to go home to weed their
crops. Indeed, it had proved necessary for the Child of Kings herself
to be summoned to plead with them and condemn some of the ringleaders
When at length this business was over we left together, and the poor
lady, exasperated almost to madness, sharply refusing the escort of
any of her people, requested me to accompany her to the mine.
At the mouth of the tunnel she met Oliver, as probably she had
arranged to do, and after he had reported progress to her, wandered
away with him as usual, each of them carrying a lamp, into some recess
of the buried city. I followed them at a distance, not from curiosity,
or because I wished to see more of the wonders of that city whereof I
was heartily sick, but because I suspected that they were being spied
The pair vanished round a corner that I knew ended in a /cul-de-sac/,
so extinguishing my lamp, I sat down on a fallen column and waited
till I should see their light reappear, when I proposed to effect my
retreat. Whilst I sat thus, thinking on many things and, to tell the
truth, very depressed in mind, I heard a sound as of some one moving
and instantly struck a match. The light of it fell full upon the face
of a man whom I recognized at once as a body-servant of the prince
Joshua, though whether he was passing me toward the pair or returning
from their direction I could not be sure.
"What are you doing here?" I asked.
"What is that to you, Physician?" he answered.
Then the match burnt out, and before I could light another he had
vanished, like a snake into a stone wall.
My first impulse was to warn Maqueda and Oliver that they were being
watched, but reflecting that the business was awkward, and that the
spy would doubtless have given over his task for this day, I left it
alone, and went down to the Tomb of the Kings to help Higgs. Just
afterwards Quick came on duty, long before his time, the fact being
that he had no confidence in the Professor as a director of mining
operations. When he appeared Higgs and I retreated from that close and
filthy tunnel, and, by way of recreation, put in an hour or so at the
cataloguing and archæological research in which his soul delighted.
"If only we could get all this lot out of Mur," he said, with a sweep
of his hand, "we should be the most famous men in Europe for at least
three days, and rich into the bargain."
"Ptolemy," I answered, "we shall be fortunate if we get ourselves
alive out of Mur, let alone these bones and ancient treasures," and I
told him what I had seen that evening.
His fat and kindly face grew anxious.
"Ah!" he said. "Well, I don't blame him; should probably do the same
myself if I got the chance, and so would you--if you were twenty years
younger. No, I don't blame him, or her either, for the fact is that
although their race, education, and circumstances are so different,
they are one of Nature's pairs, and while they are alive nothing will
keep them apart. You might as well expect a magnet and a bit of iron
to remain separate on a sheet of notepaper. Moreover, they give
themselves away, as people in that state always do. The pursuit of
archæology has its dangers, but it is a jolly sight safer than that of
woman, though it did land me in a den of lions. What's going to
happen, old fellow?"
"Can't say, but I think it very probable that Oliver will be murdered,
and that we shall follow the same road, or, if we are lucky, be only
bundled out of Mur. Well, it's time for dinner; if I get a chance I
will give them a hint."
So we made our way to the old temple in the great cave, where we kept
our stores and Oliver had his headquarters. Here we found him waiting
for us and our meal ready, for food was always brought to us by the
palace servants. When we had eaten and these men had cleared away, we
lit our pipes and fed the dog Pharaoh upon the scraps that had been
reserved for him. Then I told Oliver about the spy whom I had caught
tracking him and Maqueda.
"Well, what of it?" he said, colouring in his tell-tale fashion; "she
only took me to see what she believed to be an ancient inscription on
a column in that northern aisle."
"Then she'd have done better to take me, my boy," said Higgs. "What
was the character like?"
"Don't know," he answered guiltily. "She could not find it again."
An awkward silence followed, which I broke.
"Oliver," I said, "I don't think you ought to go on sleeping here
alone. You have too many enemies in this place."
"Rubbish," he answered, "though it's true Pharaoh seemed uneasy last
night, and that once I woke up and thought I heard footsteps in the
court outside. I set them down to ghosts, in which I have almost come
to believe in this haunted place, and went to sleep again."
"Ghosts be blowed!" said Higgs vulgarly, "if there were such things I
have slept with too many mummies not to see them. That confounded
Joshua is the wizard who raises your ghosts. Look here, old boy," he
added, "let me camp with you to-night, since Quick must be in the
tunnel, and Adams has to sleep outside in case he is wanted on the
"Not a bit of it," he answered; "you know you are too asthmatical to
get a wink in this atmosphere. I won't hear of such a thing."
"Then come and sleep with us in the guest-house."
"Can't be done; the Sergeant has got a very nasty job down there about
one o'clock, and I promised to be handy in case he calls me up," and
he pointed to the portable field telephone that fortunately we had
brought with us from England, which was fixed closed by, adding, "if
only that silly thing had another few hundred yards of wire, I'd come;
but, you see, it hasn't and I must be in touch with the work."
At this moment the bell tinkled, and Orme made a jump for the receiver
through which for the next five minutes he was engaged in giving rapid
and to us quite unintelligible directions.
"There you are," he said, when he had replaced the mouthpiece on its
hook, "if I hadn't been here they would probably have had the roof of
the tunnel down and killed some people. No, no; I can't leave that
receiver unless I go back to the mine, which I am too tired to do.
However, don't you fret. With a pistol, a telephone, and Pharaoh I'm
safe enough. And now, good night; you fellows had better be getting
home as I must be up early to-morrow and want to sleep while I can."
On the following morning about five o'clock Higgs and I were awakened
by some one knocking at our door. I rose and opened it, whereon in
walked Quick, a grim and grimy figure, for, as his soaked clothes and
soiled face told us, he had but just left his work in the mine.
"Captain wants to see you as soon as possible, gentlemen," he said.
"What's the matter, Sergeant?" asked Higgs, as we got into our
"You'll see for yourself presently, Professor," was the laconic reply,
nor could we get anything more out of him.
Five minutes later we were advancing at a run through the dense
darkness of the underground city, each of us carrying a lamp. I
reached the ruins of the old temple first, for Quick seemed very tired
and lagged behind, and in that atmosphere Higgs was scant of breath
and could not travel fast. At the doorway of the place where he slept
stood the tall form of Oliver holding a lamp aloft. Evidently he was
waiting for us. By his side sat the big yellow dog, Pharaoh, that,
when he smelt us, gambolled forward, wagging his tail in greeting.
"Come here," said Orme, in a low and solemn voice, "I have something
to show you," and he led the way into the priest's chamber, or
sanctuary, whatever it may have been, where he slept upon a rough,
native-made bedstead. At the doorway he halted, lowered the lamp he
held, and pointed to something dark on the floor to the right of his
bedstead, saying, "Look!"
There lay a dead man, and by his side a great knife that evidently had
fallen from his hand. At the first glance we recognised the face
which, by the way, was singularly peaceful, as though it were that of
one plunged in deep sleep. This seemed odd, since the throat below was
literally torn out.
"Shadrach!" we said, with one voice.
Shadrach it was; Shadrach, our former guide, who had betrayed us;
Shadrach who, to save his own life, had shown us how to rescue Higgs,
and for that service been pardoned, as I think I mentioned. Shadrach
and no other!
"Pussy seems to have been on the prowl and to have met a dog,"
"Do you understand what has happened?" asked Oliver, in a dry, hard
voice. "Perhaps I had better explain before anything is moved.
Shadrach must have crept in here last night--I don't know at what
time, for I slept through it all--for purposes of his own. But he
forgot his old enemy Pharaoh, and Pharaoh killed him. See his throat?
When Pharaoh bites he doesn't growl, and, of course, Shadrach could
say nothing, or, as he had dropped his knife, for the matter of that,
do anything either. When I was woke up about an hour ago by the
telephone bell the dog was fast asleep, for he is accustomed to that
bell, with his head resting upon the body of Shadrach. Now why did
Shadrach come into my room at night with a drawn knife in his hand?"
"Doesn't seem a difficult question to answer," replied Higgs, in the
high voice which was common to him when excited. "He came here to
murder you, and Pharaoh was too quick for him, that's all. That dog
was the cheapest purchase you ever made, friend Oliver."
"Yes," answered Orme, "he came here to murder me--you were right about
the risk, after all--but what I wonder is, who sent him?"
"And so you may go on wondering for the rest of your life, Captain,"
exclaimed Quick. "Still, I think we might guess if we tried."
Then news of what had happened was sent to the palace, and within
little over an hour Maqueda arrived, accompanied by Joshua and several
other members of her Council. When she saw and understood everything
she was horrified, and sternly asked Joshua what he knew of this
business. Of course, he proved to be completely innocent, and had not
the slightest idea of who had set the murderer on to work this deed of
darkness. Nor had anybody else, the general suggestion being that
Shadrach had attempted it out of revenge, and met with the due reward
of his crime.
Only that day poor Pharaoh was poisoned. Well, he had done his work,
and his memory is blessed.
SERGEANT QUICK HAS A PRESENTIMENT
From this time forward all of us, and especially Oliver, were guarded
night and day by picked men who it was believed could not be
corrupted. As a consequence, the Tsar of Russia scarcely leads a life
more irksome than ours became at Mur. Of privacy there was none left
to us, since sentries and detectives lurked at every corner, while
tasters were obliged to eat of each dish and drink from each cup
before it touched our lips, lest our fate should be that of Pharaoh,
whose loss we mourned as much as though the poor dog had been some
beloved human being.
Most of all was it irksome, I think, to Oliver and Maqueda, whose
opportunities of meeting were much curtailed by the exigencies of this
rigid espionage. Who can murmur sweet nothings to his adored when two
soldiers armed to the teeth have been instructed never to let him out
of their sight? Particularly is this so if the adored happens to be
the ruler of those soldiers to whom the person guarded has no right to
be making himself agreeable. For when off duty even the most faithful
guardians are apt to talk. Of course, the result was that the pair
took risks which did not escape observation. Indeed, their intimate
relations became a matter of gossip throughout the land.
Still, annoying as they might be, these precautions succeeded, for
none of us were poisoned or got our throats cut, although we were
constantly the victims of mysterious accidents. Thus, a heavy rock
rolled down upon us when we sat together one evening upon the hill-
side, and a flight of arrows passed between us while we were riding
along the edge of a thicket, by one of which Higgs's horse was killed.
Only when the mountain and the thicket were searched no one could be
found. Moreover, a great plot against us was discovered in which some
of the lords and priests were implicated, but such was the state of
feeling in the country that, beyond warning them privately that their
machinations were known, Maqueda did not dare to take proceedings
against these men.
A little later on things mended so far as we were concerned, for the
following reason: One day two shepherds arrived at the palace with
some of their companions, saying that they had news to communicate. On
being questioned, these peasants averred that while they were herding
their goats upon the western cliffs many miles away, suddenly on the
top of the hills appeared a body of fifteen Fung, who bound and
blindfolded them, telling them in mocking language to take a message
to the Council and to the white men.
This was the message: That they had better make haste to destroy the
god Harmac, since otherwise his head would move to Mur according to
the prophecy, and that when it did so, the Fung would follow as they
knew how to do. Then they set the two men on a rock where they could
be seen, and on the following morning were in fact found by some of
their fellows, those who accompanied them to the Court and
corroborated this story.
Of course the matter was duly investigated, but as I know, for I went
with the search party, when we got to the place no trace of the Fung
could be found, except one of their spears, of which the handle had
been driven into the earth and the blade pointed toward Mur, evidently
in threat or defiance. No other token of them remained, for, as it
happened, a heavy rain had fallen and obliterated their footprints,
which in any case must have been faint on this rocky ground.
Notwithstanding the most diligent search by skilled men, their mode of
approach and retreat remained a mystery, as, indeed, it does to this
day. The only places where it was supposed to be possible to scale the
precipice of Mur were watched continually, so that they could have
climbed up by none of these. The inference was, therefore, that the
Fung had discovered some unknown path, and, if fifteen men could climb
that path, why not fifteen thousand!
Only, where was this path? In vain were great rewards in land and
honours offered to him who should discover it, for although such
discoveries were continually reported, on investigation these were
found to be inventions or mares' nests. Nothing but a bird could have
travelled by such roads.
Then at last we saw the Abati thoroughly frightened, for, with
additions, the story soon passed from mouth to mouth till the whole
people talked of nothing else. It was as though we English learned
that a huge foreign army had suddenly landed on our shores and, having
cut the wires and seized the railways, was marching upon London. The
effect of such tidings upon a nation that always believed invasion to
be impossible may easily be imagined, only I hope that we should take
them better than did the Abati.
Their swagger, their self-confidence, their talk about the "rocky
walls of Mur," evaporated in an hour. Now it was only of the
disciplined and terrible regiments of the Fung, among whom every man
was trained to war, and of what would happen to them, the civilized
and domesticated Abati, a peace-loving people who rightly enough, as
they declared, had refused all martial burdens, should these regiments
suddenly appear in their midst. They cried out that they were
betrayed--they clamoured for the blood of certain of the Councillors.
That carpet knight, Joshua, lost popularity for a while, while
Maqueda, who was known always to have been in favour of conscription
and perfect readiness to repel attack, gained what he had lost.
Leaving their farms, they crowded together into the towns and
villages, where they made what in South Africa are called laagers.
Religion, which practically had been dead among them, for they
retained but few traces of the Jewish faith if, indeed, they had ever
really practised it, became the craze of the hour. Priests were at a
premium; sheep and cattle were sacrificed; it was even said that,
after the fashion of their foes the Fung, some human beings shared the
same fate. At any rate the Almighty was importuned hourly to destroy
the hated Fung and to protect His people--the Abati--from the results
of their own base selfishness and cowardly neglect.
Well, the world has seen such exhibitions before to-day, and will
doubtless see more of them in the instance of greater peoples who
allow luxury and pleasure-seeking to sap their strength and manhood.
The upshot of it all was that the Abati became obsessed with the
saying of the Fung scouts to the shepherds, which, after all, was but
a repetition of that of their envoys delivered to the Council a little
while before: that they should hasten to destroy the idol Harmac, lest
he should move himself to Mur. How an idol of such proportions, or
even its head, could move at all they did not stop to inquire. It was
obvious to them, however, that if he was destroyed there would be
nothing to move and, further, that we Gentiles were the only persons
who could possibly effect such destruction. So we also became popular
for a little while. Everybody was pleasant and flattered us--
everybody, even Joshua, bowed when we approached, and took a most
lively interest in the progress of our work, which many deputations
and prominent individuals urged us to expedite.
Better still, the untoward accidents such as those I have mentioned,
ceased. Our dogs, for we had obtained some others, were no longer
poisoned; rocks that appeared fixed did not fall; no arrows whistled
among us when we went out riding. We even found it safe occasionally
to dispense with our guards, since it was every one's interest to keep
us alive--for the present. Still, I for one was not deceived for a
single moment, and in season and out of season warned the others that
the wind would soon blow again from a less favourable quarter.
We worked, we worked, we worked! Heaven alone knows how we did work.
Think of the task, which, after all, was only one of several. A tunnel
must be bored, for I forget how far, through virgin rock, with the
help of inadequate tools and unskilled labour, and this tunnel must be
finished by a certain date. A hundred unexpected difficulties arose,
and one by one were conquered. Great dangers must be run, and were
avoided, while the responsibility of this tremendous engineering feat
lay upon the shoulders of a single individual, Oliver Orme, who,
although he had been educated as an engineer, had no great practical
experience of such enterprises.
Truly the occasion makes the man, for Orme rose to it in a way that I
can only call heroic. When he was not actually in the tunnel he was
labouring at his calculations, of which many must be made, or taking
levels with such instruments as he had. For if there proved to be the
slightest error all this toil would be in vain, and result only in the
blowing of a useless hole through a mass of rock. Then there was a
great question as to the effect which would be produced by the amount
of explosive at his disposal, since terrible as might be the force of
the stuff, unless it were scientifically placed and distributed it
would assuredly fail to accomplish the desired end.
At last, after superhuman efforts, the mine was finished. Our stock of
concentrated explosive, about four full camel loads of it, was set in
as many separate chambers, each of them just large enough to receive
the charge, hollowed in the primæval rock from which the idol had been
These chambers were about twenty feet from each other, although if
there had been time to prolong the tunnel, the distance should have
been at least forty in order to give the stuff a wider range of
action. According to Oliver's mathematical reckoning, they were cut in
the exact centre of the base of the idol, and about thirty feet below
the actual body of the crouching sphinx. As a matter of fact this
reckoning was wrong in several particulars, the charges having been
set farther toward the east or head of the sphinx and higher up in the
base than he supposed. When it is remembered that he had found no
opportunity of measuring the monument which practically we had only
seen once from behind under conditions not favourable to accuracy in
such respects, or of knowing its actual length and depth, these
trifling errors were not remarkable.
What was remarkable is that his general plan of operations, founded
upon a mere hypothetical estimate, should have proved as accurate as
At length all was prepared, and the deadly cast-iron flasks had been
packed in sand, together with dynamite cartridges, the necessary
detonators, electric wires, and so forth, an anxious and indeed awful
task executed entirely in that stifling atmosphere by the hands of
Orme and Quick. Then began another labour, that of the filling in of
the tunnels. This, it seems, was necessary, or so I understood, lest
the expanding gases, following the line of least resistance, should
blow back, as it were, through the vent-hole. What made that task the
more difficult was the need of cutting a little channel in the rock to
contain the wires, and thereby lessen the risk of the fracture of
these wires in the course of the building-up process. Of course, if by
any accident this should happen, the circuit would be severed, and no
explosion would follow when the electric battery was set to work.
The arrangement was that the mine should be fired on the night of that
full moon on which we had been told, and spies confirmed the
information, the feast of the marriage of Barung's daughter to my son
would be celebrated in the city of Harmac. This date was fixed because
the Sultan had announced that so soon as that festivity, which
coincided with the conclusion of the harvest, was ended, he meant to
deliver his attack on Mur.
Also, we were anxious that it should be adhered to for another reason,
since we knew that on this day but a small number of priests and
guards would be left in charge of the idol, and my son could not be
among them. Now, whatever may have been the views of the Abati, we as
Christians who bore them no malice did not at all desire to destroy an
enormous number of innocent Fung, as might have happened if we had
fired our mine when the people were gathered to sacrifice to their
The fatal day arrived at last. All was completed, save for the
blocking of the passage, which still went on, or, rather, was being
reinforced by the piling up of loose rocks against its mouth, at which
a hundred or so men laboured incessantly. The firing wires had been
led into that little chamber in the old temple where the dog Pharaoh
tore out the throat of Shadrach, and no inch of them was left
unguarded for fear of accident or treachery.
The electric batteries--two of them, in case one should fail--had been
tested but not connected with the wires. There they stood upon the
floor, looking innocent enough, and we four sat round them like
wizards round their magic pot, who await the working of some spell. We
were not cheerful; who could be under so intense a strain? Orme,
indeed, who had grown pale and thin with continuous labour of mind and
body, seemed quite worn out. He could not eat nor smoke, and with
difficulty I persuaded him to drink some of the native wine. He would
not even go to look at the completion of the work or to test the
"You can see to it," he said; "I have done all I can. Now things must
take their chance."
After our midday meal he lay down and slept quite soundly for several
hours. About four o'clock those who were labouring at the piling up of
débris over the mouth of the tunnel completed their task, and, in
charge of Quick, were marched out of the underground city.
Then Higgs and I took lamps and went along the length of the wires,
which lay in a little trench covered over with dust, removing the dust
and inspecting them at intervals. Discovering nothing amiss, we
returned to the old temple, and at its doorway met the mountaineer,
Japhet, who throughout all these proceedings had been our prop and
stay. Indeed, without his help and that of his authority over the
Abati the mine could never have been completed, at any rate within the
The light of the lamp showed that his face was very anxious.
"What is the matter?" I asked.
"O Physician," he answered, "I have words for the ear of the Captain
Orme. Be pleased to lead me to him."
We explained that he slept and could not be disturbed, but Japhet only
answered as before, adding:
"Come you with me, my words are for your ears as well as his."
So we went into the little room and awoke Oliver, who sprang up in a
great fright, thinking that something untoward had happened at the
"What's wrong?" he asked of Japhet. "Have the Fung cut the wires?"
"Nay, O Orme, a worse thing; I have discovered that the Prince Joshua
has laid a plot to steal away 'Her-whose-name-is-high.'"
"What do you mean? Set out all the story, Japhet," said Oliver.
"It is short, lord. I have some friends, one of whom--he is of my own
blood, but ask me not his name--is in the service of the Prince. We
drank a cup of wine together, which I needed, and I suppose it loosed
his tongue. At any rate, he told me, and I believed him. This is the
story. For his own sake and that of the people the Prince desires that
you should destroy the idol of Fung, and therefore he has kept his
hands off you of late. Yet should you succeed, he does not know what
may happen. He fears lest the Abati in their gratitude should set you
up as great men."
"Then he is an ass!" interrupted Quick; "for the Abati have no
"He fears," went on Japhet, "other things also. For instance, that the
Child of Kings may express that gratitude by a mark of her signal
favour toward one of you," and he stared at Orme, who turned his head
aside. "Now, the Prince is affianced to this great lady, whom he
desires to wed for two reasons: First, because this marriage will make
him the chief man amongst the Abati, and, secondly, because of late he
has come to think that he loves her whom he is afraid that he may
lose. So he has set a snare."
"What snare?" asked one of us, for Japhet paused.
"I don't know," answered Japhet, "and I do not think that my friend
knew either, or, if he did, he would not tell me. But I understand the
plot is that the Child of Kings is to be carried off to the Prince
Joshua's castle at the other end of the lake, six hours' ride away,
and there be forced to marry him at once."
"Indeed," said Orme, "and when is all this to happen?"
"I don't know, lord. I know nothing except what my friend told me,
which I thought it right to communicate to you instantly. I asked him
the time, however, and he said that he believed the date was fixed for
one night after next Sabbath."
"Next Sabbath is five days hence, so that this matter does not seem to
be very pressing," remarked Oliver with a sigh of relief. "Are you
sure that you can trust your friend, Japhet?"
"No, lord, I am not sure, especially as I have always known him to be
a liar. Still, I thought that I ought to tell you."
"Very kind of you, Japhet, but I wish that you had let me have my
sleep out first. Now go down the line and see that all is right, then
return and report."
Japhet saluted in his native fashion and went.
"What do you think of this story?" asked Oliver, as soon as he was out
"All bosh," answered Higgs; "the place is full of talk and rumours,
and this is one of them."
He paused and looked at me.
"Oh!" I said, "I agree with Higgs. If Japhet's friend had really
anything to tell he would have told it in more detail. I daresay there
are a good many things Joshua would like to do, but I expect he will
stop there, at any rate, for the present. If you take my advice you
will say nothing of the matter, especially to Maqueda."
"Then we are all agreed. But what are you thinking of, Sergeant?"
asked Oliver, addressing Quick, who stood in a corner of the room,
lost apparently in contemplation of the floor.
"I, Captain," he replied, coming to attention. "Well, begging their
pardon, I was thinking that I don't hold with these gentlemen, except
in so far that I should say nothing of this job to our Lady, who has
plenty to bother her just now, and won't need to be frightened as
well. Still, there may be something in it, for though that Japhet is
stupid, he's honest, and honest men sometimes get hold of the right
end of the stick. At least, he believes there is something, and that's
what weighs with me."
"Well, if that's your opinion, what's best to be done Sergeant? I
agree that the Child of Kings should not be told, and I shan't leave
this place till after ten o'clock to-night at the earliest, if we
stick to our plans, as we had better do, for all that stuff in the
tunnel wants a little time to settle, and for other reasons. What are
you drawing there?" and he pointed to the floor, in the dust of which
Quick was tracing something with his finger.
"A plan of our Lady's private rooms, Captain. She told you she was
going to rest at sundown, didn't she, or earlier, for she was up most
of last night, and wanted to get a few hours' sleep before--something
happens. Well, her bed-chamber is there, isn't it? and another before
it, in which her maids sleep, and nothing behind except a high wall
and a ditch which cannot be climbed."
"That's quite true," interrupted Higgs. "I got leave to make a plan of
the palace, only there is a passage six feet wide and twenty long
leading from the guard chamber to the ladies' anteroom."
"Just so, Professor, and that passage has a turn in it, if I remember
right, so that two well-armed men could hold it against quite a lot.
Supposing now that you and I, Professor, should go and take a nap in
that guard-room, which will be empty, for the watch is set at the
palace gate. We shan't be wanted here, since if the Captain can't
touch off that mine, no one can, with the Doctor to help him just in
case anything goes wrong, and Japhet guarding the line. I daresay
there's nothing in this yarn, but who knows? There might be, and then
we should blame ourselves. What do you say, Professor?"
"I? Oh, I'll do anything you wish, though I should rather have liked
to climb the cliff and watch what happens."
"You'd see nothing, Higgs," interrupted Oliver, "except perhaps the
reflection of a flash in the sky; so, if you don't mind, I wish you
would go with the Sergeant. Somehow, although I am quite certain that
we ought not to alarm Maqueda, I am not easy about her, and if you two
fellows were there, I should know she was all right, and it would be a
weight off my mind."
"That settles it," said Higgs; "we'll be off presently. Look here,
give us that portable telephone, which is of no use anywhere else now.
The wire will reach to the palace, and if the machine works all right
we can talk to you and tell each other how things are going on."
Ten minutes later they had made their preparations. Quick stepped up
to Oliver and stood at attention, saying:
"Ready to march. Any more orders, Captain?"
"I think not, Sergeant," he answered, lifting his eyes from the little
batteries that he was watching as though they were live things. "You
know the arrangements. At ten o'clock--that is about two hours hence--
I touch this switch. Whatever happens it must not be done before, for
fear lest the Doctor's son should not have left the idol, to say
nothing of all the other poor beggars. The spies say that the marriage
feast will not be celebrated until at least three hours after
"And that's what I heard when I was a prisoner," interrupted Higgs.
"I daresay," answered Orme; "but it is always well to allow a margin
in case the procession should be delayed, or something. So until ten
o'clock I've got to stop where I am, and you may be sure, Doctor, that
under no circumstances shall I fire the mine before that hour, as
indeed you will be here to see. After that I can't say what will
happen, but if we don't appear, you two had better come to look for us
--in case of accidents, you know. Do your best at your end according
to circumstances; the Doctor and I will do our best at ours. I think
that is all, Sergeant. Report yourselves by the telephone if the wire
is long enough and it will work, which I daresay it won't, and,
anyway, look out for us about half-past ten. Good-bye!"
"Good-bye, Captain," answered Quick, then stretched out his hand,
shook that of Orme, and without another word took his lamp and left
An impulse prompted me to follow him, leaving Orme and Higgs
discussing something before they parted. When he had walked about
fifty yards in the awful silence of that vast underground town, of
which the ruined tenements yawned on either side of us, the Sergeant
stopped and said suddenly:
"You don't believe in presentiments, do you, Doctor?"
"Not a bit," I answered.
"Glad of it, Doctor. Still, I have got a bad one now, and it is that I
shan't see the Captain or you any more."
"Then that's a poor look-out for us, Quick."
"No, Doctor, for me. I think you are both all right, and the
Professor, too. It's my name they are calling up aloft, or so it seems
to me. Well, I don't care much, for, though no saint, I have tried to
do my duty, and if it is done, it's done. If it's written, it's got to
come to pass, hasn't it? For everything is written down for us long
before we begin, or so I've always thought. Still, I'll grieve to part
from the Captain, seeing that I nursed him as a child, and I'd have
liked to know him well out of this hole, and safely married to that
sweet lady first, though I don't doubt that it will be so."
"Nonsense, Sergeant," I said sharply; "you are not yourself; all this
work and anxiety has got on your nerves."
"As it well might, Doctor, not but I daresay that's true. Anyhow, if
the other is the true thing, and you should all see old England again
with some of the stuff in that dead-house, I've got three nieces
living down at home whom you might remember. Don't say nothing of what
I told you to the Captain till this night's game is played, seeing
that it might upset him, and he'll need to keep cool up to ten
o'clock, and afterwards too, perhaps. Only if we shouldn't meet again,
say that Samuel Quick sent him his duty and God's blessing. And the
same on yourself, Doctor, and your son, too. And now here comes the
Professor, so good-bye."
A minute later they had left me, and I stood watching them until the
two stars of light from their lanterns vanished into the blackness.
HARMAC COMES TO MUR
Slowly and in very bad spirits I retraced my steps to the old temple,
following the line of the telephone wire which Higgs and Quick had
unreeled as they went. In the Sergeant's prognostications of evil I
had no particular belief, as they seemed to me to be born of the
circumstances which surrounded us, and in different ways affected all
our minds, even that of the buoyant Higgs.
To take my own case, for instance. Here I was about to assist in an
act which for aught I knew might involve the destruction of my only
son. It was true we believed that this was the night of his marriage
at the town of Harmac, some miles away, and that the tale of our spies
supported this information. But how could we be sure that the date, or
the place of the ceremony, had not been changed at the last moment?
Supposing, for instance, that it was held, not in the town, as
arranged, but in the courts of the idol, and that the fearful
activities of the fiery agent which we were about to wake to life
should sweep the celebrants into nothingness.
The thought made me turn cold, and yet the deed must be done; Roderick
must take his chance. And if all were well, and he escaped that
danger, were there not worse behind? Think of him, a Christian man,
the husband of a savage woman who worshipped a stone image with a
lion's head, bound to her and her tribe, a state prisoner, trebly
guarded, whom, so far as I could see, there would be no hope of
rescuing. It was awful. Then there were other complications. If the
plan succeeded and the idol was destroyed, my own belief was that the
Fung must thereby be exasperated. Evidently they knew some road into
this stronghold. It would be used. They would pour their thousands up
it, a general massacre would follow, of which, justly, we should be
the first victims.
I reached the chamber where Oliver sat brooding alone, for Japhet was
patrolling the line.
"I am not happy about Maqueda, Doctor," he said to me. "I am afraid
there is something in that story. She wanted to be with us; indeed,
she begged to be allowed to come almost with tears. But I wouldn't
have it, since accidents may always happen; the vibration might shake
in the roof or something; in fact, I don't think you should be here.
Why don't you go away and leave me?"
I answered that nothing would induce me to do so, for such a job
should not be left to one man.
"No, you're right," he said; "I might faint or lose my head or
anything. I wish now that we had arranged to send the spark from the
palace, which perhaps we might have done by joining the telephone wire
on to the others. But, to tell you the truth, I'm afraid of the
batteries. The cells are new but very weak, for time and the climate
have affected them, and I thought it possible the extra difference
might make the difference and that they would fail to work. That's why
I fixed this as the firing point. Hullo, there's the bell. What have
they got to say?"
I snatched the receiver, and presently heard the cheerful voice of
Higgs announcing that they had arrived safely in the little anteroom
to Maqueda's private apartments.
"The palace seems very empty," he added; "we only met one sentry, for
I think that everybody else, except Maqueda and a few of her ladies,
have cleared out, being afraid lest rocks should fall on them when the
"Did the man say so?" I asked of Higgs.
"Yes, something of that sort; also he wanted to forbid us to come
here, saying that it was against the Prince Joshua's orders that we
Gentiles should approach the private apartments of the Child of Kings.
Well, we soon settled that, and he bolted. Where to? Oh! I don't know;
to report, he said."
"How's Quick?" I asked.
"Much the same as usual. In fact, he is saying his prayers in the
corner, looking like a melancholy brigand with rifles, revolvers, and
knives stuck all over him. I wish he wouldn't say his prayers," added
Higgs, and his voice reached me in an indignant squeak; "it makes me
feel uncomfortable, as though I ought to join him. But not having been
brought up a Dissenter or a Moslem, I can't pray in public as he does.
Hullo! Wait a minute, will you?"
Then followed a longish pause, and after it Higgs's voice again.
"It's all right," it said. "Only one of Maqueda's ladies who had heard
us and come to see who we were. When she learns I expect she will join
us here, as the girl says she's nervous and can't sleep."
Higgs proved right in his anticipations, for in about ten minutes we
were rung up again, this time by Maqueda herself, whereon I handed the
receiver to Oliver and retired to the other end of the room.
Nor, to tell the truth, was I sorry for the interruption, since it
cheered up Oliver and helped to pass the time.
The next thing worth telling that happened was that, an hour or more
later, Japhet arrived, looking very frightened. We asked him our usual
question: if anything was wrong with the wires. With a groan he
answered "No," the wires seemed all right, but he had met a ghost.
"What ghost, you donkey?" I said.
"The ghost of one of the dead kings, O Physician, yonder in the burial
cave. It was he with the bent bones who sits in the farthest chair.
Only he had put some flesh on his bones, and I tell you he looked
fearful, a very fierce man, or rather ghost."
"Indeed, and did he say anything to you, Japhet?"
"Oh! yes, plenty, O Physician, only I could not understand it all,
because his language was somewhat different to mine, and he spat out
his words as a green log spits out sparks. I think that he asked me,
however, how my miserable people dared to destroy his god, Harmac. I
answered that I was only a servant and did not know, adding that he
should put his questions to you."
"And what did he say to that, Japhet?"
"I think he said that Harmac would come to Mur and settle his account
with the Abati, and that the foreign men would be wise to fly fast and
far. That's all I understood; ask me no more, who would not return
into that cave to be made a prince."
"He's got hold of what Barung's envoys told us," said Oliver,
indifferently, "and no wonder, this place is enough to make anybody
see ghosts. I'll repeat it to Maqueda; it will amuse her."
"I wouldn't if I were you," I answered, "for it isn't exactly a
cheerful yarn, and perhaps she's afraid of ghosts too. Also," and I
pointed to the watch that lay on the table beside the batteries, "it
is five minutes to ten."
Oh! that last five minutes! It seemed as many centuries. Like stone
statues we sat, each of us lost in his own thoughts, though for my
part the power of clear thinking appeared to have left me. Visions of
a sort flowed over my mind without sinking into it, as water flows
over marble. All I could do was fix my eyes on the face of that watch,
of which in the flickering lamp-light the second-hand seemed to my
excited fancy to grow enormous and jump from one side of the room to
Orme began to count aloud. "One, two, three, four, five--/now/!" and
almost simultaneously he touched the knob first of one battery and
next of the other. Before his finger pressed the left-hand knob I felt
the solid rock beneath us surge--no other word conveys its movement.
Then the great stone cross-piece, weighing several tons, that was set
as a transom above the tall door of our room, dislodged itself, and
fell quite gently into the doorway, which it completely blocked.
Other rocks fell also at a distance, making a great noise, and somehow
I found myself on the ground, my stool had slid away from me. Next
followed a muffled, awful roar, and with it came a blast of wind
blowing where wind never blew before since the beginning of the world,
that with a terrible wailing howled itself to silence in the thousand
recesses of the cave city. As it passed our lamps went out. Lastly,
quite a minute later I should think, there was a thud, as though
something of enormous weight had fallen on the surface of the earth
far above us.
Then all was as it had been; all was darkness and utter quietude.
"Well, that's over," said Oliver, in a strained voice which sounded
very small and far away through that thick darkness; "all over for
good or ill. I needn't have been anxious; the first battery was strong
enough, for I felt the mine spring as I touched the second. I wonder,"
he went on, as though speaking to himself, "what amount of damage
nearly a ton and a half of that awful azo-imide compound has done to
the old sphinx. According to my calculations it ought to have been
enough to break the thing up, if we could have spread the charge more.
But, as it is, I am by no means certain. It may only have driven a
hole in its bulk, especially if there were hollows through which the
gases could run. Well, with luck, we may know more about it later.
Strike a match, Adams, and light those lamps. Why, what's that?
As he spoke, from somewhere came a series of tiny noises, that, though
they were so faint and small, suggested rifles fired at a great
distance. Crack, crack, crack! went the infinitesimal noises.
I groped about, and finding the receiver of the field telephone, set
it to my ear. In an instant all grew plain to me. Guns were being
fired near the other end of the wire, and the transmitter was sending
us the sound of them. Very faintly but with distinctness I could hear
Higgs's high voice saying, "Look out, Sergeant, there's another rush