Part 5 out of 6
coming!" and Quick answering, "Shoot low, Professor; for the Lord's
sake shoot low. You are empty, sir. Load up, load up! Here's a clip of
cartridges. Don't fire too fast. Ah! that devil got me, but I've got
him; he'll never throw another spear."
"They are being attacked!" I exclaimed. "Quick is wounded. Now Maqueda
is talking to you. She says, 'Oliver, come! Joshua's men assail me.
Then followed a great sound of shouting answered by more shots, and
just as Orme snatched the receiver from my hand the wire went dead. In
vain he called down it in an agonized voice. As well might he have
addressed the planet Saturn.
"The wire's cut," he exclaimed, dashing down the receiver and seizing
the lantern which Japhet had just succeeded in re-lighting; "come on,
there's murder being done," and he sprang to the doorway, only to
stagger back again from the great stone with which it was blocked.
"Good God!" he screamed, "we're shut in. How can we get out? How can
we get out?" and he began to run round and round the room, and even to
spring at the walls like a frightened cat. Thrice he sprang, striving
to climb to the coping, for the place had no roof, each time falling
back, since it was too high for him to grasp. I caught him round the
middle, and held him by main force, although he struck at me.
"Be quiet," I said; "do you want to kill yourself? You will be no good
dead or maimed. Let me think."
Meanwhile Japhet was acting on his own account, for he, too, had heard
the tiny, ominous sounds given out by the telephone and guessed their
purport. First he ran to the massive transom that blocked the doorway
and pushed. It was useless; not even an elephant could have stirred
it. Then he stepped back, examining it carefully.
"I think it can be climbed, Physician," he said. "Help me now," and he
motioned to me to take one end of the heavy table on which the
batteries stood. We dragged it to the doorway, and, seeing his
purpose, Oliver jumped on to it with him. Then at Japhet's direction,
while I supported the table to prevent its oversetting, Orme rested
his forehead against the stone, making what schoolboy's call "a back,"
up which the mountaineer climbed actively until he stood upon his
shoulders, and by stretching himself was able to grasp the end of the
fallen transom. Next, while I held up the lamp to give him light, he
gripped the roughnesses of the hewn stone with his toes, and in a few
moments was upon the coping of the wall, twenty feet or more above the
The rest was comparatively easy, for taking off his linen robe, Japhet
knotted it once or twice, and let it down to us. By the help of this
improvised rope, with Orme supporting me beneath, I, too, was dragged
up to the coping of the wall. Then both of us pulled up Oliver, who,
without a word, swung himself over the wall, hanging to Japhet's arms,
and loosing his hold, dropped to the ground on the farther side. Next
came my turn. It was a long fall, and had not Oliver caught me I think
that I should have hurt myself. As it was, the breath was shaken out
of me. Lastly, Japhet swung himself down, landing lightly as a cat.
The lamps he had already dropped to us, and in another minute they
were all lighted, and we were speeding down the great cavern.
"Be careful," I cried; "there may be fallen rocks about."
As it happened I was right, for at that moment Oliver struck his legs
against one of them and fell, cutting himself a good deal. In a moment
he was up again, but after this our progress grew slow, for hundreds
of tons of stone had been shaken from the roof and blocked the path.
Also, whole buildings of the ancient and underground city had been
thrown down, although these were mostly blown inward by the rush of
air. At length we came to the end of the cave, and halted dismayed,
for here, where the blast of the explosion had been brought to a full
stop, the place seemed to be crowded with rocks which it had rolled
"My God! I believe we are shut in," exclaimed Oliver in despair.
But Japhet, lantern in hand, was already leaping from block to block,
and presently, from the top of the débris, called to us to come to
"I think there is a road left, though a bad one, lords," he said, and
pointed to a jagged, well-like hole blown out, as I believe, by the
recoil of the blast. With difficulty and danger, for many of the piled
up stones were loose, we climbed down this place, and at its bottom
squeezed ourselves through a narrow aperture on to the floor of the
cave, praying that the huge door which led to the passage beyond might
not be jammed, since if it were, as we knew well, our small strength
would not avail to move it. Happily, this fear at least proved
groundless, since it opened outward, and the force of the compressed
air had torn it from its massive stone hinges and thrown it shattered
to the ground.
We scrambled over it, and advanced down the passage, our revolvers in
our hands. We reached the audience hall, which was empty and in
darkness. We turned to the left, crossing various chambers, and in the
last of them, through which one of the gates of the palace could be
approached, met with the first signs of the tragedy, for there were
bloodstains on the floor.
Orme pointed to them as he hurried on, and suddenly a man leapt out of
the darkness as a buck leaps from a bush, and ran past us, holding his
hands to his side, where evidently he had some grievous hurt. Now we
entered the corridor leading to the private apartments of the Child of
Kings, and found ourselves walking on the bodies of dead and dying
men. One of the former I observed, as one does notice little things at
such a moment, held in his hand the broken wire of the field
telephone. I presume that he had snatched and severed it in his death
pang at the moment when communication ceased between us and the
We rushed into the little antechamber, in which lights were burning,
and there saw a sight that I for one never shall forget.
In the foreground lay more dead men, all of them wearing the livery of
Prince Joshua. Beyond was Sergeant Quick, seated on a chair. He seemed
to be literally hacked to pieces. An arrow that no one had attempted
to remove was fast in his shoulder; his head, which Maqueda was
sponging with wet cloths--well, I will not describe his wounds.
Leaning against the wall near by stood Higgs, also bleeding, and
apparently quite exhausted. Behind, besides Maqueda herself, were two
or three of her ladies, wringing their hands and weeping. In face of
this terrible spectacle we came to a sudden halt. No word was spoken
of by any one, for the power of speech had left us.
The dying Quick opened his eyes, lifted his hand, upon which there was
a ghastly sword-cut, to his forehead, as though to shade them from the
light--ah! how well I recall that pathetic motion--and from beneath
this screen stared at us a while. Then he rose from the chair, touched
his throat to show that he could not speak, as I suppose, saluted
Orme, turned and pointed to Maqueda, and with a triumphant smile sank
Such was the noble end of Sergeant Quick.
To describe what followed is not easy, for the scene was confused.
Also shock and sorrow have blurred its recollection in my mind. I
remember Maqueda and Orme falling into each other's arms before
everybody. I remember her drawing herself up in that imperial way of
hers, and saying, as she pointed to the body of Quick:
"There lies one who has shown us how to die. This countryman of yours
was a hero, O Oliver, and you should hold his memory in honour, since
he saved me from worse than death."
"What's the story?" asked Orme of Higgs.
"A simple one enough," he answered. "We got here all right, as we told
you over the wire. Then Maqueda talked to you for a long while until
you rang off, saying you wanted to speak to Japhet. After that, at ten
o'clock precisely, we heard the thud of the explosion. Next, as we
were preparing to go out to see what had happened, Joshua arrived
alone, announced that the idol Harmac had been destroyed, and demanded
that the Child of Kings, 'for State reasons,' should accompany him to
his own castle. She declined and, as he insisted, I took it upon
myself to kick him out of the place. He retired, and we saw no more of
him, but a few minutes later there came a shower of arrows down the
passage, and after them a rush of men, who called, 'Death to the
Gentiles. Rescue the Rose.'
"So we began to shoot and knocked over a lot of them, but Quick got
that arrow through his shoulder. Three times they came on like that,
and three times we drove them back. At last our cartridges ran low,
and we only had our revolvers left, which we emptied into them. They
hung a moment, but moved forward again, and all seemed up.
"Then Quick went mad. He snatched the sword of a dead Abati and ran at
them roaring like a bull. They hacked and cut at him, but the end of
it was that he drove them right out of the passage, while I followed,
firing past him.
"Well, those who were left of the blackguards bolted, and when they
had gone the Sergeant tumbled down. The women and I carried him back
here, but he never said another word, and at last you turned up. Now
he's gone, God rest him, for if ever there was a hero in this world he
was christened Samuel Quick!" and, turning aside, the Professor pushed
up the blue spectacles he always wore on to his forehead, and wiped
his eyes with the back of his hand.
With grief more bitter than I can describe we lifted up the body of
the gallant Quick and, bearing it into Maqueda's private apartment,
placed it on her own bed, for she insisted that the man who had died
to protect her should be laid nowhere else. It was strange to see the
grim old soldier, whose face, now that I had washed his wounds, looked
calm and even beautiful, laid out to sleep his last sleep upon the
couch of the Child of Kings. That bed, I remember, was a rich and
splendid thing, made of some black wood inlaid with scrolls of gold,
and having hung about it curtains of white net embroidered with golden
stars, such as Maqueda wore upon her official veil.
There upon the scented pillows and silken coverlet we set our burden
down, the work-worn hands clasped upon the breast in an attitude of
prayer, and one by one bid our farewell to this faithful and upright
man, whose face, as it chanced, we were never to see again, except in
the glass of memory. Well, he had died as he had lived and would have
wished to die--doing his duty and in war. And so we left him. Peace be
to his honoured spirit!
In the blood-stained ante-room, while I dressed and stitched up the
Professor's wounds, a sword-cut on the head, an arrow-graze along the
face, and a spear-prick in the thigh, none of them happily at all deep
or dangerous, we held a brief council.
"Friends," said Maqueda, who was leaning on her lover's arm, "it is
not safe that we should stop here. My uncle's plot has failed for the
moment, but it was only a small and secret thing. I think that soon he
will return again with a thousand at his back, and then----"
"What is in your mind?" asked Oliver. "To fly from Mur?"
"How can we fly," she answered, "when the pass is guarded by Joshua's
men, and the Fung wait for us without? The Abati hate you, my friends,
and now that you have done your work I think that they will kill you
if they can, whom they bore with only till it was done. Alas! alas!
that I should have brought you to this false and ungrateful country,"
and she began to weep, while we stared at each other, helpless.
Then Japhet, who all this while had been crouched on the floor,
rocking himself too and fro and mourning in his Eastern fashion for
Quick, whom he had loved, rose, and, coming to the Child of Kings,
prostrated himself before her.
"O Walda Nagasta," he said, "hear the words of your servant. Only
three miles away, near to the mouth of the pass, are encamped five
hundred men of my own people, the Mountaineers, who hate Prince Joshua
and his following. Fly to them, O Walda Nagasta, for they will cleave
to you and listen to me whom you have made a chief among them.
Afterwards you can act as may seem wisest."
Maqueda looked at Oliver questioningly.
"I think that is good advice," he said. "At any rate, we can't be
worse off among the Mountaineers than we are in this undefended place.
Tell your women to bring cloaks that we can throw over our heads, and
let us go."
Five minutes later, a forlorn group filled with fears, we had stolen
over the dead and dying in the passage, and made our way to the side
gate of the palace that we found open, and over the bridge that
spanned the moat beyond, which was down. Doubtless Joshua's ruffians
had used it in their approach and retreat. Disguised in the long
cloaks with monk-like hoods that the Abati wore at night or when the
weather was cold and wet, we hurried across the great square. Here,
since we could not escape them, we mingled with the crowd that was
gathered at its farther end, all of them--men, women and children--
chattering like monkeys in the tree-tops, and pointing to the cliff at
the back of the palace, beneath which, it will be remembered, lay the
A band of soldiers rode by, thrusting their way through the people,
and in order to avoid them we thought it wise to take refuge in the
shadow of a walk of green-leaved trees which grew close at hand, for
we feared lest they might recognize Oliver by his height. Here we
turned and looked up at the cliff, to discover what it was at which
every one was staring. At that moment the full moon, which had been
obscured by a cloud, broke out, and we saw a spectacle that under the
circumstances was nothing less than terrifying.
The cliff behind the palace rose to a height of about a hundred and
fifty feet, and, as it chanced, just there a portion of it jutted out
in an oblong shape, which the Abati called the Lion Rock, although
personally, heretofore, I had never been able to see in it any great
resemblance to a lion. Now, however, it was different, for on the very
extremity of this rock, staring down at Mur, sat the head and neck of
the huge lion-faced idol of the Fung. Indeed, in that light, with the
promontory stretching away behind it, it looked as though it were the
idol itself, moved from the valley upon the farther side of the
precipice to the top of the cliff above.
"Oh! oh! oh!" groaned Japhet, "the prophecy is fulfilled--the head of
Harmac has come to sleep at Mur."
"You mean that we have sent him there," whispered Higgs. "Don't be
frightened, man; can't you understand that the power of our medicine
has blown the head off the sphinx high into the air, and landed it
where it sits now?"
"Yes," I put in, "and what we felt in the cave was the shock of its
"I don't care what brought him," replied Japhet, who seemed quite
unstrung by all that he had gone through. "All I know is that the
prophecy is fulfilled, and Harmac has come to Mur, and where Harmac
goes the Fung follow."
"So much the better," said the irreverent Higgs. "I may be able to
sketch and measure him now."
But I saw that Maqueda was trembling, for she, too, thought this
occurrence a very bad omen, and even Oliver remained silent, perhaps
because he feared its effect upon the Abati.
Nor was this wonderful since, from the talk around us, clearly that
effect was great. Evidently the people were terrified, like Japhet. We
could hear them foreboding ill, and cursing us Gentiles as wizards,
who had not destroyed the idol of the Fung as we promised, but had
only caused him to fly to Mur.
Here I may mention that as a matter of fact they were right. As we
discovered afterwards, the whole force of the explosion, instead of
shattering the vast bulk of the stone image, had rushed up through the
hollow chambers in its interior until it struck against the solid
head. Lifting this as though it were a toy, the expanding gas had
hurled that mighty mass an unknown distance into the air, to light
upon the crest of the cliffs of Mur, where probably it will remain
"Well," I said, when we had stared a little while at this
extraordinary phenomenon, "thank God it did not travel farther, and
fall upon the palace."
"Oh! had it done so," whispered Maqueda in a tearful voice, "I think
you might have thanked God indeed, for then at least I should be free
from all my troubles. Come, friends, let us be going before we are
I FIND MY SON
Our road toward the pass ran through the camping ground of the newly
created Abati army, and what we saw on our journey thither told us
more vividly than any words or reports could do, how utter was the
demoralization of that people. Where should have been sentries were no
sentries; where should have been soldiers were groups of officers
talking with women; where should have been officers were camp
Through this confusion and excitement we made our way unobserved, or,
at any rate, unquestioned, till at length we came to the regiment of
the Mountaineers, who, for the most part, were goatherds, poor people
who lived upon the slopes of the precipices that enclosed the land of
Mur. These folk, having little to do with their more prosperous
brethren of the plain, were hardy and primitive of nature, and
therefore retained some of the primeval virtues of mankind, such as
courage and loyalty.
It was for the first of these reasons, and, indeed, for the second
also, that they had been posted by Joshua at the mouth of the pass,
which he knew well they alone could be trusted to defend in the event
of serious attack. Moreover, it was desirable, from his point of view,
to keep them out of the way while he developed his plans against the
person of the Child of Kings, for whom these simple-minded men had a
hereditary and almost a superstitious reverence.
As soon as we were within the lines of these Mountaineers we found the
difference between them and the rest of the Abati. The other regiments
we had passed unchallenged, but here we were instantly stopped by a
picket. Japhet whispered something into the ear of its officer that
caused him to stare hard at us. Then this officer saluted the veiled
figure of the Child of Kings and led us to where the commander of the
band and his subordinates were seated near a fire sitting together. At
some sign or word that did not reach us the commander, an old fellow
with a long grey beard, rose and said:
"Your pardon, but be pleased to show your faces."
Maqueda threw back her hood and turned so that the light of the moon
fell full upon her, whereon the old man dropped to his knee, saying:
"Your commands, O Walda Nagasta."
"Summon your regiment and I will give them," she answered, and seated
herself on a bench by the fire, we three and Japhet standing behind
The commander issued orders to his captains, and presently the
Mountaineers formed up on three sides of a square above us, to the
number of a little over five hundred men. When all were gathered
Maqueda mounted the bench upon which she had been sitting, threw back
her hood so that every one could see her face in the light of the
fire, and addressed them:
"Men of the mountain-side, this night just after the idol of the Fung
had been destroyed, the Prince Joshua, my uncle, came to me demanding
my surrender to him, whether to kill me or to imprison me in his
castle beyond the end of the lake, for reasons of State as he said, or
for other vile purposes, I do not know."
At these words a murmur rose from the audience.
"Wait," said Maqueda, holding up her hand, "there is worse to come. I
told my uncle, Prince Joshua, that he was a traitor and had best be
gone. He went, threatening me and, when I do not know, withdrew the
guards that should be stationed at my palace gates. Now, some rumour
of my danger had reached the foreigners in my service, and two of
them, he who is called Black Windows, whom we rescued from the Fung,
and the soldier named Quick, came to watch over me, while the Lord
Orme and the Doctor Adams stayed in the cave to send out that spark of
fire which should destroy the idol. Nor did they come back without
need, for presently arrived a band of Prince Joshua's men to take me.
"Then Black Windows and the soldier his companion fought a good fight,
they two holding the narrow passage against many, and slaying a number
of them with their terrible weapons. The end of it was, men of the
mountains, that the warrior Quick, charging down the passage, drove
away those servants of Joshua who remained alive. But in so doing he
was wounded to the death. Yes, that brave man lies dead, having given
his life to save the Child of Kings from the hands of her own people.
Black Windows also was wounded--see the bandages about his head. Then
came the Lord Orme and the Doctor Adams, and with them your brother
Japhet, who had barely escaped with their lives from the cave city,
and knowing that I was no longer safe in the palace, where even my
sleeping-room has been drenched with blood, with them I have fled to
you for succour. Will you not protect me, O men of the mountain-side?"
"Yes, yes," they answered with a great shout. "Command we obey. What
shall we do, O Child of Kings?"
Now Maqueda called the officers of the regiment apart and consulted
with them, asking their opinions, one by one. Some of them were in
favour of finding out where Joshua might be, and attacking him at
once. "Crush the snake's head and its tail will soon cease wriggling!"
these said, and I confess this was a view that in many ways commended
itself to us.
But Maqueda would have none of it.
"What!" she exclaimed, "shall I begin a civil war among my people when
for aught I know the enemy is at our gates?" adding aside to us,
"also, how can these few hundred men, brave though they be, hope to
stand against the thousands under the command of Joshua?"
"What, then, would you do?" asked Orme.
"Return to the palace with these Mountaineers, O Oliver, and by help
of that garrison, hold it against all enemies."
"Very well," he replied. "To those who are quite lost one road is as
good as another; they must trust to the stars to guide them."
"Quite so," echoed Higgs; "and the sooner we go the better, for my leg
hurts, and I want a sleep."
So Maqueda gave her commands to the officers, by whom they were
conveyed to the regiment, which received them with a shout, and
instantly began to strike its camp.
Then it was, coming hot-foot after so much sorrow, loss and doubt,
that there followed the happiest event of all my life. Utterly tired
out and very despondent, I was seated on an arrow-chest awaiting the
order to march, idly watching Oliver and Maqueda talking with great
earnestness at a little distance, and in the intervals trying to
prevent poor Higgs at my side from falling asleep. While I was thus
engaged, suddenly I heard a disturbance, and by the bright moonlight
caught sight of a man being led into the camp in charge of a guard of
Abati soldiers, whom from their dress I knew to belong to a company
that just then was employed in watching the lower gates of the pass.
I took no particular heed of the incident, thinking only that they
might have captured some spy, till a murmur of astonishment, and the
general stir, warned me that something unusual had occurred. So I rose
from my box and strolled towards the man, who now was hidden from me
by a group of Mountaineers. As I advanced this group opened, the men
who composed it bowing to me with a kind of wondering respect that
impressed me, I did not know why.
Then for the first time I saw the prisoner. He was a tall, athletic
young man, dressed in festal robes with a heavy gold chain about his
neck, and I wondered vaguely what such a person should be doing here
in this time of national commotion. He turned his head so that the
moonlight showed his dark eyes, his somewhat oval-shaped face ending
in a peaked black beard, and his finely cut features. In an instant I
/It was my son Roderick!/
Next moment, for the first time for very many years, he was in my
The first thing that I remember saying to him was a typically Anglo-
Saxon remark, for however much we live in the East or elsewhere, we
never really shake off our native conventions, and habits of speech.
It was, "How are you, my boy, and how on earth did you come here?" to
which he answered, slowly, it is true, and speaking with a foreign
"All right, thank you, father. I ran upon my legs."
By this time Higgs hobbled up, and was greeting my son warmly, for, of
course, they were old friends.
"Thought you were to be married to-night, Roderick?" he said.
"Yes, yes," he answered, "I am half married according to Fung custom,
which counts not to my soul. Look, this is the dress of marriage," and
he pointed to his fine embroidered robe and rich ornaments.
"Then, where's your wife?" asked Higgs.
"I do not know and I do not care," he answered, "for I did not like
that wife. Also it is all nothing as I am not quite married to her.
Fung marriage between big people takes two days to finish, and if not
finished does not matter. So she marry some one else if she like, and
"What happened then?" I asked.
"Oh, this, father. When we had eaten the marriage feast, but before we
past before priest, suddenly we hear a thunder and see a pillar of
fire shoot up into sky, and sitting on top of it head of Harmac, which
vanish into heaven and stop there. Then everybody jump up and say:
"'Magic of white man! Magic of white man! White man kill the god who
sit there from beginning of world, now day of Fung finished according
to prophecy. Run away, people of Fung, run away!'
"Barung the Sultan tear his clothes too, and say--'Run away, Fung,'
and my half-wife, she tear /her/ clothes and say nothing, but run like
antelope. So they all run toward east, where great river is, and leave
me alone. Then I get up and run too--toward west, for I know from
Black Windows," and he pointed to Higgs, "when we shut up together in
belly of god before he let down to lions, what all this game mean, and
therefore not frightened. Well, I run, meeting no one in night, till I
come to pass, run up it, and find guards, to whom I tell story, so
they not kill me, but let me through, and at last I come here, quite
safe, without Fung wife, thank God, and that end of tale."
"I am afraid you are wrong there, my boy," I said, "out of the frying-
pan into the fire, that's all."
"Out of frying-pan into fire," he repeated. "Not understand; father
must remember I only little fellow when Khalifa's people take me, and
since then speak no English till I meet Black Windows. Only he give me
Bible-book that he have in pocket when he go down to be eat by lions."
(Here Higgs blushed, for no one ever suspected him, a severe critic of
all religions, of carrying a Bible in his pocket, and muttered
something about "ancient customs of the Hebrews.")
"Well," went on Roderick, "read that book ever since, and, as you see,
all my English come back."
"The question is," said Higgs, evidently in haste to talk of something
else, "will the Fung come back?"
"Oh! Black Windows, don't know, can't say. Think not. Their prophecy
was that Harmac move to Mur, but when they see his head jump into sky
and stop there, they run every man toward the sunrise, and I think go
"But Harmac has come to Mur, Roderick," I said; "at least his head has
fallen on to the cliff that overlooks the city."
"Oh! my father," he answered, "then that make great difference. When
Fung find out that head of Harmac has come here, no doubt they come
after him, for head his most holy bit, especially as they want hang
all the Abati whom they not like."
"Well, let's hope that they don't find out anything about it," I
replied, to change the subject. Then taking Roderick by the hand I led
him to where Maqueda stood a yard or two apart, listening to our talk,
but, of course, understanding very little of it, and introduced him to
her, explaining in a few words the wonderful thing that had happened.
She welcomed him very kindly, and congratulated me upon my son's
escape. Meanwhile, Roderick had been staring at her with evident
admiration. Now he turned to us and said in his quaint broken English:
"Walda Nagasta most lovely woman! No wonder King Solomon love her
mother. If Barung's daughter, my wife, had been like her, think I run
through great river into rising sun with Fung."
Oliver instantly translated this remark, which made us all laugh,
including Maqueda herself, and very grateful we were to find the
opportunity for a little innocent merriment upon that tragic night.
By this time the regiment was ready to start, and had formed up into
companies. Before the march actually began, however, the officer of
the Abati patrol, in whose charge Roderick had been brought to us,
demanded his surrender that he might deliver his prisoner to the
Commander-in-Chief, Prince Joshua. Of course, this was refused,
whereon the man asked roughly:
"By whose order?"
As it happened, Maqueda, of whose presence he was not aware, heard
him, and acting on some impulse, came forward, and unveiled.
"By mine," she said. "Know that the Child of Kings rules the Abati,
not the Prince Joshua, and that prisoners taken by her soldiers are
hers, not his. Be gone back to your post!"
The captain stared, saluted, and went with his companions, not to the
pass, indeed, as he had been ordered, but to Joshua. To him he
reported the arrival of the Gentile's son, and the news he brought
that the nation of the Fung, dismayed by the destruction of their god,
were in full flight from the plains of Harmac, purposing to cross the
great river and to return no more.
This glad tidings spread like wildfire; so fast, indeed, that almost
before we had begun our march, we heard the shouts of exultation with
which it was received by the terrified mob gathered in the great
square. The cloud of terror was suddenly lifted from them. They went
mad in their delight; they lit bonfires, they drank, they feasted,
they embraced each other and boasted of their bravery that had caused
the mighty nation of the Fung to flee away for ever.
Meanwhile, our advance had begun, nor in the midst of the general
jubilation was any particular notice taken of us till we were in the
middle of the square of Mur and within half a mile of the palace, when
we saw by the moonlight that a large body of troops, two or three
thousand of them, were drawn up in front of us, apparently to bar our
way. Still we went on till a number of officers rode up, and
addressing the commander of the regiment of Mountaineers, demanded to
know why he had left his post, and whither he went.
"I go whither I am ordered," he answered, "for there is one here
greater than I."
"If you mean the Gentile Orme and his fellows, the command of the
Prince Joshua is that you hand them over to us that they may make
report to him of their doings this night."
"And the command of the Child of Kings is," replied the captain of the
Mountaineers, "that I take them with her back to the palace."
"It has no weight," said the spokesman insolently, "not being endorsed
by the Council. Surrender the Gentiles, hand over to us the person of
the Child of Kings of whom you have taken possession, and return to
your post till the pleasure of the Prince Joshua be known."
Then the wrath of Maqueda blazed up.
"Seize those men!" she said, and it was done instantly. "Now, cut the
head from him who dared to demand the surrender of my person and of my
officers, and give it to his companions to take back to the Prince
Joshua as my answer to his message."
The man heard, and being a coward like all the Abati, flung himself
upon his face before Maqueda, trying to kiss her robe and pleading for
"Dog!" she answered, "you were one of those who this very night dared
to attack my chamber. Oh! lie not, I knew your voice and heard your
fellow-traitors call you by your name. Away with him!"
We tried to interfere, but she would not listen, even to Orme.
"Would you plead for your brother's murderer?" she asked, alluding to
Quick. "I have spoken!"
So they dragged him off behind us, and presently we saw a melancholy
procession returning whence they came, carrying something on a shield.
It reached the opposing ranks, whence there arose a murmur of wrath
"March on!" said Maqueda, "and gain the palace."
So the regiment formed into a square, and, setting Maqueda and
ourselves in the centre of it, advanced again.
Then the fight began. Great numbers of the Abati surrounded us and, as
they did not dare to make a direct attack, commenced shooting arrows,
which killed and wounded a number of men. But the Highlanders also
were archers, and carried stronger bows. The square was halted, the
first ranks kneeling and the second standing behind them. Then, at a
given word, the stiff bows which these hardy people used against the
lion and the buffalo upon their hills were drawn to the ear and loosed
again and again with terrible effect.
On that open place it was almost impossible to miss the mobs of the
Abati who, having no experience of war, were fighting without order.
Nor could the light mail they wore withstand the rush of the heavy
barbed arrows which pierced them through and through. In two minutes
they began to give, in three they were flying back to their main body,
those who were left of them, a huddled rout of men and horses. So the
French must have fled before the terrible longbows of the English at
Crécy and Poitiers, for, in fact, we were taking part in just such a
Oliver, who was watching intently, went to Japhet and whispered
something in his ear. He nodded and ran to seek the commander of the
regiment. Presently the result of that whisper became apparent, for
the sides of the hollow square wheeled outward and the rear moved up
to strengthen the centre.
Now the Mountaineers were ranged in a double or triple line, behind
which were only about a dozen soldiers, who marched round Maqueda,
holding their shields aloft in order to protect her from stray arrows.
With these, too, came our four selves, a number of camp-followers and
others, carrying on their shields those of the regiment who were too
badly wounded to walk.
Leaving the dead where they lay, we began to advance, pouring in
volleys of arrows as we went. Twice the Abati tried to charge us, and
twice those dreadful arrows drove them back. Then at the word of
command, the Highlanders slung their bows upon their backs, drew their
short swords, and in their turn charged.
Five minutes afterwards everything was over. Joshua's soldiers threw
down their arms, and ran or galloped to right and left, save a number
of them who fled through the gates of the palace, which they had
opened, and across the drawbridge into the courtyards within. After
them, or, rather, mixed up with them, followed the Mountaineers,
killing all whom they could find, for they were out of hand and would
not listen to the commands of Maqueda and their officers, that they
should show mercy.
So, just as the dawn broke this strange moonlit battle ended, a small
affair, it is true, for there were only five hundred men engaged upon
our side and three or four thousand on the other, yet one that cost a
great number of lives and was the beginning of all the ruin that
Well, we were safe for a while, since it was certain, after the lesson
which he had just learned, that Joshua would not attempt to storm the
double walls and fosse of the palace without long preparation. Yet
even now a new trouble awaited us, for by some means, we never
discovered how, that wing of the palace in which Maqueda's private
rooms were situated suddenly burst into flames.
Personally, I believe that the fire arose through the fact that a lamp
had been left burning near the bed of the Child of Kings upon which
was laid the body of Sergeant Quick. Perhaps a wounded man hidden
there overturned the lamp; perhaps the draught blowing through the
open doors brought the gold-spangled curtains into contact with the
At any rate, the wood-panelled chambers took fire, and had it not
happened that the set of the wind was favourable, the whole palace
might have been consumed. As it was, we succeeded in confining the
conflagration to this particular part of it, which within two hours
had burnt out, leaving nothing standing but the stark, stone walls.
Such was the funeral pyre of Sergeant Quick, a noble one, I thought to
myself, as I watched it burn.
When the fire was so well under control, for we had pulled down the
connecting passage where Higgs and Quick fought their great fight,
that there was no longer any danger of its spreading, and the watches
had been set, at length we got some rest.
Maqueda and two or three of her ladies, one of them, I remember, her
old nurse who had brought her up, for her mother died at her birth,
took possession of some empty rooms, of which there were many in the
palace, while we lay, or rather fell, down in the guest-chambers,
where we had always slept, and never opened our eyes again until the
I remember that I woke thinking that I was the victim of some
wonderful dream of mingled joy and tragedy. Oliver and Higgs were
sleeping like logs, but my son Roderick, still dressed in his bridal
robes, had risen and sat by my bed staring at me, a puzzled look upon
his handsome face.
"So you are here," I said, taking his hand. "I thought I dreamed."
"No, Father," he answered in his odd English, "no dream; all true.
This is a strange world, Father. Look at me! For how many years--
twelve--fourteen, slave of savage peoples for whom I sing, priest of
Fung idol, always near death but never die. Then Sultan Barung take
fancy to me, say I come of white blood and must be his daughter's
husband. Then your brother Higgs made prisoner with me and tell me
that you hunt me all these years. Then Higgs thrown to lions and you
save him. Then yesterday I married to Sultan's daughter, whom I never
see before but twice at fast of idol. Then Harmac's head fly off to
heaven, and all Fung people run away, and I run too, and find you.
Then battle, and many killed, and arrow scratch my neck but not hurt
me," and he pointed to a graze just over his jugular vein, "and now we
together. Oh! Father, very strange world! I think there God somewhere
who look after us!"
"I think so, too, my boy," I answered, "and I hope that He will
continue to do so, for I tell you we are in a worse place than ever
you were among the Fung."
"Oh, don't mind that, Father," he answered gaily, for Roderick is a
cheerful soul. "As Fung say, there no house without door, although
plenty people made blind and can't see it. But we not blind, or we
dead long ago. Find door by and by, but here come man to talk to you."
The man proved to be Japhet, who had been sent by the Child of Kings
to summon us, as she had news to tell. So I woke the others, and after
I had dressed the Professor's flesh wounds, which were stiff and sore,
we joined her where she sat in the gateway tower of the inner wall.
She greeted us rather sadly, asked Oliver how he had slept and Higgs
if his cuts hurt him. Then she turned to my son, and congratulated him
upon his wonderful escape and upon having found a father if he had
lost a wife.
"Truly," she added, "you are a fortunate man to be so well loved, O
son of Adams. To how many sons are given fathers who for fourteen long
years, abandoning all else, would search for them in peril of their
lives, enduring slavery and blows and starvation and the desert's heat
and cold for the sake of a long-lost face? Such faithfulness is that
of my forefather David for his brother Jonathan, and such love it is
that passes the love of women. See that you pay it back to him, and
to his memory until the last hour of your life, child of Adams."
"I will, indeed, I will, O Walda Nagasta," answered Roderick, and
throwing his arms about my neck he embraced me before them all. It is
not too much to say that this kiss of filial devotion more than repaid
me for all I had undergone for his beloved sake. For now I knew that I
had not toiled and suffered for one of no worth, as is so often the
lot of true hearts in this bitter world.
Just then some of Maqueda's ladies brought food, and at her bidding we
"Be sparing," she said with a melancholy little laugh, "for I know not
how long our store will last. Listen! I have received a last offer
from my uncle Joshua. An arrow brought it--not a man; I think that no
man would come lest his fate should be that of the traitor of
yesterday," and she produced a slip of parchment that had been tied to
the shaft of an arrow and, unfolding it, read as follows--
"O Walda Nagasta, deliver up to death the Gentiles who have
bewitched you and led you to shed the blood of so many of your
people, and with them the officers of the Mountaineers, and the
rest shall be spared. You also I will forgive and make my wife.
Resist, and all who cling to you shall be put to the sword, and to
yourself I promise nothing.
"Written by order of the Council,
"Joshua, Prince of the Abati."
"What answer shall I send?" she asked, looking at us curiously.
"Upon my word," replied Orme, shrugging his shoulders, "if it were not
for those faithful officers I am not sure but that you would be wise
to accept the terms. We are cooped up here, but a few surrounded by
thousands, who, if they dare not assault, still can starve us out, as
this place is not victualled for a siege."
"You forget one of those terms, O Oliver!" she said slowly, pointing
with her finger to the passage in the letter which stated that Joshua
would make her his wife, "Now do you still counsel surrender?"
"How can I?" he answered, flushing, and was silent.
"Well, it does not matter what you counsel," she went on with a smile,
"seeing that I have already sent my answer, also by arrow. See, here
is a copy of it," and she read--
"To my rebellious People of the Abati:
"Surrender to me Joshua, my uncle, and the members of the Council
who have lifted sword against me, to be dealt with according to
the ancient law, and the rest of you shall go unharmed. Refuse,
and I swear to you that before the night of the new moon has
passed there shall be such woe in Mur as fell upon the city of
David when the barbarian standards were set upon her walls. Such
is the counsel that has come to me, the Child of Solomon, in the
watches of the night, and I tell you that it is true. Do what you
will, people of the Abati, or what you must, since your fate and
ours are written. But be sure that in me and the Western lords
lies your only hope.
"What do you mean, O Maqueda," I asked, "about the counsel that came
to you in the watches of the night?"
"What I say, O Adams," she answered calmly. "After we parted at dawn I
slept heavily, and in my sleep a dark and royal woman stood before me
whom I knew to be my great ancestress, the beloved of Solomon. She
looked on me sadly, yet as I thought with love. Then she drew back, as
it were, a curtain of thick cloud that hid the future and revealed to
me the young moon riding the sky and beneath it Mur, a blackened ruin,
her streets filled with dead. Yes, and she showed to me other things,
though I may not tell them, which also shall come to pass, then held
her hands over me as if in blessing, and was gone."
"Old Hebrew prophet business! Very interesting," I heard Higgs mutter
below his breath, while in my own heart I set the dream down to
excitement and want of food. In fact, only two of us were impressed,
my son very much, and Oliver a little, perhaps because everything
Maqueda said was gospel to him.
"Doubtless all will come to pass as you say, Walda Nagasta," said
Roderick with conviction. "The day of the Abati is finished."
"Why do you say that, Son?" I asked.
"Because, Father, among the Fung people from a child I have two
offices, that of Singer to the God and that of Reader of Dreams. Oh!
do not laugh. I can tell you many that have come true as I read them;
thus the dream of Barung which I read to mean that the head of Harmac
would come to Mur, and see, there it sit," and turning, he pointed
through the doorway of the tower to the grim lion-head of the idol
crouched upon the top of the precipice, watching Mur as a beast of
prey watches the victim upon which it is about to spring. "I know when
dreams true and when dreams false; it my gift, like my voice. I know
that this dream true, that all," and as he ceased speaking I saw his
eyes catch Maqueda's, and a very curious glance pass between them.
As for Orme, he only said:
"You Easterns are strange people, and if you believe a thing, Maqueda,
there may be something in it. But you understand that this message of
yours means war to the last, a very unequal war," and he looked at the
hordes of the Abati gathering on the great square.
"Yes," she answered quietly, "I understand, but however sore our
straits, and however strange may seem the things that happen, have no
fear of the end of that war, O my friends."
THE BURNING OF THE PALACE
Orme was right. Maqueda's defiance did mean war, "an unequal war."
This was our position. We were shut up in a long range of buildings,
of which one end had been burned, that on account of their moat and
double wall, if defended with any vigour, could only be stormed by an
enemy of great courage and determination, prepared to face a heavy
sacrifice of life. This was a circumstance in our favour, since the
Abati were not courageous, and very much disliked the idea of being
killed, or even injured.
But here our advantage ended. Deducting those whom we had lost on the
previous night, the garrison only amounted to something over four
hundred men, of whom about fifty were wounded, some of them
dangerously. Moreover, ammunition was short, for they had shot away
most of their arrows in the battle of the square, and we had no means
of obtaining more. But, worst of all, the palace was not provisioned
for a siege, and the mountaineers had with them only three days'
rations of sun-dried beef or goat's flesh, and a hard kind of biscuit
made of Indian corn mixed with barley meal. Thus, as we saw from the
beginning, unless we could manage to secure more food our case must
soon grow hopeless.
There remained yet another danger. Although the palace itself was
stone-built, its gilded domes and ornamental turrets were of timber,
and therefore liable to be fired, as indeed had already happened. The
roof also was of ancient cedar beams, thinly covered with concrete,
while the interior containing an enormous quantity of panels, or
rather boarding, cut from some resinous wood.
The Abati, on the other hand, were amply supplied with every kind of
store and weapon, and could bring a great force to blockade us, though
that force was composed of a timid and undisciplined rabble.
Well, we made the best preparations that we could, although of these I
did not see much, since all that day my time was occupied in attending
to the wounded with the help of my son and a few rough orderlies,
whose experience in doctoring had for the most part been confined to
cattle. A pitiful business it proved without the aid of anæsthetics or
a proper supply of bandages and other appliances. Although my medicine
chest had been furnished upon a liberal scale, it proved totally
inadequate to the casualties of battle. Still I did my best and saved
some lives, though many cases developed gangrene and slipped through
Meanwhile Higgs, who worked nobly, notwithstanding his flesh wounds,
which pained him considerably, and Orme were also doing their best
with the assistance of Japhet and the other officers of the highland
regiment. The palace was thoroughly examined, and all weak places in
its defences were made good. The available force was divided into
watches and stationed to the best advantage. A number of men were set
to work to manufacture arrow shafts from cedar beams, of which there
were plenty in the wooden stables and outhouses that lay at the back
of the main building, and to point and wing the same from a supply of
iron barbs and feathers which fortunately was discovered in one of the
guard-houses. A few horses that remained in a shed were killed and
salted down for food, and so forth.
Also every possible preparation was made to repel attempts to storm,
paving stones being piled up to throw upon the heads of assailants and
fires lighted on the walls to heat pitch and oil and water for the
But, to our disappointment, no direct assault was delivered, such
desperate methods not commending themselves to the Abati. Their plan
of attack was to take cover wherever they could, especially among the
trees of the garden beyond the gates, and thence shoot arrows at any
one who appeared upon the walls, or even fire them in volleys at the
clouds, as the Normans did at Hastings, so that they might fall upon
the heads of persons in the courtyards. Although these cautious
tactics cost us several men, they had the advantage of furnishing us
with a supply of ammunition which we sorely needed. All the spent
arrows were carefully collected and made use of against the enemy, at
whom we shot whenever opportunity offered. We did them but little
damage, however, since they were extremely careful not to expose
In this fashion three dreary days went past, unrelieved by any
incident except a feint, for it was scarcely more, which the Abati
made upon the second night, apparently with the object of forcing the
great gates under cover of a rainstorm. The advance was discovered at
once, and repelled by two or three volleys of arrows and some rifle
shots. Of these rifles, indeed, whereof we possessed about a score,
the Abati were terribly afraid. Picking out some of the most
intelligent soldiers we taught them how to handle our spare guns, and
though, of course, their shooting was extremely erratic, the result of
it, backed up by our own more accurate marksmanship, was to force the
enemy to take cover. Indeed, after one or two experiences of the
effect of bullets, not a man would show himself in the open within
five hundred yards until night had fallen.
On the third afternoon we held a council to determine what must be
done, since for the last twenty-four hours it had been obvious that
things could not continue as they were. To begin with, we had only
sufficient food left to keep our force from starvation for two more
days. Also the spirits of our soldiers, brave men enough when actual
fighting was concerned, were beginning to flag in this atmosphere of
inaction. Gathered into groups, they talked of their wives and
children, and of what would happen to them at the hands of Joshua;
also of their cattle and crops, saying that doubtless these were being
ravaged and their houses burned. In vain did Maqueda promise them
five-fold their loss when the war was ended, for evidently in their
hearts they thought it could only end one way. Moreover, as they
pointed out, she could not give them back their children if these were
At this melancholy council every possible plan was discussed, to find
that these resolved themselves into two alternatives--to surrender, or
to take the bull by the horns, sally out of the palace at night and
attack Joshua. On the face of it, this latter scheme had the
appearance of suicide, but, in fact, it was not so desperate as it
seemed. The Abati being such cowards it was quite probable that they
would run in their thousands before the onset of a few hundred
determined men, and that, if once victory declared itself for the
Child of Kings, the bulk of her subjects would return to their
allegiance. So we settled on it in preference to surrender, which we
knew meant death to ourselves, and for Maqueda a choice between that
last grim solution of her troubles and a forced marriage.
But there were others to be convinced, namely, the Mountaineers.
Japhet, who had been present at the council, was sent to summon all of
them except those actually on guard, and when they were assembled in
the large inner court Maqueda went out and addressed them.
I do not remember the exact words of her speech, and I made no note of
them, but it was extremely beautiful and touching. She pointed out her
plight, and that we could halt no longer between two opinions, who
must either fight or yield. For herself she said she did not care,
since, although she was young and their ruler, she set no store upon
her life, and would give it up gladly rather than be driven into a
marriage which she considered shameful, and forced to pass beneath the
yoke of traitors.
But for us foreigners she did care. We had come to her country at her
invitation, we had served her nobly, one of us had given his life to
protect her person, and now, in violation of her safeguard and that of
the Council, we were threatened with a dreadful death. Were they, her
subjects, so lacking in honour and hospitality that they would suffer
such a thing with no blow struck to save us?
Now the majority of them shouted "No," but some were silent, and one
old captain advanced, saluted, and spoke.
"Child of Kings," he said, "let us search out the truth of this
matter. Is it not because of your love of the foreign soldier, Orme,
that all this trouble has arisen? Is not that love unlawful according
to our law, and are you not solemnly affianced to the Prince Joshua?"
Maqueda considered awhile before she replied, and said slowly:
"Friend, my heart is my own, therefore upon this point answer your
question for yourself. As regards my uncle Joshua, if there existed
any abiding contract between us it was broken when a few nights ago he
sent his servants armed to attack and drag me off I know not whither.
Would you have me marry a traitor and a coward? I have spoken."
"No," again shouted the majority of the soldiers.
Then in the silence that followed the old captain replied, with a
canniness that was almost Scotch:
"On the point raised by you, O Child of Kings, I give no opinion,
since you, being but a woman, if a high-born one, would not listen to
me if I did, but will doubtless follow that heart of yours of which
you speak to whatever end is appointed. Settle the matter with your
betrothed Joshua as you will. But we also have a matter to settle with
Joshua, who is a toad with a long tongue that if he seems slow yet
never misses his fly. We took up your cause, and have killed a great
number of his people, as he has killed some of ours. This he will not
forget. Therefore it seems to me that it will be wise that we should
make what we can of the nest that we have built, since it is better to
die in battle than on the gallows. For this reason, then, since we can
stay here no longer, for my part I am willing to go out and fight for
you this night, although Joshua's people being so many and ours so
few, I shall think myself fortunate if I live to see another sun."
This hard and reasoned speech seemed to appeal to the dissentients,
with the result that they withdrew their opposition, and it was agreed
that we should attempt to break our way through the besieging army
about one hour before the dawn, when they would be heavily asleep and
most liable to panic.
Yet, as it chanced, that sortie was destined never to take place,
which perhaps was fortunate for us, since I am convinced that it would
have ended in failure. It is true that we might have forced our way
through Joshua's army, but afterwards those of us who remained alive
would have been surrounded, starved out, and, when our strength and
ammunition were exhausted taken prisoners or cut down.
However that may be, events shaped a different course for us, perhaps
because the Abati got wind of our intention and had no stomach for a
pitched battle with desperate men. As it happened, this night from
sunset on to moonrise was one of a darkness so remarkable that it was
impossible to see anything even a foot away, also a wind blowing from
the east made sounds very inaudible. Only a few of our men were on
guard, since it was necessary that they should be rested till it was
time for them to prepare for their great effort. Also, we had little
fear of any direct attack.
About eight o'clock, however, my son Roderick, one of the watch
stationed in the gateway towers, who was gifted with very quick ears,
reported that he thought he heard people moving on the farther side of
the massive wooden doors beyond the moat. Accordingly some of us went
to listen, but could distinguish nothing, and concluded therefore that
he was mistaken. So we retired to our posts and waited patiently for
the moon to rise. But as it chanced no moon rose, or rather we could
not see her, because the sky was completely covered by thick banks of
thunder-clouds presaging the break-up of a period of great heat.
These, as the wind had now died down, remained quite stationary upon
the face of the sky, blotting out all light.
Perhaps another hour had passed when, chancing to look behind me, I
saw what I thought was a meteor falling from the crest of the cliff
against which the palace was built, that cliff whither the head of the
idol Harmac had been carried by the force of the explosion.
"Look at that shooting star," I said to Oliver, who was at my side.
"It is not a shooting star, it is fire," he replied in a startled
voice, and, as he spoke, other streaks of light, scores of them, began
to rain down from the brow of the cliff and land upon the wooden
buildings to the rear of the palace that were dry as tinder with the
drought, and, what was worse, upon the gilded timber domes of the
"Don't you understand the game?" he went on. "They have tied
firebrands to arrows and spears to burn us out. Sound the alarm. Sound
It was done, and presently the great range of buildings began to hum
like a hive of bees. The soldiers still half asleep, rushed hither and
thither shouting. The officers also, developing the characteristic
excitement of the Abati race in this hour of panic, yelled and
screamed at them, beating them with their fists and swords till some
kind of control was established.
Then attempts were made to extinguish the flames, which by this time
had got hold in half-a-dozen places. From the beginning the effort was
absolutely hopeless. It is true that there was plenty of water in the
moat, which was fed by a perennial stream that flowed down the face of
the precipice behind; but pumping engines of any sort were quite
unknown to the Abati, who, if a building took fire, just let it burn,
contenting themselves with safeguarding those in its neighbourhood.
Moreover, even in the palace, such articles as pails, jugs, or other
vessels were comparatively few and far between.
Those that we could find, however, were filled with water and passed
by lines of men to the places in most danger--that is, practically
everywhere--while other men tried to cut off the advance of the flames
by pulling down portions of the building.
But as fast as one fire was extinguished others broke out, for the
rain of burning darts and of lighted pots or lamps filled with oil
descended continuously from the cliff above. A strange and terrible
sight it was to see them flashing down through the darkness, like the
fiery darts that shall destroy the wicked in the day of Armageddon.
Still, we toiled on despairingly. On the roof we four white men, and
some soldiers under the command of Japhet, were pouring water on to
several of the gilded domes, which now were well alight. Close by,
wrapped in a dark cloak, and attended by some of her ladies, stood
Maqueda. She was quite calm, although sundry burning arrows and
spears, falling with great force from the cliff above, struck the flat
roofs close to where she stood.
Her ladies, however, were not calm. They wept and wrung their hands,
while one of them went into violent hysterics in her very natural
terror. Maqueda turned and bade them descend to the courtyard of the
gateway, where she said she would join them presently. They rushed
off, rejoicing to escape the sight of those burning arrows, one of
which had just pierced a man and set his clothes and hair on fire,
causing him to leap from the roof in his madness.
At Oliver's request I ran to the Child of Kings to lead her to some
safer place, if it could be found. But she would not stir.
"Let me be, O Adams," she said. "If I am to die, I will die here. But
I do not think that is fated," and with her foot she kicked aside a
burning spear that had struck the cement roof, and, rebounding, fallen
quite close to her. "If my people will not fight," she went on, with
bitter sarcasm, "at least they understand the other arts of war, for
this trick of theirs is clever. They are cruel also. Listen to them
mocking us in the square. They ask whether we will roast alive or come
out and have our throats cut. Oh!" she went on, clenching her hands,
"oh! that I should have been born the head of such an accursed race.
Let Sheol take them all, for in the day of their tribulation no finger
will I lift to save them."
She was silent for a moment, and down below, near the gateway, I heard
some brute screaming, "Pretty pigeons! Pretty pigeons, are your
feathers singeing? Come then into our pie, pretty pigeons, pretty
pigeons!" followed by shouts of ribald laughter.
But it chanced it was this hound himself who went into the "pie."
Presently, when the flames were brighter, I saw him, in the midst of a
crowd of his admirers, singing his foul song, another verse of it
about Maqueda, which I will not repeat, and by good fortune managed to
put a bullet through his head. It was not a bad shot considering the
light and circumstances, and the only one I fired that night. I trust
also that it will be the last I shall ever fire at any human being.
Just as I was about to leave Maqueda and return with her message to
Orme, to the effect that she would not move, the final catastrophe
occurred. Amongst the stables was a large shed filled with dry fodder
for the palace horses and camels. Suddenly this burst into a mass of
flame that spread in all directions. Then came the last, hideous
panic. From every part of the palace, the Mountaineers, men and
officers together, rushed down to the gateway. In a minute, with the
single exception of Japhet, we four and Maqueda were left alone upon
the roof, where we stood overwhelmed, not knowing what to do. We heard
the drawbridge fall; we heard the great doors burst upon beneath the
pressure of a mob of men; we heard a coarse voice--I thought it was
that of Joshua--yell:
"Kill whom you will, my children, but death to him who harms the Child
of Kings. She is my spoil!"
Then followed terrible sights and sounds. The cunning Abati had
stretched ropes outside the doors; it was the noise they made at this
work which had reached Roderick's ears earlier during the darkness.
The terrified soldiers, flying from the fire, stumbled and fell over
these ropes, nor could they rise again because of those who pressed
behind. What happened to them all I am sure I do not know, but
doubtless many were crushed to death and many more killed by Joshua's
men. I trust, however, that some of them escaped, since, compared to
the rest of the Abati, they were as lions are to cats, although, like
all their race, they lacked the stamina to fight an uphill game.
It was at the commencement of this terrific scene that I shot the
"You shouldn't have done that, old fellow," screamed Higgs in his high
voice, striving to make himself heard above the tumult, "as it will
show those swine where we are."
"I don't think they will look for us here, anyway," I answered.
Then we watched awhile in silence.
"Come," said Orme at length, taking Maqueda by the hand.
"Where are you going, O Oliver?" she asked, hanging back. "Sooner will
I burn than yield to Joshua."
"I am going to the cave city," he answered; "we have nowhere else to
go, and little time to lose. Four men with rifles can hold that place
against a thousand. Come."
"I obey," she answered, bowing her head.
We went down the stairway that led from the roof on which the
inhabitants of the palace were accustomed to spend much of their day,
and even to sleep in hot weather, as is common in the East. Another
minute and we should have been too late. The fire from one of the
domes had spread to the upper story, and was already appearing in
little tongues of flame mingled with jets of black smoke through
cracks in the crumbling partition wall.
As a matter of fact this wall fell in just as my son Roderick, the
last of us, was passing down the stairs. With the curiosity of youth
he had lingered for a few moments to watch the sad scene below, a
delay which nearly cost him his life.
On the ground floor we found ourselves out of immediate danger, since
the fire was attacking this part of the palace from above and burning
downward. We had even time to go to our respective sleeping-places and
collect such of our possessions and valuables as we were able to
carry. Fortunately, among other things, these included all our note-
books, which to-day are of priceless value. Laden with these articles,
we met again in the audience hall, which, although it was very hot,
seemed as it had always been, a huge, empty place, whereof the roof,
painted with stars, was supported upon thick cedar columns, each of
them hewn from a single tree.
Passing down that splendid apartment, which an hour later had ceased
to exist, lamps in hand, for these we had found time to fetch and
light, we reached the mouth of the passage that led to the underground
city without meeting a single human being.
Had the Abati been a different race they could perfectly well have
dashed in and made us prisoners, for the drawbridge was still intact.
But their cowardice was our salvation, for they feared lest they
should be trapped by the fire. So I think at least, but justice
compels me to add that, on the spur of the moment, they may have found
it impossible to clear the gateways of the mass of fallen or dead
soldiers over which it would have been difficult to climb.
Such, at any rate, was the explanation that we heard afterwards.
We reached the mouth of the vast cave in perfect safety, and clambered
through the little orifice which was left between the rocks rolled
thither by the force of the explosion, or shaken down from the roof.
This hole, for it was nothing more, we proceeded to stop with a few
stones in such a fashion that it could not be forced without much toil
and considerable noise, only leaving one little tortuous channel
through which, if necessary, a man could creep.
The labour of rock-carrying, in which even Maqueda shared, occupied
our minds for awhile, and induced a kind of fictitious cheerfulness.
But when it was done, and the chilly silence of that enormous cave, so
striking in comparison with the roar of the flames and the hideous
human tumult which we had left without, fell upon us like sudden cold
and blinding night upon a wanderer in windy, sunlit mountains, all our
excitement perished. In a flash, we understood our terrible position,
we who had but escaped from the red fire to perish slowly in the black
Still we strove to keep our spirits as best we could. Leaving Higgs to
watch the blocked passage, a somewhat superfluous task, since the fire
without was our best watchman, the rest of us threaded our way up the
cave, following the telephone wire which poor Quick had laid on the
night of the blowing-up of the god Harmac, till we came to what had
been our headquarters during the digging of the mine. Into the room
which was Oliver's, whence we had escaped with so much difficulty
after that event, we could not enter because of the transom that
blocked the doorway. Still, there were plenty of others at hand in the
old temple, although they were foul with the refuse of the bats that
wheeled about us in thousands, for these creatures evidently had some
unknown access to the open air. One of these rooms had served as our
store-chamber, and after a few rough preparations we assigned it to
"Friends," she said, as she surveyed its darksome entrance, "it looks
like the door of a tomb. Well, in the tomb there is rest, and rest I
must have. Leave me to sleep, who, were it not for you, O Oliver,
would pray that I might never wake again.
"Man," she added passionately, before us all, for now in face of the
last peril every false shame and wish to conceal the truth had left
her; "man, why were you born to bring woe upon my head and joy to my
heart? Well, well, the joy outweighs the woe, and even if the angel
who led you hither is named Azrael, still I shall bless him who has
revealed to me my soul. Yet for you I weep, and if only your life
could be spared to fulfil itself in happiness in the land that bore
you, oh! for you I would gladly die."
Now Oliver, who seemed deeply moved, stepped to her and began to
whisper into her ear, evidently making some proposal of which I think
I can guess the nature. She listened to him, smiling sadly, and made a
motion with her hand as though to thrust him away.
"Not so," she said, "it is nobly offered, but did I accept, through
whatever universes I may wander, those who came after me would know me
by my trail of blood, the blood of him who loved me. Perhaps, too, by
that crime I should be separated from you for ever. Moreover, I tell
you that though all seems black as this thick darkness, I believe that
things will yet end well for you and me--in this world or another."
Then she was gone, leaving Orme staring after her like a man in a
"I daresay they will," remarked Higgs /sotto voce/ to me, "and that's
first-rate so far as they are concerned. But what I should jolly well
like to know is how they are going to end for /us/ who haven't got a
charming lady to see us across the Styx."
"You needn't puzzle your brain over that," I answered gloomily, "for I
think there will soon be a few more skeletons in this beastly cave,
that's all. Don't you see that those Abati will believe we are burned
in the palace?"
I was right. The Abati did think that we had been burned. It never
occurred to them that we might have escaped to the underground city.
So at least I judged from the fact that they made no attempt to seek
us there until they learned the truth in the fashion that I am about
to describe. If anything, this safety from our enemies added to the
trials of those hideous days and nights. Had there been assaults to
repel and the excitement of striving against overwhelming odds, at any
rate we should have found occupation for our minds and remaining
But there were none. By turns we listened at the mouth of the passage
for the echo of footsteps that never came. Nothing came to break a
silence so intense that at last our ears, craving for sound, magnified
the soft flitter of the bats into a noise as of eagle's wings, till at
last we spoke in whispers, because the full voice of man seemed to
affront the solemn quietude, seemed intolerable to our nerves.
Yet for the first day or two we found occupation of a sort. Of course
our first need was to secure a supply of food, of which we had only a
little originally laid up for our use in the chambers of the old
temple, tinned meats that we had brought from London and so forth, now
nearly all consumed. We remembered that Maqueda had told us of corn
from her estates which was stored annually in pits to provide against
the possibility of a siege of Mur, and asked her where it was.
She led us to a place where round stone covers with rings attached to
them were let into the floor of the cave, not unlike those which stop
the coal-shoots in a town pavement, only larger. With great difficulty
we prised one of these up; to me it did not seem to have been moved
since the ancient kings ruled in Mur and, after leaving it open for a
long while for the air within to purify, lowered Roderick by a rope we
had to report its contents. Next moment we heard him saying: "Want to
come up, please. This place is not pleasant."
We pulled him out and asked what he had found.
"Nothing good to eat," he answered, "only plenty of dead bones and one
rat that ran up my leg."
We tried the next two pits with the same result--they were full of
human bones. Then we cross-examined Maqueda, who, after reflection,
informed us that she now remembered that about five generations before
a great plague had fallen on Mur, which reduced its population by one-
half. She had heard, also, that those stricken with the plague were
driven into the underground city in order that they might not infect
the others, and supposed that the bones we saw were their remains.
This information caused us to close up those pits again in a great
hurry, though really it did not matter whether we caught the plague or
Still, as she was sure that corn was buried somewhere, we went to
another group of pits in a distant chamber, and opened the first one.
This time our search was rewarded, to the extent that we found at the
bottom of it some mouldering dust that years ago had been grain. The
other pits, two of which had been sealed up within three years as the
date upon the wax showed, were quite empty.
Then Maqueda understood what had happened.
"Surely the Abati are a people of rogues," she said. "See now, the
officers appointed to store away my corn which I gave them have stolen
it! Oh! may they live to lack bread even more bitterly than we do to-
We went back to our sleeping-place in silence. Well might we be
silent, for of food we had only enough left for a single scanty meal.
Water there was in plenty, but no food. When we had recovered a little
from our horrible disappointment we consulted together.
"If we could get through the mine tunnel," said Oliver, "we might
escape into the den of lions, which were probably all destroyed by the
explosion, and so out into the open country."
"The Fung would take us there," suggested Higgs.
"No, no," broke in Roderick, "Fung all gone, or if they do, anything
better than this black hole, yes, even my wife."
"Let us look," I said, and we started.
When we reached the passage that led from the city to the Tomb of
Kings, it was to find that the wall at the end of it had been blown
bodily back into the parent cave, leaving an opening through which we
could walk side by side. Of course the contents of the tomb itself
were scattered. In all directions lay bones, objects of gold and other
metals, or overturned thrones. The roof and walls alone remained as
they had been.
"What vandalism!" exclaimed Higgs, indignant even in his misery. "Why
wouldn't you let me move the things when I wanted to, Orme?"
"Because they would have thought that we were stealing them, old
fellow. Also those Mountaineers were superstitious, and I did not want
them to desert. But what does it matter, anyway? If you had, they
would have been burned in the palace."
By this time we had reached that end of the vast tomb where the
hunchbacked king used to sit, and saw at once that our quest was vain.
The tunnel which we had dug beyond was utterly choked with masses of
fallen rock that we could never hope to move, even with the aid of
explosives, of which we had none left.
So we returned, our last hope gone.
Also another trouble stared us in the face; our supply of the crude
mineral oil which the Abati used for lighting purposes was beginning
to run low. Measurement of what remained of the store laid up for our
use while the mine was being made, revealed the fact that there was
only enough left to supply four lamps for about three days and nights:
one for Maqueda, one for ourselves, one for the watchman near the
tunnel mouth, and one for general purposes.
This general-purpose lamp, as a matter of fact, was mostly made use of
by Higgs. Truly, he furnished a striking instance of the ruling
passion strong in death. All through those days of starvation and
utter misery, until he grew too weak and the oil gave out, he trudged
backward and forward between the old temple and the Tomb of Kings
carrying a large basket on his arm. Going out with this basket empty,
he would bring it back filled with gold cups and other precious
objects that he had collected from among the bones and scattered
rubbish in the Tomb. These objects he laboriously catalogued in his
pocket-book at night, and afterwards packed away in empty cases that
had contained our supplies of explosive and other goods, carefully
nailing them down when filled.
"What on earth are you doing that for, Higgs?" I asked petulantly, as
he finished off another case, I think it was his twentieth.
"I don't know, Doctor," he answered in a thin voice, for like the rest
of us he was growing feeble on a water-diet. "I suppose it amuses me
to think how jolly it would be to open all these boxes in my rooms in
London after a first-rate dinner of fried sole and steak cut thick,"
and he smacked his poor, hungry lips. "Yes, yes," he went on, "to take
them out one by one and show them to ---- and ----," and he mentioned
by name officials of sundry great museums with whom he was at war,
"and see them tear their hair with rage and jealousy, while they
wondered in their hearts if they could not manage to seize the lot for
the Crown as treasure-trove, or do me out of them somehow," and he
laughed a little in his old, pleasant fashion.
"Of course I never shall," he added sadly, "but perhaps one day some
other fellow will find them here and get them to Europe, and if he is
a decent chap, publish my notes and descriptions, of which I have put
a duplicate in each box, and so make my name immortal. Well, I'm off
again. There are four more cases to fill before the oil gives out, and
I must get that great gold head into one of them, though it is an
awful job to carry it far at a time. Doctor, what disease is it that
makes your legs suddenly give way beneath you, so that you find
yourself sitting in a heap on the floor without knowing how you came
there? You don't know? Well, no more do I, but I've got it bad. I tell
you I'm downright sore behind from continual and unexpected contact
with the rock."
Poor old Higgs! I did not like to tell him that his disease was
Well, he went on with his fetching and carrying and cataloguing and
packing. I remember that the last load he brought in was the golden
head he had spoken of, the wonderful likeness of some prehistoric king
which has since excited so much interest throughout the world. The
thing being too heavy for him to carry in his weakened state, for it
is much over life-size, he was obliged to roll it before him, which
accounts for the present somewhat damaged condition of the nose and
Never shall I forget the sight of the Professor as he appeared out of
the darkness, shuffling along upon his knees where his garments were
worn into holes, and by the feeble light of the lamp that he moved
from time to time, painfully pushing the great yellow object forward,
only a foot or two at each push.
"Here it is at last," he gasped triumphantly, whilst we watched him
with indifferent eyes. "Japhet, help me to wrap it up in the mat and
lift it into the box. No, no, you donkey--face upward--so. Never mind
the corners, I'll fill them with ring-money and other trifles," and
out of his wide pockets he emptied a golden shower, amongst which he
sifted handfuls of dust from the floor and anything else he could find
to serve as packing, finally covering all with a goat's-hair blanket
which he took from his bed.
Then very slowly he found the lid of the box and nailed it down,
resting between every few strokes of the hammer whilst we watched him
in our intent, but idle, fashion, wondering at the strange form of his
At length the last nail was driven, and seated on the box he put his
hand into an inner pocket to find his note-book, then incontinently
fainted. I struggled to my feet and sprinkled water over his face till
he revived and rolled on to the floor, where presently he sank into
sleep or torpor. As he did so the first lamp gave out.
"Light it, Japhet," said Maqueda, "it is dark in this place."
"O Child of Kings," answered the man, "I would obey if I could, but
there is no more oil."
Half-an-hour later the second lamp went out. By the light that
remained we made such arrangements as we could, knowing that soon
darkness would be on us. They were few and simple: the fetching of a
jar or two of water, the placing of arms and ammunition to our hands,
and the spreading out of some blankets on which to lie down side by
side upon what I for one believed would be our bed of death.
While we were thus engaged, Japhet crawled into our circle from the
outer gloom. Suddenly I saw his haggard face appear, looking like that
of a spirit rising from the grave.
"My lamp is burned out," he moaned; "it began to fail whilst I was on
watch at the tunnel mouth, and before I was half-way here it died
altogether. Had it not been for the wire of the 'thing-that-speaks'
which guided me, I could never have reached you. I should have been
lost in the darkness of the city and perished alone among the ghosts."
"Well, you are here now," said Oliver. "Have you anything to report?"
"Nothing, lord, or at least very little. I moved some of the small
rocks that we piled up, and crept down the hole till I came to a place
where the blessed light of day fell upon me, only one little ray of
it, but still the light of day. I think that something has fallen upon
the tunnel and broken it, perhaps one of the outer walls of the
palace. At least I looked through a crack and saw everywhere ruins--
ruins that still smoke. From among them I heard the voices of men
shouting to each other.
"One of them called to his companion that it was strange, if the
Gentiles and the Child of Kings had perished in the fire, that they
had not found their bones which would be known by the guns they
carried. His friend answered that it was strange indeed, but being
magicians, perhaps they had hidden away somewhere. For his part he
hoped so, as then sooner or later they would be found and put to death
slowly, as they deserved, who had led astray the Child of Kings and
brought so many of the heaven-descended Abati to their death. Then
fearing lest they should find and kill me, for they drew near as I
could tell by their voices, I crept back again, and that is all my
We said nothing; there seemed to be nothing to say, but sat in our sad
circle and watched the dying lamp. When it began to flicker, leaping
up and down like a thing alive, a sudden panic seized poor Japhet.
"O Walda Nagasta," he cried, throwing himself at her feet, "you have
called me a brave man, but I am only brave where the sun and the stars
shine. Here in the dark amongst so many angry spirits, and with hunger
gnawing at my bowels, I am a great coward; Joshua himself is not such
a coward as I. Let us go out into the light while there is yet time.
Let us give ourselves up to the Prince. Perhaps he will be merciful
and spare our lives, or at least he will spare yours, and if we die,
it will be with the sun shining on us."
But Maqueda only shook her head, whereon he turned to Orme and went
"Lord, would you have the blood of the Child of Kings upon your hands?
Is it thus that you repay her for her love? Lead her forth. No harm
will come to her who otherwise must perish here in misery."
"You hear what the man says, Maqueda?" said Orme heavily. "There is
some truth in it. It really does not matter to us whether we die in
the power of the Abati or here of starvation; in fact, I think that we
should prefer the former end, and doubtless no hand will be laid on
you. Will you go?"
"Nay," she answered passionately. "A hand would be laid on me, the
hand of Joshua, and rather than that he should touch me I will die a
hundred deaths. Let fate take its course, for as I have told you, I
believe that then it will open to us some gate we cannot see. And if I
believe in vain, why there is another gate which we can pass together,
O Oliver, and beyond that gate lies peace. Bid the man be silent, or
drive him away. Let him trouble me no more."
The lamp flame sank low. It flickered, once, twice, thrice, each time
showing the pale, drawn faces of us six seated about it, like wizards
making an incantation, like corpses in a tomb.
Then it went out.
How long were we in that place after this? At least three whole days
and nights, I believe, if not more, but of course we soon lost all
count of time. At first we suffered agonies from famine, which we
strove in vain to assuage with great draughts of water. No doubt these
kept us alive, but even Higgs, who it may be remembered was a
teetotaller, afterwards confessed to me that he has loathed the sight
and taste of water ever since. Indeed he now drinks beer and wine like
other people. It was torture; we could have eaten anything. In fact
the Professor did manage to catch and eat a bat that got entangled in
his red hair. He offered me a bite of it, I remember, and was most
grateful when I declined.
The worst of it was also that we had a little food, a few hard ship's
biscuits, which we had saved up for a purpose, namely, to feed
Maqueda. This was how we managed it. At certain intervals I would
announce that it was time to eat, and hand Maqueda her biscuit. Then
we would all pretend to eat also, saying how much we felt refreshed by
the food and how we longed for more, smacking our lips and biting on a
piece of wood so that she could not help hearing us.
This piteous farce went on for forty-eight hours or more until at last
the wretched Japhet, who was quite demoralized and in no mood for
acting, betrayed us, exactly how I cannot remember. After this Maqueda
would touch nothing more, which did not greatly matter as there was
only one biscuit left. I offered it to her, whereon she thanked me and
all of us for our courtesy toward a woman, took the biscuit, and gave
it to Japhet, who ate it like a wolf.
It was some time after this incident that we discovered Japhet to be
missing; at least we could no longer touch him, nor did he answer when
we called. Therefore, we concluded that he had crept away to die and,
I am sorry to say, thought little more about it for, after all, what
he suffered, or had suffered, we suffered also.
I recall that before we were overtaken by the last sleep, a strange
fit came upon us. Our pangs passed away, much as the pain does when
mortification follows a wound, and with them that horrible craving for
nutriment. We grew cheerful and talked a great deal. Thus Roderick
gave me the entire history of the Fung people and of his life among
them and other savage tribes. Further, he explained every secret
detail of their idol worship to Higgs, who was enormously interested,
and tried to make some notes by the aid of our few remaining matches.
When even that subject was exhausted, he sang to us in his beautiful
voice--English hymns and Arab songs. Oliver and Maqueda also chatted
together quite gaily, for I heard them laughing, and gathered that he
was engaged in trying to teach her English.
The last thing that I recollect is the scene as it was revealed by the
momentary light of one of the last matches. Maqueda sat by Oliver. His
arm was about her waist, her head rested upon his shoulder, her long
hair flowed loose, her large and tender eyes stared from her white,
wan face up toward his face, which was almost that of a mummy.
Then on the other side stood my son, supporting himself against the
wall of the room, and beyond him Higgs, a shadow of his former self,
feebly waving a pencil in the air and trying, apparently, to write a
note upon his Panama straw hat, which he held in his left hand, as I
suppose, imagining it to be his pocket-book. The incongruity of that
sun-hat in a place where no sun had ever come made me laugh, and as
the match went out I regretted that I had forgotten to look at his
face to ascertain whether he was still wearing his smoked spectacles.
"What is the use of a straw hat and smoked spectacles in kingdom-
come?" I kept repeating to myself, while Roderick, whose arm I knew
was about me, seemed to answer:
"The Fung wizards say that the sphinx Harmac once wore a hat, but, my
father, I do not know if he had spectacles."
Then a sensation as of being whirled round and round in some vast
machine, down the sloping sides of which I sank at last into a vortex
of utter blackness, whereof I knew the name was death.
Dimly, very dimly, I became aware that I was being carried. I heard
voices in my ears, but what they said I could not understand. Then a
feeling of light struck upon my eyeballs which gave me great pain.
Agony ran all through me as it does through the limbs of one who is
being brought back from death by drowning. After this something warm
was poured down my throat, and I went to sleep.
When I awoke again it was to find myself in a large room that I did
not know. I was lying on a bed, and by the light of sunrise which
streamed through the window-places I saw the three others, my son
Roderick, Orme and Higgs lying on the other beds, but they were still
Abati servants entered the room bringing food, a kind of rough soup
with pieces of meat in it of which they gave me a portion in a wooden
bowl that I devoured greedily. Also they shook my companions until
they awoke and almost automatically ate up the contents of similar
bowls, after which they went to sleep again, as I did, thanking heaven
that we were all still alive.
Every few hours I had a vision of these men entering with the bowls of
soup or porridge, until at last life and reason came back to me in
earnest, and I saw Higgs sitting up on the bed opposite and staring at
"I say, old fellow," he said, "are we alive, or is this Hades?"
"Can't be Hades," I answered, "because there are Abati here."
"Quite right," he replied. "If the Abati go anywhere, it's to hell,
where they haven't whitewashed walls and four-post beds. Oliver, wake
up. We are out of that cave, anyway."
Orme raised himself on his hand and stared at us.
"Where's Maqueda?" he asked, a question to which of course, we could
give no answer, till presently Roderick woke also and said:
"I remember something. They carried us all out of the cave; Japhet was
with them. They took the Child of Kings one way and us another, that
is all I know."
Shortly afterwards the Abati servants arrived, bearing food more solid
than the soup, and with them came one of their doctors, not that old
idiot of a court physician, who examined us, and announced that we
should all recover, a fact which we knew already. We asked many
questions of him and the servants, but could get no answer, for
evidently they were sworn to silence. However, we persuaded them to
bring us water to wash in. It came, and with it a polished piece of
metal, such as the Abati use for a looking-glass, in which we saw our
faces, the terrible, wasted faces of those who have gone within a
hair's breadth of death by starvation in the dark.
Yet although our gaolers would say nothing, something in their aspect
told us that we were in sore peril of our lives. They looked at us
hungrily, as a terrier looks at rats in a wire cage of which the door
will presently be opened. Moreover, Roderick, who, as I think I have
said, has very quick ears, overheard one of the attendants whisper to
"When does our service on these hounds of Gentiles come to an end?" to
which his fellow answered, "The Council has not yet decided, but I
think to-morrow or the next day, if they are strong enough. It will be
a great show."
Also that evening, about sunset, we heard a mob shouting outside the
barrack in which we were imprisoned, for that was its real use, "Give
us the Gentiles! Give us the Gentiles! We are tired of waiting," until
at length some soldiers drove them away.
Well, we talked the thing over, only to conclude that there was
nothing to be done. We had no friend in the place except Maqueda, and
she, it appeared, was a prisoner like ourselves, and therefore could
not communicate with us. Nor could we see the slightest possibility of
"Out of the frying-pan into the fire," remarked Higgs gloomily. "I
wish now that they had let us die in the cave. It would have been
better than being baited to death by a mob of Abati."
"Yes," answered Oliver with a sigh, for he was thinking of Maqueda,
"but that's why they saved us, the vindictive beasts, to kill us for
what they are pleased to call high treason."
"High treason!" exclaimed Higgs. "I hope to goodness their punishment
for the offence is not that of mediæval England; hanging is bad enough
--but the rest----!"
"I don't think the Abati study European history," I broke in; "but it
is no use disguising from you that they have methods of their own.
Look here, friends," I added, "I have kept something about me in case
the worst should come to the worst," and I produced a little bottle
containing a particularly swift and deadly poison done up into
tabloids, and gave one to each of them. "My advice is," I added, "that
if you see we are going to be exposed to torture or to any dreadful
form of death, you should take one of these, as I mean to do, and
cheat the Abati of their vengeance."
"That is all very fine," said the Professor as he pocketed his
tabloid, "but I never could swallow a pill without water at the best
of times, and I don't believe those beasts will give one any. Well, I
suppose I must suck it, that's all. Oh! if only the luck would turn,
if only the luck would turn!"
Three more days went by without any sign of Higgs's aspiration being
fulfilled. On the contrary, except in one respect, the luck remained
steadily against us. The exception was that we got plenty to eat and
consequently regained our normal state of health and strength more
rapidly than might have been expected. With us it was literally a case
of "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."
Only somehow I don't think that any of us really believed that we
should die, though whether this was because we had all, except poor
Quick, survived so much, or from a sneaking faith in Maqueda's
optimistic dreams, I cannot say. At any rate we ate our food with
appetite, took exercise in an inner yard of the prison, and strove to
grow as strong as we could, feeling that soon we might need all our
powers. Oliver was the most miserable among us, not for his own sake,
but because, poor fellow, he was haunted with fears as to Maqueda and
her fate, although of these he said little or nothing to us. On the
other hand, my son Roderick was by far the most cheerful. He had lived
for so many years upon the brink of death that this familiar gulf
seemed to have no terrors for him.
"All come right somehow, my father," he said airily. "Who can know
what happen? Perhaps Child of King drag us out of mud-hole, for after
all she was very strong cow, or what you call it, heifer, and I think
toss Joshua if he drive her into corner. Or perhaps other thing
"What other thing, Roderick?" I asked.
"Oh! don't know, can't say, but I think Fung thing. Believe we not
done with Fung yet, believe they not run far. Believe they take
thought for morrow and come back again. Only," he added sadly, "hope
my wife not come back, for that old girl too full of lofty temper for
me. Still, cheer up, not dead yet by long day's march, and meanwhile
food good and this very jolly rest after beastly underground city. Now
I tell Professor some more stories about Fung religion, den of lions,
and so forth."
On the morning after this conversation a crisis came. Just as we had
finished breakfast the doors of our chamber were thrown open and in
marched a number of soldiers wearing Joshua's badge. They were headed
by an officer of his household, who commanded us to rise and follow
"Where to?" asked Orme.
"To take your trial before the Child of Kings and her Council,
Gentile, upon the charge of having murdered certain of her subjects,"
answered the officer sternly.
"That's all right," said Higgs with a sigh of relief. "If Maqueda is
chairman of the Bench we are pretty certain of an acquittal, for
Orme's sake if not for our own."
"Don't you be too sure of that," I whispered into his ear. "The
circumstances are peculiar, and women have been known to change their
"Adams," he replied, glaring at me through his smoked spectacles, "If
you talk like that we shall quarrel. Maqueda change her mind indeed!
Why, it is an insult to suggest such a thing, and if you take my
advice you won't let Oliver hear you. Don't you remember, man, that
she's in love with him?"
"Oh, yes," I answered, "but I remember also that Prince Joshua is in
love with her, and that she is his prisoner."
THE TRIAL AND AFTER
They set us in a line, four ragged-looking fellows, all of us with
beards of various degrees of growth, that is, all the other three, for
mine had been an established fact for years, and everything having
been taken away from us, we possessed neither razor nor scissors.
In the courtyard of our barrack we were met by a company of soldiers,
who encircled us about with a triple line of men, as we thought to
prevent any attempt of escape. So soon as we passed the gates I found,
however, that this was done for a different reason, namely, to protect
us from the fury of the populace. All the way from the barrack to the
courthouse, whither we were being taken now that the palace was
burned, the people were gathered in hundreds, literally howling for
our blood. It was a strange, and, in a way, a dreadful sight to see
even the brightly dressed women and children shaking their fists and
spitting at us with faces distorted by hate.
"Why they love you so little, father, when you do so much for them?"
asked Roderick, shrugging his shoulders and dodging a stone that
nearly hit him on the head.
"For two reasons," I answered. "Because their Lady loves one of us too
much, and because through us many of their people have lost their
lives. Also they hate strangers, and are by nature cruel, like most
cowards, and now that they have no more fear of the Fung, they think
it will be safe to kill us."
"Ah!" said Roderick; "yet Harmac has come to Mur," and he pointed to
the great head of the idol seated on the cliff, "and I think where
Harmac goes, Fung follow, and if so they make them pay plenty for my
life, for I great man among Fung; Fung myself husband of Sultan's
daughter. These fools, like children, because they see no Fung, think
there are no Fung. Well, in one year, or perhaps one month, they
"I daresay, my boy," I answered, "but I am afraid that won't help us."
By now we were approaching the court-house where the Abati priests and
learned men tried civil and some criminal cases. Through a mob of
nobles and soldiers who mocked us as we went, we were hustled into the
large hall of judgment that was already full to overflowing.
Up the centre of it we marched to a clear space reserved for the
parties to a cause, or prisoners and their advocates, beyond which,
against the wall, were seats for the judges. These were five members
of the Council, one of whom was Joshua, while in the centre as
President of the Court, and wearing her veil and beautiful robes of
ceremony, sat Maqueda herself.
"Thank God, she's safe!" muttered Oliver with a gasp of relief.
"Yes," answered Higgs, "but what's she doing there? She ought to be in
the dock, too, not on the Bench."
We reached the open space, and were thrust by soldiers armed with
swords to where we must stand, and although each of us bowed to her, I
observed that Maqueda took not the slightest notice of our
salutations. She only turned her head and said something to Joshua on
her right, which caused him to laugh.
Then with startling suddenness the case began. A kind of public
prosecutor stood forward and droned out the charge against us. It was
that we, who were in the employ of the Abati, had traitorously taken
advantage of our position as mercenary captains to stir up a civil
war, in which many people had lost their lives, and some been actually
murdered by ourselves and our companion who was dead. Moreover, that
we had caused their palace to be burned and, greatest crime of all,
had seized the sacred person of the Walda Nagasta, Rose of Mur, and
dragged her away into the recesses of the underground city, whence she
was only rescued by the chance of an accomplice of ours, one Japhet,
betraying our hiding-place.
This was the charge which, it will be noted, contained no allusion
whatever to the love entanglement between Maqueda and Oliver. When it
was finished the prosecutor asked us what we pleaded, whereon Oliver
answered as our spokesman that it was true there had been fighting and
men killed, also that we had been driven into the cave, but as to all
the rest the Child of Kings knew the truth, and must speak for us as
Now the audience began to shout, "They plead guilty! Give them to
death!" and so forth, while the judges rising from their seats,
gathered round Maqueda and consulted her.
"By heaven! I believe she is going to give us away!" exclaimed Higgs,
whereon Oliver turned on him fiercely and bade him hold his tongue,
"If you were anywhere else you should answer for that slander!"
At length the consultation was finished; the judges resumed their
seats, and Maqueda held up her hand. Thereon an intense silence fell
upon the place. Then she began to speak in a cold, constrained voice:
"Gentiles," she said, addressing us, "you have pleaded guilty to the
stirring up of civil war in Mur, and to the slaying of numbers of its
people, facts of which there is no need for evidence, since many
widows and fatherless children can testify to them to-day. Moreover,
you did, as alleged by my officer, commit the crime of bearing off my
person into the cave and keeping me there by force to be a hostage for
We heard and gasped, Higgs ejaculating, "Good gracious, what a lie!"