Part 6 out of 6
But none of the rest of us said anything.
"For these offences," went on Maqueda, "you are all of you justly
worthy of a cruel death." Then she paused and added, "Yet, as I have
the power to do, I remit the sentence. I decree that this day you and
all the goods that remain to you which have been found in the cave
city, and elsewhere, together with camels for yourselves and your
baggage, shall be driven from Mur, and that if any one of you returns
hither, he shall without further trial be handed over to the
executioners. This I do because at the beginning of your service a
certain bargain was made with you, and although you have sinned so
deeply I will not suffer that the glorious honour of the Abati people
shall be tarnished even by the breath of suspicion. Get you gone,
Wanderers, and let us see your faces no more for ever!"
Now the mob gathered in the hall shouted in exultation, though I heard
some crying out, "No, kill them! Kill them!"
When the tumult had died down Maqueda spoke again saying:
"O noble and generous Abati, you approve of this deed of mercy; you
who would not be held merciless in far lands, O Abati, where, although
you may not have heard of them, there are, I believe, other peoples
who think themselves as great as you. You would not have it whispered,
I say, that we who are the best of the world, we, the children of
Solomon, have dealt harshly even with stray dogs that have wandered to
our gates? Moreover, we called these dogs to hunt a certain beast for
us, the lion-headed beast called Fung, and, to be just to them, they
hunted well. Therefore spare them the noose, though they may have
deserved it, and let them run hence with their bone, say you, the bone
which they think that they have earned. What does a bone more or less
matter to the rich Abati, if only their holy ground is not defiled
with the blood of Gentile dogs?"
"Nothing at all! Nothing at all!" they shouted. "Tie it to their tails
and let them go!"
"It shall be done, O my people! And now that we have finished with
these dogs, I have another word to say to you. You may have thought or
heard that I was too fond of them, and especially of one of them," and
she glanced toward Oliver. "Well, there are certain dogs who will not
work unless you pat them on the head. Therefore I patted this one on
the head, since, after all, he is a clever dog who knows things that
we do not know; for instance, how to destroy the idol of the Fung. O
great Abati, can any of you really have believed that I, of the
ancient race of Solomon and Sheba, I, the Child of Kings, purposed to
give my noble hand to a vagrant Gentile come hither for hire? Can you
really have believed that I, the solemnly betrothed to yonder Prince
of Princes, Joshua, my uncle, would for a moment even in my heart have
preferred to him such a man as that?" And once again she looked at
Oliver, who made a wild motion, as though he were about to speak. But
before he could so much as open his lips Maqueda went on:
"Well, if you believed, not guessing all the while I was working for
the safety of my people, soon shall you be undeceived, since to-morrow
night I invite you to the great ceremony of my nuptials, when,
according to the ancient custom, I break the glass with him whom on
the following night I take to be my husband," and rising, she bowed
thrice to the audience, then stretched out her hand to Joshua.
He, too, rose, puffing himself out like a great turkey-cock, and,
taking her hand, kissed it, gobbling some words which we did not
Wild cheering followed, and in the momentary silence which followed
"Lady," he said, in a cold and bitter voice, "we 'Gentiles' have heard
your words. We thank you for your kind acknowledgment of our services,
namely, the destruction of the idol of the Fung at the cost of some
risk and labour to ourselves. We thank you also for your generosity in
allowing us, as the reward of that service, to depart from Mur, with
insult and hard words, and such goods as remain to us, instead of
consigning us to death by torture, as you and your Council have the
power to do. It is indeed a proof of your generosity, and of that of
the Abati people which we shall always remember and repeat in our own
land, should we live to reach it. Also, we trust that it will come to
the ears of the savage Fung, so that at length they may understand
that true nobility and greatness lie not in brutal deeds of arms, but
in the hearts of men. But now, Walda Nagasta, I have a last request to
make of you, namely, that I may see your face once more to be sure
that it is you who have spoken to us, and not another beneath your
veil, and that if this be so, I may carry away with me a faithful
picture of one so true to her country and noble to her guests as you
have shown yourself this day."
She listened, then very slowly lifted her veil, revealing such a
countenance as I had never seen before. It was Maqueda without a
doubt, but Maqueda changed. Her face was pale, which was only to be
expected after all she had gone through; her eyes glowed in it like
coals, her lips were set. But it was her expression, at once defiant
and agonized, which impressed me so much that I never shall forget it.
I confess I could not read it in the least, but it left upon my mind
the belief that she was a false woman, and yet ashamed of her own
falsity. There was the greatest triumph of her art, that in those
terrible circumstances she should still have succeeded in conveying to
me, and to the hundreds of others who watched, this conviction of her
For a moment her eyes met those of Orme, but although he searched them
with pleading and despair in his glance, I could trace in hers no
relenting sign, but only challenge not unmixed with mockery. Then with
a short, hard laugh she let fall her veil again and turned to talk
with Joshua. Oliver stood silent a little while, long enough for Higgs
to whisper to me:
"I say, isn't this downright awful? I'd rather be back in the den of
lions than live to see it."
As he spoke I saw Oliver put his hand to where his revolver usually
hung, but, of course, it had been taken from him. Next he began to
search in his pocket, and finding that tabloid of poison which I had
given him, lifted it toward his mouth. But just as it touched his
lips, my son, who was next to him, saw also. With a quick motion he
struck it from his fingers, and ground it to powder on the floor
beneath his heel.
Oliver raised his arm as though to hit him, then without a sound fell
senseless. Evidently Maqueda noted all this also, for I saw a kind of
quiver go through her, and her hands gripped the arms of her chair
till the knuckles showed white beneath the skin. But she only said:
"This Gentile has fainted because he is disappointed with his reward.
Take him hence and let his companion, the Doctor Adams, attend to him.
When he is recovered, conduct them all from Mur as I have decreed. See
that they go unharmed, taking with them plenty of food lest it be said
that we only spared their lives here in order that they might starve
without our gates."
Then waving her hand to show that the matter was done with, she rose
and, followed by the judges and officers, left the court by some door
While she spoke a strong body of guards had surrounded us, some of
whom came forward and lifted the senseless Oliver on to a stretcher.
They carried him down the court, the rest of us following.
"Look," jeered the Abati as he passed, "look at the Gentile pig who
thought to wear the Bud of the Rose upon his bosom. He has got the
thorn now, not the rose. Is the swine dead, think you?"
Thus they mocked him and us.
We reached our prison in safety, and there I set to work to revive
Oliver, a task in which I succeeded at length. When he had come to
himself again he drank a cup of water, and said quite quietly:
"You fellows have seen all, so there is no need for talk and
explanations. One thing I beg of you, if you are any friends of mine,
and it is that you will not reproach or even speak of Maqueda to me.
Doubtless she had reasons for what she did; moreover, her bringing up
has not been the same as ours, and her code is different. Do not let
us judge her. I have been a great fool, that is all, and now I am
paying for my folly, or, rather, I have paid. Come, let us have some
dinner, for we don't know when we shall get another meal."
We listened to this speech in silence, only I saw Roderick turn aside
to hide a smile and wondered why he smiled.
Scarcely had we finished eating, or pretending to eat, when an officer
entered the room and informed us roughly that it was time for us to be
going. As he did so some attendants who had followed him threw us
bundles of clothes, and with them four very beautiful camel-hair
cloaks to protect us from the cold. With some of these garments we
replaced our rags, for they were little more, tying them and the rest
of the outfit up into bundles.
Then, clothed as Abati of the upper class, we were taken to the gates
of the barrack, where we found a long train of riding camels waiting
for us. The moment that I saw these beasts I knew that they were the
best in the whole land, and of very great value. Indeed, that to which
Oliver was conducted was Maqueda's own favourite dromedary, which upon
state occasions she sometimes rode instead of a horse. He recognized
it at once, poor fellow, and coloured to the eyes at this unexpected
mark of kindness, the only one she had vouchsafed to him.
"Come, Gentiles," said the officer, "and take count of your goods,
that you may not say that we have stolen anything from you. Here are
your firearms and all the ammunition that is left. These will be given
to you at the foot of the pass, but not before, lest you should do
more murder on the road. On those camels are fastened the boxes in
which you brought up the magic fire. We found them in your quarters in
the cave city, ready packed, but what they contain we neither know nor
care. Full or empty, take them, they are yours. Those," and he pointed
to two other beasts, "are laden with your pay, which the Child of
Kings sends to you, requesting that you will not count it till you
reach Egypt or your own land, since she wishes no quarrelling with you
as to the amount. The rest carry food for you to eat; also, there are
two spare beasts. Now, mount and begone."
So we climbed into the embroidered saddles of the kneeling
dromedaries, and a few minutes later were riding through Mur toward
the pass, accompanied by our guard and hooting mobs that once or twice
became threatening, but were driven off by the soldiers.
"I say, Doctor," said Higgs to me excitedly, "do you know that we have
got all the best of the treasure of the Tomb of Kings in those five-
and-twenty crates? I have thought since that I was crazy when I packed
them, picking out the most valuable and rare articles with such care,
and filling in the cracks with ring money and small curiosities, but
now I see it was the inspiration of genius. My subliminal self knew
what was going to happen, and was on the job, that's all. Oh, if only
we can get it safe away, I shall not have played Daniel and been
nearly starved to death for nothing. Why, I'd go through it all again
for that golden head alone. Shove on, shove on, before they change
their minds; it seems too good to be true."
Just then a rotten egg thrown by some sweet Abati youth landed full on
the bridge of his nose, and dispersing itself into his mouth and over
his smoked spectacles, cut short the Professor's eloquence, or rather
changed its tenor. So absurd was the sight that in spite of myself I
burst out laughing, and with that laugh felt my heart grow lighter, as
though our clouds of trouble were lifting at length.
At the mouth of the pass we found Joshua himself waiting for us, clad
in all his finery and chain armour, and looking more like a porpoise
on horseback than he had ever done.
"Farewell, Gentiles," he said, bowing to us in mockery, "we wish you a
quick journey to Sheol, or wherever such swine as you may go. Listen,
you Orme. I have a message for you from the Walda Nagasta. It is that
she is sorry she could not ask you to stop for her nuptial feast,
which she would have done had she not been sure that, if you stayed,
the people would have cut your throat, and she did not wish the holy
soil of Mur to be defiled with your dog's blood. Also she bids me say
that she hopes that your stay here will have taught you a lesson, and
that in future you will not believe that every woman who makes use of
you for her own ends is therefore a victim of your charms. To-morrow
night and the night after, I pray you think of our happiness and drink
a cup of wine to the Walda Nagasta and her husband. Come, will you not
wish me joy, O Gentile?"
Orme turned white as a sheet and gazed at him steadily. Then a strange
look came into his grey eyes, almost a look of inspiration.
"Prince Joshua," he said in a very quiet voice, "who knows what may
happen before the sun rises thrice on Mur? All things that begin well
do not end well, as I have learned, and as you also may live to learn.
At least, soon or late, your day of reckoning must come, and you, too,
may be betrayed as I have been. Rather should you ask me to forgive
your soul the insults that in your hour of triumph you have not been
ashamed to heap upon one who is powerless to avenge them," and he
urged his camel past him.
As we followed I saw Joshua's face turn as pale as Oliver's had done,
and his great round eyes protrude themselves like those of a fish.
"What does he mean?" said the prince to his companions. "Pray God he
is not a prophet of evil. Even now I have a mind--no, let him go. To
break my marriage vow might bring bad luck upon me. Let him go!" and
he glared after Oliver with fear and hared written on his coarse
That was the last we ever saw of Joshua, uncle of Maqueda, and first
prince among the Abati.
Down the pass we went and through the various gates of the
fortifications, which were thrown open as we came and closed behind
us. We did not linger on that journey. Why should we when our guards
were anxious to be rid of us and we of them? Indeed, so soon as the
last gate was behind us, either from fear of the Fung or because they
were in a hurry to return to share in the festivities of the
approaching marriage, suddenly the Abati wheeled round, bade us
farewell with a parting curse, and left us to our own devices.
So, having roped the camels into a long line, we went on alone, truly
thankful to be rid of them, and praying, every one of us, that never
in this world or the next might we see the face or hear the voice of
We emerged on to the plain at the spot where months before we had held
our conference with Barung, Sultan of the Fung, and where poor Quick
had forced his camel on to Joshua's horse and dismounted that hero.
Here we paused awhile to arrange our little caravan and arm ourselves
with the rifles, revolvers, and cartridges which until now we had not
been allowed to touch.
There were but four of us to manage the long train of camels, so we
were obliged to separate. Higgs and I went ahead, since I was best
acquainted with the desert and the road, Oliver took the central
station, and Roderick brought up the rear, because he was very keen of
sight and hearing and from his long familiarity with them, knew how to
drive camels that showed signs of obstinacy or a wish to turn.
On our right lay the great city of Harmac. We noted that it seemed to
be quite deserted. There, rebuilt now, frowned the gateway through
which we had escaped from the Fung after we had blown so many of them
to pieces, but beneath it none passed in or out. The town was empty,
and although they were dead ripe the rich crops had not yet been
reaped. Apparently the Fung people had now left the land.
Now we were opposite to the valley of Harmac, and saw that the huge
sphinx still sat there as it had done for unknown thousands of years.
Only its head was gone, for that had "moved to Mur," and in its neck
and shoulders appeared great clefts, caused by the terrific force of
the explosion. Moreover, no sound came from the enclosures where the
sacred lions used to be. Doubtless every one of them was dead.
"Don't you think," suggested Higgs, whose archŠological zeal was
rekindling fast, "that we might spare half-an-hour to go up the valley
and have a look at Harmac from the outside? Of course, both Roderick
and I are thoroughly acquainted with his inside, and the den of lions,
and so forth, but I would give a great deal just to study the rest of
him and take a few measurements. You know one must camp somewhere, and
if we can't find the camera, at dawn one might make a sketch."
"Are you mad?" I asked by way of answer, and Higgs collapsed, but to
this hour he has never forgiven me.
We looked our last upon Harmac, the god whose glory we had destroyed,
and went on swiftly till darkness overtook us almost opposite to that
ruined village where Shadrach had tried to poison the hound Pharaoh,
which afterwards tore out his throat. Here we unloaded the camels, no
light task, and camped, for near this spot there was water and a patch
of maize on which the beasts could feed.
Before the light quite faded Roderick rode forward for a little way to
reconnoitre, and presently returned announcing shortly that he had
seen no one. So we ate of the food with which the Abati had provided
us, not without fear lest it should be poisoned, and then held a
council of war.
The question was whether we should take the old road toward Egypt, or
now that the swamps were dry, strike up northward by the other route
of which Shadrach had told us. According to the map this should be
shorter, and Higgs advocated it strongly, as I discovered afterwards
because he thought there might be more archŠological remains in that
I, on the other hand, was in favour of following the road we knew,
which, although long and very wearisome, was comparatively safe, as in
that vast desert there were few people to attack us, while Oliver, our
captain, listened to all we had to say, and reserved his opinion.
Presently, however, the question was settled for us by Roderick, who
remarked that if we travelled to the north we should probably fall in
with the Fung. I asked what he meant, and he replied that when he made
his reconnaissance an hour or so before, although it was true that he
had seen no one, not a thousand yards from where we sat he had come
across the track of a great army. This army, from various indications,
he felt sure was that of Barung, which had passed there within twelve
"Perhaps my wife with them, so I no want to go that way, father," he
added with sincere simplicity.
"Where could they be travelling?" I asked.
"Don't know," he answered, "but think they go round to attack Mur from
other side, or perhaps to find new land to north."
"We will stick to the old road," said Oliver briefly. "Like Roderick I
have had enough of all the inhabitants of this country. Now let us
rest awhile; we need it."
About two o'clock we were up again and before it was dawn on the
following morning we had loaded our camels and were on the road. By
the first faint light we saw that what Roderick had told us was true.
We were crossing the track of an army of many thousand men who had
passed there recently with laden camels and horses. Moreover, those
men were Fung, for we picked up some articles that could have belonged
to no other people, such as a head-dress that had been lost or thrown
away, and an arrow that had fallen from a quiver.
However, we saw nothing of them, and, travelling fast, to our great
relief by midday reached the river Ebur, which we crossed without
difficulty, for it was now low. That night we camped in the forest-
lands beyond, having all the afternoon marched up the rising ground at
the foot of which ran the river.
Toward dawn Higgs, whose turn it was to watch the camels, came and
"Sorry to disturb you, old fellow," he said, "but there is a most
curious sky effect behind us which I thought you might like to see."
I rose and looked. In the clear, starlight night I could just discern
the mighty outline of the mountains of Mur. Above them the firmament
was suffused with a strange red glow. I formed my own conclusion at
once, but only said:
"Let us go to tell Orme," and led the way to where he had lain down
under a tree.
He was not sleeping; indeed, I do not think he had closed his eyes all
night, the night of Maqueda's marriage. On the contrary, he was
standing on a little knoll staring at the distant mountains and the
glow above them.
"Mur is on fire," he said solemnly. "Oh, my God, Mur is on fire!" and
turning he walked away.
Just then Roderick joined us.
"Fung got into Mur," he said, "and now cut throat of all Abati. We
well out of that, but pig Joshua have very warm wedding feast, because
Barung hate Joshua who try to catch him not fairly, which he never
forget; often talk of it."
"Poor Maqueda!" I said to Higgs, "what will happen to her?"
"I don't know," he answered, "but although once, like everybody else,
I adored that girl, really as a matter of justice she deserves all she
gets, the false-hearted little wretch. Still it is true," he added,
relenting, "she gave us very good camels, to say nothing of their
But I only repeated, "Poor Maqueda!"
That day we made but a short journey, since we wished to rest
ourselves and fill the camels before plunging into the wilderness, and
feeling sure that we should not be pursued, had no cause to hurry. At
night we camped in a little hollow by a stream that ran at the foot of
a rise. As dawn broke we were awakened by the voice of Roderick, who
was on watch, calling to us in tones of alarm to get up, as we were
followed. We sprang to our feet, seizing our rifles.
"Where are they?" I asked.
"There, there," he said, pointing toward the rise behind us.
We ran round some intervening bushes and looked, to see upon its crest
a solitary figure seated on a very tired horse, for it panted and its
head drooped. This figure, which was entirely hidden in a long cloak
with a hood, appeared to be watching our camp just as a spy might do.
Higgs lifted his rifle and fired at it, but Oliver, who was standing
by him, knocked the barrel up so that the bullet went high, saying:
"Don't be a fool. If it is only one man there's no need to shoot him,
and if there are more you will bring them on to us."
Then the figure urged the weary horse and advanced slowly, and I
noticed that it was very small. "A boy," I thought to myself, "who is
bringing some message."
The rider reached us, and slipping from the horse, stood still.
"Who are you?" asked Oliver, scanning the cloaked form.
"One who brings a token to you, lord," was the answer, spoken in a low
and muffled voice. "Here it is," and a hand, a very delicate hand, was
stretched out, holding between the fingers a ring.
I knew it at once; it was Sheba's ring which Maqueda had lent to me in
proof of her good faith when I journeyed for help to England. This
ring, it will be remembered, we returned to her with much ceremony at
our first public audience. Oliver grew pale at the sight of it.
"How did you come by this?" he asked hoarsely. "Is she who alone may
wear it dead?"
"Yes, yes," answered the voice, a feigned voice as I thought. "The
Child of Kings whom you knew is dead, and having no more need for this
ancient symbol of her power, she bequeathed it to you whom she
remembered kindly at the last."
Oliver covered his face with his hands and turned away.
"But," went on the speaker slowly, "the woman Maqueda whom once it is
said you loved----"
He dropped his hands and stared.
"----the woman Maqueda whom once it is said you--loved--still lives."
Then the hood slipped back, and in the glow of the rising sun we saw
the face beneath.
It was that of Maqueda herself!
A silence followed that in its way was almost awful.
"My Lord Oliver," asked Maqueda presently, "do you accept my offering
of Queen Sheba's ring?"
NOTE BY MAQUEDA
Once called Walda Nagasta and Takla Warda, that is, Child of Kings
and Bud of the Rose, once also by birth Ruler of the Abati people,
the Sons of Solomon and Sheba.
I, Maqueda, write this by the command of Oliver, my lord, who desires
that I should set out certain things in my own words.
Truly all men are fools, and the greatest of them is Oliver, my lord,
though perhaps he is almost equalled by the learned man whom the Abati
called Black Windows, and by the doctor, Son of Adam. Only he who is
named Roderick, child of Adam, is somewhat less blind, because having
been brought up among the Fung and other people of the desert, he has
gathered a little wisdom. This I know because he has told me that he
alone saw through my plan to save all their lives, but said nothing of
it because he desired to escape from Mur, where certain death waited
on him and his companions. Perhaps, however, he lies to please me.
Now, for the truth of the matter, which not being skilled in writing I
will tell briefly.
I was carried out of the cave city with my lord and the others,
starving, starving, too weak to kill myself, which otherwise I would
have done rather than fall into the hands of my accursed uncle,
Joshua. Yet I was stronger than the rest, because as I have learned,
they tricked me about those biscuits, pretending to eat when they were
not eating, for which never will I forgive them. It was Japhet, a
gallant man on one side, but a coward on the other like the rest of
the Abati, who betrayed us, driven thereto by emptiness within, which,
after all, is an ill enemy to fight. He went out and told Joshua where
we lay hid, and then, of course, they came.
Well, they took away my lord and the others, and me too they bore to
another place and fed me till my strength returned, and oh! how good
was that honey which first I ate, for I could touch nothing else. When
I was strong again came Prince Joshua to me and said, "Now I have you
in my net; now you are mine."
Then I answered Joshua, "Fool, your net is of air; I will fly through
"How?" he asked. "By death," I answered, "of which a hundred means lie
to my hand. You have robbed me of one, but what does that matter when
so many remain? I will go where you and your love cannot pursue me."
"Very well, Child of Kings," he said, "but how about that tall Gentile
who has caught your eyes, and his companions? They, too, have
recovered, and they shall die every one of them after a certain
fashion (which, I Maqueda, will not set down, since there are some
things that ought not to be written). If you die, they die; as I told
you, they die as a wolf dies that is caught by the shepherds; they die
as a baboon dies that is caught by the husbandman."
Now I looked this way and that, and found that there was no escape. So
I made a bargain.
"Joshua," I said, "let these men go and I swear upon the name of our
mother, she of Sheba, that I will marry you. Keep them and kill them,
and you will have none of me."
Well, in the end, because he desired me and the power that went with
me, he consented.
Then I played my part. My lord and his companions were brought before
me, and in presence of all the people I mocked them; I spat in their
faces, and oh! fools, fools, fools, they believed me! I lifted my
veil, and showed them my eyes, and they believed also what they seemed
to see in my eyes, forgetting that I am a woman who can play a part at
need. Yes, they forgot that there were others to deceive as well, all
the Abati people, who, if they thought I tricked them, would have torn
the foreigners limb from limb. That was my bitterest morsel, that I
should have succeeded in making even my own lord believe that of all
the wicked women that ever trod this world, I was the most vile. Yet I
did so, and he cannot deny it, for often we have talked of this thing
till he will hear of it no more.
Well, they went with all that I could give them, though I knew well
that my lord cared nothing, for what I could give, nor the doctor,
Child of Adam, either, who cared only for his son that God had
restored to him. Only Black Windows cared, not because he loves
wealth, but because he worships all that is old and ugly, for of such
things he fashions up his god.
They went, for their going was reported to me, and I, I entered into
hell because I knew that my lord thought me false, and that he would
never learn the truth, namely, that what I did I did to save his life,
until at length he came to his own country, if ever he came there, and
opened the chests of treasure, if ever he opened them, which perhaps
he would not care to do. And all that while he would believe me the
wife of Joshua, and--oh! I cannot write of it. And I, I should be
dead; I, I could not tell him the truth until he joined me in that
land of death, if there men and women can talk together any more.
For this and no other was the road that I had planned to walk. When he
and his companions had gone so far that they could not be followed,
then I would tell Joshua and the Abati all the truth in such language
as should never be forgotten for generations, and kill myself before
their eyes, so that Joshua might lack a wife and the Abati a Child of
I sat through the Feast of Preparation and smiled and smiled. It
passed and the next day passed, and came the night of the Feast of
Marriage. The glass was broken, the ceremony was fulfilled. Joshua
rose up to pledge me before all the priests, lords, and headmen. He
devoured me with his hateful eyes, me, who was already his. But I, I
handled the knife in my robe, wishing, such was the rage in my heart,
that I could kill him also.
Then God spoke, and the dream that I had dreamed came true. Far away
there rose a single cry, and after it other cries, and the sounds of
shouting and of marching feet. Far away tongues of fire leapt into the
air, and each man asked his neighbour, "What is this?" Then from all
the thousands of the feasting people rose one giant scream, and that
scream said, "Fung! Fung! The Fung are on us! Fly, fly, fly!"
"Come," shouted Joshua, seizing me by the arm, but I drew my dagger on
him and he let go. Then he fled with the other lords, and I remained
in my high seat beneath the golden canopy alone.
The people fled past me without fighting; they fled into the cave
city, they fled to the rocks; they hid themselves among the
precipices, and after them came the Fung, slaying and burning, till
all Mur went up in flames. And I, I sat and watched, waiting till it
was time for me to die also.
At last, I know not how long afterwards, appeared before me Barung, a
red sword in his hand, which he lifted to me in salute.
"Greeting, Child of Kings," he said. "You see Harmac is come to sleep
"Yes," I answered, "Harmac is come to sleep at Mur, and many of those
who dwelt there sleep with him. What of it? Say, Barung, will you kill
me, or shall I kill myself?"
"Neither, Child of Kings," he answered in his high fashion. "Did I not
make you a promise yonder in the Pass of Mur, when I spoke with you
and the Western men, and does a Fung Sultan break his word? I have
taken back the city that was ours, as I swore to do, and purified it
with fire," and he pointed to the raging flames. "Now I will rebuild
it, and you shall rule under me."
"Not so," I answered; "but in place of that promise I ask of you three
"Name them," said Barung.
"They are these: First, that you give me a good horse and five days'
food, and let me go where I will. Secondly, that if he still lives you
advance one Japhet, a certain Mountaineer who befriended me and
brought others to do likewise, to a place of honour under you.
Thirdly, that you spare the rest of the Abati people."
"You shall go whither you desire, and I think I know where you will
go," answered Barung. "Certain spies of mine last night saw four white
men riding on fine camels towards Egypt, and reported it to me as I
led my army to the secret pass that Harmac showed me, which you Abati
could never find. But I said, 'Let them go; it is right that brave men
who have been the mock of the Abati should be allowed their freedom.'
Yes, I said this, although one of them was my daughter's husband, or
near to it. But she will have no more of him who fled to his father
rather than with her, so it was best that he should go also, since, if
I brought him back it must be to his death."
"Yes," I answered boldly, "I go after the Western men; I who have done
with these Abati. I wish to see new lands."
"And find an old love who thinks ill of you just now," he said,
stroking his beard. "Well, no wonder, for here has been a marriage
feast. Say, what were you about to do, O Child of Kings? Take the fat
Joshua to your breast?"
"Nay, Barung, I was about to take /this/ husband to my breast," and I
showed him the knife that was hidden in my marriage robe.
"No," he said, smiling, "I think the knife was for Joshua first.
Still, you are a brave woman who could save the life of him you love
at the cost of your own. Yet, bethink you, Child of Kings, for many a
generation your mothers have been queens, and under me you may still
remain a queen. How will one whose blood has ruled so long endure to
serve a Western man in a strange land?"
"That is what I go to find out, Barung, and if I cannot endure, then I
shall come back again, though not to rule the Abati, of whom I wash my
hands for ever. Yet, Barung, my heart tells me I shall endure."
"The Child of Kings has spoken," he said, bowing to me. "My best horse
awaits her, and five of my bravest guards shall ride with her to keep
her safe till she sights the camp of the Western men. I say happy is
he of them who was born to wear the sweet-scented Bud of the Rose upon
his bosom. For the rest, the man Japhet is in my hands. He yielded
himself to me who would not fight for his own people because of what
they had done to his friends, the white men. Lastly, already I have
given orders that the slaying should cease, since I need the Abati to
be my slaves, they who are cowards, but cunning in many arts. Only one
more man shall die," he added sternly, "and that is Joshua, who would
have taken me by a trick in the mouth of the pass. So plead not for
him, for by the head of Harmac it is in vain."
Now hearing this I did not plead, fearing lest I should anger Barung,
and but waste my breath.
At daybreak I started on the horse, having with me the five Fung
captains. As we crossed the marketplace I met those that remained
alive of the Abati, being driven in hordes like beasts, to hear their
doom. Among them was Prince Joshua, my uncle, whom a man led by a rope
about his neck, while another man thrust him forward from behind,
since Joshua knew that he went to his death and the road was one which
he did not wish to travel. He saw me, and cast himself down upon the
ground, crying to me to save him. I told him that I could not, though
it is the truth, I swear it before God, that, notwithstanding all the
evil he had worked toward me, toward Oliver my lord, and his
companions, bringing to his end that gallant man who died to protect
me, I would still have saved him if I could. But I could not, for
although I tried once more, Barung would not listen. So I answered:
"Plead, O Joshua, with him who has the power in Mur to-day, for I have
none. You have fashioned your own fate, and must travel the road you
"What road do you ride, mounted on a horse of the plains, Maqueda? Oh!
what need is there for me to ask? You go to see that accursed Gentile
whom I would I had killed by inches, as I would that I could kill
Then calling me by evil names, Joshua sprang at me as though to strike
me down, but he who held the rope about his neck jerked him backward,
so that he fell and I saw his face no more.
But oh! it was sad, that journey across the great square, for the
captive Abati by hundreds--men, women, and children together--with
tears and lamentations cried to me to preserve them from death or
slavery at the hands of the Fung. But I answered:
"Your sins against me and the brave foreign men who fought so well for
you I forgive, but search your hearts, O Abati, and say if you can
forgive yourselves? If you had listened to me and to those whom I
called in to help us, you might have beaten back the Fung, and
remained free for ever. But you were cowards; you would not learn to
bear arms like men, you would not even watch your mountain walls, and
soon or late the people who refuse to be ready to fight must fall and
become the servants of those who are ready."
And now, my Oliver, I have no more to write, save that I am glad to
have endured so many things, and thereby win the joy that is mine
to-day. Not yet have I, Maqueda, wished to reign again in Mur, who
have found another throne.