Part 6 out of 6
supplied with cannon, but I have been told that you have no cannonballs
in Fort San Carlos."
"That is not true; we have plenty.
"Incredible as it may seem, I was told that the cannon-balls were made
of clay. When I said you had none, I meant that you had none of iron."
"That also is quite true," answered the girl. "Do you mean to say that
you are going to shoot baked clay at us? It will be like heaving
bricks," and the young man threw back his head and laughed.
"Oh, you may laugh," cried the girl, "but I doubt if you will be so
merry when you come to attack the fort. The clay cannon-balls were
made under the superintendence of my father, and they are filled with
links of chain, spikes, and other scraps of iron."
"By Jove!" cried young Nelson, "that's an original idea. I wonder how
it will work?"
"You will have every opportunity of finding out, if you are foolish
enough to attack the fort."
"You advise us then to retreat?"
"I most certainly do."
"And why, Donna, if you hate our country, are you so anxious that we
shall not be cut to pieces by your scrap-iron?"
The girl shrugged her pretty shoulders.
"It doesn't matter in the least to me what you do," she said, rising to
her feet. "Am I your prisoner, Senor Nelson?"
"No," cried the young man, also springing up; "I am yours, and have
been ever since you looked at me."
Again the girl shrugged her shoulders. She seemed to be in no humour
for light compliments, and betrayed an eagerness to be gone.
"I have your permission, then, to depart? Do you intend to keep your
"If you will keep yours, Donna."
"I gave you no promise, except that I would not run away, and I have
not done so. I now ask your permission to depart."
"You said that I might accompany you to the fort."
"Oh, if you have the courage, yes," replied the girl, carelessly.
They walked on together through the dense alleys of vegetation, and
finally came to an opening which showed them a sandy plain, and across
it the strong white stone walls of the fort, facing the wide river, and
behind it the blue background of Lake Nicaragua.
Not a human form was visible either on the walls or on the plain. Fort
San Carlos, in spite of the fact that it bristled with cannon, seemed
like an abandoned castle. The two stood silent for a moment at the
margin of the jungle, the young officer running his eye rapidly over
the landscape, always bringing back his gaze to the seemingly deserted
"Your three hundred and forty men keep themselves well hidden," he said
"Yes," replied the girl, nonchalantly, "they fear that if they show
themselves you may hesitate to attack a fortress that is impregnable."
"Well, you may disabuse their minds of that error when you return."
"Are you going to keep my stiletto?" asked the girl, suddenly changing
"Yes, with your permission."
"Then keep your word, and give me your pistol in return."
"Did I actually promise it?"
"You promised, Senor."
"Then in that case, the pistol is yours."
"Please hand it to me."
Her eagerness to obtain the weapon was but partially hidden, and the
young man laughed as he weighed the fire-arm in his hand, holding it by
"It is too heavy for a slim girl like you to handle," he said, at last.
"It can hardly be called a lady's toy."
"You intend, then, to break your word," said the girl, with quick
intuition, guessing with unerring instinct his vulnerable point.
"Oh, no," he cried, "but I am going to send the pistol half-way home
for you," and with that, holding it still by the barrel, he flung it
far out on the sandy plain, where it fell, raising a little cloud of
dust. The girl was about to speed to the fort, when, for the third
time, the young man grasped her wrist. She looked at him with indignant
"Pardon me," he said, "but in case you should wish to fire the weapon,
you must have some priming. Let me pour a quantity of this gunpowder
into your hand."
"Thank you," she said, veiling her eyes, to hide their hatred.
He raised the tiny hand to his lips, without opposition, and then into
her satin palm, from his powderhorn, he poured a little heap of the
"Good-bye, senor," she said, hurrying away. She went directly to where
the pistol had fallen, stooped and picked it up. He saw her pour the
powder from her hand on its broad, unshapely pan. She knelt on the
sand, studied the clumsy implement, resting her elbow on her knee. The
young man stood there motionless, bareheaded, his cap in his hand.
There was a flash and a loud report; and the bullet cut the foliage
behind him, a little nearer than he expected. He bowed low to her, and
she, rising with an angry gesture, flung the weapon from her.
"Donna Rafaela," he shouted, "thank you for firing the pistol. Its
report brings no one to the walls of San Carlos. Your fortress is
deserted, Donna. Tomorrow may I have the pleasure of showing you how to
The girl made no answer, but turning, ran as fast as she could towards
The young man walked toward the fort, picked up his despised weapon,
thrust it in his belt, and went back to the camp. The scouts were
returning, and reported that, as far as they could learn, the three
hundred and forty Nicaraguans had, in a body, abandoned Fort San
"It is some trick," said the Colonel. "We must approach the fortress
cautiously, as if the three hundred and forty were there."
The flotilla neared the fort in a long line. Each boat was filled with
men, and in each prow was levelled a small cannon--a man with a lighted
match beside it--ready to fire the moment word was given. Nelson
himself stood up in his boat, and watched the silent fort. Suddenly the
silence was broken by a crash of thunder, and Nelson's boat (and the
one nearest to it) was wrecked, many of the men being killed, and
himself severely wounded.
"Back, back!" cried the commander. "Row out of range, for your lives!"
The second cannon spoke, and the whole line of boats was thrown into
inextricable confusion. Cannon after cannon rang out, and of the two
hundred men who sailed up the river San Juan only ten reached the ship
The Commandant of the fort lay ill in his bed, unable to move, but his
brave daughter fired the cannon that destroyed the flotilla. Here
Nelson lost his eye, and so on a celebrated occasion was unable to see
the signals that called upon him to retreat. Thus victory ultimately
rose out of disaster.
The King of Spain decorated Donna Rafaela Mora, made her a colonel, and
gave her a pension for life. So recently as 1857, her grandson, General
Martinez, was appointed President of Nicaragua solely because he was a
descendant of the girl who defeated Horatio Nelson.
THE AMBASSADOR'S PIGEONS
Haziddin, the ambassador, stood at the door of his tent and gazed down
upon the famous city of Baalbek, seeing it now for the first time. The
night before, he had encamped on the heights to the south of Baalbek,
and had sent forward to that city, messengers to the Prince, carrying
greetings and acquainting him with the fact that an embassy from the
Governor of Damascus awaited permission to enter the gates. The sun had
not yet risen, but the splendour in the East, lighting the sky with
wondrous colourings of gold and crimson and green, announced the speedy
coming of that god which many of the inhabitants of Baalbek still
worshipped. The temples and palaces of the city took their tints from
the flaming sky, and Haziddin, the ambassador, thought he had never
seen anything so beautiful, notwithstanding the eulogy Mahomet himself
had pronounced upon his own metropolis of Damascus.
The great city lay in silence, but the moment the rim of the sun
appeared above the horizon the silence was broken by a faint sound of
chanting from that ornate temple, seemingly of carven ivory, which had
bestowed upon the city its Greek name of Heliopolis. The Temple of the
Sun towered overall other buildings in the place, and, as if the day-
god claimed his own, the rising sun shot his first rays upon this
edifice, striking from it instantly all colour, leaving its rows of
pillars a dazzling white as if they were fashioned from the pure snows
of distant Lebanon. The sun seemed a mainspring of activity, as well as
an object of adoration, for before it had been many minutes above the
horizon the ambassador saw emerging from the newly opened gate the
mounted convoy that was to act as his escort into the city; so,
turning, he gave a quick command which speedily levelled the tents, and
brought his retinue; into line to receive their hosts.
The officer, sent by the Prince of Baalbek to welcome the ambassador
and conduct him into the city, greeted the visitor with that
deferential ceremony so beloved of the Eastern people, and together
they journeyed down the hill to the gates, the followers of the one
mingling fraternally with the followers of the other. As if the deities
of the wonderful temples they were approaching wished to show the
futility of man's foresight, a thoughtless remark made by one of the
least in the ambassador's retinue to one of the least who followed the
Baalbek general, wrought ruin to one empire, and saved another from
A mule-driver from Baalbek said to one of his lowly a profession from
Damascus that the animals of the northern city seemed of superior breed
to those of the southern. Then the Damascus man, his civic pride
disturbed by the slighting remark, replied haughtily that if the mules
of Baalbek had endured such hardships as those of Damascus, journeying
for a month without rest through a rugged mountain country, they would
perhaps look in no better condition than those the speaker then drove.
"Our mules were as sleek as yours a month ago, when we left Damascus."
As Baalbek is but thirty-one miles north of Damascus, the muleteer of
the former place marvelled that so long a time had been spent on the
journey, and he asked his fellow why they had wandered among the
mountains. The other could but answer that so it was, and he knew no
reason for it, and with this the man of Baalbek had to content himself.
And so the tale went from mouth to ear of the Baalbek men until it
reached the general himself. He thought little of it for the moment,
but, turning to the ambassador, said, having nothing else to say:
"How long has it taken you from Damascus to Baalbek?"
Then the ambassador answered:
"We have done the journey in three days; it might have taken us but
two, or perhaps it could have been accomplished in one, but there being
no necessity for speed we travelled leisurely."
Then the general, remaining silent, said to himself:
"Which has lied, rumour or the ambassador?"
He cast his eyes over the animals the ambassador had brought with him,
and saw that they indeed showed signs of fatigue, and perhaps of
irregular and improper food.
Prince Ismael himself received Haziddin, ambassador of Omar, Governor
of Damascus, at the gates of Baalbek, and the pomp and splendour of
that reception was worthy of him who gave it, but the general found
opportunity to whisper in the ear of the Prince:
"The ambassador says he was but three days coming, while a follower of
his told a follower of mine that they have been a month on the road,
wandering among the mountains."
Suspicion is ever latent in the Eastern mind, and the Prince was quick
to see a possible meaning for this sojourn among the mountains. It
might well be that the party were seeking a route at once easy and
unknown by which warriors from Damascus might fall upon Baalbek; yet,
if this were the case, why did not the explorers return directly to
Damascus rather than venture within the walls of Baalbek? It seemed to
Prince Ismael that this would have been the more crafty method to
pursue, for, as it was, unless messengers had returned to Damascus to
report the result of their mountain excursion, he had the whole party
practically prisoners within the walls of his city, and he could easily
waylay any envoy sent by the ambassador to his chief in Damascus. The
Prince, however, showed nothing in his manner of what was passing
through his mind, but at the last moment he changed the programme he
had laid out for the reception of the ambassador. Preparation had been
made for a great public breakfast, for Haziddin was famed throughout
the East, not only as a diplomatist, but also as physician and a man of
science. The Prince now gave orders that his officers were to entertain
the retinue of the ambassador at the public breakfast, while he
bestowed upon the ambassador the exceptional honour of asking him to
his private table, thus giving Haziddin of Damascus no opportunity to
confer with his followers after they had entered the gates of Baalbek.
It was impossible for Haziddin to demur, so he could but bow low and
accept the hospitality which might at that moment be most unwelcome, as
indeed it was. The Prince's manner was so genial and friendly that, the
physician, Haziddin, soon saw he had an easy man to deal with, and he
suspected no sinister motive beneath the cordiality of the Prince.
The red wine of Lebanon is strong, and his Highness, Ismael, pressed it
upon his guest, urging that his three days' journey had been fatiguing.
The ambassador had asked that his own servant might wait upon him, but
the Prince would not hear of it, and said that none should serve him
who were not themselves among the first nobles in Baalbek.
"You represent Omar, Governor of Damascus, son of King Ayoub, and as
such I receive you on terms of equality with myself."
The ambassador, at first nonplussed with a lavishness that was most
unusual, gradually overcame his diffidence, became warm with the wine,
and so failed to notice that the Prince himself remained cool, and
drank sparingly. At last the head of Haziddin sank on his breast, and
he reclined at full length on the couch he occupied, falling into a
drunken stupor, for indeed he was deeply fatigued, and had spent the
night before sleepless. As his cloak fell away from him it left exposed
a small wicker cage attached to his girdle containing four pigeons
closely huddled, for the cage was barely large enough to hold them, and
here the Prince saw the ambassador's swift messengers to Damascus. Let
loose from the walls of Baalbek, and flying direct, the tidings would,
in a few hours, be in the hands of the Governor of Damascus. Haziddin
then was spy as well as ambassador. The Prince also possessed carrier
pigeons, and used them as a means of communication between his armies
at Tripoli and at Antioch, so he was not ignorant of their consequence.
The fact that the ambassador himself carried this small cage under his
cloak attached to his girdle showed the great importance that was
attached to these winged messengers, otherwise Haziddin would have
entrusted them to one of his subordinates.
"Bring me," whispered the Prince to his general, "four of my own
pigeons. Do not disturb the thongs attached to the girdle when you open
the cage, but take the ambassador's pigeons out and substitute four of
my own. Keep these pigeons of Damascus separate from ours; we may yet
have use for them in communicating with the Governor."
The general, quick to see the scheme which was in the Prince's mind,
brought four Baalbek pigeons, identical with the others in size and
colour. He brought with him also a cage into which the Damascus pigeons
were put, and thus the transfer was made without the knowledge of the
slumbering ambassador. His cloak was arranged about him so that it
concealed the cage attached to the girdle, then the ambassador's own
servants were sent for, and he was confided to their care.
When Haziddin awoke he found himself in a sumptuous room of the palace.
He had but a hazy remembrance of the latter part of the meal with the
Prince, and his first thought went with a thrill of fear towards the
cage under his cloak; finding, however, that this was intact, he was
much relieved in his mind, and could but hope that in his cups he had
not babbled anything of his mission which might arouse suspicion in the
mind of the Prince. His first meeting with the ruler of Baalbek after
the breakfast they had had together, set all doubts finally at rest,
because the Prince received him with a friendship which was
unmistakable. The physician apologised for being overcome by the
potency of the wine, and pleaded that he had hitherto been unused to
liquor of such strength. The Prince waved away all reference to the
subject, saying that he himself had succumbed on the same occasion, and
had but slight recollection of what had passed between them.
Ismael assigned to the ambassador one of the palaces near the Pantheon,
and Haziddin found himself free to come and go as he pleased without
espionage or restriction. He speedily learned that one of the armies of
Baalbek was at the north, near Antioch, the other to the west at
Tripoli, leaving the great city practically unprotected, and this
unprecedented state of affairs jumped so coincident with the designs of
his master, that he hastened to communicate the intelligence. He wrote:
"If Baalbek is immediately attacked, it cannot be protected. Half of
the army is on the shore of the Mediterranean, near Tripoli, the other
half is north, at Antioch. The Prince has no suspicion. If you conceal
the main body of your army behind the hills to the south of Baalbek,
and come on yourself with a small: retinue, sending notice to the
Prince of your arrival, he will likely himself come out to the gates to
meet you, and having secured his person, while I, with my followers,
hold the open gates, you can march into Baalbek unmolested. Once with a
force inside the walls of Baalbek, the city is as nearly as possible
impregnable, and holding the Prince prisoner, you may make with him
your own terms. The city is indescribably rich, and probably never
before in the history of the world has there been opportunity of
accumulating so much treasure with so little risk."
This writing Haziddin attached to the leg of a pigeon, and throwing the
bird aloft from the walls, it promptly disappeared over the housetops,
and a few moments later was in the hands of its master, the Prince of
Baalbek, who read the treacherous message with amazement. Then,
imitating the ambassador's writing, he penned a note, saying that this
was not the time to invade Baalbek, but as there were rumours that the
armies were about to leave the city, one going to the north and the
other to the west, the ambassador would send by another pigeon news of
the proper moment to strike.
This communication the Prince attached to the leg of one of the
Damascus pigeons, and throwing it into the air, saw with satisfaction
that the bird flew straight across the hills towards the south.
Ismael that night sent messengers mounted on swift Arabian horses to
Tripoli and to Antioch recalling his armies, directing his generals to
avoid Baalbek and to join forces in the mountains to the south of that
city and out of sight of it. This done, the Prince attended in state a
banquet tendered to him by the ambassador from Damascus, where he
charmed all present by his genial urbanity, speaking touchingly on the
blessings of peace, and drinking to a thorough understanding between
the two great cities of the East, Damascus and Baalbek, sentiments
which, were cordially reciprocated by the ambassador.
Next morning the second pigeon came to the palace of the Prince.
"Ismael is still unsuspicious," the document ran. "He will fall an easy
prey if action be prompt. In case of a failure to surprise, it would be
well to impress upon your generals the necessity of surrounding the
city instantly so that messengers cannot be sent to the two armies. It
will then be advisable to cut off the water-supply by diverting the
course of the small river which flows into Baalbek. The walls of the
city are incredibly strong, and a few men can defend them successfully
against a host, once the gates are shut. Thirst, however, will soon
compel them, to surrender. Strike quickly, and Baalbek is yours."
The Prince sent a note of another tenor to Damascus, and the calm days
passed serenely on, the ambassador watching anxiously from his house-
top, his eyes turned to the south, while the Prince watched as
anxiously from the roof of his palace, his gaze turning now westward
The third night after the second message had been sent, the ambassador
paced the long level promenade of his roof, ever questioning the south.
A full moon shone down on the silent city, and in that clear air the
plain outside the walls and the nearer hills were as distinctly visible
as if it were daylight. There was no sign of an approaching army.
Baalbek lay like a city of the dead, the splendid architecture of its
countless temples gleaming ghostlike, cold, white and unreal in the
pure refulgence of the moon. Occasionally the ambassador paused in his
walk and leaned on the parapet. He had become vaguely uneasy, wondering
why Damascus delayed, and there crept over him that sensation of dumb
fear which comes to a man in the middle of the night and leaves him
with the breaking of day. He realised keenly the extreme peril of his
own position--imprisoned and at the mercy of his enemy should his
treachery be discovered. And now as he leaned over the parapet in the
breathless stillness, his alert ear missed an accustomed murmur of the
night. Baalbek was lulled to sleep by the ever-present tinkle of
running water, the most delicious sound that can soothe an Eastern ear,
accustomed as it is to the echoless silence of the arid rainless
The little river which entered Baalbek first flowed past the palace of
the Prince, then to the homes of the nobles and the priests, meandering
through every street and lane until it came to the baths left by the
Romans, whence it flowed through the poorer quarters, and at last
disappeared under the outer wall. It might be termed a liquid guide to
Baalbek, for the stranger, leaving the palace and following its
current, would be led past every temple and residence in the city. It
was the limpid thread of life running through the veins of the town,
and without it Baalbek could not have existed. As the ambassador leaned
over the parapet wondering whether it was his imagination which made
this night seem more still than all that had gone before since he came
to the city, he suddenly became aware that what he missed was the
purling trickle of the water. Peering over the wall of his house, and
gazing downward on the moonlit street, he saw no reflecting glitter of
the current, and realised, with a leap of the heart, that the stream
had run dry.
The ambassador was quick to understand the meaning of this sudden
drying of the stream. Notwithstanding his vigilance, the soldiers of
Damascus had stolen upon the city unperceived by him, and had already
diverted the water-course. Instantly his thoughts turned toward his own
escape. In the morning the fact of the invasion would be revealed, and
his life would lie at the mercy of an exasperated ruler. To flee from
Baalbek in the night he knew to be no easy task; all the gates were
closed, and not one of them would be opened before daybreak, except
through the intervention of the Prince himself. To spring from even the
lowest part of the wall would mean instant death. In this extremity the
natural ingenuity of the man came to his rescue. That which gave him
warning would also provide an avenue of safety.
The stream, conveyed to the city by a lofty aqueduct, penetrated the
thick walls through a tunnel cut in the solid stone, just large enough
to receive its volume. The tunnel being thus left dry, a man could
crawl on his hands and knees through it, and once outside, walk upright
on the top of the viaduct, along the empty bed of the river, until he
reached the spot where the water had been diverted, and there find his
comrades. Wasting not a thought on the jeopardy in which he left his
own followers, thus helplessly imprisoned in Baalbek, but bent only on
his own safety, he left his house silently, and hurried, deep in the
shadow, along the obscure side of the street. He knew he must avoid the
guards of the palace, and that done, his path to the invading army was
clear. But before he reached the palace of the Prince there remained
for him another stupefying surprise.
Coming to a broad thoroughfare leading to the square in which stood the
Temple of Life, he was amazed to see at his feet, flowing rapidly, the
full tide of the stream, shattering into dancing discs of light the
reflection of the full moon on its surface, gurgling swiftly towards
the square. The fugitive stood motionless and panic-stricken at the
margin of this transparent flood. He knew that his retreat had been cut
off. What had happened? Perhaps the strong current had swept away the
impediment placed against it by the invaders, and thus had resumed its
course into the city. Perhaps--but there was little use in surmising,
and the ambassador, recovering in a measure his self-possession,
resolved to see whether or not it would lead him to his own palace.
Crossing the wide thoroughfare into the shadow beyond, he followed it
towards the square, keeping his eye on the stream that rippled in the
moonlight. The rivulet flowed directly across the square to the Temple
of Life; there, sweeping a semicircle half round the huge building, it
resumed its straight course. The ambassador hesitated before crossing
the moonlit square, but a moment's reflection showed him that no
suspicion could possibly attach to his movements in this direction, for
the Temple of Life was the only sacred edifice in the city for ever
The Temple of Life consisted of a huge dome, which was supported by a
double circle of pillars, and beneath this dome had been erected a
gigantic marble statue, representing the God of Life, who stood
motionless with outstretched arms, as if invoking a blessing upon the
city. A circular opening at the top of the dome allowed the rays of the
moon to penetrate and illuminate the head of the statue. Against the
white polished surface of the broad marble slab, which lay at the foot
of the statue, the ambassador saw the dark forms of several prostrate
figures, and knew that each was there to beg of the sightless statue,
life for some friend, lying at that moment somewhere on a bed of
illness. For this reason the Temple of Life was always open, and
supplicants prostrated themselves within it at any hour of the night or
day. Remembering this, and knowing that it was the resort of high and
low alike, for Death respects not rank, Haziddin, with gathering
confidence, entered the moonlit square. At the edge of the great
circular temple he paused, meeting there his third surprise. He saw
that the stream was not deflected round the lower rim of the edifice,
but that a stone had been swung at right angles with the lower step,
cutting off the flow of the stream to the left, and allowing its waters
to pour underneath the temple. Listening, the ambassador heard the low
muffled roar of pouring water, and instantly his quick mind jumped at
an accurate conclusion. Underneath the Temple was a gigantic tank for
the storage of water, and it was being filled during the night. Did the
authorities of Baalbek expect a siege, and were they thus preparing for
it? Or was the filling of the tank an ordinary function performed
periodically to keep the water sweet? The ambassador would have given
much for an accurate answer to these questions, but he knew not whom to
Entering the Temple he prostrated himself on the marble slab, and
remained there for a few moments, hoping that, if his presence had been
observed, this action would provide excuse for his nocturnal
wanderings. Rising, he crossed again the broad square, and hurried up
the street by which he had entered it. This street led to the northern
gate, whose dark arch he saw at the end of it, and just as he was about
to turn down a lane which led to his palace, he found himself
confronted with a fourth problem. One leaf of the ponderous gate swung
inward, and through the opening he caught a glimpse of the moonlit
country beyond. Knowing that the gates were never opened at night,
except through the direct order of the Prince, he paused for a moment,
and then saw a man on horseback enter, fling himself hurriedly from his
steed, leaving it in care of those in charge of the gates, and
disappear down the street that led directly to the Prince's palace. In
a most perturbed state of mind the ambassador sought his own house, and
there wrote his final despatch to Damascus. He told of his discovery of
the water-tank, and said that his former advice regarding the diverting
of the stream was no longer of practical value. He said he would
investigate further the reservoir under the Temple of Life, and
discover, if possible, how the water was discharged. If he succeeded in
his quest he would endeavour, in case of a long siege, to set free
Baalbek's store of water; but he reiterated his belief that it was
better to attempt the capture of the city by surprise and fierce
assault. The message that actually went to Damascus, carried by the
third pigeon, was again different in tenor.
"Come at once," it said. "Baalbek is unprotected, and the Prince has
gone on a hunting expedition. March through the Pass of El-Zaid, which
is unprotected, because it is the longer route. The armies of Baalbek
are at Tripoli and at Antioch, and the city is without even a garrison.
The southern gate will be open awaiting your coming."
Days passed, and the ambassador paced the roof of his house, looking in
vain towards the south. The streamed flowed as usual through the city.
Anxiety at the lack of all tidings from Damascus began to plough
furrows in his brow. He looked careworn and haggard. To the kindly
inquiries of the Prince regarding his health, he replied that there was
One evening, an urgent message came from the palace requesting his
attendance there. The Prince met him with concern on his brow.
"Have you had word from your master, Omar, Governor of Damascus, since
you parted with him?" asked Ismael.
"I have had no tidings," replied the ambassador.
"A messenger has just come in from Damascus, who says that Omar is in
deadly peril. I thought you should know this speedily, and so I sent
"Of what nature is this peril?" asked the ambassador, turning pale.
"The messenger said something of his falling a prisoner, sorely
wounded, in the hands of his enemies."
"Of his enemies," echoed the ambassador. "He has many. Which one has
"I have had no particulars and perhaps the news may not be true,"
answered the Prince, soothingly.
"May I question your messenger?"
"Assuredly. He has gone to the Temple of Life, to pray for some of his
own kin, who are in danger. Let us go there together and find him."
But the messenger had already left the Temple before the arrival of his
master, and the two found the great place entirely empty. Standing near
the edge of the slab before the mammoth statue, the Prince said:
"Stand upon that slab facing the statue, and it will tell you more
faithfully than any messenger whether your master shall live or die,
"I am a Moslem," answered Haziddin, "and pray to none but Allah."
"In Baalbek," said the Prince, carelessly, "all religions are
tolerated. Here we have temples for the worship of the Roman and the
Greek gods and mosques for the Moslems. Here Christian, or Jew, Sun-
worshipper or Pagan implore their several gods unmolested, and thus is
Baalbek prosperous. I confess a liking for this Temple of Life, and
come here often. I should, however, warn you that it is the general
belief of those who frequent this place that he who steps upon the
marble slab facing the god courts disaster, unless his heart is as
free, from treachery and guile as this stone beneath him is free from
flaw. Perhaps you have heard the rumour, and therefore hesitate."
"I have not heard it heretofore, but having heard it, do not hesitate."
Saying which, the ambassador stepped upon the stone. Instantly, the
marble turned under him, and falling, he clutched its polished surface
in vain, dropping helplessly into the reservoir beneath. The air under
his cloak bore him up and kept him from sinking. The reservoir into
which he had fallen proved to be as large as the Temple itself,
circular in form, as was the edifice above it. Steps rose from the
water in unbroken rings around it, but even if he could have reached
the edge of the huge tank in which he found himself, ascent by the
steps was impossible, for upon the first three burned vigorously some
chemical substance, which luridly illuminated the surface of this
subterranean lake. He was surrounded immediately by water, and beyond
that by rising rings of flame, and he rightly surmised that this
substance was Greek fire, for where it dripped into the water it still
burned, floating on the surface. A moment later the Prince appeared on
the upper steps, outside the flaming circumference.
"Ambassador," he cried, "I told you that if you stepped on the marble
slab, you would be informed truly of the fate of your master. I now
announce to you that he dies to-night, being a prisoner in my hands.
His army was annihilated in the Pass of El-Zaid, while he was on his
way to capture this city through your treachery. In your last
communication to him you said that you would investigate our water
storage, and learn how it was discharged. This secret I shall proceed
to put you in possession of, but before doing so, I beg to tell you
that Damascus has fallen and is in my possession. The reservoir, you
will observe, is emptied by pulling this lever, which releases a trap-
door at the centre of the bottom of the tank."
The Prince, with both hands on the lever, exerted his strength and
depressed it. Instantly the ambassador felt the result. First, a small
whirlpool became indented in the placid surface of the water, exactly
in the centre of the disc: enlarging its influence, it grew and grew
until it reached the outer edges of the reservoir, bringing lines of
fire round with it. The ambassador found himself floating with
increased rapidity, dizzily round and round. He cried out in a voice
that rang against the stone ceiling:
"An ambassador's life is sacred, Prince of Baalbek. It is contrary to
the law of nations to do me injury, much less to encompass my death."
"An ambassador is sacred," replied the Prince, "but not a spy. Aside
from that, it is the duty of an ambassador to precede his master, and
that you are about to do. Tell him, when you meet him, the secret of
the reservoir of Baalbek."
This reservoir, now a whirling maelstrom, hurled its shrieking victim
into its vortex, and then drowned shriek and man together.