SERGEANT QUICK HAS A PRESENTIMENT
From this time forward all of us,
and especially Oliver, were guarded night and day
by picked men who it was believed could not be corrupted.
As a consequence, the Tsar of Russia scarcely leads
a life more irksome than ours became at Mur.
Of privacy there was none left to us, since sentries
and detectives lurked at every corner, while tasters
were obliged to eat of each dish and drink from each
cup before it touched our lips, lest our fate should
be that of Pharaoh, whose loss we mourned as much
as though the poor dog had been some beloved human
Most of all was it irksome, I think,
to Oliver and Maqueda, whose opportunities of meeting
were much curtailed by the exigencies of this rigid
espionage. Who can murmur sweet nothings to his
adored when two soldiers armed to the teeth have been
instructed never to let him out of their sight?
Particularly is this so if the adored happens to be
the ruler of those soldiers to whom the person guarded
has no right to be making himself agreeable.
For when off duty even the most faithful guardians
are apt to talk. Of course, the result was that
the pair took risks which did not escape observation.
Indeed, their intimate relations became a matter of
gossip throughout the land.
Still, annoying as they might be,
these precautions succeeded, for none of us were poisoned
or got our throats cut, although we were constantly
the victims of mysterious accidents. Thus, a heavy
rock rolled down upon us when we sat together one
evening upon the hill-side, and a flight of arrows
passed between us while we were riding along the edge
of a thicket, by one of which Higgs’s horse
was killed. Only when the mountain and the thicket
were searched no one could be found. Moreover,
a great plot against us was discovered in which some
of the lords and priests were implicated, but such
was the state of feeling in the country that, beyond
warning them privately that their machinations were
known, Maqueda did not dare to take proceedings against
A little later on things mended so
far as we were concerned, for the following reason:
One day two shepherds arrived at the palace with some
of their companions, saying that they had news to communicate.
On being questioned, these peasants averred that while
they were herding their goats upon the western cliffs
many miles away, suddenly on the top of the hills
appeared a body of fifteen Fung, who bound and blindfolded
them, telling them in mocking language to take a message
to the Council and to the white men.
This was the message: That they
had better make haste to destroy the god Harmac, since
otherwise his head would move to Mur according to the
prophecy, and that when it did so, the Fung would follow
as they knew how to do. Then they set the two
men on a rock where they could be seen, and on the
following morning were in fact found by some of their
fellows, those who accompanied them to the Court and
corroborated this story.
Of course the matter was duly investigated,
but as I know, for I went with the search party, when
we got to the place no trace of the Fung could be
found, except one of their spears, of which the handle
had been driven into the earth and the blade pointed
toward Mur, evidently in threat or defiance.
No other token of them remained, for, as it happened,
a heavy rain had fallen and obliterated their footprints,
which in any case must have been faint on this rocky
Notwithstanding the most diligent
search by skilled men, their mode of approach and
retreat remained a mystery, as, indeed, it does to
this day. The only places where it was supposed
to be possible to scale the precipice of Mur were
watched continually, so that they could have climbed
up by none of these. The inference was, therefore,
that the Fung had discovered some unknown path, and,
if fifteen men could climb that path, why not fifteen
Only, where was this path? In
vain were great rewards in land and honours offered
to him who should discover it, for although such discoveries
were continually reported, on investigation these were
found to be inventions or mares’ nests.
Nothing but a bird could have travelled by such roads.
Then at last we saw the Abati thoroughly
frightened, for, with additions, the story soon passed
from mouth to mouth till the whole people talked of
nothing else. It was as though we English learned
that a huge foreign army had suddenly landed on our
shores and, having cut the wires and seized the railways,
was marching upon London. The effect of such
tidings upon a nation that always believed invasion
to be impossible may easily be imagined, only I hope
that we should take them better than did the Abati.
Their swagger, their self-confidence,
their talk about the “rocky walls of Mur,”
evaporated in an hour. Now it was only of the
disciplined and terrible regiments of the Fung, among
whom every man was trained to war, and of what would
happen to them, the civilized and domesticated Abati,
a peace-loving people who rightly enough, as they declared,
had refused all martial burdens, should these regiments
suddenly appear in their midst. They cried out
that they were betrayed they clamoured for
the blood of certain of the Councillors. That
carpet knight, Joshua, lost popularity for a while,
while Maqueda, who was known always to have been in
favour of conscription and perfect readiness to repel
attack, gained what he had lost.
Leaving their farms, they crowded
together into the towns and villages, where they made
what in South Africa are called laagers. Religion,
which practically had been dead among them, for they
retained but few traces of the Jewish faith if, indeed,
they had ever really practised it, became the craze
of the hour. Priests were at a premium; sheep
and cattle were sacrificed; it was even said that,
after the fashion of their foes the Fung, some human
beings shared the same fate. At any rate the
Almighty was importuned hourly to destroy the hated
Fung and to protect His people the Abati from
the results of their own base selfishness and cowardly
Well, the world has seen such exhibitions
before to-day, and will doubtless see more of them
in the instance of greater peoples who allow luxury
and pleasure-seeking to sap their strength and manhood.
The upshot of it all was that the
Abati became obsessed with the saying of the Fung
scouts to the shepherds, which, after all, was but
a repetition of that of their envoys delivered to the
Council a little while before: that they should
hasten to destroy the idol Harmac, lest he should
move himself to Mur. How an idol of such proportions,
or even its head, could move at all they did not stop
to inquire. It was obvious to them, however,
that if he was destroyed there would be nothing to
move and, further, that we Gentiles were the only persons
who could possibly effect such destruction. So
we also became popular for a little while. Everybody
was pleasant and flattered us everybody,
even Joshua, bowed when we approached, and took a
most lively interest in the progress of our work,
which many deputations and prominent individuals urged
us to expedite.
Better still, the untoward accidents
such as those I have mentioned, ceased. Our dogs,
for we had obtained some others, were no longer poisoned;
rocks that appeared fixed did not fall; no arrows whistled
among us when we went out riding. We even found
it safe occasionally to dispense with our guards,
since it was every one’s interest to keep us
alive for the present. Still, I for
one was not deceived for a single moment, and in season
and out of season warned the others that the wind
would soon blow again from a less favourable quarter.
We worked, we worked, we worked!
Heaven alone knows how we did work. Think of
the task, which, after all, was only one of several.
A tunnel must be bored, for I forget how far, through
virgin rock, with the help of inadequate tools and
unskilled labour, and this tunnel must be finished
by a certain date. A hundred unexpected difficulties
arose, and one by one were conquered. Great dangers
must be run, and were avoided, while the responsibility
of this tremendous engineering feat lay upon the shoulders
of a single individual, Oliver Orme, who, although
he had been educated as an engineer, had no great
practical experience of such enterprises.
Truly the occasion makes the man,
for Orme rose to it in a way that I can only call
heroic. When he was not actually in the tunnel
he was labouring at his calculations, of which many
must be made, or taking levels with such instruments
as he had. For if there proved to be the slightest
error all this toil would be in vain, and result only
in the blowing of a useless hole through a mass of
rock. Then there was a great question as to the
effect which would be produced by the amount of explosive
at his disposal, since terrible as might be the force
of the stuff, unless it were scientifically placed
and distributed it would assuredly fail to accomplish
the desired end.
At last, after superhuman efforts,
the mine was finished. Our stock of concentrated
explosive, about four full camel loads of it, was set
in as many separate chambers, each of them just large
enough to receive the charge, hollowed in the primaeval
rock from which the idol had been hewn.
These chambers were about twenty feet
from each other, although if there had been time to
prolong the tunnel, the distance should have been
at least forty in order to give the stuff a wider range
of action. According to Oliver’s mathematical
reckoning, they were cut in the exact centre of the
base of the idol, and about thirty feet below the actual
body of the crouching sphinx. As a matter of fact
this reckoning was wrong in several particulars, the
charges having been set farther toward the east or
head of the sphinx and higher up in the base than
he supposed. When it is remembered that he had
found no opportunity of measuring the monument which
practically we had only seen once from behind under
conditions not favourable to accuracy in such respects,
or of knowing its actual length and depth, these trifling
errors were not remarkable.
What was remarkable is that his general
plan of operations, founded upon a mere hypothetical
estimate, should have proved as accurate as it did.
At length all was prepared, and the
deadly cast-iron flasks had been packed in sand, together
with dynamite cartridges, the necessary detonators,
electric wires, and so forth, an anxious and indeed
awful task executed entirely in that stifling atmosphere
by the hands of Orme and Quick. Then began another
labour, that of the filling in of the tunnels.
This, it seems, was necessary, or so I understood,
lest the expanding gases, following the line of least
resistance, should blow back, as it were, through
the vent-hole. What made that task the more difficult
was the need of cutting a little channel in the rock
to contain the wires, and thereby lessen the risk
of the fracture of these wires in the course of the
building-up process. Of course, if by any accident
this should happen, the circuit would be severed, and
no explosion would follow when the electric battery
was set to work.
The arrangement was that the mine
should be fired on the night of that full moon on
which we had been told, and spies confirmed the information,
the feast of the marriage of Barung’s daughter
to my son would be celebrated in the city of Harmac.
This date was fixed because the Sultan had announced
that so soon as that festivity, which coincided with
the conclusion of the harvest, was ended, he meant
to deliver his attack on Mur.
Also, we were anxious that it should
be adhered to for another reason, since we knew that
on this day but a small number of priests and guards
would be left in charge of the idol, and my son could
not be among them. Now, whatever may have been
the views of the Abati, we as Christians who bore
them no malice did not at all desire to destroy an
enormous number of innocent Fung, as might have happened
if we had fired our mine when the people were gathered
to sacrifice to their god.
The fatal day arrived at last.
All was completed, save for the blocking of the passage,
which still went on, or, rather, was being reinforced
by the piling up of loose rocks against its mouth,
at which a hundred or so men laboured incessantly.
The firing wires had been led into that little chamber
in the old temple where the dog Pharaoh tore out the
throat of Shadrach, and no inch of them was left unguarded
for fear of accident or treachery.
The electric batteries two
of them, in case one should fail had been
tested but not connected with the wires. There
they stood upon the floor, looking innocent enough,
and we four sat round them like wizards round their
magic pot, who await the working of some spell.
We were not cheerful; who could be under so intense
a strain? Orme, indeed, who had grown pale and
thin with continuous labour of mind and body, seemed
quite worn out. He could not eat nor smoke, and
with difficulty I persuaded him to drink some of the
native wine. He would not even go to look at
the completion of the work or to test the wires.
“You can see to it,” he
said; “I have done all I can. Now things
must take their chance.”
After our midday meal he lay down
and slept quite soundly for several hours. About
four o’clock those who were labouring at the
piling up of debris over the mouth of the tunnel completed
their task, and, in charge of Quick, were marched
out of the underground city.
Then Higgs and I took lamps and went
along the length of the wires, which lay in a little
trench covered over with dust, removing the dust and
inspecting them at intervals. Discovering nothing
amiss, we returned to the old temple, and at its doorway
met the mountaineer, Japhet, who throughout all these
proceedings had been our prop and stay. Indeed,
without his help and that of his authority over the
Abati the mine could never have been completed, at
any rate within the time.
The light of the lamp showed that
his face was very anxious.
“What is the matter?” I asked.
“O Physician,” he answered,
“I have words for the ear of the Captain Orme.
Be pleased to lead me to him.”
We explained that he slept and could
not be disturbed, but Japhet only answered as before,
“Come you with me, my words
are for your ears as well as his.”
So we went into the little room and
awoke Oliver, who sprang up in a great fright, thinking
that something untoward had happened at the mine.
he asked of Japhet. “Have the Fung cut the
“Nay, O Orme, a worse thing;
I have discovered that the Prince Joshua has laid
a plot to steal away ‘Her-whose-name-is-high.’”
“What do you mean? Set
out all the story, Japhet,” said Oliver.
“It is short, lord. I have
some friends, one of whom he is of my own
blood, but ask me not his name is in the
service of the Prince. We drank a cup of wine
together, which I needed, and I suppose it loosed
his tongue. At any rate, he told me, and I believed
him. This is the story. For his own sake
and that of the people the Prince desires that you
should destroy the idol of Fung, and therefore he has
kept his hands off you of late. Yet should you
succeed, he does not know what may happen. He
fears lest the Abati in their gratitude should set
you up as great men.”
“Then he is an ass!” interrupted
Quick; “for the Abati have no gratitude.”
“He fears,” went on Japhet,
“other things also. For instance, that the
Child of Kings may express that gratitude by a mark
of her signal favour toward one of you,” and
he stared at Orme, who turned his head aside.
“Now, the Prince is affianced to this great lady,
whom he desires to wed for two reasons: First,
because this marriage will make him the chief man
amongst the Abati, and, secondly, because of late he
has come to think that he loves her whom he is afraid
that he may lose. So he has set a snare.”
“What snare?” asked one of us, for Japhet
“I don’t know,”
answered Japhet, “and I do not think that my
friend knew either, or, if he did, he would not tell
me. But I understand the plot is that the Child
of Kings is to be carried off to the Prince Joshua’s
castle at the other end of the lake, six hours’
ride away, and there be forced to marry him at once.”
“Indeed,” said Orme, “and when is
all this to happen?”
“I don’t know, lord.
I know nothing except what my friend told me, which
I thought it right to communicate to you instantly.
I asked him the time, however, and he said that he
believed the date was fixed for one night after next
“Next Sabbath is five days hence,
so that this matter does not seem to be very pressing,”
remarked Oliver with a sigh of relief. “Are
you sure that you can trust your friend, Japhet?”
“No, lord, I am not sure, especially
as I have always known him to be a liar. Still,
I thought that I ought to tell you.”
“Very kind of you, Japhet, but
I wish that you had let me have my sleep out first.
Now go down the line and see that all is right, then
return and report.”
Japhet saluted in his native fashion and went.
“What do you think of this story?”
asked Oliver, as soon as he was out of hearing.
“All bosh,” answered Higgs;
“the place is full of talk and rumours, and
this is one of them.”
He paused and looked at me.
“Oh!” I said, “I
agree with Higgs. If Japhet’s friend had
really anything to tell he would have told it in more
detail. I daresay there are a good many things
Joshua would like to do, but I expect he will stop
there, at any rate, for the present. If you take
my advice you will say nothing of the matter, especially
“Then we are all agreed.
But what are you thinking of, Sergeant?” asked
Oliver, addressing Quick, who stood in a corner of
the room, lost apparently in contemplation of the
“I, Captain,” he replied,
coming to attention. “Well, begging their
pardon, I was thinking that I don’t hold with
these gentlemen, except in so far that I should say
nothing of this job to our Lady, who has plenty to
bother her just now, and won’t need to be frightened
as well. Still, there may be something in it,
for though that Japhet is stupid, he’s honest,
and honest men sometimes get hold of the right end
of the stick. At least, he believes there is
something, and that’s what weighs with me.”
“Well, if that’s your
opinion, what’s best to be done Sergeant?
I agree that the Child of Kings should not be told,
and I shan’t leave this place till after ten
o’clock to-night at the earliest, if we stick
to our plans, as we had better do, for all that stuff
in the tunnel wants a little time to settle, and for
other reasons. What are you drawing there?”
and he pointed to the floor, in the dust of which Quick
was tracing something with his finger.
“A plan of our Lady’s
private rooms, Captain. She told you she was going
to rest at sundown, didn’t she, or earlier, for
she was up most of last night, and wanted to get a
few hours’ sleep before something
happens. Well, her bed-chamber is there, isn’t
it? and another before it, in which her maids sleep,
and nothing behind except a high wall and a ditch
which cannot be climbed.”
“That’s quite true,”
interrupted Higgs. “I got leave to make
a plan of the palace, only there is a passage six
feet wide and twenty long leading from the guard chamber
to the ladies’ anteroom.”
“Just so, Professor, and that
passage has a turn in it, if I remember right, so
that two well-armed men could hold it against quite
a lot. Supposing now that you and I, Professor,
should go and take a nap in that guard-room, which
will be empty, for the watch is set at the palace
gate. We shan’t be wanted here, since if
the Captain can’t touch off that mine, no one
can, with the Doctor to help him just in case anything
goes wrong, and Japhet guarding the line. I daresay
there’s nothing in this yarn, but who knows?
There might be, and then we should blame ourselves.
What do you say, Professor?”
“I? Oh, I’ll do anything
you wish, though I should rather have liked to climb
the cliff and watch what happens.”
“You’d see nothing, Higgs,”
interrupted Oliver, “except perhaps the reflection
of a flash in the sky; so, if you don’t mind,
I wish you would go with the Sergeant. Somehow,
although I am quite certain that we ought not to alarm
Maqueda, I am not easy about her, and if you two fellows
were there, I should know she was all right, and it
would be a weight off my mind.”
“That settles it,” said
Higgs; “we’ll be off presently. Look
here, give us that portable telephone, which is of
no use anywhere else now. The wire will reach
to the palace, and if the machine works all right we
can talk to you and tell each other how things are
Ten minutes later they had made their
preparations. Quick stepped up to Oliver and
stood at attention, saying:
“Ready to march. Any more orders, Captain?”
“I think not, Sergeant,”
he answered, lifting his eyes from the little batteries
that he was watching as though they were live things.
“You know the arrangements. At ten o’clock that
is about two hours hence I touch this switch.
Whatever happens it must not be done before, for fear
lest the Doctor’s son should not have left the
idol, to say nothing of all the other poor beggars.
The spies say that the marriage feast will not be
celebrated until at least three hours after moonrise.”
“And that’s what I heard
when I was a prisoner,” interrupted Higgs.
“I daresay,” answered
Orme; “but it is always well to allow a margin
in case the procession should be delayed, or something.
So until ten o’clock I’ve got to stop
where I am, and you may be sure, Doctor, that under
no circumstances shall I fire the mine before that
hour, as indeed you will be here to see. After
that I can’t say what will happen, but if we
don’t appear, you two had better come to look
for us in case of accidents, you know.
Do your best at your end according to circumstances;
the Doctor and I will do our best at ours. I think
that is all, Sergeant. Report yourselves by the
telephone if the wire is long enough and it will work,
which I daresay it won’t, and, anyway, look out
for us about half-past ten. Good-bye!”
“Good-bye, Captain,” answered
Quick, then stretched out his hand, shook that of
Orme, and without another word took his lamp and left
An impulse prompted me to follow him,
leaving Orme and Higgs discussing something before
they parted. When he had walked about fifty yards
in the awful silence of that vast underground town,
of which the ruined tenements yawned on either side
of us, the Sergeant stopped and said suddenly:
“You don’t believe in presentiments, do
“Not a bit,” I answered.
“Glad of it, Doctor. Still,
I have got a bad one now, and it is that I shan’t
see the Captain or you any more.”
“Then that’s a poor look-out for us, Quick.”
“No, Doctor, for me. I
think you are both all right, and the Professor, too.
It’s my name they are calling up aloft, or so
it seems to me. Well, I don’t care much,
for, though no saint, I have tried to do my duty,
and if it is done, it’s done. If it’s
written, it’s got to come to pass, hasn’t
it? For everything is written down for us long
before we begin, or so I’ve always thought.
Still, I’ll grieve to part from the Captain,
seeing that I nursed him as a child, and I’d
have liked to know him well out of this hole, and
safely married to that sweet lady first, though I
don’t doubt that it will be so.”
I said sharply; “you are not yourself; all this
work and anxiety has got on your nerves.”
“As it well might, Doctor, not
but I daresay that’s true. Anyhow, if the
other is the true thing, and you should all see old
England again with some of the stuff in that dead-house,
I’ve got three nieces living down at home whom
you might remember. Don’t say nothing of
what I told you to the Captain till this night’s
game is played, seeing that it might upset him, and
he’ll need to keep cool up to ten o’clock,
and afterwards too, perhaps. Only if we shouldn’t
meet again, say that Samuel Quick sent him his duty
and God’s blessing. And the same on yourself,
Doctor, and your son, too. And now here comes
the Professor, so good-bye.”
A minute later they had left me, and
I stood watching them until the two stars of light
from their lanterns vanished into the blackness.