The ledge on which they stood was so narrow that there was no room for two to walk beside each other. Lifting the gentle form in one arm, he swung her over the abyss at his feet and placed her on the ledge in front of him.
The danger was at the rear, and that was the place for him.
“Now advance,” he added; “we may find a better spot than this for defence.”
He feared that his pursuers might divide, and some of them start around the other way, so as to come upon him from the opposite side. If that were done, he would be caught between two fires; and, since one of the party possessed a gun, the advantage would be preponderatingly against him.
There was subject, too, for perplexing thought in the situation. He had no wish to shoot King Haffgo, and would not do it if any possible way of avoiding it should present itself. He determined that he should be spared until the last one, when he could probably be handled, without resorting to the last extremity.
Then, too, he felt no doubt about the presence of the giant Ziffak. He was the friend of himself and Ariel, though for politic reasons he had assumed the guise of an enemy. His situation was a most delicate one, and, even in his bewilderment and anxiety, Ashman could not help wondering how he would conduct himself in the crisis at hand.
Inasmuch as the American was resolved to avoid injuring the dusky Hercules, it will be observed that there were two of the company of pursuers whom he was much more anxious to spare than he was to inflict harm upon the rest.
He was hopeful for a moment that he and his companion had not been detected, but a resounding shout echoed through the cavern of diamonds—a shout of such amazing power that he knew it had come from the throat of Ziffak himself, who, as if to make sure his meaning was not misunderstood, brandished his mighty javelin over his prodigious head and shoulders, as he almost pushed his leader from the path in front of him.
Ariel flitted so rapidly along the ledge that her lover felt obliged to ask her to desist, as he found it difficult to keep pace with her.
The narrow path ascended more rapidly than before, and he saw they were steadily climbing toward the top of the roof. The shelly support to their feet, too, became less substantial, crumbling and giving way at a rate that threatened the most serious consequences.
He again cautioned the maiden, who seemed to dart over the rocky ground with the graceful ease of a bird, and without producing any more effect, with her dainty sandals.
Suddenly she paused. She had reached the margin or break in the ledge. A chasm, whose black depths the eye could not fathom, yawned between her and the support on the opposite side.
“We will make our stand here,” said he; “keep behind me—”