“Japhet,” she said, “I am proud of you; your reward is fourfold, and henceforth you are a captain of my Mountaineers.”
“Tell us what happened,” I said to Oliver.
“This,” he answered: “I remembered about your son, and so did Higgs. In fact, he spoke of him first—they seem to have become friends. He said he would not escape without him, and could fetch him in a moment, as he was only just below. Well, he went to do so, and must have found the guard instead, who, I suppose, had heard us talking. You know as much about the rest as I do. To-night, when the full moon is two hours high, there is to be a ceremony of sacrifice, and poor Higgs will be let down into the den of lions. He was writing his will in a note-book when we saw him, as Barung had promised to send it to us.”
“Doctor,” said the Sergeant, in a confidential voice, when he had digested this information, “would you translate for me a bit, as I want to have a talk with Cat there, and my Arabic don’t run to it?”
I nodded, and we went to that corner of the plateau where Shadrach stood apart, watching and listening.
“Now, Cat,” said the Sergeant (I give his remarks in his own language, leaving out my rendering) “just listen to me, and understand that if you tell lies or play games either you or I don’t reach the top of this cliff again alive. Do you catch on?”
Shadrach replied that he caught on.
“Very well. You’ve told us that once you were a prisoner among the Fung and thrown to these holy lions, but got out. Now just explain what happened.”
“This, O Quick. After ceremonies that do not matter, I was let down in the food-basket into the feeding-den, and thrown out of the basket like any other meat. Then the gates were lifted up by the chains, and the lions came in to devour me according to their custom.”
“And what happened next, Shadrach?”
“What happened? Why, of course I hid myself in the shadow as much as possible, right against the walls of the precipice, until a satan of a she-lion snuffled me out and gave a stroke at me. Look, here are the marks of her claws,” and he pointed to the scars upon his face. “Those claws stung like scorpions; they made me mad. The terror which I had lost when I saw their yellow eyes came back to me. I rushed at the precipice as a cat that is hunted by a dog rushes at a wall. I clung to its smooth side with my nails, with my toes, with my teeth. A lion leaped up and tore the flesh of my leg, here, here,” and he showed the marks, which we could scarcely see in that dim light. “He ran back for another spring. Above me I saw a tiny ledge, big enough for a hawk to sit on—no more. I jumped, I caught it, drawing up my legs so that the lion missed me. I made the effort a man makes once in his life. Somehow I dragged myself to that ledge; I rested one thigh upon it and pressed against the rock to steady myself. Then the rock gave, and I tumbled backward into the bottom of a tunnel. Afterwards I escaped to the top of the cliff in the dark, O God of Israel! in the dark, smelling my way, climbing like a baboon, risking death a thousand times. It took me two whole days and nights, and the last of those nights I knew not what I did. Yet I found my way, and that is why my people name me Cat.”