“I understand,” said Quick in a new and more respectful voice, “and however big a rascal you may be, you’ve got pluck. Now, say, remembering what I told you,” and he tapped the handle of his revolver, “is that feeding-den where it used to be?”
“I believe so, O Quick; why should it be changed? The victims are let down from the belly of the god, just there between his thighs where are doors. The feeding-place lies in a hollow of the cliff; this platform on which we stand is over it. None saw my escape, therefore none searched for the means of it, since they thought that the lions had devoured me, as they have devoured thousands. No one enters there, only when the beasts have fed full they draw back to their sleeping-dens, and those who watch above let down the bars. Listen,” and as he spoke we heard a crash and a rattle far below. “They fall now, the lions having eaten. When Black Windows and perhaps others are thrown to them, by and by, they will be drawn up again.”
“Is that hole in the rock still there, Shadrach?”
“Without doubt, though I have not been down to look.”
“Then, my boy, you are going now,” remarked Quick grimly.
THE DEN OF LIONS
We returned to the others and told them everything that we had learned from Shadrach.
“What’s your plan, Sergeant?” asked Oliver when he had heard. “Tell me, for I have none; my head is muddled.”
“This, Captain, for what it is worth; that I should go down through the hole that Cat here speaks of, and get into the den. Then when they let down the Professor, if they do, and pull up the gates, that I should keep back the lions with my rifle while he bolts to the ladder which is ready for him, and I follow if I can.”
“Capital,” said Orme, “but you can’t go alone. I’ll come too.”
“And I also,” I said.
“What schemes do you make?” asked Maqueda eagerly, for, of course, she could not understand our talk.
“What, my friend,” she said to Oliver reproachfully, “would you risk your life again to-night? Surely it is tempting the goodness of God.”
“It would be tempting the goodness of God much more if I left my friend to be eaten by lions, Lady,” he answered.
Then followed much discussions. In the end it was agreed that we should descend to the level of the den, if this were possible; that Oliver and Quick should go down into the den with Japhet, who instantly volunteered to accompany them, and that I, with some of the Mountaineers, should stop in the mouth of the hole as a reserve to cover their retreat from the lions. I pleaded to be allowed to take a more active part, but of this they would not hear, saying with some truth, that I was by far the best shot of the three, and could do much more to help them from above, if, as was hoped, the moon should shine brightly.