But I knew they really meant that I was too old to be of service in such an adventure as this. Also they desired to keep me out of risk.
Then came the question as to who should descend the last tunnel to the place of operations. Oliver wished Maqueda to return to the top of the cliff and wait there, but she said at once that she could not think of attempting the ascent without our aid; also that she was determined to see the end of the matter. Even Joshua would not go; I think, that being an unpopular character among them, he distrusted the Mountaineers, whose duty it would have been to escort him.
It was suggested that he should remain where he was until we returned, if we did return, but this idea commended itself to him still less than the other. Indeed he pointed out with much truth what we had overlooked, namely, that now the Fung knew of the passage and were quite capable of playing our own game, that is, of throwing a bridge across from the sphinx’s tail and attempting the storm of Mur.
“And then what should I do if they found me here alone?” he added pathetically.
Maqueda answered that she was sure she did not know, but that meanwhile it might be wise to block the mouth of the tunnel by which we had reached the plateau in such a fashion that it could not easily be forced.
“Yes,” answered Oliver, “and if we ever get out of this, to blow the shaft in and make sure that it cannot be used.”
“That shaft might be useful, Captain,” said Quick doubtfully.
“There is a better way, Sergeant, if we want to mine under the sphinx; I mean through the Tomb of Kings. I took the levels roughly, and the end of it can’t be far off. Anyhow, this shaft is of no more use to us now that the Fung have found it out.”
Then we set to work to fill in the mouth of the passage with such loose stones as we could find. It was a difficult business, but in the end the Mountaineers made a very fair job of it under our direction, piling the rocks in such a fashion that they could scarcely be cleared away in any short time without the aid of explosives.
While this work was going on, Japhet, Shadrach, and the Sergeant in charge of him, undertook to explore the last shaft which led down to the level of the den. To our relief, just as we had finished building up the hole, they returned with the news that now after they had removed a fallen stone or two it was quite practicable with the aid of ropes and ladders.
So, in the same order as before, we commenced its passage, and in about half-an-hour, for it was under three hundred feet in depth, arrived safely at the foot. Here we found a bat-haunted place like a room that evidently had been hollowed out by man. As Shadrach had said, at its eastern extremity was a large, oblong boulder, so balanced that if even one person pushed on either of its ends it swung around, leaving on each side a passage large enough to allow a man to walk through in a crouching attitude.