I gave him some, and as he lit his pipe the light of the match fell upon the face of Maqueda, who was staring at him with amused astonishment.
“What an uncommonly pretty woman,” he said. “What’s she doing down here, and who is she?”
I told him, whereon he rose, or rather tried to, felt for his hat, which, of course, had gone, with the idea of taking it off, and instantly addressed her in his beautiful and fluent Arabic, saying how glad he was to have this unexpected honour, and so forth.
She congratulated him on his escape, whereon his face grew serious.
“Yes, a nasty business,” he said, “as yet I can hardly remember whether my name is Daniel, or Ptolemy Higgs.” Then he turned to us and added, “Look here, you fellows, if I don’t thank you it isn’t because I am not grateful, but because I can’t. The truth is, I’m a bit dazed. Your son is all right, Adams; he’s a good fellow, and we grew great friends. Safe? Oh! yes, he’s safe as a church! Old Barung, he’s the Sultan, and another good fellow, although he did throw me to the lions—because the priests made him—is very fond of him, and is going to marry him to his daughter.”
At this moment the men announced that everything was ready for our ascent, and when I had attended to Joshua with a heart made thankful by Higgs’s news, we began that toilsome business, and, as I have already said, at length accomplished it safely. But even then our labours were not ended, since it was necessary to fill up the mouth of the shaft so as to make it impossible that it should be used by the Fung, who now knew of its existence.
Nor was this a business that could be delayed, for as we passed the plateau whence Oliver and Japhet had crossed to the sphinx, we heard the voices of men on the farther side of the rough wall that we had built there. Evidently the priests, or idol guards, infuriated by the rescue of their victim, had already managed to bridge the gulf and were contemplating assault, a knowledge which caused us to hurry our movements considerably. If they had got through before we passed them, our fate would have been terrible, since at the best we must have slowly starved in the pit below.
Indeed, as soon as we reached the top and had blocked it temporarily, Quick, weary as he was, was sent off on horseback, accompanied by Maqueda, Shadrach, now under the terms of his contract once more a free man, and two Mountaineers, to gallop to the palace of Mur, and fetch a supply of explosives. The rest of us, for Higgs declined to leave, and we had no means of carrying Joshua, remained watching the place, or rather the Abati watched while we slept with our rifles in our hands. Before noon Quick returned, accompanied by many men with litters and all things needful.
Then we pulled out the stones, and Oliver, Japhet, and some others descended to the first level and arranged blasting charges. Awhile after he reappeared with his companions, looking somewhat pale and anxious, and shouted to us to get back. Following our retreat to a certain distance, unwinding a wire as he came, presently he stopped and pressed the button of a battery which he held in his hand. There was a muffled explosion and a tremor of the soil like to that of an earthquake, while from the mouth of the shaft stones leapt into the air.