But no one lifted a hand against the men, who passed safely out of the palace to the square, where an escort waited with their horses.
HOW PHARAOH MET SHADRACH
When the ambassadors had gone, at first there was silence, a very heavy silence, since even the frivolous Abati felt that the hour was big with fate. Of a sudden, however, the members of the Council began to chatter like so many monkeys, each talking without listening to what his neighbour said, till at length a gorgeously dressed person, I understood that he was a priest, stepped forward, and shouted down the others.
Then he spoke in an excited and venomous fashion. He pointed out that we Gentiles had brought all this trouble upon Mur, since before we came the Abati, although threatened, had lived in peace and glory—he actually used the word glory!—for generations. But now we had stung the Fung, as a hornet stings a bull, and made them mad, so that they wished to toss the Abati. He proposed, therefore, that we should at once be ejected from Mur.
At this point I saw Joshua whisper into the ear of a man, who called out:—
“No, no, for then they would go to their friend, Barung, a savage like themselves, and having learned our secrets, would doubtless use them against us. I say that they must be killed instantly,” and he drew a sword, and waved it.
Quick walked up to the fellow and clapped a pistol to his head.
“Drop that sword,” he said, “or you’ll never hear the end of the story,” and he obeyed, whereupon Quick came back.
Now Maqueda began to speak, quietly enough, although I could see that she was quaking with passion.
“These men are our guests,” she said, “come hither to serve us. Do you desire to murder our guests? Moreover, of what use would that be? One thing alone can save us, the destruction of the god of the Fung, since, according to the ancient saying of that people, when the idol is destroyed the Fung will leave their city of Harmac. Moreover, as to this new prophecy of the priests of the idol, that before the gathering in of the harvest his head shall sleep above the plain of Mur, how can that happen if it is destroyed, unless indeed it means that Harmac shall sleep in the heavens. Therefore what have you to fear from threats built upon that which cannot happen?
“But can you destroy this false god Harmac, or dare you fight the Fung? You know that it is not so, for had it been so what need was there for me to send for these Westerns? And if you murder them, will Barung thereby be appeased? Nay, I tell you that being a brave and honourable man, although our enemy, he will become ten times more wroth with you than he was before, and exact a vengeance even more terrible. I tell you also, that then you must find another Walda Nagasta to rule over you, since I, Maqueda, will do so no more.”