So it came about that our recruiting parties, perhaps press gangs would be a better term, were not well received. I know it, for this branch of the business was handed over to me, of course as adviser to the Abati captains, and on several occasions, when riding round the villages on the shores of their beautiful lake, we were met by showers of stones, and were even the object of active attacks which had to be put down with bloodshed. Still, an army of five or six thousand men was got together somehow, and formed into camps, whence desertions were incessant, once or twice accompanied by the murder of officers.
“It’s ’opeless, downright ’opeless, Doctor,” said Quick to me, dropping his h’s, as he sometimes did in the excitement of the moment. “What can one do with a crowd of pigs, everyone of them bent on bolting to his own sty, or anywhere except toward the enemy? The sooner the Fung get them the better for all concerned, say I, and if it wasn’t for our Lady yonder” (Quick always called Maqueda after “our Lady,” after it had been impressed upon him that “her Majesty” was an incorrect title), “my advice to the Captain and you gentlemen would be: Get out of this infernal hole as quick as your legs can carry you, and let’s do a bit of hunting on the way home, leaving the Abati to settle their own affairs.”
“You forget, Sergeant, that I have a reason for staying in this part of the world, and so perhaps have the others. For instance, the Professor is very fond of those old skeletons down in the cave,” and I paused.
“Yes, Doctor, and the Captain is very fond of something much better than a skeleton, and so are we all. Well, we’ve got to see it through, but somehow I don’t think that every one of us will have that luck, though it’s true that when a man has lived fairly straight according to his lights a few years more or less don’t matter much one way or the other. After all, except you gentlemen, who is there that will miss Samuel Quick?”
Then without waiting for an answer, drawing himself up straight as a ramrod he marched off to assist some popinjays of Abati officers, whom he hated and who hated him, to instil the elements of drill into a newly raised company, leaving me to wonder what fears or premonitions filled his honest soul.
But this was not Quick’s principal work, since for at least six hours of every day he was engaged in helping Oliver in our great enterprise of driving a tunnel from the end of the Tomb of Kings deep into the solid rock that formed the base of the mighty idol of the Fung. The task was stupendous, and would indeed have been impossible had not Orme’s conjecture that some passage had once run from the extremity of the cave toward the idol proved to be perfectly accurate. Such a passage indeed was found walled up at the back of the chair containing the bones of the hunchbacked king. It descended very sharply for a distance of several hundred yards, after which for another hundred yards or more its walls and roof were so riven and shaky that, for fear of accidents, we found it necessary to timber them as we went.