SERGEANT QUICK HAS A PRESENTIMENT
From this time forward all of us, and especially Oliver, were guarded night and day by picked men who it was believed could not be corrupted. As a consequence, the Tsar of Russia scarcely leads a life more irksome than ours became at Mur. Of privacy there was none left to us, since sentries and detectives lurked at every corner, while tasters were obliged to eat of each dish and drink from each cup before it touched our lips, lest our fate should be that of Pharaoh, whose loss we mourned as much as though the poor dog had been some beloved human being.
Most of all was it irksome, I think, to Oliver and Maqueda, whose opportunities of meeting were much curtailed by the exigencies of this rigid espionage. Who can murmur sweet nothings to his adored when two soldiers armed to the teeth have been instructed never to let him out of their sight? Particularly is this so if the adored happens to be the ruler of those soldiers to whom the person guarded has no right to be making himself agreeable. For when off duty even the most faithful guardians are apt to talk. Of course, the result was that the pair took risks which did not escape observation. Indeed, their intimate relations became a matter of gossip throughout the land.
Still, annoying as they might be, these precautions succeeded, for none of us were poisoned or got our throats cut, although we were constantly the victims of mysterious accidents. Thus, a heavy rock rolled down upon us when we sat together one evening upon the hill-side, and a flight of arrows passed between us while we were riding along the edge of a thicket, by one of which Higgs’s horse was killed. Only when the mountain and the thicket were searched no one could be found. Moreover, a great plot against us was discovered in which some of the lords and priests were implicated, but such was the state of feeling in the country that, beyond warning them privately that their machinations were known, Maqueda did not dare to take proceedings against these men.
A little later on things mended so far as we were concerned, for the following reason: One day two shepherds arrived at the palace with some of their companions, saying that they had news to communicate. On being questioned, these peasants averred that while they were herding their goats upon the western cliffs many miles away, suddenly on the top of the hills appeared a body of fifteen Fung, who bound and blindfolded them, telling them in mocking language to take a message to the Council and to the white men.
This was the message: That they had better make haste to destroy the god Harmac, since otherwise his head would move to Mur according to the prophecy, and that when it did so, the Fung would follow as they knew how to do. Then they set the two men on a rock where they could be seen, and on the following morning were in fact found by some of their fellows, those who accompanied them to the Court and corroborated this story.