HARMAC COMES TO MUR
Slowly and in very bad spirits I retraced my steps to the old temple, following the line of the telephone wire which Higgs and Quick had unreeled as they went. In the Sergeant’s prognostications of evil I had no particular belief, as they seemed to me to be born of the circumstances which surrounded us, and in different ways affected all our minds, even that of the buoyant Higgs.
To take my own case, for instance. Here I was about to assist in an act which for aught I knew might involve the destruction of my only son. It was true we believed that this was the night of his marriage at the town of Harmac, some miles away, and that the tale of our spies supported this information. But how could we be sure that the date, or the place of the ceremony, had not been changed at the last moment? Supposing, for instance, that it was held, not in the town, as arranged, but in the courts of the idol, and that the fearful activities of the fiery agent which we were about to wake to life should sweep the celebrants into nothingness.
The thought made me turn cold, and yet the deed must be done; Roderick must take his chance. And if all were well, and he escaped that danger, were there not worse behind? Think of him, a Christian man, the husband of a savage woman who worshipped a stone image with a lion’s head, bound to her and her tribe, a state prisoner, trebly guarded, whom, so far as I could see, there would be no hope of rescuing. It was awful. Then there were other complications. If the plan succeeded and the idol was destroyed, my own belief was that the Fung must thereby be exasperated. Evidently they knew some road into this stronghold. It would be used. They would pour their thousands up it, a general massacre would follow, of which, justly, we should be the first victims.
I reached the chamber where Oliver sat brooding alone, for Japhet was patrolling the line.
“I am not happy about Maqueda, Doctor,” he said to me. “I am afraid there is something in that story. She wanted to be with us; indeed, she begged to be allowed to come almost with tears. But I wouldn’t have it, since accidents may always happen; the vibration might shake in the roof or something; in fact, I don’t think you should be here. Why don’t you go away and leave me?”
I answered that nothing would induce me to do so, for such a job should not be left to one man.
“No, you’re right,” he said; “I might faint or lose my head or anything. I wish now that we had arranged to send the spark from the palace, which perhaps we might have done by joining the telephone wire on to the others. But, to tell you the truth, I’m afraid of the batteries. The cells are new but very weak, for time and the climate have affected them, and I thought it possible the extra difference might make the difference and that they would fail to work. That’s why I fixed this as the firing point. Hullo, there’s the bell. What have they got to say?”