I snatched the receiver, and presently heard the cheerful voice of Higgs announcing that they had arrived safely in the little anteroom to Maqueda’s private apartments.
“The palace seems very empty,” he added; “we only met one sentry, for I think that everybody else, except Maqueda and a few of her ladies, have cleared out, being afraid lest rocks should fall on them when the explosion occurs.”
“Did the man say so?” I asked of Higgs.
“Yes, something of that sort; also he wanted to forbid us to come here, saying that it was against the Prince Joshua’s orders that we Gentiles should approach the private apartments of the Child of Kings. Well, we soon settled that, and he bolted. Where to? Oh! I don’t know; to report, he said.”
“How’s Quick?” I asked.
“Much the same as usual. In fact, he is saying his prayers in the corner, looking like a melancholy brigand with rifles, revolvers, and knives stuck all over him. I wish he wouldn’t say his prayers,” added Higgs, and his voice reached me in an indignant squeak; “it makes me feel uncomfortable, as though I ought to join him. But not having been brought up a Dissenter or a Moslem, I can’t pray in public as he does. Hullo! Wait a minute, will you?”
Then followed a longish pause, and after it Higgs’s voice again.
“It’s all right,” it said. “Only one of Maqueda’s ladies who had heard us and come to see who we were. When she learns I expect she will join us here, as the girl says she’s nervous and can’t sleep.”
Higgs proved right in his anticipations, for in about ten minutes we were rung up again, this time by Maqueda herself, whereon I handed the receiver to Oliver and retired to the other end of the room.
Nor, to tell the truth, was I sorry for the interruption, since it cheered up Oliver and helped to pass the time.
The next thing worth telling that happened was that, an hour or more later, Japhet arrived, looking very frightened. We asked him our usual question: if anything was wrong with the wires. With a groan he answered “No,” the wires seemed all right, but he had met a ghost.
“What ghost, you donkey?” I said.
“The ghost of one of the dead kings, O Physician, yonder in the burial cave. It was he with the bent bones who sits in the farthest chair. Only he had put some flesh on his bones, and I tell you he looked fearful, a very fierce man, or rather ghost.”
“Indeed, and did he say anything to you, Japhet?”
“Oh! yes, plenty, O Physician, only I could not understand it all, because his language was somewhat different to mine, and he spat out his words as a green log spits out sparks. I think that he asked me, however, how my miserable people dared to destroy his god, Harmac. I answered that I was only a servant and did not know, adding that he should put his questions to you.”
“And what did he say to that, Japhet?”