“I think I have that amount in gold,” I answered, “of which the lady of the Abati gave me as much as I could carry in comfort.”
“If not,” said Orme, “although I am a poor man now, I could find L500 or so in a pinch. So don’t let us bother about the money. The question is—Are we all agreed that we will undertake this expedition and see it through to the end, whatever that may be?”
We answered that we were.
“Then has anybody anything more to say?”
“Yes,” I replied; “I forgot to tell you that if we should ever get to Mur, none of you must make love to the Walda Nagasta. She is a kind of holy person, who can only marry into her own family, and to do so might mean that our throats would be cut.”
“Do you hear that, Oliver?” said the Professor. “I suppose that the Doctor’s warning is meant for you, as the rest of us are rather past that kind of thing.”
“Indeed,” replied the Captain, colouring again after his fashion. “Well, to tell you the truth, I feel a bit past it myself, and, so far as I am concerned, I don’t think we need take the fascinations of this black lady into account.”
“Don’t brag, Captain. Please don’t brag,” said Sergeant Quick in a hollow whisper. “Woman is just the one thing about which you can never be sure. To-day she’s poison, and to-morrow honey—God and the climate alone know why. Please don’t brag, or we may live to see you crawling after this one on your knees, with the gent in the specs behind, and Samuel Quick, who hates the whole tribe of them, bringing up the rear. Tempt Providence, if you like, Captain, but don’t tempt woman, lest she should turn round and tempt you, as she has done before to-day.”
“Will you be so good as to stop talking nonsense and call a cab,” said Captain Orme coldly. But Higgs began to laugh in his rude fashion, and I, remembering the appearance of “Bud of the Rose” when she lifted her veil of ceremony, and the soft earnestness of her voice, fell into reflection. “Black lady” indeed! What, I wondered, would this young gentleman think if ever he should live to set his eyes upon her sweet and comely face?
It seemed to me that Sergeant Quick was not so foolish as his master chose to imagine. Captain Orme undoubtedly was in every way qualified to be a partner in our venture; still, I could have wished either that he had been an older man, or that the lady to whom he was recently affianced had not chosen this occasion to break her engagement. In dealing with difficult and dangerous combinations, my experience has been that it is always well to eliminate the possibility of a love affair, especially in the East.
THE PROFESSOR GOES OUT SHOOTING