“When does our service on these hounds of Gentiles come to an end?” to which his fellow answered, “The Council has not yet decided, but I think to-morrow or the next day, if they are strong enough. It will be a great show.”
Also that evening, about sunset, we heard a mob shouting outside the barrack in which we were imprisoned, for that was its real use, “Give us the Gentiles! Give us the Gentiles! We are tired of waiting,” until at length some soldiers drove them away.
Well, we talked the thing over, only to conclude that there was nothing to be done. We had no friend in the place except Maqueda, and she, it appeared, was a prisoner like ourselves, and therefore could not communicate with us. Nor could we see the slightest possibility of escape.
“Out of the frying-pan into the fire,” remarked Higgs gloomily. “I wish now that they had let us die in the cave. It would have been better than being baited to death by a mob of Abati.”
“Yes,” answered Oliver with a sigh, for he was thinking of Maqueda, “but that’s why they saved us, the vindictive beasts, to kill us for what they are pleased to call high treason.”
“High treason!” exclaimed Higgs. “I hope to goodness their punishment for the offence is not that of mediaeval England; hanging is bad enough—but the rest——!”
“I don’t think the Abati study European history,” I broke in; “but it is no use disguising from you that they have methods of their own. Look here, friends,” I added, “I have kept something about me in case the worst should come to the worst,” and I produced a little bottle containing a particularly swift and deadly poison done up into tabloids, and gave one to each of them. “My advice is,” I added, “that if you see we are going to be exposed to torture or to any dreadful form of death, you should take one of these, as I mean to do, and cheat the Abati of their vengeance.”
“That is all very fine,” said the Professor as he pocketed his tabloid, “but I never could swallow a pill without water at the best of times, and I don’t believe those beasts will give one any. Well, I suppose I must suck it, that’s all. Oh! if only the luck would turn, if only the luck would turn!”
Three more days went by without any sign of Higgs’s aspiration being fulfilled. On the contrary, except in one respect, the luck remained steadily against us. The exception was that we got plenty to eat and consequently regained our normal state of health and strength more rapidly than might have been expected. With us it was literally a case of “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.”