“Where are they?” I asked.
“There, there,” he said, pointing toward the rise behind us.
We ran round some intervening bushes and looked, to see upon its crest a solitary figure seated on a very tired horse, for it panted and its head drooped. This figure, which was entirely hidden in a long cloak with a hood, appeared to be watching our camp just as a spy might do. Higgs lifted his rifle and fired at it, but Oliver, who was standing by him, knocked the barrel up so that the bullet went high, saying:
“Don’t be a fool. If it is only one man there’s no need to shoot him, and if there are more you will bring them on to us.”
Then the figure urged the weary horse and advanced slowly, and I noticed that it was very small. “A boy,” I thought to myself, “who is bringing some message.”
The rider reached us, and slipping from the horse, stood still.
“Who are you?” asked Oliver, scanning the cloaked form.
“One who brings a token to you, lord,” was the answer, spoken in a low and muffled voice. “Here it is,” and a hand, a very delicate hand, was stretched out, holding between the fingers a ring.
I knew it at once; it was Sheba’s ring which Maqueda had lent to me in proof of her good faith when I journeyed for help to England. This ring, it will be remembered, we returned to her with much ceremony at our first public audience. Oliver grew pale at the sight of it.
“How did you come by this?” he asked hoarsely. “Is she who alone may wear it dead?”
“Yes, yes,” answered the voice, a feigned voice as I thought. “The Child of Kings whom you knew is dead, and having no more need for this ancient symbol of her power, she bequeathed it to you whom she remembered kindly at the last.”
Oliver covered his face with his hands and turned away.
“But,” went on the speaker slowly, “the woman Maqueda whom once it is said you loved——”
He dropped his hands and stared.
“——the woman Maqueda whom once it is said you—loved—still lives.”
Then the hood slipped back, and in the glow of the rising sun we saw the face beneath.
It was that of Maqueda herself!
A silence followed that in its way was almost awful.
“My Lord Oliver,” asked Maqueda presently, “do you accept my offering of Queen Sheba’s ring?”
NOTE BY MAQUEDA
Once called Walda Nagasta and Takla Warda, that is, Child of Kings and Bud of the Rose, once also by birth Ruler of the Abati people, the Sons of Solomon and Sheba.
I, Maqueda, write this by the command of Oliver, my lord, who desires that I should set out certain things in my own words.