“Now,” said Orme, “stop firing and do as I bid you. Kneel the camels fifty yards outside the wall, not less, and wait till you know the end. If we shouldn’t meet again, well, good-bye and good luck.”
So we went, Quick literally weeping with shame and rage.
“Good Lord!” he exclaimed, “good Lord! to think that, after four campaigns, Samuel Quick, Sergeant of Engineers, with five medals, should live to be sent off with the baggage like a pot-bellied bandmaster, leaving his captain to fight about three thousand niggers single-handed. Doctor, if he don’t come out, you do the best you can for yourself, for I’m going back to stop with him, that’s all. There, that’s fifty paces; down you go, you ugly beasts,” and he bumped his camel viciously on the head with the butt of his rifle.
From where we had halted we could only see through the archway into the space beyond. By now the square looked like a great Sunday meeting in Hyde Park, being filled up with men of whom the first rows were already past the altar-like rostrum in its centre.
“Why don’t he loose off them stinging-bees?” muttered Quick. “Oh! I see his little game. Look,” and he pointed to the figure of Orme, who had crept behind the unopened half of the door on our side of it and was looking intently round its edge, holding the battery in his right hand. “He wants to let them get nearer so as to make a bigger bag. He——”
I heard no more of Quick’s remarks, for suddenly something like an earthquake took place, and the whole sky seemed to turn to one great flame. I saw a length of the wall of the square rush outward and upward. I saw the shut half of the bronze-plated door skipping and hopping playfully toward us, and in front of it the figure of a man. Then it began to rain all sorts of things.
For instance, stones, none of which hit us, luckily, and other more unpleasant objects. It is a strange experience to be knocked backward by a dead fist separated from its parent body, yet on this occasion this actually happened to me, and, what is more, the fist had a spear in it. The camels tried to rise and bolt, but they are phlegmatic brutes, and, as ours were tired as well, we succeeded in quieting them.
Whilst we were thus occupied somewhat automatically, for the shock had dazed us, the figure that had been propelled before the dancing door arrived, reeling in a drunken fashion, and through the dust and falling debris we knew it for that of Oliver Orme. His face was blackened, his clothes were torn half off him, and blood from a scalp wound ran down his brown hair. But in his right hand he still held the little electric battery, and I knew at once that he had no limbs broken.
“Very successful mine,” he said thickly. “Boer melinite shells aren’t in it with this new compound. Come on before the enemy recover from the shock,” and he flung himself upon his camel.