Maqueda stretched out her hand, and, taking it, the Sultan barely touched her fingers with his lips. Then, still holding them, he rode with her toward the pass.
As we approached its mouth, where the Abati were crowded together, watching our conference, I heard them murmur, “The Sultan, the Sultan himself!” and saw the prince Joshua mutter some eager words to the officers about him.
“Look out, Doctor,” said Quick into my ear. “Unless I’m mistook, that porpoise is going to play some game.”
Hardly were the words out of his mouth when, uttering the most valiant shouts and with swords drawn, Joshua and a body of his companions galloped up and surrounded our little group.
“Now yield, Barung,” bellowed Joshua; “yield or die!”
The Sultan stared at him in astonishment, then answered:
“If I had any weapon (he had thrown down his lance when he took Maqueda by the hand), certainly one of us should die, O Hog in man’s clothes.”
Then he turned to Maqueda and added, “Child of Kings, I knew these people of yours to be cowardly and treacherous, but is it thus that you suffer them to deal with envoys under a flag of peace?”
“Not so, not so,” she cried. “My uncle Joshua, you disgrace me; you make our people a shame, a hissing, and a reproach. Stand back; let the Sultan of the Fung go free.”
But they would not; the prize was too great to be readily disgorged.
We looked at each other. “Not at all the game,” said Orme. “If they collar him, we shall be tarred with their extremely dirty brush. Shove your camel in front, Sergeant, and if that beggar Joshua tries any tricks, put a bullet through him.”
Quick did not need to be told twice. Banging his dromedary’s ribs with the butt end of his rifle, he drove it straight on to Joshua, shouting:
“Out of the light, porpoise!” with the result that the Prince’s horse took fright, and reared up so high that its rider slid off over its tail to find himself seated on the ground, a sorry spectacle in his gorgeous robes and armour.
Taking advantage of the confusion which ensued, we surrounded the Sultan and escorted him out of the throng back to his two companions, who, seeing that there was something amiss, were galloping toward us.
“I am your debtor,” said Barung, “but, O White Men, make me more so. Return, I pray you, to that hog in armour, and say that Barung, Sultan of the Fung, understands from his conduct that he desires to challenge him to single combat, and that, seeing he is fully armed, the Sultan, although he wears no mail, awaits him here and now.”
So I went at once with the message. But Joshua was far too clever to be drawn into any such dangerous adventure.
Nothing, he said, would have given him greater joy than to hack the head from the shoulders of this dog of a Gentile sheik. But, unhappily, owing to the conduct of one of us foreigners, he had been thrown from his horse, and hurt his back, so that he could scarcely stand, much less fight a duel.