Here I should add that, although there are two other roads to the plains—that by which, in order to outflank the Fung, the camels were let down when I started on my embassy to Egypt, and that to the north where the great swamps lie—these are both of them equally, if not more, impassable, at any rate to an enemy attacking from below.
A strange cavalcade we must have seemed as we crawled up this terrific approach. First went a body of the Abati notables on horseback, forming a long line of colour and glittering steel, who chattered as they rode, for they seemed to have no idea of discipline. Next came a company of horsemen armed with spears, or rather two companies in the centre of which rode the Child of Kings, some of her courtiers and chief officers, and ourselves, perhaps, as Quick suggested, because infantry in the event of surprise would find it less easy to run away than those who were mounted upon horses. Last of all rode more cavalry, the duty of whose rear files it was to turn from time to time, and, after inspection, to shout out that we were not pursued.
It cannot be said that we who occupied the centre of the advance were a cheerful band. Orme, although so far he had borne up, was evidently very ill from the shock of the explosion, so much so that men had to be set on each side of him to see that he did not fall from the saddle. Also he was deeply depressed by the fact that honour had forced us to abandon Higgs to what seemed a certain and probably a cruel death; and if he felt thus, what was my own case, who left not only my friend, but also my son, in the hands of savage heathens?
Maqueda’s face was not visible because of the thin spangled veil that she wore, but there was something about her attitude suggestive of shame and of despair. The droop of the head and even her back showed this, as I, who rode a little behind and on side of her, could see. I think, too, that she was anxious about Orme, for she turned toward him several times as though studying his condition. Also I am sure that she was indignant with Joshua and others of her officers, for when they spoke to her she would not answer or take the slightest notice of them beyond straightening herself in the saddle. As for the Prince himself, his temper seemed to be much ruffled, although apparently he had overcome the hurt to his back which prevented him from accepting the Sultan’s challenge, for at a difficult spot in the road he dismounted and ran along actively enough. At any rate, when his subordinates addressed him he only answered them with muttered oaths, and his attitude towards us Englishmen, especially Quick, was not amiable. Indeed, if looks could have killed us I am sure that we should all have been dead before ever we reached the Gate of Mur.