It may be asked what they talked about on these occasions. I can only answer that, so far as I heard, the general subject was the politics of Mur and its perpetual war with the Fung. Still, there must have been other topics which I did not hear, since incidently I discovered that Orme was acquainted with many of Maqueda’s private affairs whereof he could only have learned from her lips.
Thus when I ventured to remark that perhaps it was not altogether wise for a young man in his position to become so intimate with the hereditary ruler of an exclusive tribe like the Abati, he replied cheerfully that this did not in the least matter, as, of course, according to their ancient laws, she could only marry with one of her own family, a fact which made all complications impossible. I inquired which of her cousins, of whom I knew she had several, was the happy man. He replied:
“None of them. As a matter of fact, I believe that she is officially affianced to that fat uncle of hers, the fellow who blows his own trumpet so much, but I needn’t add that this is only a form to which she submits in order to keep the others off.”
“Ah!” I said. “I wonder if Prince Joshua thinks it only a form?”
“Don’t know what he thinks, and don’t care,” he replied, yawning; “I only know that things stand as I say, and that the porpoise-man has as much chance of becoming the husband of Maqueda as you have of marrying the Empress of China. And now, to drop this matrimonial conversation and come to something more important, have you heard anything about Higgs and your son?”
“You are more in the way of learning state secrets than I am, Orme,” I answered sarcastically, being rather irritated at the course of events and his foolishness. “What have you heard?”
“This, old fellow. I can’t say how she knows it, but Maqueda says that they are both in good health and well treated. Only our friend Barung sticks to his word and proposes to sacrifice poor old Higgs on this day fortnight. Now, of course, that must be prevented somehow, and prevented it shall be if it costs me my life. Don’t you suppose that I have been thinking about myself all the time, for it isn’t so, only the trouble is that I can’t find any plan of rescue which will hold water.”
“Then what’s to be done, Orme? I haven’t spoken much of the matter before for fear of upsetting you when you were still weak, but now that you are all right again we must come to some decision.”
“I know, I know,” he answered earnestly; “and I tell you this, that rather than let Higgs die alone there, I will give myself up to Barung, and, if I can’t save him, suffer with him, or for him if I can. Listen: there is to be a great council held by the Child of Kings on the day after to-morrow which we must attend, for it has only been postponed until I was well enough. At this council that rogue Shadrach is to be put upon his trial, and will, I believe, be condemned to death.