Doubtless to her, in comparison with the men to whom she was accustomed and allowed by etiquette to take as her associates, this brave and handsome young Englishman, who had come into her care sick and shattered after the doing of a great deed, must have seemed a veritable fairy prince. And she had helped to nurse him, and he had shown himself grateful for her kindness and condescension, and—the rest followed, as surely as the day follows the night.
But how would it end? Sooner or later the secret must come out, for already the Abati nobles, if I may call them so for want of a better name, and especially Joshua, were bitterly jealous of the favour their lady showed to the foreigner, and watched them both. Then what—what would happen? Under the Abati law it was death for any one outside of the permitted degree of relationship to tamper with the affections of the Child of Kings. Nor was this wonderful, since that person held her seat in virtue of her supposed direct descent from Solomon and the first Maqueda, Queen of Sheba, and therefore the introduction of any alien blood could not be tolerated.
Moreover, Orme, having sworn an oath of allegiance, had become subject to those laws. Lastly, I could not in the least hope from the character of the pair concerned that this was but a passing flirtation.
Oh! without a doubt these two had signed their own death-warrant yonder in the Cave of Death, and incidentally ours also. This must be the end of our adventure and my long search for the son whom I had lost.
THE RESCUE FAILS
Our breakfast on the following morning was a somewhat gloomy meal. By common consent no allusion was made to the events of the previous day, or to our conversation at bedtime.
Indeed, there was no talk at all to speak of, since, not knowing what else to do, I thought I could best show my attitude of mind by preserving a severe silence, while Quick seemed to be absorbed in philosophical reflections, and Orme looked rather excited and dishevelled, as though he had been writing poetry, as I daresay was the case. In the midst of this dreary meal a messenger arrived, who announced that the Walda Nagasta would be pleased to see us all within half-an-hour.
Fearing lest Orme should say something foolish, I answered briefly that we would wait upon her, and the man went, leaving us wondering what had happened to cause her to desire our presence.
At the appointed time we were shown into the small audience room, and, as we passed its door, I ventured to whisper to Oliver:
“For your own sake and hers, as well as that of the rest of us, I implore you to be careful. Your face is watched as well as your words.”
“All right, old fellow,” he answered, colouring a little. “You may trust me.”
“I wish I could,” I muttered.
Then we were shown in ceremoniously, and made our bows to Maqueda, who was seated, surrounded by some of the judges and officers, among them, Prince Joshua, and talking to two rough-looking men clad in ordinary brown robes. She greeted us, and after the exchange of the usual compliments, said: