“Now I hoped that he had gone for good and thought of going myself. Still I feared to do so lest I should meet him somewhere, so I made up my mind to wait till daylight. It was as well, Baas, for about half an hour later he came back again. Only now he could not jump, he could only crawl. Never in my life did I see a snake look so sick, Baas. Into the cave he went and lay there hissing. By degrees the hissing grew very faint, till at length they died away altogether. I waited another half-hour, Baas, and then I grew so curious that I thought that I would go to look in the cave.
“I lit the little lantern I had with me and, holding it in one hand and my stick in the other, I crept into the hole. Before I had crawled ten paces I saw something white stretched along the ground. It was the belly of the great snake, Baas, which lay upon its back quite dead.
“I know that it was dead, for I lit three wax matches, setting them to burn upon its tail and it never stirred, as any live snake will do when it feels fire. Then I came home, Baas, feeling very proud because I had outwitted that great-grandfather of all snakes who killed Bena my friend, and had made the way clear for us to walk through the cave.
“That is all the story, Baas. Now I must go to wash those dishes,” and without waiting for any comment off he went, leaving us marvelling at his wit, resource and courage.
“What next?” I asked presently.
“Nothing till to-night,” answered Ragnall with determination, “when I am going to look at the snake which the noble Hans has killed and whatever lies beyond the cave, as you will remember Harut invited us to do unmolested, if we could.”
“Do you think Harut will keep his word, Ragnall?”
“On the whole, yes, and if he doesn’t I don’t care. Anything is better than sitting here in this suspense.”
“I agree as to Harut, because we are too valuable to be killed just now, if for no other reason; also as to the suspense, which is unendurable. Therefore I will walk with you to look at that snake, Ragnall, and so no doubt will Hans. The exercise will do my leg good.”
“Do you think it wise?” he asked doubtfully; “in your case, I mean.”
“I think it most unwise that we should separate any more. We had better stand or fall altogether; further, we do not seem to have any luck apart.”
THE SANCTUARY AND THE OATH
That evening shortly after sundown the three of us started boldly from our house wearing over our clothes the Kendah dresses which Ragnall had bought, and carrying nothing save sticks in our hands, some food and the lantern in our pockets. On the outskirts of the town we were met by certain Kendah, one of whom I knew, for I had often ridden by his side on our march across the desert.
“Have any of you arms upon you, Lord Macumazana?” he asked, looking curiously at us and our white robes.