The Mungana went first down the stair. Jeekie followed, grasping him by the arm with one hand, while in the other he kept his own knife ready to stab him at the first sign of treachery. Alan brought up the rear, keeping hold of Jeekie’s cloak. They passed down twelve steps of stair, then turned to the right along a tunnel, then to the left, then to the right again. In the pitch darkness it was an awful journey, since they knew not whither they were being led, and expected that every moment would be their last. At length, quite of a sudden, they emerged into moonlight.
Alan looked about him and knew the place. It was where the feast had been held two months before, when the priests were poisoned and the Bonsas chose the victims for sacrifice. Already it was prepared for the great festival of to-morrow, when the Mungana should drown himself and Alan be married to the Asika. There on the dais were the gold chairs in which they were to sit, and green branches of trees mixed with curious flags decked the vast amphitheatre beyond. Moreover, there was the broad canal, and floating in the midst of it the hideous gold fetish, Big Bonsa. The moon shone on its glaring, deathly eyes, its fish-like snout and its huge, pale teeth. Alan looked at it and shivered, for the thing was horrid and uncanny, and the utter loneliness in which it lay staring up at the moon, seemed to accentuate the horror.
The Mungana noticed his fear and whispered:
“We must swim the water. If you have a god, white man, pray him to protect you from Bonsa.”
“Lead on,” answered Alan, “I do not dread a foul fetish, only the look of it. But is there no way round?”
The Mungana shook his head and began to enter the canal. Jeekie, whose teeth were chattering, hung back, but Alan pushed him from behind, so sharply that he stumbled and made a splash. Then Alan followed, and as the cold, black water rose to his chest, looked again at Big Bonsa.
It seemed to him that the thing had turned round and was staring at them. Surely a few seconds ago its snout pointed the other way. No, that must be fancy. He was swimming now, they were all swimming, Alan and Jeekie holding their pistols and little stock of cartridges above their heads to keep them dry. The gold head of Big Bonsa appeared to be lifting itself up in the water, as a reptile might, in order to get a better view of these proceedings, but doubtless it was the ripples that they caused which gave it this appearance. Only why did the ripples make it come towards them, quite gently, like an investigating fish?
It was about ten yards off and they were in the middle of the canal. The Mungana had passed it. It was in a line with Alan’s head. Oh Heavens! a sudden smother of foam, a rush like that of a torpedo, and set low down between two curving waves, a flash of gold. Then a gurgling, inhuman laugh and a weight upon his back. Down went Alan, down and down!