“You argue well,” I answered; “also another reason comes to my mind. Those Arab brutes may get behind the slaves, of whom we should butcher a lot without hurting them. Stephen, I think we had better see the thing through here.”
“All right, Quatermain. Only I hope that Mavovo is wrong in thinking that those blackguards may change their minds and run away.”
“Really, young man, you are becoming very blood-thirsty—for an orchid grower,” I remarked, looking at him. “Now, for my part, I devoutly hope that Mavovo is right, for let me tell you, if he isn’t it may be a nasty job.”
“I’ve always been peaceful enough up to the present,” replied Stephen. “But the sight of those unhappy wretches of slaves with their heads cut open, and of the woman tied to a tree to starve——”
“Make you wish to usurp the functions of God Almighty,” I said. “Well, it is a natural impulse and perhaps, in the circumstances, one that will not displease Him. And now, as we have made up our minds what we are going to do, let’s get to business so that these Arab gentlemen may find their breakfast ready when they come to call.”
THE RUSH OF THE SLAVES
Well, we did all that we could in the way of making ready. After we had strengthened the thorn fence of our boma as much as possible and lit several large fires outside of it to give us light, I allotted his place to each of the hunters and saw that their rifles were in order and that they had plenty of ammunition. Then I made Stephen lie down to sleep, telling him that I would wake him to watch later on. This, however, I had no intention of doing as I wanted him to rise fresh and with a steady nerve on the occasion of his first fight.
As soon as I saw that his eyes were shut I sat down on a box to think. To tell the truth, I was not altogether happy in my mind. To begin with I did not know how the twenty bearers would behave under fire. They might be seized with panic and rush about, in which case I determined to let them out of the boma to take their chance, for panic is a catching thing.
A worse matter was our rather awkward position. There were a good many trees round the camp among which an attacking force could take cover. But what I feared much more than this, or even than the reedy banks of the stream along which they could creep out of reach of our bullets, was a sloping stretch of land behind us, covered with thick grass and scrub and rising to a crest about two hundred yards away. Now if the Arabs got round to this crest they would fire straight into our boma and make it untenable. Also if the wind were in their favour, they might burn us out or attack under the clouds of smoke. As a matter of fact, by the special mercy of Providence, none of these things happened, for a reason which I will explain presently.