Queen Sheba's Ring - Henry Rider Haggard - ebook
Kategoria: Obyczajowe i romanse Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1910

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Henry Rider Haggard

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About
Chapter 1 - THE COMING OF THE RING
Chapter 2 - THE ADVICE OF SERGEANT QUICK

About Haggard:

Henry Rider Haggard was born at Bradenham, Norfolk, to Sir William Meybohm Rider Haggard, a barrister, and Ella Doveton, an author and poet. He was the eighth of ten children. He was initially sent to Garsington Rectory in Oxfordshire to study under the Reverend H.J. Graham but, unlike his older brothers who graduated from various Public Schools, he ended up attending Ipswich Grammar School. This was because his father, who regarded him as somebody who was not going to amount to much, could no longer afford to maintain his expensive private education. After failing his army entrance exam he was sent to a private ‘crammer’ in London to prepare for the entrance exam for the British Foreign Office, which in the end he never sat. Instead Haggard’s father sent him to Africa in an unpaid position as assistant to the secretary to the Lieutenant-Governor of Natal, Sir Henry Bulwer. It was in this role that Haggard was present in Pretoria for the official announcement of the British annexation of the Boer Republic of the Transvaal. In fact, Haggard raised the Union Flag and was forced to read out much of the proclamation following the loss of voice of the official originally entrusted with the duty. As a young man, Haggard fell deeply in love with Lilith Jackson, whom he intended to marry once he obtained paid employment in South Africa. In 1878 he became Registrar of the High Court in the Transvaal, but when he sent his father a letter telling him that he intended to return to England in order to marry Lilith Jackson his father replied that he forbade it until he had made a career for himself. In 1879 he heard that Lilith had married someone else. When he eventually returned to England he married a friend of his sister, Mariana Louisa Margitson and brought her back to Africa. Later they had a son named Jock (who died of measles at the age of 10) and three daughters. Returning again to England in 1882, the couple settled in Ditchingham, Norfolk. Later he lived in Kessingland and had connections with the church in Bungay, Suffolk. He turned to the study of law and was called to the bar in 1884. His practice of law was somewhat desultory, and much of his time was taken up by the writing of novels. Heavily influenced by the larger-than-life adventurers he met in Colonial Africa, most notably Frederick Selous and Frederick Russell Burnham, the great mineral wealth discovered in Africa, and the ruins of ancient lost civilizations in Africa such as Great Zimbabwe, Haggard created his Allan Quatermain adventures. Three of his books, The Wizard (1896), Elissa; the doom of Zimbabwe (1899), and Black Heart and White Heart; a Zulu idyll (1900) are dedicated to Burnham's daughter, Nada, the first white child born in Bulawayo, herself named after Haggard's 1892 book: Nada the Lily. Years later, when Haggard was a successful novelist, he was contacted by his former love, Lilith Jackson. She had been deserted by her husband, who had left her penniless and infected her with syphilis, from which she eventually died. It was Haggard who paid her medical bills. These details were not generally known until the publication of Haggard's 1983 biography by D. S. Higgins. Haggard was heavily involved in agricultural reform and was a member of many Commissions on land use and related affairs, work that involved several trips to the Colonies and Dominions. He was made a Knight Bachelor in 1912, and a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1919. He stood unsuccessfully for parliament as a candidate for the Conservative Party. Source: Wikipedia

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Chapter 1 THE COMING OF THE RING

Every one has read the monograph, I believe that is the right word, of my dear friend, Professor Higgs—Ptolemy Higgs to give him his full name—descriptive of the tableland of Mur in North Central Africa, of the ancient underground city in the mountains which surrounded it, and of the strange tribe of Abyssinian Jews, or rather their mixed descendants, by whom it is, or was, inhabited. I say every one advisedly, for although the public which studies such works is usually select, that which will take an interest in them, if the character of a learned and pugnacious personage is concerned, is very wide indeed. Not to mince matters, I may as well explain what I mean at once.

Professor Higgs's rivals and enemies, of whom either the brilliancy of his achievements or his somewhat abrupt and pointed methods of controversy seem to have made him a great many, have risen up, or rather seated themselves, and written him down—well, an individual who strains the truth. Indeed, only this morning one of these inquired, in a letter to the press, alluding to some adventurous traveller who, I am told, lectured to the British Association several years ago, whether Professor Higgs did not, in fact, ride across the desert to Mur, not upon a camel, as he alleged, but upon a land tortoise of extraordinary size.

The innuendo contained in this epistle has made the Professor, who, as I have already hinted, is not by nature of a meek disposition, extremely angry. Indeed, notwithstanding all that I could do, he left his London house under an hour ago with a whip of hippopotamus hide such as the Egyptians call a koorbash, purposing to avenge himself upon the person of his defamer. In order to prevent a public scandal, however, I have taken the liberty of telephoning to that gentleman, who, bold and vicious as he may be in print, is physically small and, I should say, of a timid character, to get out of the way at once. To judge from the abrupt fashion in which our conversation came to an end, I imagine that the hint has been taken. At any rate, I hope for the best, and, as an extra precaution, have communicated with the lawyers of my justly indignant friend.

The reader will now probably understand that I am writing this book, not to bring myself or others before the public, or to make money of which I have no present need, or for any purpose whatsoever, except to set down the bare and actual truth. In fact, so many rumours are flying about as to where we have been and what befell us that this has become almost necessary. As soon as I laid down that cruel column of gibes and insinuations to which I have alluded—yes, this very morning, before breakfast, this conviction took hold of me so strongly that I cabled to Oliver, Captain Oliver Orme, the hero of my history, if it has any particular hero, who is at present engaged upon what must be an extremely agreeable journey round the world—asking his consent. Ten minutes since the answer arrived from Tokyo. Here it is:

"Do what you like and think necessary, but please alter all names, et cetera, as propose returning via America, and fear interviewers. Japan jolly place." Then follows some private matter which I need not insert. Oliver is always extravagant where cablegrams are concerned.

I suppose that before entering on this narration, for the reader's benefit I had better give some short description of myself.

My name is Richard Adams, and I am the son of a Cumberland yeoman who married a Welshwoman. Therefore I have Celtic blood in my veins, which perhaps accounts for my love of roving and other things. I am now an old man, near the end of my course, I suppose; at any rate, I was sixty-five last birthday. This is my appearance as I see it in the glass before me: tall, spare (I don't weigh more than a hundred and forty pounds—the desert has any superfluous flesh that I ever owned, my lot having been, like Falstaff, to lard the lean earth, but in a hot climate); my eyes are brown, my face is long, and I wear a pointed white beard, which matches the white hair above.

Truth compels me to add that my general appearance, as seen in that glass which will not lie, reminds me of that of a rather aged goat; indeed, to be frank, by the natives among whom I have sojourned, and especially among the Khalifa's people when I was a prisoner there, I have often been called the White Goat.

Of my very commonplace outward self let this suffice. As for my record, I am a doctor of the old school. Think of it! When I was a student at Bart.'s the antiseptic treatment was quite a new thing, and administered when at all, by help of a kind of engine on wheels, out of which disinfectants were dispensed with a pump, much as the advanced gardener sprays a greenhouse to-day.

I succeeded above the average as a student, and in my early time as a doctor. But in every man's life there happen things which, whatever excuses may be found for them, would not look particularly well in cold print (nobody's record, as understood by convention and the Pharisee, could really stand cold print); also something in my blood made me its servant. In short, having no strict ties at home, and desiring to see the world, I wandered far and wide for many years, earning my living as I went, never, in my experience, a difficult thing to do, for I was always a master of my trade.

My fortieth birthday found me practising at Cairo, which I mention only because it was here that first I met Ptolemy Higgs, who, even then in his youth, was noted for his extraordinary antiquarian and linguistic abilities. I remember that in those days the joke about him was that he could swear in fifteen languages like a native and in thirty-two with common proficiency, and could read hieroglyphics as easily as a bishop reads the Times.

Well, I doctored him through a bad attack of typhoid, but as he had spent every farthing he owned on scarabs or something of the sort, made him no charge. This little kindness I am bound to say he never forgot, for whatever his failings may be (personally I would not trust him alone with any object that was more than a thousand years old), Ptolemy is a good and faithful friend.

In Cairo I married a Copt. She was a lady of high descent, the tradition in her family being that they were sprung from one of the Ptolemaic Pharaohs, which is possible and even probable enough. Also, she was a Christian, and well educated in her way. But, of course, she remained an Oriental, and for a European to marry an Oriental is, as I have tried to explain to others, a very dangerous thing, especially if he continues to live in the East, where it cuts him off from social recognition and intimacy with his own race. Still, although this step of mine forced me to leave Cairo and go to Assouan, then a little- known place, to practise chiefly among the natives, God knows we were happy enough together till the plague took her, and with it my joy in life.

I pass over all that business, since there are some things too dreadful and too sacred to write about. She left me one child, a son, who, to fill up my cup of sorrow, when he was twelve years of age, was kidnapped by the Mardi's people.

This brings me to the real story. There is nobody else to write it; Oliver will not; Higgs cannot (outside of anything learned and antiquarian, he is hopeless); so I must. At any rate, if it is not interesting, the fault will be mine, not that of the story, which in all conscience is strange enough.

We are now in the middle of June, and it was a year ago last December that, on the evening of the day of my arrival in London after an absence of half a lifetime, I found myself knocking at the door of Professor Higgs's rooms in Guildford Street, W.C. It was opened by his housekeeper, Mrs. Reid, a thin and saturnine old woman, who reminded and still reminds me of a reanimated mummy. She told me that the Professor was in, but had a gentleman to dinner, and suggested sourly that I should call again the next morning. With difficulty I persuaded her at last to inform her master that an old Egyptian friend had brought him something which he certainly would like to see.

Five minutes later I groped my way into Higgs's sitting-room, which Mrs. Reid had contented herself with indicating from a lower floor. It is a large room, running the whole width of the house, divided into two by an arch, where once, in the Georgian days, there had been folding doors. The place was in shadow, except for the firelight, which shone upon a table laid ready for dinner, and upon an extraordinary collection of antiquities, including a couple of mummies with gold faces arranged in their coffins against the wall. At the far end of the room, however, an electric lamp was alight in the bow- window hanging over another table covered with books, and by it I saw my host, whom I had not met for twenty years, although until I vanished into the desert we frequently corresponded, and with him the friend who had come to dinner.

First, I will describe Higgs, who, I may state, is admitted, even by his enemies, to be one of the most learned antiquarians and greatest masters of dead languages in Europe, though this no one would guess from his appearance at the age of about forty-five. In build short and stout, face round and high-coloured, hair and beard of a fiery red, eyes, when they can be seen—for generally he wears a pair of large blue spectacles—small and of an indefinite hue, but sharp as needles. Dress so untidy, peculiar, and worn that it is said the police invariably request him to move on, should he loiter in the streets at night. Such was, and is, the outward seeming of my dearest friend, Professor Ptolemy Higgs, and I only hope that he won't be offended when he sees it set down in black and white.

That of his companion who was seated at the table, his chin resting on his hand, listening to some erudite discourse with a rather distracted air, was extraordinarily different, especially by contrast. A tall well-made young man, rather thin, but broad-shouldered, and apparently five or six and twenty years of age. Face clean-cut—so much so, indeed, that the dark eyes alone relieved it from a suspicion of hardness; hair short and straight, like the eyes, brown; expression that of a man of thought and ability, and, when he smiled, singularly pleasant. Such was, and is, Captain Oliver Orme, who, by the way, I should explain, is only a captain of some volunteer engineers, although, in fact, a very able soldier, as was proved in the South African War, whence he had then but lately returned.

I ought to add also that he gave me the impression of a man not in love with fortune, or rather of one with whom fortune was not in love; indeed, his young face seemed distinctly sad. Perhaps it was this that attracted me to him so much from the first moment that my eyes fell on him—me with whom fortune had also been out of love for many years.

While I stood contemplating this pair, Higgs, looking up from the papyrus or whatever it might be that he was reading (I gathered later that he had spent the afternoon in unrolling a mummy, and was studying its spoils), caught sight of me standing in the shadow.

"Who the devil are you?" he exclaimed in a shrill and strident voice, for it acquires that quality when he is angry or alarmed, "and what are you doing in my room?"

"Steady," said his companion; "your housekeeper told you that some friend of yours had come to call."

"Oh, yes, so she did, only I can't remember any friend with a face and beard like a goat. Advance, friend, and all's well."

So I stepped into the shining circle of the electric light and halted again.

"Who is it? Who is it?" muttered Higgs. "The face is the face of—of— I have it—of old Adams, only he's been dead these ten years. The Khalifa got him, they said. Antique shade of the long-lost Adams, please be so good as to tell me your name, for we waste time over a useless mystery."

"There is no need, Higgs, since it is in your mouth already. Well, I should have known you anywhere; but then your hair doesn't go white."

"Not it; too much colouring matter; direct result of a sanguine disposition. Well, Adams—for Adams you must be—I am really delighted to see you, especially as you never answered some questions in my last letter as to where you got those First Dynasty scarabs, of which the genuineness, I may tell you, has been disputed by certain envious beasts. Adams, my dear old fellow, welcome a thousand times"—and he seized my hands and wrung them, adding, as his eye fell upon a ring I wore, "Why, what's that? Something quite unusual. But never mind; you shall tell me after dinner. Let me introduce you to my friend, Captain Orme, a very decent scholar of Arabic, with a quite elementary knowledge of Egyptology."

"Mr. Orme," interrupted the younger man, bowing to me.

"Oh, well, Mr. or Captain, whichever you like. He means that he is not in the regular army, although he has been all through the Boer War, and wounded three times, once straight through the lungs. Here's the soup. Mrs. Reid, lay another place. I am dreadfully hungry; nothing gives me such an appetite as unrolling mummies; it involves so much intellectual wear and tear, in addition to the physical labour. Eat, man, eat. We will talk afterwards."

So we ate, Higgs largely, for his appetite was always excellent, perhaps because he was then practically a teetotaller; Mr. Orme very moderately, and I as becomes a person who has lived for months at a time on dates—mainly of vegetables, which, with fruits, form my principal diet—that is, if these are available, for at a pinch I can exist on anything.

When the meal was finished and our glasses had been filled with port, Higgs helped himself to water, lit the large meerschaum pipe he always smokes, and pushed round the tobacco-jar which had once served as a sepulchural urn for the heart of an old Egyptian.

"Now, Adams," he said when we also had filled our pipes, "tell us what has brought you back from the Shades. In short, your story, man, your story."

I drew the ring he had noticed off my hand, a thick band of rather light-coloured gold of a size such as an ordinary woman might wear upon her first or second finger, in which was set a splendid slab of sapphire engraved with curious and archaic characters. Pointing to these characters, I asked Higgs if he could read them.

"Read them? Of course," he answered, producing a magnifying glass. "Can't you? No, I remember; you never were good at anything more than fifty years old. Hullo! this is early Hebrew. Ah! I've got it," and he read:

"'The gift of Solomon the ruler—no, the Great One—of Israel, Beloved of Jah, to Maqueda of Sheba-land, Queen, Daughter of Kings, Child of Wisdom, Beautiful.'

"That's the writing on your ring, Adams—a really magnificent thing. 'Queen of Sheba—Bath-Melachim, Daughter of Kings,' with our old friend Solomon chucked in. Splendid, quite splendid!"—and he touched the gold with his tongue, and tested it with his teeth. "Hum—where did you get this intelligent fraud from, Adams?"

"Oh!" I answered, laughing, "the usual thing, of course. I bought it from a donkey-boy in Cairo for about thirty shillings."

"Indeed," he replied suspiciously. "I should have thought the stone in it was worth more than that, although, of course, it may be nothing but glass. The engraving, too, is first-rate. Adams," he added with severity, "you are trying to hoax us, but let me tell you what I thought you knew by this time—that you can't take in Ptolemy Higgs. This ring is a shameless swindle; but who did the Hebrew on it? He's a good scholar, anyway."

"Don't know," I answered; "wasn't aware till now that it was Hebrew. To tell you the truth, I thought it was old Egyptian. All I do know is that it was given, or rather lent, to me by a lady whose title is Walda Nagasta, and who is supposed to be a descendant of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba."

Higgs took up the ring and looked at it again; then, as though in a fit of abstraction, slipped it into his waistcoat pocket.

"I don't want to be rude, therefore I will not contradict you," he answered with a kind of groan, "or, indeed, say anything except that if any one else had spun me that yarn I should have told him he was a common liar. But, of course, as every schoolboy knows, Walda Nagasta— that is, Child of Kings in Ethiopic—is much the same as Bath-Melachim —that is, Daughter of Kings in Hebrew."

Here Captain Orme burst out laughing, and remarked, "It is easy to see why you are not altogether popular in the antiquarian world, Higgs. Your methods of controversy are those of a savage with a stone axe."

"If you only open your mouth to show your ignorance, Oliver, you had better keep it shut. The men who carried stone axes had advanced far beyond the state of savagery. But I suggest that you had better give Doctor Adams a chance of telling his story, after which you can criticize."

"Perhaps Captain Orme does not wish to be bored with it," I said, whereon he answered at once:

"On the contrary, I should like to hear it very much—that is, if you are willing to confide in me as well as in Higgs."

I reflected a moment, since, to tell the truth, for sundry reasons, my intention had been to trust no one except the Professor, whom I knew to be as faithful as he is rough. Yet some instinct prompted me to make an exception in favour of this Captain Orme. I liked the man; there was something about those brown eyes of his that appealed to me. Also it struck me as odd that he should happen to be present on this occasion, for I have always held that there is nothing casual or accidental in the world; that even the most trivial circumstances are either ordained, or the result of the workings of some inexorable law whereof the end is known by whatever power may direct our steps, though it be not yet declared.

"Certainly I am willing," I answered; "your face and your friendship with the Professor are passport enough for me. Only I must ask you to give me your word of honour that without my leave you will repeat nothing of what I am about to tell you."

"Of course," he answered, whereon Higgs broke in:

"There, that will do; you don't want us both to kiss the Book, do you? Who sold you that ring, and where have you been for the last dozen years, and whence do you come now?"

"I have been a prisoner of the Khalifa's among other things. I had five years of that entertainment of which my back would give some evidence if I were to strip. I think I am about the only man who never embraced Islam whom they allowed to live, and that was because I am a doctor, and, therefore, a useful person. The rest of the time I have spent wandering about the North African deserts looking for my son, Roderick. You remember the boy, or should, for you are his godfather, and I used to send you photographs of him as a little chap."

"Of course, of course," said the Professor in a new tone; "I came across a Christmas letter from him the other day. But, my dear Adams, what happened? I never heard."

"He went up the river to shoot crocodiles against my orders, when he was about twelve years old—not very long after his mother's death, and some wandering Mahdi tribesmen kidnapped him and sold him as a slave. I have been looking for him ever since, for the poor boy was passed on from tribe to tribe, among which his skill as a musician enabled me to follow him. The Arabs call him the Singer of Egypt, because of his wonderful voice, and it seems that he has learned to play upon their native instruments."

"And now where is he?" asked Higgs, as one who feared the answer.

"He is, or was, a favourite slave among a barbarous, half-negroid people called the Fung, who dwell in the far interior of North Central Africa. After the fall of the Khalifa I followed him there; it took me several years. Some Bedouin were making an expedition to trade with these Fung, and I disguised myself as one of them.

"On a certain night we camped at the foot of a valley outside a great wall which encloses the holy place where their idol is. I rode up to this wall and, through the open gateway, heard some one with a beautiful tenor voice singing in English. What he sang was a hymn that I had taught my son. It begins:

'Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.'

"I knew the voice again. I dismounted and slipped through the gateway, and presently came to an open space, where a young man sat singing upon a sort of raised bench with lamps on either side of him, and a large audience in front. I saw his face and, notwithstanding the turban which he wore and his Eastern robe—yes, and the passage of all those years—I knew it for that of my son. Some spirit of madness entered into me, and I called aloud, 'Roderick, Roderick!' and he started up, staring about him wildly. The audience started up also, and one of them caught sight of me lurking in the shadow.

"With a howl of rage, for I had desecrated their sanctuary, they sprang at me. To save my life, coward that I was, I fled back through the gates. Yes, after all those years of seeking, still I fled rather than die, and though I was wounded with a spear and stones, managed to reach and spring upon my horse. Then, as I was headed off from our camp, I galloped away anywhere, still to save my miserable life from those savages, so strongly is the instinct of self-preservation implanted in us. From a distance I looked back and saw by the light of the fired tents that the Fung were attacking the Arabs with whom I had travelled, I suppose because they thought them parties to the sacrilege. Afterwards I heard that they killed them every one, poor men, but I escaped, who unwittingly had brought their fate upon them.

"On and on I galloped up a steep road. I remember hearing lions roaring round me in the darkness. I remember one of them springing upon my horse and the poor beast's scream. Then I remember no more till I found myself—I believe it was a week or so later—lying on the verandah of a nice house, and being attended by some good-looking women of an Abyssinian cast of countenance."

"Sounds rather like one of the lost tribes of Israel," remarked Higgs sarcastically, puffing at his big meerschaum.

"Yes, something of that sort. The details I will give you later. The main facts are that these people who picked me up outside their gates are called Abati, live in a town called Mur, and allege themselves to be descended from a tribe of Abyssinian Jews who were driven out and migrated to this place four or five centuries ago. Briefly, they look something like Jews, practise a very debased form of the Jewish religion, are civilized and clever after a fashion, but in the last stage of decadence from interbreeding—about nine thousand men is their total fighting force, although three or four generations ago they had twenty thousand—and live in hourly terror of extermination by the surrounding Fung, who hold them in hereditary hate as the possessors of the wonderful mountain fortress that once belonged to their forefathers."

"Gibraltar and Spain over again," suggested Orme.

"Yes, with this difference—that the position is reversed, the Abati of this Central African Gibraltar are decaying, and the Fung, who answer to the Spaniards, are vigorous and increasing."

"Well, what happened?" asked the Professor.

"Nothing particular. I tried to persuade these Abati to organize an expedition to rescue my son, but they laughed in my face. By degrees I found out that there was only one person among them who was worth anything at all, and she happened to be their hereditary ruler who bore the high-sounding titles of Walda Nagasta, or Child of Kings, and Takla Warda, or Bud of the Rose, a very handsome and spirited young woman, whose personal name is Maqueda——"

"One of the names of the first known Queens of Sheba," muttered Higgs; "the other was Belchis."

"Under pretence of attending her medically," I went on, "for otherwise their wretched etiquette would scarcely have allowed me access to one so exalted, I talked things over with her. She told me that the idol of the Fung is fashioned like a huge sphinx, or so I gathered from her description of the thing, for I have never seen it."

"What!" exclaimed Higgs, jumping up, "a sphinx in North Central Africa! Well, after all, why not? Some of the earlier Pharaohs are said to have had dealings with that part of the world, or even to have migrated from it. I think that the Makreezi repeats the legend. I suppose that it is ram-headed."

"She told me also," I continued, "that they have a tradition, or rather a belief, which amounts to an article of faith, that if this sphinx or god, which, by the way, is lion, not ram-headed, and is called Harmac——"

"Harmac!" interrupted Higgs again. "That is one of the names of the sphinx—Harmachis, god of dawn."

"If this god," I repeated, "should be destroyed, the nation of the Fung, whose forefathers fashioned it as they say, must move away from that country across the great river which lies to the south. I have forgotten its name at the moment, but I think it must be a branch of the Nile.

"I suggested to her that, in the circumstances, her people had better try to destroy the idol. Maqueda laughed and said it was impossible, since the thing was the size of a small mountain, adding that the Abati had long ago lost all courage and enterprise, and were content to sit in their fertile and mountain-ringed land, feeding themselves with tales of departed grandeur and struggling for rank and high- sounding titles, till the day of doom overtook them.

"I inquired whether she were also content, and she replied, 'Certainly not'; but what could she do to regenerate her people, she who was nothing but a woman, and the last of an endless line of rulers?

"'Rid me of the Fung,' she added passionately, 'and I will give you such a reward as you never dreamed. The old cave-city yonder is full of treasure that was buried with its ancient kings long before we came to Mur. To us it is useless, since we have none to trade with, but I have heard that the peoples of the outside world worship gold.'

"'I do not want gold,' I answered; 'I want to rescue my son who is a prisoner yonder.'

"'Then,' said the Child of Kings, 'you must begin by helping us to destroy the idol of the Fung. Are there no means by which this can be done?'

"'There are means,' I replied, and I tried to explain to her the properties of dynamite and of other more powerful explosives.

"'Go to your own land,' she exclaimed eagerly, 'and return with that stuff and two or three who can manage it, and I swear to them all the wealth of Mur. Thus only can you win my help to save your son.'"

"Well, what was the end?" asked Captain Orme.

"This: They gave me some gold and an escort with camels which were literally lowered down a secret path in the mountains so as to avoid the Fung, who ring them in and of whom they are terribly afraid. With these people I crossed the desert to Assouan in safety, a journey of many weeks, where I left them encamped about sixteen days ago, bidding them await my return. I arrived in England this morning, and as soon as I could ascertain that you still lived, and your address, from a book of reference called Who's Who, which they gave me in the hotel, I came on here."

"Why did you come to me? What do you want me to do?" asked the Professor.

"I came to you, Higgs, because I know how deeply you are interested in anything antiquarian, and because I wished to give you the first opportunity, not only of winning wealth, but also of becoming famous as the discoverer of the most wonderful relics of antiquity that are left in the world."

"With a very good chance of getting my throat cut thrown in," grumbled Higgs.

"As to what I want you to do," I went on, "I want you to find someone who understands explosives, and will undertake the business of blowing up the Fung idol."

"Well, that's easy enough, anyhow," said the Professor, pointing to Captain Orme with the bowl of his pipe, and adding, "he is an engineer by education, a soldier and a very fair chemist; also he knows Arabic and was brought up in Egypt as a boy—just the man for the job if he will go."

I reflected a moment, then, obeying some sort of instinct, looked up and asked:

"Will you, Captain Orme, if terms can be arranged?"

"Yesterday," he replied, colouring a little, "I should have answered, 'Certainly not.' To-day I answer that I am prepared to consider the matter—that is, if Higgs will go too, and you can enlighten me on certain points. But I warn you that I am only an amateur in the three trades that the Professor has mentioned, though, it is true, one with some experience."

"Would it be rude to inquire, Captain Orme, why twenty-four hours have made such a difference in your views and plans?"

"Not rude, only awkward," he replied, colouring again, this time more deeply. "Still, as it is best to be frank, I will tell you. Yesterday I believed myself to be the inheritor of a very large fortune from an uncle whose fatal illness brought me back from South Africa before I meant to come, and as whose heir I have been brought up. To-day I have learned for the first time that he married secretly, last year, a woman much below him in rank, and has left a child, who, of course, will take all his property, as he died intestate. But that is not all. Yesterday I believed myself to be engaged to be married; to-day I am undeceived upon that point also. The lady," he added with some bitterness, "who was willing to marry Anthony Orme's heir is no longer willing to marry Oliver Orme, whose total possessions amount to under L10,000. Well, small blame to her or to her relations, whichever it may be, especially as I understand that she has a better alliance in view. Certainly her decision has simplified matters," and he rose and walked to the other end of the room.

"Shocking business," whispered Higgs; "been infamously treated," and he proceeded to express his opinion of the lady concerned, of her relatives, and of the late Anthony Orme, shipowner, in language that, if printed, would render this history unfit for family reading. The outspokenness of Professor Higgs is well known in the antiquarian world, so there is no need for me to enlarge upon it.

"What I do not exactly understand, Adams," he added in a loud voice, seeing that Orme had turned again, "and what I think we should both like to know, is your exact object in making these proposals."

"I am afraid I have explained myself badly. I thought I had made it clear that I have only one object—to attempt the rescue of my son, if he still lives, as I believe he does. Higgs, put yourself in my position. Imagine yourself with nothing and no one left to care for except a single child, and that child stolen away from you by savages. Imagine yourself, after years of search, hearing his very voice, seeing his very face, adult now, but the same, the thing you had dreamed of and desired for years; that for which you would have given a thousand lives if you could have had time to think. And then the rush of the howling, fantastic mob, the breakdown of courage, of love, of everything that is noble under the pressure of primaval instinct, which has but one song—Save your life. Lastly, imagine this coward saved, dwelling within a few miles of the son whom he had deserted, and yet utterly unable to rescue or even to communicate with him because of the poltroonery of those among whom he had refuged."

"Well," grunted Higgs, "I have imagined all that high-faluting lot. What of it? If you mean that you are to blame, I don't agree with you. You wouldn't have helped your son by getting your own throat cut, and perhaps his also."

"I don't know," I answered. "I have brooded over the thing so long that it seems to me that I have disgraced myself. Well, there came a chance, and I took it. This lady, Walda Nagasta, or Maqueda, who, I think, had also brooded over things, made me an offer—I fancy without the knowledge or consent of her Council. 'Help me,' she said, 'and I will help you. Save my people, and I will try to save your son. I can pay for your services and those of any whom you may bring with you.'

"I answered that it was hopeless, as no one would believe the tale, whereon she drew from her finger the throne-ring or State signet which you have in your pocket, Higgs, saying: 'My mothers have worn this since the days of Maqueda, Queen of Sheba. If there are learned men among your people they will read her name upon it and know that I speak no lie. Take it as a token, and take also enough of our gold to buy the stuffs whereof you speak, which hide fires that can throw mountains skyward, and the services of skilled and trusty men who are masters of the stuff, two or three of them only, for more cannot be transported across the desert, and come back to save your son and me.' That's all the story, Higgs. Will you take the business on, or shall I try elsewhere? You must make up your mind, because I have no time to lose, if I am to get into Mur again before the rains."

"Got any of that gold you spoke of about you?" asked the Professor.

I drew a skin bag from the pocket of my coat, and poured some out upon the table, which he examined carefully.

"Ring money," he said presently, "might be Anglo-Saxon, might be anything; date absolutely uncertain, but from its appearance I should say slightly alloyed with silver; yes, there is a bit which has oxydized—undoubtedly old, that."

Then he produced the signet from his pocket, and examined the ring and the stone very carefully through a powerful glass.

"Seems all right," he said, "and although I have been greened in my time, I don't make many mistakes nowadays. What do you say, Adams? Must have it back? A sacred trust! Only lent to you! All right, take it by all means. I don't want the thing. Well, it is a risky job, and if any one else had proposed it to me, I'd have told him to go to —Mur. But, Adams, my boy, you saved my life once, and never sent in a bill, because I was hard up, and I haven't forgotten that. Also things are pretty hot for me here just now over a certain controversy of which I suppose you haven't heard in Central Africa. I think I'll go. What do you say, Oliver?"

"Oh!" said Captain Orme, waking up from a reverie, "if you are satisfied, I am. It doesn't matter to me where I go."


Chapter 2 THE ADVICE OF SERGEANT QUICK

At this moment a fearful hubbub arose without. The front door slammed, a cab drove off furiously, a policeman's whistle blew, heavy feet were heard trampling; then came an invocation of "In the King's name," answered by "Yes, and the Queen's, and the rest of the Royal Family's, and if you want it, take it, you chuckle-headed, flat-footed, pot- bellied Peelers."

Then followed tumult indescribable as of heavy men and things rolling down the stairs, with cries of fear and indignation.

"What the dickens is that?" asked Higgs.

"The voice sounded like that of Samuel—I mean Sergeant Quick," answered Captain Orme with evident alarm; "what can he be after? Oh, I know, it is something to do with that infernal mummy you unwrapped this afternoon, and asked him to bring round after dinner."

Just then the door burst open, and a tall, soldier-like form stalked in, carrying in his arms a corpse wrapped in a sheet, which he laid upon the table among the wine glasses.

"I'm sorry, Captain," he said, addressing Orme, "but I've lost the head of the departed. I think it is at the bottom of the stairs with the police. Had nothing else to defend myself with, sir, against their unwarranted attacks, so brought the body to the present and charged, thinking it very stiff and strong, but regret to say neck snapped, and that deceased's head is now under arrest."

As Sergeant Quick finished speaking, the door opened again, and through it appeared two very flurried and dishevelled policemen, one of whom held, as far as possible from his person, the grizzly head of a mummy by the long hair which still adhered to the skull.

"What do you mean by breaking into my rooms like this? Where's your warrant?" asked the indignant Higgs in his high voice.

"There!" answered the first policeman, pointing to the sheet-wrapped form on the table.

"And here!" added the second, holding up the awful head. "As in duty bound, we ask explanation from that man of the secret conveyance of a corpse through the open streets, whereon he assaults us with the same, for which assault, pending investigation of the corpse, I arrest him. Now, Guv'nor" (addressing Sergeant Quick), "will you come along with us quietly, or must we take you?"

The Sergeant, who seemed to be inarticulate with wrath, made a dash for the shrouded object on the table, with the intention, apparently, of once more using it as a weapon of offence, and the policemen drew their batons.

"Stop," said Orme, thrusting himself between the combatants, "are you all mad? Do you know that this woman died about four thousand years ago?"

"Oh, Lord!" said the policeman who held the head, addressing his companion, "it must be one of them mummies what they dig up in the British Museum. Seems pretty ancient and spicy, don't it?" and he sniffed at the head, then set it down upon the table.

Explanations followed, and after the wounded dignity of the two officers of the Force had been soothed with sundry glasses of port wine and a written list of the names of all concerned, including that of the mummy, they departed.

"You take my advice, bobbies," I heard the indignant Sergeant declaim outside the door, "and don't you believe things is always what they seem. A party ain't necessarily drunk because he rolls about and falls down in the street; he may be mad, or 'ungry, or epileptic, and a body ain't always a body jest because it's dead and cold and stiff. Why, men, as you've seen, it may be a mummy, which is quite a different thing. If I was to put on that blue coat of yours, would that make me a policeman? Good heavens! I should hope not, for the sake of the Army to which I still belong, being in the Reserve. What you bobbies need is to study human nature and cultivate observation, which will learn you the difference between a new-laid corpse and a mummy, and many other things. Now you lay my words to heart, and you'll both of you rise to superintendents, instead of running in daily 'drunks' until you retire on a pension. Good-night."

Peace having been restored, and the headless mummy removed into the Professor's bedroom, since Captain Orme declared that he could not talk business in the presence of a body, however ancient, we resumed our discussion. First of all, at Higgs's suggestion I drew up a brief memorandum of agreement which set out the objects of the expedition, and provided for the equal division amongst us of any profit that might accrue; in the event of the death of one or more of us, the survivors or survivor to take their or his share.

To this arrangement personally I objected, who desired neither treasure nor antiquities, but only the rescue of my son. The others pointed out, however, that, like most people, I might in future want something to live on, or that if I did not, in the event of his escape, my boy certainly would; so in the end I gave way.

Then Captain Orme very sensibly asked for a definition of our respective duties, and it was settled that I was to be guide to the expedition; Higgs, antiquarian, interpreter, and, on account of his vast knowledge, general referee; and Captain Orme, engineer and military commander, with the proviso that, in the event of a difference of opinion, the dissentient was to loyally accept the decision of the majority.

This curious document having been copied out fair, I signed and passed it to the Professor, who hesitated a little, but, after refreshing himself with a further minute examination of Sheba's ring, signed also, remarking that he was an infernal fool for his pains, and pushed the paper across the table to Orme.

"Stop a minute," said the Captain; "I forgot something. I should like my old servant, Sergeant Quick, to accompany us. He's a very handy man at a pinch, especially if, as I understand, we are expected to deal with explosives with which he has had a lot to do in the Engineers and elsewhere. If you agree I will call him, and ask if he will go. I expect he's somewhere round."

I nodded, judging from the episode of the mummy and the policeman that the Sergeant was likely to be a useful man. As I was sitting next to it, I opened the door for the Captain, whereon the erect shape of Sergeant Quick, who had clearly been leaning against it, literally fell into the room, reminding me much of an overset wooden soldier.

"Hullo!" said Orme as, without the slightest change of countenance, his retainer recovered himself and stood to attention. "What the deuce are you doing there?"

"Sentry go, Captain. Thought the police might change their minds and come back. Any orders, Captain?"

"Yes. I am going to North Central Africa. When can you be ready to start?"

"The Brindisi mail leaves to-morrow night, Captain, if you travel by Egypt, but if you go by Tunis, 7.15 a.m. Saturday is the time from Charing Cross. Only, as I understand that high explosives and arms have to be provided, these might take awhile to lay in and pack so as to deceive customs."

"You understand!" said Orme. "Pray, how do you understand?"

"Doors in these old houses are apt to get away from their frames, Captain, and the gentleman there"—and he pointed to the Professor— "has a voice that carries like a dog-whistle. Oh, no offence, sir. A clear voice is an excellent thing—that is, if the doors fit"—and although Sergeant Quick's wooden face did not move, I saw his humorous grey eyes twinkle beneath the bushy eyebrows.

We burst out laughing, including Higgs.

"So you are willing to go?" said Orme. "But I hope you clearly understand that this is a risky business, and that you may not come back?"

"Spion Kop was a bit risky, Captain, and so was that business in the donga, where every one was hit except you and me and the sailor man, but we came back, for all that. Begging your pardon, Captain, there ain't no such thing as risk. Man comes here when he must, and dies when he must, and what he does between don't make a ha'porth of difference."

"Hear, hear," I said; "we are much of the same way of thinking."

"There have been several who held those views, sir, since old Solomon gave the lady that"—and he pointed to Sheba's ring, which was lying on the table. "But excuse me, Captain; how about local allowances? Not having been a marrying man myself, I've none dependent upon me, but, as you know, I've sisters that have, and a soldier's pension goes with him. Don't think me greedy, Captain," he added hastily, "but, as you gentlemen understand, black and white at the beginning saves bother at the end"—and he pointed to the agreement.

"Quite right. What do you want, Sergeant?" asked Orme.

"Nothing beyond my pay, if we get nothing, Captain, but if we get something, would five per cent. be too much?"

"It might be ten," I suggested. "Sergeant Quick has a life to lose like the rest of us."

"Thank you kindly, sir," he answered; "but that, in my opinion, would be too much. Five per cent. was what I suggested."

So it was written down that Sergeant Samuel Quick was to receive five per cent. of the total profits, if any, provided that he behaved himself and obeyed orders. Then he also signed the agreement, and was furnished with a glass of whisky and water to drink to its good health.

"Now, gentlemen," he said, declining the chair which Higgs offered to him, apparently because, from long custom, he preferred his wooden- soldier attitude against the wall, "as a humble five-per-cent. private in this very adventurous company I'll ask permission to say a word."

Permission was given accordingly, and the Sergeant proceeded to inquire what weight of rock it was wished to remove.

I told him that I did not know, as I had never seen the Fung idol, but I understood that its size was enormous, probably as large as St. Paul's Cathedral.

"Which, if solid, would take some stirring," remarked the Sergeant. "Dynamite might do it, but it is too bulky to be carried across the desert on camels in that quantity. Captain, how about them picrates? You remember those new Boer shells that blew a lot of us to kingdom come, and poisoned the rest?"

"Yes," answered Orme; "I remember; but now they have stronger stuffs— azo-imides, I think they call them—terrific new compounds of nitrogen. We will inquire to-morrow, Sergeant."

"Yes, Captain," he answered; "but the point is, who'll pay? You can't buy hell-fire in bulk for nothing. I calculate that, allowing for the purchase of the explosives and, say, fifty military rifles with ammunition and all other necessaries, not including camels, the outfit of this expedition can't come to less than L1,500."

"I think I have that amount in gold," I answered, "of which the lady of the Abati gave me as much as I could carry in comfort."

"If not," said Orme, "although I am a poor man now, I could find L500 or so in a pinch. So don't let us bother about the money. The question is—Are we all agreed that we will undertake this expedition and see it through to the end, whatever that may be?"

We answered that we were.

"Then has anybody anything more to say?"

"Yes," I replied; "I forgot to tell you that if we should ever get to Mur, none of you must make love to the Walda Nagasta. She is a kind of holy person, who can only marry into her own family, and to do so might mean that our throats would be cut."

"Do you hear that, Oliver?" said the Professor. "I suppose that the Doctor's warning is meant for you, as the rest of us are rather past that kind of thing."

"Indeed," replied the Captain, colouring again after his fashion. "Well, to tell you the truth, I feel a bit past it myself, and, so far as I am concerned, I don't think we need take the fascinations of this black lady into account."

"Don't brag, Captain. Please don't brag," said Sergeant Quick in a hollow whisper. "Woman is just the one thing about which you can never be sure. To-day she's poison, and to-morrow honey—God and the climate alone know why. Please don't brag, or we may live to see you crawling after this one on your knees, with the gent in the specs behind, and Samuel Quick, who hates the whole tribe of them, bringing up the rear. Tempt Providence, if you like, Captain, but don't tempt woman, lest she should turn round and tempt you, as she has done before to-day."

"Will you be so good as to stop talking nonsense and call a cab," said Captain Orme coldly. But Higgs began to laugh in his rude fashion, and I, remembering the appearance of "Bud of the Rose" when she lifted her veil of ceremony, and the soft earnestness of her voice, fell into reflection. "Black lady" indeed! What, I wondered, would this young gentleman think if ever he should live to set his eyes upon her sweet and comely face?

It seemed to me that Sergeant Quick was not so foolish as his master chose to imagine. Captain Orme undoubtedly was in every way qualified to be a partner in our venture; still, I could have wished either that he had been an older man, or that the lady to whom he was recently affianced had not chosen this occasion to break her engagement. In dealing with difficult and dangerous combinations, my experience has been that it is always well to eliminate the possibility of a love affair, especially in the East.