"Have a care, my lord; have a care! Restrain yourself, sit down if you don't want me to wring your neck for you!"
And Sachar, who had never in his life before been cautioned, much less threatened, sank into his seat, speechless and utterly overwhelmed with amazement, for the moment, at the discovery that there actually existed an individual who was not afraid of him.
Meanwhile, the queen, with the pen still in her hand, was thoughtfully considering the list before her and calmly and deliberately erasing name after name, until not one remained. Then, with a smile, Myrra glanced at the faces turned toward her, and remarked:
"I am sorry, my lords, that you should have been put to so much trouble to no purpose, but the names in this list are no more acceptable to me than were those in the first."
Sachar had been watching the steady process of erasure with fast growing anger. He believed he began to see the full meaning of the queen's action. She did not intend to wed at all if she could help it, and unless she could be compelled to do so, his chance of becoming king was gone. If she could only be induced to name some person as acceptable, he believed he could find means to persuade that person to waive the honour in his (Sachar's) favour; but if she would not do so, what was to be done? Therefore, when the queen lightly pushed the rejected list from before her, Sachar sprang to his feet and, addressing the assembly at large, said:
"My lords, we seem to be singularly unfortunate in our endeavours to find a consort in every way acceptable to her Majesty. To me it seems possible that we may compile list after list of names regarded by ourselves as in every respect eligible, and every list shall meet with a fate like unto that now upon the table. I would therefore venture to suggest that the process be reversed, and that instead of our drafting a list and presenting it for her Majesty's approval, the Queen be requested to prepare a list of persons acceptable to her, and submit it to us. Then we, in council assembled, will take that list, give it our most careful consideration, and decide whether there be any names in it of which we can all conscientiously approve. What say you, my lords; does my proposal seem acceptable to you?"
A momentary silence followed this proposal; then, one after another, the assembled nobles briefly expressed their acquiescence, finishing up with old Lyga, who pithily remarked:
"If her Majesty approves your proposal, my Lord Sachar, I see not why any of us should disapprove."
"That being the case—" began Sachar. But the queen stopped him with uplifted hand.
"One moment, if you please," she said. "If I understand the council aright, their purpose in all this talk about lists, is to hurry me into marriage, irrespective of my own inclinations. Now, my Lord Lyga, before we proceed farther into this matter, I wish to ask you, as Keeper of Statutes: Is there in existence a law compelling me to wed at the bidding of my Council of Nobles?"
"I am not aware of any such law, your Majesty," answered Lyga. "Nay, I will go farther than this, and say that, knowing the statutes intimately as I do, there is no such law."
"Good!" answered the queen. "I have never heard of any such law, but in view of my council's somewhat high-handed action, I thought it possible such a law might exist, of which I had not heard. You say that there is no such law; and I trust my council will accept your assurance as proof of its non-existence. Now, one more question. Is there a law prohibiting an unmarried woman from ruling Ulua?"
"No, your Majesty, there is no such law," answered Lyga. And the glance of triumph which he flashed at Sachar seemed to say that he was glad of it.
"Again, good!" remarked the queen. "My thanks to you, my Lord Lyga, for making this matter perfectly clear. And my thanks to you also, the members of my council, for the keen interest which you have been pleased to manifest in a matter which, now that it comes to be investigated, seems to concern me alone. Believe me, I appreciate that interest at its true and full value; but I beg that you will not trouble yourselves further in the matter, for the thought of marriage has not yet occurred to me, and at the present moment I am not prepared to entertain a proposal from anyone. When I am, I will let you know, and the matter can be re-opened. Meanwhile, I will seize this opportunity to say that I believe I, though unmarried, shall be able, with your wise advice and assistance, to govern Ulua as efficiently as though I enjoyed the help of a husband."
For a moment the members of council were stricken dumb with amazement and consternation at the quiet, self-possessed firmness with which this young girl deliberately set herself in opposition to their combined wishes. And the worst of it was that, as they now fully realised, she was acting entirely within her rights.
They were still struggling with their emotions when Sachar, always bitterly impatient of opposition, and always accustomed to act upon the impulse of the moment, sprang to his feet, his eyes ablaze with fury, and shouted:
"My lords, fellow members of the Council of Nobles, are you going to submit without protest to this most monstrous disregard of our wishes? Because, if you are, I am not. I say that, law or no law, we will not be governed by a woman. The queen must and shall marry forthwith; and if she will not choose for herself a husband, acceptable to us all, we will choose one for her and compel her to marry him, by force, if necessary—"
He stopped suddenly and sank helplessly back into his seat, forced thereto by the irresistible pressure of Dick's hands upon his shoulders, the grip of which threatened to crush his shoulder-blades together. And, looking up, he found Dick Cavendish towering over him with a look in his eyes that seemed to spell sudden death to the rash offender. For three or four seconds Dick, still retaining that frightful and agonising grip upon Sachar's shoulders, glowered at the now writhing noble; then he shook the unfortunate man with such furious violence that Sachar's teeth not only clicked together like castanets, but they also bit his tongue through as he attempted to speak.
By this time the whole chamber was in an uproar, every man having started to his feet in terror of what should happen next. A few of the more timid ones were hastily leaving their seats and beating a precipitate retreat toward the door, only to be stopped, however, by the crossed halberds of the guard. Lyga was the only noble who seemed in nowise disconcerted by so extraordinary a happening, and he stood smiling benevolently on Dick while the latter was manhandling the enraged yet terrified Sachar. Several of the other nobles, however, anxious to curry favour with Sachar, hastened to his assistance, and strove unavailingly to break Dick's grip, while the captain of the guard, accompanied by a file of soldiers, having responded to Dick's call, now stood uncertainly by, at a loss to know whether or not he ought to obey the young Englishman's order to arrest a noble and member of the council.
This state of uncertainty on the part of the captain of the guard did not pass wholly unnoticed by those present, a few of whom loudly protested against the arrest as illegal, in that it had been ordered by one without authority.
"Ha! say you so?" cried the queen, also rising to her feet. "Then that is a matter to be easily remedied." Turning to Dick, she added:
"My Lord Dick, I appoint you Captain-General of my bodyguard, here and now. And I authorise you to arrest my Lord Sachar and lodge him in prison."
AN OMINOUS DISAPPEARANCE.
The startling character of the entire episode, coupled with the suddenness and utter unexpectedness of its development, and the equally unexpected firmness and decision of character manifested by the young queen, exercised such a paralysing effect upon the members of council that, as with one accord, they sank back into their seats and in silence watched the arrest and removal of Sachar from the Council Chamber. And before any of them could pull themselves together to take any definite action, the queen rose to her feet and, bowing to the assembly with a serene and most engaging smile, said:
"My lords of the council, you are dismissed."
Then, turning to the two white men, she murmured, in a voice so low that only they two caught the words:
"My lords Dick and Earle, give me the favour of your company to my own apartments. I desire to consult with ye both." And, accepting the support of Dick's proffered hand, she passed out of the Council Chamber through the doorway by which she had entered, and, followed by her retinue, made her way to the small but beautiful chamber where she and her grandfather had first received the two white men.
Arrived here, she seated herself on a dais at the upper end of the apartment and, directing her ladies to retire to the other end of the room, where they would be out of earshot, she rested her chin upon her hand, as though in deep thought, and so remained for the space of nearly five minutes.
Then, raising her eyes, she glanced first at Dick and then at Earle, who stood respectfully before her, and said:
"My lords, I am in a strait, and desire the benefit of your advice. Ye are from the great world without, and have doubtless mingled freely with the teeming millions of whom ye have spoken to the late king, my beloved grandfather. Ye have told him of the marvellous doings of those millions, of their wonderful enterprises and inventions, and of the rivalry that exists between them; and I doubt not that, mingling with them, as ye must have done, ye have acquired wisdom, beside which the wisdom of the wisest of us in Ulua will seem foolishness.
"You did right, my Lord Dick, in ordering Sachar's arrest for his arrogant and insulting speech, but I doubt whether I should have had the courage to take so bold a step. For I know that it will mean war between him and me—a war of plotting and scheming, if not of actual bloodshed—and I now wish to know whether, in the contest which I feel to be inevitable, I may depend upon your advice and, if necessary, your active co-operation?"
"You may, your Majesty," answered Dick and Earle in the same breath.
"I thank you with all my heart," returned the queen, glancing up at them with a bright smile. "I feel," she continued, "that in the struggle which I foresee, I shall have to rely upon you almost entirely, for I believe that the members of my council will, with very few exceptions, be against me. Go, therefore, and consult together as to the steps which ye would recommend me to take; and then come to me again."
She presented her hand, which Dick and Earle bent over and kissed respectfully before retiring from the presence.
Upon reaching their own suite of apartments, the two friends were surprised to find Lyga, the Keeper of Statutes, awaiting them. There was a look of concern, not altogether unmingled with amusement, in his expression as he rose and advanced to meet them.
"My lords," he said, "it has just come to my ears—and I thought that ye, and you in especial, my Lord Dick, in your capacity of Captain-General of the Queen's Bodyguard, ought to know—that Sachar, together with the officer and the file of soldiers into whose custody ye delivered him, has disappeared."
"Disappeared!" echoed Dick. "How mean ye, my Lord Lyga?"
"Exactly as I have said," replied Lyga. "Sachar has not been lodged in prison, as ye ordered, and the officer and file of soldiers are not in their quarters, as they should be. I rather anticipated some such occurrence, and because my sympathies are wholly with the Queen, and I am on her side, I made it my business to leave the Council Chamber immediately upon her Majesty's departure, and follow the route that Sachar should have taken. I ascertained that he left the palace, accompanied by the officer and soldiers; but he had not reached the prison when I arrived there, and it is certain that now he will not do so. My own conviction is that, being a man of known power and almost unlimited wealth, he found no difficulty in bribing the officer and soldiers to allow him to escape, and has very possibly carried them away with him to protect them from the consequences of their treachery."
Dick and Earle regarded each other intently for a moment, and then nodded with understanding.
"My Lord Lyga," said Dick, "I thank you for your promptitude in bringing me this information, and also for the assurance of your sympathy with the cause of the Queen. Doubtless ye have already recognised that we, too, are wholly and unreservedly on her side, to such an extent, indeed, that we are resolved not to depart from Ulua until her Majesty and her authority are firmly established. Not only so, but we intend to do everything in our power to bring that consummation to pass. I speak for my Lord Earle as well as myself. You corroborate me, don't you?" he added, turning to Earle.
Earle nodded emphatic assent, and Dick resumed:
"Is your sympathy with her Majesty strong enough to induce you to co-operate with us in her cause, my lord?"
"Assuredly," assented Lyga, "else had I left ye to learn of Sachar's escape at your leisure."
"Good!" approved Dick. "Being strangers among you, we are naturally to a very great extent ignorant of the characters of Sachar and those who are likely to take part with him against the Queen; therefore we shall be glad to hear your opinion as to the probable outcome of Sachar's act of defiance. How, think ye, will it end?"
"I will tell you," answered Lyga. "Knowing Sachar and his ambitions so intimately as I do, I think this is what has happened and will happen. Sachar doubtless went direct from the Council Chamber to his own home, provided himself with all the money he could lay his hands upon at the moment, and then probably proceeded to the house of Nimri, the husband of his sister, where, having explained the happenings of this morning, he has arranged with Nimri to manage his affairs for him, collect his moneys, and provide him with such funds as he may need, from time to time. These arrangements made, Sachar will almost certainly go into hiding, and, from his place of concealment, endeavour to organise a revolt against the Queen's authority, with the object of either dethroning her, or—if the people will not permit that—compelling her to marry him."
"So," said Dick, "that means something very like civil war, does it not?"
"It does," agreed Lyga, tersely.
"And, in such an event, how think ye will it go?" demanded Earle.
Lyga considered deeply. "It is a difficult matter to forecast," he presently replied. "On the one hand, such a thing as a revolt against the royal house has never yet occurred in Ulua, and, broadly speaking, the Uluans, as a people, will be opposed to it. For it would be an upsetting of one of Ulua's fundamental laws, and the people at large will naturally argue that if it is possible to upset one law, it will be possible to upset others, with consequences which no man can foresee. On the other hand, Sachar is, far and away, the most powerful and influential man in the kingdom. There are few, if any, who love him, but there are many who, believing in his power, may be prepared to help him in the hope of being lavishly rewarded in the event of his being successful, while there are many more—probably thousands—who, directly or indirectly, are so dependent upon his favour that they will feel they have no choice but to help him, if called upon. And you may rest assured that he will call upon every man who is in the least degree under his influence. I fear it will be found that he will have a very large following."
"In that case," said Dick, "it appears to me that prompt and energetic action is called for. And right here, my Lord Lyga, is where you can be of the utmost service. I know little or nothing of the laws by which Ulua is governed, while you, I understand, have them at your fingers' ends. Tell me, therefore, how far does my authority, as Captain-General of the Queen's Bodyguard, extend?"
"It extends just as far as her Majesty may be pleased to permit," answered Lyga. "You are entitled, even without obtaining her Majesty's express permission, to take whatever steps you may deem necessary for the protection of the Queen's person; and, beyond that, you have only to obtain her Majesty's permission to render lawful any act performed by you in the maintenance of law and order."
"I see," returned Dick. "It would appear, then, that my powers are tolerably wide. Are they wide enough, think you, to justify me in seizing, on behalf of the Queen, all property belonging to Sachar?"
"With what object?" demanded Lyga.
"Primarily, to deprive him of what we English term 'the sinews of war,'" replied Dick, "or, in other words, the means to organise a campaign; and secondarily, with the object of impressing upon all whom it may concern that we who are taking the side of the Queen are fully prepared to suppress with a strong hand any attempt to deprive her of any of her rights or of her liberty."
"By Kuhlacan!" ejaculated Lyga. "Are ye prepared to adopt such stringent measures? We Uluans are a little apt to deprecate force, a little apt to parley and bargain, to compromise. I think that, as a people, we are so timorous that we would concede almost anything in order to avoid strong measures. And that is where Sachar has already the advantage. He is not timorous; on the contrary, he is bold, courageous, overbearing—he frightens people into surrendering to his will. And if ye also are prepared to be firm, resolute, fearless, I believe ye will conquer; for if once the people can be brought to realise that your determination is as strong and unshrinking as that of Sachar, there are many who will fear to join him, lest he fall and they fall with him. But it will not be well that the Queen shall be personally involved in the struggle which I foresee. She must remain personally aloof, passive and detached from it. The issues will be of too grim and strenuous a character for her to be brought into personal contact with them. She is too young, too inexperienced, too tender-hearted to grapple successfully with them; at a critical moment when perhaps her throne, her liberty, possibly even her very life, may be hanging in the balance, she might be tempted to yield, rather than fight for what is rightfully her own, in order to avert bloodshed. That is a trait of her character upon which Sachar will confidently reckon, therefore we who have her interests at heart must safeguard her from the effects of untimely weakness by inducing her to invest you with full power and authority to act in her behalf as may seem to you best, without being obliged first to submit the point to her. Thus, you and Sachar, not she, will be responsible for what may happen. Does such a prospect make you shrink?"
"It does not, friend Lyga," answered Dick.
"I am glad to hear you say so," returned Lyga, "for your view accurately coincides with my own. Would that I were young enough actively to support you! But what matters? My brain will be worth more to you than thews and sinews, and I tell you, my Lord Dick, that the best my brain can offer is and shall be at all times freely yours. I am ready, if need be, to back my wisdom and cunning against Sachar's courage and strength. And now, see ye, I advise that ye take immediate steps to seize every item of Sachar's property and goods that ye can lay hands upon. Give the matter into the hands of Acor, who met ye at the gate when ye first entered Ulua; he is a good man, staunch and—I believe— faithful, and such orders as ye may give him he will execute. Meanwhile, I will retire to mine own quarters and will there prepare a parchment investing you with full power to act as you may deem necessary in defence of the Queen's peace. And to-morrow you and I will go together and beseech her Majesty to sign it."
"Jove! the plot is thickening, with a vengeance," exclaimed Dick, when Lyga had left them. "But," he continued, "what puzzles me is, how it comes that I am suddenly boosted to the front and the top in such an extraordinary manner. What I mean is, that up to the present you have been persona grata here, and now, without rhyme or reason, it seems to me, I am pitch-forked—"
Earle smiled as he laid his hand on Dick's shoulder.
"My dear chap," he said, "if, as you say, I have thus far been the more important individual of the two here in Ulua, you know as well as I do that it has been solely by virtue of this Kuhlacan amulet that I wear. But you have only to glance into one of those mirrors which reflect our images to understand in a moment why a young girl like Queen Myrra should instinctively turn to you, rather than to me when—"
"Oh, I say! that's the most utter rot, you know—" began Dick, blushing furiously. But Earle again interrupted him.
"Rot, or not, my young friend," he said, "it is human nature, which, take my word for it, is pretty much the same all the world over. Besides, you must remember that it was you who intervened so vigorously when that bounder, Sachar, threatened the Queen; therefore it was but natural that when those other johnnies began to protest against the illegality of your order for Sachar's arrest, her Majesty should at once invest you with the necessary authority to legalise your order. And, having made you Captain-General of her bodyguard, she will of course look to you to discharge the functions of the post. And as for me, I tell you frankly that I think, in choosing you, she showed herself to be a very wise little woman; for you are accustomed to responsibility and command. You go ahead, youngster, and fear nothing. I'll back you up to the last cent, whatever you do; and always remember that whenever you feel in need of information or advice, you have wise old Lyga to fall back upon, and he is a host in himself."
Thus reassured, Dick Cavendish summoned a servant and forthwith dispatched him to the adjacent barracks in which the officers and men of the bodyguard were lodged, with a message requesting Captain Acor's immediate attendance. And when, about a quarter of an hour later, Acor put in an appearance, Dick briefly recounted to him the morning's happenings, and wound up by directing him to tell off a sufficient number of men and with them proceed to search for and arrest Sachar, to take possession of and occupy not only Sachar's residence, but every other building belonging to the man, and to seize and lodge in a place of security all Sachar's horses, slaves, and other property capable of being moved. Acor readily undertook to do this, assuring Dick that he believed he could enumerate every item of property belonging to Sachar, and that he would permit nothing to escape him. But he expressed some doubt as to his ability to arrest Sachar, who, he doubted not, had already found a secure hiding place. Dick was greatly gratified to observe that Acor seemed ready to take orders from him without evincing the slightest symptom of envy or jealousy at the fact of Dick being put over him, for he had rather feared something of the kind from all the officers of the bodyguard.
Late in the evening, Acor returned to the palace and reported that he had seized every particle of Sachar's property, but had been unable to discover the slightest clue to the whereabouts of the man himself, all his inquiries being met with the assurance that none of his relatives had seen anything of him since his departure from his house, that morning, to attend the meeting of the Council of Nobles. Acor added that, while he had not the slightest doubt that this statement was in the main true, he had just as little doubt that certain of the persons whom he questioned had lied, and among them he strongly suspected Sachar's major-domo, and the Lord Nimri, Sachar's brother-in-law. The former of these, however, as Acor pointed out, could render no further assistance to his master, since he and his fellow servants were now under the strict surveillance of the officer who had been put in possession of Sachar's principal dwelling; while, as for Nimri, he too was under surveillance, Acor having instructed two smart, keen servants of his own to relieve each other in maintaining a strict watch upon the noble's movements and to follow him whithersoever he might go, reporting to Acor regularly as they went off duty.
At the moment it appeared to both Dick and Earle that these precautions would prove sufficient, and would doubtless lead, in the course of a day or two, to the arrest of the recalcitrant noble; but when three days had passed bringing no news of Sachar, they decided upon the adoption of further measures and, having in the meantime, with Lyga's assistance, obtained the Queen's signature to the document giving Dick carte blanche to act in any manner that he might deem fit, Cavendish published a Proclamation declaring Sachar an outlaw, offering a substantial reward for such information as should lead to his arrest, and pronouncing outlawry against any and all who might be found to have afforded him refuge or succour of any kind.
This drastic step, they fully believed, would result in Sachar's discovery and arrest, especially as every house belonging to Sachar, and every person suspected of being in the slightest degree likely to help or even sympathise with him, was being strictly watched; but day after day went by with no discovery made, no smallest scrap of information coming to hand; and meanwhile the preparations for the state obsequies of the late king were so far advanced that at length the date was fixed for the ceremonial, which was to be of unparalleled pomp and magnificence.
THE FIGHT IN THE ROAD.
The morning of the day which was to witness the imposing ceremonial of the obsequies of the late King Juda dawned brilliantly bright and fair, to the unqualified satisfaction of the Uluans, every one of whom counted upon witnessing some portion at least of the pageant, while the greater number were resolved to see practically the whole of it, and, with that intention, arose about midnight and betook themselves along the road leading to the royal sepulchre, which was a great cavern, situate some eight miles from the city, in the interior of which the bodies of the monarchs of Ulua had been deposited from time immemorial.
With the first appearance of dawn the streets of the city had begun to assume a festive appearance, which, to Dick and Earle at least, seemed distinctly incongruous until it was explained to them by Lyga—who came to them early—that the pageant was in nowise intended to be typical of a nation mourning the loss of its monarch (the theory being that the monarch never dies), but rather of the nation doing honour to one who, after ruling them wisely and well, has laid him down to enjoy a well-earned rest.
It was not, however, to furnish this explanation that Lyga had presented himself at such an early hour, but rather to inquire what progress, if any, had been made in the quest for the missing Sachar.
Dick was obliged to reply to this that, notwithstanding his utmost efforts, and in the following up of innumerable clues which had proved to be false, he had been unable to discover the whereabouts of the missing man, who indeed had disappeared as effectually as though the earth had swallowed him up.
"I feared so; I feared so," commented Lyga, in response to Dick's explanation. "I am inclined to the belief that he is being harboured by some friend whose power and influence are so great that he believes himself strong enough to defy you. And I fear that, all this time, Sachar has been using his own influence and that of his friend to plot some scheme whereby he may secure possession of the Queen's person for a sufficient length of time to compel her to marry him. Hitherto this has been impossible, for the simple reason that, thus far, her Majesty has never left the precincts of the palace, where of course she is safe. But to-day her Majesty goes forth to render the last honours to her beloved grandfather, and to witness, according to custom, the deposition of his body in the royal sepulchre; to-day, therefore, an opportunity may arise for the conspirators to attempt to secure possession of the Queen's person, if they deem themselves strong enough. And if not to-day, the opportunity must soon present itself; for it is manifestly out of the question that her Majesty shall become virtually a prisoner in her own palace. She must of necessity frequently go abroad and show herself to the people, otherwise they would soon begin to think, and to say, that she is afraid of Sachar; and that would but strengthen Sachar's hands and weaken her own.
"But mark ye this, my lords. It is in my mind that if, as I very strongly suspect, it is Sachar's intention to secure possession of the Queen's person, the attempt is likely enough to be made to-day, for the reason that to-day all Ulua will be abroad, and therefore it will be the easier for a large body of Sachar's adherents to assemble together, and maybe form part of the funeral procession, without exciting comment or suspicion."
It was about eleven o'clock in the morning when, the great wrought copper gates at the main entrance of the palace having been swung open, the queen's chariot emerged therefrom and was carefully piloted to its station immediately in the rear of the funeral car, to which, in the meantime, twelve magnificently caparisoned white horses had been yoked, the great cloths which covered the animals from head to heel being made of purple silk, lavishly embroidered in silver thread and weighted at the edges with heavy silver tassels. Their heads were decorated with long plumes of the royal colours, and their bridles were fringed with purple silk bands, scalloped and heavily embroidered in silver. All the horses taking part in the procession, from those in the queen's chariot down to the humble vehicle drawn by a single animal, were caparisoned exactly alike, by strict regulation. And after the chariots, some of which were drawn by six horses, yoked three abreast, came those who, not being wealthy enough to own a chariot, must follow on foot.
The horses having been yoked to the funeral chariot, Dick Cavendish mounted his powerful charger and gave the order for the bodyguard to form round it and the queen's chariot, which was at once done, the troopers forming a cordon six deep, which completely enveloped the two chariots. At the same moment the great doors of the temple were thrown open, and the priests, to the number of about one hundred and fifty, clad in white robes and turbans edged with turquoise blue, filed out through the portals of the building, walking with slow and measured steps, and playing a kind of dirge upon their queer-looking musical instruments, of which the most numerous consisted of long curved trumpets formed of a kind of terra-cotta. Zorah, the high priest, marched in the van bearing aloft a pole surmounted by an effigy of Kuhlacan, the Winged Serpent, while on either side of him walked acolytes swinging censers charged with certain aromatic substances, smouldering and throwing off thin wisps of perfumed smoke.
Down the great flight of the temple steps came the priests, and across the square, until they reached the foremost files of the bodyguard, when they wheeled to the left and proceeded along the appointed route, the funeral car and the rest of the procession getting into motion close behind.
Proceeding at the solemn pace which had been set by the priests at the outset, the funeral procession slowly wended its way along the road toward the place of sepulture, the route being lined on either hand by a continuous crowd of people of the humbler classes, who knew that it would be hopeless for them to attempt to file past the bier while it stood in the great square before the palace, the time allowed for this being only sufficient to permit the nobles and the more affluent classes to pay this last tribute to their dead king; those, therefore, who could not do this adopted the alternative of assembling along the highway and casting their little bouquets of flowers upon the road when the head of the procession approached.
The journey from the square to the great plain before the rocky cliff which contained the royal sepulchre occupied practically four hours, and another two hours elapsed before the tail end of the procession arrived and was arranged in position to witness the elaborate ceremony attending the consignment of the body to its last resting place; thus it was after sunset and the brief dusk of the tropics was falling upon the plain, enveloping it in a veil of mystery and cloaking many of the movements of the enormous crowd assembled, when at length, after the observance of the final rites, the queen, followed by such nobles as were entitled to be present, and the priests emerged from the great cavern. The funeral ceremonies were over, and it now only remained for those who had taken part in them to get back to their homes as speedily as might be.
Dick, in his capacity as Captain-General of the Queen's Bodyguard, and Earle, in the character of a highly distinguished individual closely connected in some mysterious fashion with the god Kuhlacan, were awaiting her Majesty at the entrance of the cave, and immediately upon her emergence they each offered her a hand and proceeded to lead her to a chariot, which was awaiting her at some little distance, the troopers of the bodyguard closing up in the rear of the trio and thus cutting them off from everybody outside the cordon.
No sooner was this accomplished than Earle began hurriedly to address the queen in a low voice:
"Your Majesty," he said, "we have the strongest reason for suspecting that a very formidable and determined attempt will be made to secure possession of your person to-night, during the progress of our journey toward the city. There is no time to enter into even the most brief of explanations, but the point is this: My Lord Dick and I have devised a plan to frustrate this atrocious plot, and all that we need is your Majesty's immediate and unqualified assent to enable us to put the plan into effect. It involves your trusting yourself alone with me while I take you back to the city and the palace by a shorter but very lonely route. Will you do it? It is the joint plan of my Lord Dick and myself, and it is our earnest desire and entreaty that you will be graciously pleased to assent to it."
"Of course," agreed the queen, with the utmost readiness. "I will trust myself with my Lord Dick and you anywhere."
"I greatly appreciate the confidence which your Majesty is pleased to put in me," remarked Earle. "But I fear that I have not succeeded in making myself quite understood. The success of our plan demands that you come with me alone. My Lord Dick cannot come with us. It is necessary that he shall remain with the bodyguard."
"Necessary that he should remain?" objected the queen. "Nay, surely not. Let him turn over the command for the moment, to Acor, and come with us. It is not that I am afraid to trust myself alone with you, my lord," she added, in response to a sigh and a gesture of disappointment from Earle, "but—but—"
"Oh yes, your Majesty, of course I know," responded Earle wearily, "but what you suggest simply cannot be done. You see—Oh! hang it all," he continued, breaking into English, "tell the child that she simply must do as we ask; that you wish it; or she'll stand here arguing until further orders."
The unmistakable tone of annoyance and impatience with which Earle ended his speech caused the queen to glance at him with big, startled eyes; but when Dick bent over her and whispered an entreaty that she would fall in with the plan, so that he might thus be relieved of a very heavy load of anxiety, she acquiesced without further ado, while Earle triumphantly chortled, in English:
"I told you so!"
They were by this time close to the royal chariot, near which stood a dismounted trooper, holding his horse by the bridle with one hand, while over his other arm he held unfolded the long, black military cloak in which officers and men alike were wont to envelop themselves at night time to protect their armour and accoutrements from the drenching night dews.
Without saying a word, Dick at once took the cloak from the man and wrapped it round the queen, enveloping her from head to foot; next he drew the hood over her head and so arranged it that while the girl could see clearly, her features were hidden in the deep shadow cast by the overhanging hood. And, this done, he seized her beneath the arms and tossed her light as a feather, into the saddle, carefully set her feet in the stirrups, and afterwards arranged the voluminous folds of the cloak in such a fashion that the rich dress which she wore was completely concealed. Then, one on each side of the horse's head, Dick and Earle led the animal to the head of the troop, while at a sign from Dick, the dismounted trooper entered the royal chariot and drew the curtains close.
It was by this time quite dark, save for the illumination afforded by the stars, which brilliantly studded the heavens and just shed a bare sufficiency of soft, sheeny light to reveal the white road, and the nearer trees and clumps of bush standing out against the opaque black background of the surrounding hills. So far as could be seen, there was nothing on the road ahead of the royal chariot and its escorting squadrons of horsemen, for to precede them was contrary to etiquette; therefore as soon as Dick and Earle reached the head of the returning procession they mounted their horses and gave the word to march at a trot, the two white men leading, with the queen riding between them, while the nobles, accompanied by their retinues, came closely behind, for all now seemed anxious to reach the city with as little delay as possible. In this fashion about a mile and a half of the return journey was accomplished, and a bend of the road was reached where a sort of bridle path bore sharply off to the right, forming a short cut to the city, but practicable only for horsemen or pedestrians, because of its narrowness, the road through the scrub being only wide enough to permit the passage of a single horseman. Here Earle left the escort and, closely followed by the queen, plunged into the by-path, where their forms instantly became merged in the deep shadow of the surrounding bush, while the soft, sandy character of the soil so muffled the hoof-beats of their horses as to render them inaudible above the sounds caused by the passage of the horses and chariots along the high road. Ten seconds after they had parted from the main body, Earle and his companion had vanished as completely as though the earth had swallowed them up, while none but the leading files of the escort had witnessed their going. Five minutes later, Dick uttered a low word of command, and a sergeant, accompanied by four files of troopers, separated themselves from the main body and pushed forward along the main road at a canter acting as scouts.
Scarcely had these men vanished in the distance when the sky on the left assumed an appearance as though being overspread by a soft golden radiance, throwing the outline of the encircling cliffs in that direction into sharp relief, the stars thereabout paled into insignificant pin points of light ere they vanished altogether, and presently up sailed the full moon into view above the hill tops, instantly flooding the valley with her soft, mysterious effulgence, until in the course of a few minutes objects were almost as clearly visible as in the light of day, while the multitudinous polished metal domes and roofs, of the distant city shimmered under the clear rays like the waters of another lake.
Some ten minutes later, a clear, shrill whistle sounded far ahead, which was the preconcerted signal announcing that the scouts had come into touch with an opposing body of some description, and Dick immediately gave the order for the bodyguard to roll up their cloaks and hold themselves ready for action. Scarcely had this been executed when the sergeant in command of the scouts came thundering back, with the intimation that a dense mass of footmen, armed with bow, spear and sword, occupied the road about half-a-mile ahead, completely blocking it, and that the officer in command—no less a personage than the missing Lord Sachar—contemptuously refused to budge an inch, and insolently demanded immediate speech with the Captain-General.
"He does, does he?" ejaculated Dick. "All right, he shall have it; and much good may it do him!"
The incident of the sergeant's return had not for a moment interrupted the progress of the bodyguard, that official having simply wheeled his horse in the road and drawn in alongside Dick as the latter came up, riding a few paces in advance. Then, keeping pace with the Captain-General, the sergeant made his brief report, before falling back into his proper place in the troop. Five minutes later, upon rounding a bend in the road, Dick found himself within fifty yards of the opposing force, which had been posted with some skill right across the road, at a point where the growth of scrub on either hand was so dense as to render it impossible for either infantry or cavalry to pass through it and so execute an outflanking movement.
"Halt!" shouted Dick to the troopers in his rear; and as the horsemen reined in and came to a standstill, he allowed his hand to drop to the butt of one of the four automatic pistols which he had taken the precaution to thrust into his belt before setting out from the palace in the morning. Drawing forth the weapon and allowing the hand which held it to drop to his side, he urged his horse forward until he was within a few yards of the front rank of the opposing force, when he drew rein, and demanded:
"Who are ye, and where is your leader? Let him stand forth and explain the meaning of this outrage. Know ye that ye are opposing the passage of the chariot of the Queen's most excellent Majesty?"
"Ay, right well do we know it, since that is our purpose," replied a man, stepping forth in response to Dick's challenge. He was dressed in a suit of complete gold armour; but since the Uluan helmet has no visor, and the light of the moon, now almost as brilliant as that of day, fell full upon his face, Dick at once recognised him as the recalcitrant Sachar.
"So it is thou, my Lord Sachar," remarked Dick. "Hast heard that there is a reward set upon thy head, and art come forth at this untimely hour to surrender thyself?"
"Nay, not so," answered Sachar, "but to make two demands have I come, bringing with me these my faithful followers and servitors, that I may have the power to enforce my demands.
"I demand, first, the surrender of the Queen's person into my care and keeping; and second, I demand the surrender of yourself and the other stranger, your companion, in order that ye may be brought to trial for the crimes of exercising undue and pernicious influence upon the mind of the Queen, and the abolition of certain ancient rites and customs connected with the worship and honour of the great god Kuhlacan. And I warn ye beforehand, oh insolent white stranger, that it will be useless for ye to resist my demands; for though ye have some five hundred soldiers at your back, I have here as many thousands to support me, while in your rear there are thousands more who are pledged to help me. Therefore, seeing that ye are hemmed in, front and rear, and cannot possibly escape, I call upon the soldiers of the Queen's bodyguard to surrender at discretion, and thus avert the shedding of much innocent blood."
"Have ye finished?" demanded Dick. "Then—" as Sachar made no reply—"now hearken all of you unto me. Ye know that this man Sachar, once a Uluan noble, is now outlawed and a price set upon his head for threatening her most gracious Majesty, Queen Myrra—whom may God grant a long and prosperous reign—" Here the soldiers of the bodyguard broke in with loud and enthusiastic cheers. "And," continued Dick, when silence was once more restored, "ye have also now heard his audacious and treasonable demand that the Queen shall be surrendered, a prisoner, into his keeping, that he may work his wicked will upon her. Know, therefore, that, rather than concede this outlaw's treasonable demands, I will die here in the road fighting in defence of the Queen's person and liberty, and so will every man who wears her Majesty's uniform—" Here fresh cheers from the bodyguard again interrupted him. "Ye hear those cheers?" resumed Dick, as the shouts died into silence. "And know ye what they mean, oh misguided adherents of the outlawed Sachar? They mean death to you! For your own sakes, therefore, I counsel you to return to your allegiance to the Queen, surrendering Sachar to me, a prisoner, to be tried and dealt with for his offence as the law of Ulua directs. Those of you who are willing to save your lives, face about and retire with all speed, lest evil befall you."
"So!" roared Sachar, advancing upon Dick with uplifted sword, "ye would pervert my followers and terrify them into deserting me!" And he aimed a mighty blow at Dick as the pair rushed at each other. But Dick, anticipating something of the sort, had already dropped the bridle upon his charger's neck, thrust his automatic back into his belt, and whipped out the good steel sword that he had that morning deemed it advisable to substitute for the handsome but comparatively useless weapon that went with his uniform, and the next instant the two blades clashed together. The result was precisely what Dick had anticipated, the steel shattered the hardened and toughened copper blade as though the latter had been glass, and before Sachar in the least realised what had happened Dick had driven his sword hilt into his antagonist's face, causing the Uluan noble to stagger so that he would have fallen, had not Dick leaned forward in his saddle and gripped the man by the arm.
"Sergeant Mato," he called, "take this man back to the centre of the troop, bind him hand and foot, and see to it that he does not escape you. Now, followers of Sachar," he continued, "your leader is a prisoner. Will ye—"
But at that moment he was interrupted by a confused din of angry shouting, the trampling of horses, and the clinking of blade upon blade coming from the rear, showing that the armed retainers of some at least of the nobles who had attended the interment had fallen upon the bodyguard. The sounds also reached the ears of Sachar's followers and, encouraged thereby, they in their turn raised a great shout and rushed forward, with the result that in a moment a fierce battle was raging in the road, with the bodyguard attacked front and rear, while it soon became evident that the aim of the assailants was to reach the queen's chariot, doubtless in the hope of being able to secure possession of it and drive it off through the melee.
For a few minutes the bodyguard were fighting at a serious disadvantage, being all jammed up tightly together round the queen's chariot, so that only a dozen or so in front and rear were able to strike a blow. But Dick and Earle, while discussing the probabilities of attack, had foreseen just such a state of affairs as now obtained, and had issued their orders accordingly. These orders were now being faithfully executed by the several officers, with the result that the troopers were gradually forcing their powerful horses through the foremost ranks of the attacking bodies, both front and rear, while other troopers closely followed them up, sabreing right and left with a full determination to make the traitors pay dearly for their treachery. As for Dick, what with his sword of steel, which sheared through copper weapons and golden armour as though they had been paper, his snapping automatics which slew people at a distance, and his fiercely plunging horse, goaded forward by an unsparing use of the spur, he seemed to the simple Uluans like the incarnation of the god of death and destruction, and after beholding some eight or ten luckless wights go down beneath his sword, they simply turned and fled from him, shrieking with terror. This, added to the confusion occasioned by the fierce onslaught of the troopers who followed closely in his rear, presently proved too much for Sachar's own particular body of retainers, and after some ten minutes of fierce fighting they broke and fled, hotly pursued by the two leading squadrons of the bodyguard.
Nor were those who attacked the bodyguard from the rear in much better case; for although they outnumbered the soldiers by something like ten to one, the cramped width of the road in which they fought nullified this advantage, while their untrained methods of fighting allowed the trained soldiers to ride and mow them down like grass, with the result that after a few minutes of strenuous fighting their courage evaporated and they, too, were seized with such overpowering panic that, to escape the vengeful sabres of the bodyguard, they sought to fly, and finding no way of escape, turned their weapons upon their own comrades and leaders, speedily inducing a state of abject panic in them also. The result was that very soon the rear attack, like that in front, ceased and became converted into a headlong flight, leaving the bodyguard victorious.
THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENS.
Dick's first act on the following morning, was to dispatch to the scene of the fight a strong body of men, whose duty it would be to collect the slain and bury them in a common grave by the roadside, after the officer in command of the party had ascertained, by means of the dead men's uniforms, the names of their chiefs. Then he proceeded in person to the large building which had been hastily converted into a temporary hospital, to which the wounded had been conveyed, and took the necessary steps to discover the names of their chiefs also. The final result of this investigation was the discovery that at least five of the Council of Nobles, in addition to Sachar, had been implicated in the previous night's attack upon the Queen's Bodyguard, in the attempt to secure possession of the queen's person. Dick's next act was to dispatch to the houses of the implicated five a sergeant's guard, with instructions to the officer in command to arrest the owner—if he could be found, and to seize his property. To do the last was simple enough, but Dick was not greatly surprised to learn that, in each case, the "wanted" noble had failed to return home on the previous night, and that nobody was able to give the slightest hint as to his probable whereabouts. This, however, did not very greatly trouble the young captain-general; Sachar, the instigator and leader of the whole treasonable conspiracy, was safely lodged in durance vile, under conditions which rendered his escape a practical impossibility, the victory of the queen's troops over the rebels had been signal and complete, the queen herself was safe and sound, and Dick was disposed to think that, under the circumstances, he would have no great difficulty in stamping out the smouldering remains of the rebellion.
Nor was he mistaken, as circumstances soon proved. He proclaimed the missing nobles outlaws, announced the confiscation of their property, and offered a substantial reward for their persons, dead or alive, which, with the terrible threats against all who should dare to harbour or help them directly or indirectly, produced such a wholesome effect that, within four days, every one of the missing men had been ignominiously brought in and surrendered. And now, each man anxious only to save his own skin, not only did the five—of whom Nimri, Sachar's brother-in-law was one—proceed to lay the blame of the whole affair upon Sachar, accusing him of influencing them by alternate bribes and threats, but they also testified against certain other nobles who, but for this, might have gone scot free and unsuspected; so that ultimately no less than eleven of Ulua's most powerful and ambitious nobles found themselves in danger of losing their heads in consequence of their ambition having o'erleaped itself.
And now, Dick and Earle found themselves confronted with a difficulty, for there were no such things as civil or criminal courts of justice in Ulua, criminals being in the usual course haled before the shiref of the particular district in which the crime was committed, and summarily sentenced by him to such punishment as he, in his wisdom, might deem meet and adequate; while, if the crime was of a specially serious character—as in the present case—it was the monarch who pronounced judgment and determined the nature of the punishment.
But the two white men felt that it would never do to permit the young queen to be saddled with the responsibility of judging eleven rebels against her sovereign authority, and with the onus of personally determining what amount of punishment they should receive; they therefore put their heads together and, without very much difficulty, drafted a scheme for the establishment of courts of justice, somewhat similar in character to those in England, wherein criminals could be tried and sentenced by duly qualified judges; though they decided that the Uluans were not yet ripe for the introduction of the jury system. This scheme they first submitted to Lyga, who, after suggesting certain modifications calculated to adapt it more closely to the requirements and peculiarities of the Uluan character, fully approved of it and agreed to recommend it to the queen for acceptance and embodiment upon the Statute Book. This was done, and, the idea having been fully explained to the queen by Lyga, was approved by her and in due course became one of the laws of the land. Then, a court having been established, and men of suitable attainments found to serve as judges, the prisoners were in due course tried, found guilty, and sentenced. No attempt was made to clear any of the prisoners by means of clever advocacy or specious argument, the questions before the court were the straightforward ones whether or not the accused were guilty of conspiracy, and, if guilty, to what extent; and in every case the verdict was the same, every prisoner was found guilty, but not all to the same extent, some of them being able to show that, owing to the power and influence wielded by Sachar, they were practically compelled to throw in their lot with him, whether or not they approved of his designs. The result of the trial was, under the circumstances, eminently satisfactory, considering that it was the first of the kind ever held in Ulua; for the judges, instructed by Earle and Dick, devoted themselves wholeheartedly to the task of administering strict justice, without regard to the position or personality of the accused; and the trial terminated with the condemnation of Sachar, Nimri, and two others to death, with the confiscation of all their property, while the remaining seven were punished in varying degrees, some by heavy fines, and others by more or less lengthy periods of penal labour.
It was with considerable anxiety that Dick and Earle awaited and watched for the effect upon the populace of this innovation in the judicial methods of Ulua; but they had not long to wait before it became apparent that the formality and solemnity of public trial were far more effective as a deterrent than the former rough and ready methods, under which a culprit was haled before a shiref and summarily punished, with nobody but himself and his immediate connections being a penny the wiser; publicity and its attendant disgrace soon became more wholesomely dreaded than even fine or imprisonment, and when a period of three months had elapsed without the smallest sign of any recurrent restiveness on the part of the Council of Nobles, the two white men felt that Queen Myrra was firmly enough established upon her throne to be in no further need of their services; they therefore announced their intention to make an early departure, and proceeded to make their preparations for the return journey.
It is not putting the matter any too strongly to say that the announcement of the impending departure of the two white men from Ulua was productive of the utmost consternation and dismay. So thoroughly had the two identified themselves with every movement having for its object the improvement of previous conditions, and so far-reaching and wholesome had been their influence generally, that the inhabitants of the city had insensibly grown to regard them as heaven-sent reformers, permanently settled among them for their benefit and advantage by the especial favour of Kuhlacan, and the news that the pair were about to leave them fell upon the Uluans with something of the effect of a bolt from the blue.
And upon no one did the intelligence seem to produce so stunning and grievous an effect as upon the young queen. When, upon a certain morning, Dick and Earle, having craved audience of her Majesty, made the momentous announcement and asked her permission to depart, they were shocked and astounded at the manner in which she received the intimation. She went as white as death, sank back in the throne-like chair upon which she was seated, closed her eyes, and for a moment it looked as though she had fainted.
And then, at the sight of the queen's manifest distress, a most extraordinary revulsion of feeling swept over Dick Cavendish. Up to that moment he had regarded the projected return to civilisation as merely part and parcel of the fulfilment of his contract with Earle, as something which he had undertaken and must therefore of necessity carry out; yet now he was fully conscious for the first time that it was Earle, and not he, who had broached the subject of return, and he was conscious, moreover, of the fact that he had viewed the prospect of departure from Ulua with a singular lack of enthusiasm.
This illumination, however, remained with him only long enough to impress itself upon his mind as a flash of lightning impresses itself upon the sight, and was instantly succeeded by a rush of most extraordinary and tumultuous emotion at the young queen's extreme distress. An overwhelming sense of her utter isolation and friendlessness, a sudden realisation of her as the centre and victim of a thousand ambitious plots by unscrupulous nobles like Sachar, and of her bitter need of a strong arm and a cool head to keep and protect her in the multitudinous trials incidental to her exalted position, a quick appreciation of her extraordinary beauty, physical and mental, and—some other exquisitely sweet and tender feeling which he had no time to analyse, swept over him like a flood, causing him to forget everything but the utterly irresistible desire to comfort her and alleviate her distress; and, acting as irresponsibly as though he were in a dream, forgetful alike of Earle's presence and that of the ladies-in-waiting at the far end of the room, he sprang forward, flung himself upon his knees beside the girl, took her in his arms, and proceeded to pour forth a flood of tender incoherences, mingled with caresses, that very speedily brought back the colour to her Majesty's lips and cheeks and the light into her eyes.
"Oh, my Lord Dick," she murmured, placing her hands upon Dick's shoulders as she gazed with dilated eyes into his, "What is this you say? That you are about to leave me? Why? What have I done, and wherein have I failed in hospitality, that you should desire to go from me?"
"Nay, your Majesty," answered Dick, "nay, it is not that at all, on my soul. It is simply that we have done what we came to do in Ulua, and now, I suppose—I fear—we must—Earle and I—"
"My dear chap, don't worry about me," broke in Earle, in English, with a grin. "I am quite capable of making the return journey alone, if that is what you are thinking about; indeed, to be candid, I have for some time been contemplating such a possibility, for I foresaw all this. Why, can't you see what is the matter with the Queen? She has fallen in love with you—and you with her, though perhaps you scarcely realise it as yet—"
"By Jove! I do, though," retorted Dick, "and if I thought there was the slightest chance of what you say being true, I'll be hanged if I wouldn't stay behind and—"
"Well, ask her, man; ask her, and see what she says," returned Earle.
And Dick did ask her, there and then; and very simply, very sweetly, and very frankly, Myrra confessed that the idea of Dick ever leaving her was intolerable, and that if he would only consent to remain, she would gladly marry him, and defy all the nobles of Ulua to say her nay, if need be.
This understanding of course involved a considerable delay of Earle's departure, for he at once announced his determination not to leave Ulua until he had seen all prospective difficulties removed, and Dick, as Myrra's husband, securely seated upon the throne of Ulua.
And difficulties to overcome there certainly were, for to the more ambitious among the Uluan nobles the idea of the queen's marriage to an alien was distasteful in the extreme, and a very determined effort was made to stir up a popular demonstration against it. But Lyga, the Keeper of Statutes, pronounced unreservedly in favour of it, and his influence was far-reaching. The populace generally also looked upon the project with undisguised favour, for Dick had contrived in a quiet way to become exceedingly popular by the frank warmth and geniality of his manner, no less than by his conspicuous gallantry upon the occasion of the fight on the night of the late king's interment. Lastly, the nobles, finding that opposition would have no chance of success, reconciled themselves to the inevitable, each consoling himself with the reflection that although the queen had had the bad taste to reject him, she had at least had the good taste not to accept either of his rivals.
When, having come to an understanding with the queen, Dick and Earle withdrew from her Majesty's presence, Cavendish scarcely knew whether he was standing on his head or his feet; for with a few impetuous words he had completely altered his entire outlook upon life, and changed his worldly prospects to an extent which he had never thought possible, even in his wildest dreams. No more of the sea life for him; he must bid a definite and final good-bye to that once cherished hope of one day commanding another such ship as the Everest; and—worst of all—there was now the possibility that he might never more set eyes upon his beloved sister, Grace. In the whirlwind of tumultuous feeling that had temporarily swept him off his feet, he had momentarily forgotten her, and, but for what Earle had once in a burst of confidence confided to him upon that subject, he would now have suffered several very severe qualms of conscience. But he knew Earle by this time, knew him thoroughly, not only as the soul of honour, but as the man to whom, above all others, he would and could most safely confide Grace's happiness, and although the dear girl would doubtless shed a few tears for her lost brother, Dick felt he could trust Earle to quickly dry them.
Then again, as to the abandonment of his most cherished ambitions, Dick felt that he was but exchanging them for others of an even more important character. For he had not dwelt among the Uluans for so long without perceiving that, young and comparatively inexperienced though he was, his knowledge of the outer world fitted him to rule and govern the remarkable people among whom he had mingled, far better and more wisely than any of the ignorant, bigoted, and narrow-minded nobles whom he had met.
Something of all this he confided to Earle when at length the two found themselves once more in the seclusion of their own apartments. But Earle soon put the youngster upon better terms with himself; he stoutly maintained that, in acting as Dick had acted, he had done the right thing, not only for the queen, but for himself as well. He pointed out at length the immense power for good which Dick, as King of the Uluans, would wield, the many reforms which it would be possible for him to introduce, the many evils which he could abolish, and, with the instinct for business characteristic of the American, he rapidly sketched out the numerous advantages to the Uluans which must result from the opening of communication between them and the outer world—an easy matter to accomplish, with the vast wealth at their command. And, as to Grace, he pooh-poohed the idea that she and Dick were never again to meet; indeed, in his enthusiasm, he more than half promised that his and Grace's honeymoon tour should include a visit to Ulua. And lastly, he touched, with the warmth and delicacy of a true friend and gentleman, upon the manifold perfections and virtues of the girl queen, and especially upon her frank and whole-hearted affection for Dick—to say nothing of his for her; so that, before their chat was over, every one of Dick's doubts and fears was dissipated and he felt free to regard himself, as indeed he was, one of the most fortunate young men in the world.
"Come to think of it, you know, Dick," remarked Earle, when at length they were able to get back naturally to more mundane matters, "this is the most lucky thing that could possibly have happened for both of us. For I have had that emerald mine of ours upon my mind for some time, and have felt a bit puzzled as to how it was to be worked to our mutual advantage. But with you as King of Ulua, the thing will be as simple as falling off a log. You will be on the spot, so to speak—for, after all, in actual mileage, the mine is really not very far from here—and it will be an easy matter for you to arrange with our friends, the Mangeromas, to work the mine and bring in the emeralds to you. Then, I have been studying my map, and according to it and our observations, I calculate that we are here only some four hundred miles from the town of Cerro de Pasco, in Peru, which appears to be connected by railway with Lima and Callao. I propose to return home by that route, roughly surveying the ground as I go, and I think it not improbable that I may discover a practicable road between the two places, by means of which you may be able to communicate with the outer world and perhaps establish a profitable trade with it. With your permission, I will take along half-a-dozen or so of good, reliable Uluans with me, sending them back to you with a detailed report of the results of my exploration as soon as I reach civilisation; then, if you think it worth while, you can get to work to make a proper road. But we can discuss all these little business matters more at length, later on. There will be plenty of time, now, before I go."
This is not a love story, but a yarn of adventure, pure and simple; all that need be said, therefore, in connection with Cavendish's wedding, is that the preparations for it, upon a scale of unusual magnificence, even for Ulua—the circumstances connected with it being in themselves very unusual—went smoothly forward, and in due time culminated, as such preparations should, in a ceremony, the splendour of which will linger long in the memory of those who were privileged to witness it. The wedding ceremony, which was performed in the temple, was immediately followed by the crowning of Dick as King, in strict accordance with Uluan precedent and usage; and thereupon Dick entered upon his new duties as a practically despotic monarch with the zest and thoroughness which had always characterised his actions, yet with a discretion and moderation which speedily lifted him to the zenith of popularity with his subjects.
Earle remained on in Ulua for a full month after the celebration of the royal wedding, and then, satisfied that all was going well with his chum, completed his preparations for departure, and finally bade farewell to Ulua and his many friends therein on the anniversary—as it happened—of the departure of himself and Dick from New York on the expedition which was destined to produce such extraordinary and far-reaching results.
He departed, laden with costly gifts from Dick, Myrra, and numerous other friends, for it turned out that the mountains which hemmed in the valley and lake of Ulua were fabulously rich in gold and precious stones, and the value of those which he took away with him amounted in itself to a princely fortune. Also he took a long letter from Dick to Grace, containing, among other items, a cordial invitation from the royal pair to visit Ulua as often and for as long a time as she pleased, together with a parcel of priceless rubies as a joint wedding gift from Dick and Myrra. A dozen, instead of half-a-dozen, Uluans accompanied Earle as far as Cerro de Pasco, in addition to Peter and the Indians who had formed part of the original expedition. The Uluans returned to the city after an absence of a trifle over three months, bringing with them a long and detailed report, accompanied by a map, from Earle, from which it appeared that the American, during an eventful journey, packed with adventure, had discovered a practicable route from Ulua into Peru; and when last heard from, Dick was busily engaged upon the task of improving this route, with a view to establishing regular communication between Ulua and the sea.