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- Queen Sheba's Ring - 20/54 -


palace, where these rooms were situated, formed, we noted, a separate house, having its own gateway, but, so far as we could see, no passage or other connection joining it to the main building. In front of it was a small garden, and at its back a courtyard with buildings, in which we were informed our camels had been stabled. At the time we noted no more, for night was falling, and, even if it had not been, we were too worn out to make researches.

Moreover, Orme was now desperately ill--so ill that he could scarcely walk leaning even on our shoulders. Still, he would not be satisfied till he was sure that our stores were safe, and, before he could be persuaded to lie down, insisted upon being supported to a vault with copper-bound doors, which the officers opened, revealing the packages that had been taken from the camels.

"Count them, Sergeant," he said, and Quick obeyed by the light of a lamp that the officer held at the open door. "All correct, sir," he said, "so far as I can make out."

"Very good, Sergeant. Lock the door and take the keys."

Again he obeyed, and, when the officer demurred to their surrender, turned on him so fiercely that the man thought better of it and departed with a shrug of his shoulders, as I supposed to make report to his superiors.

Then at length we got Orme to bed, and, as he complained of intolerable pains in his head and would take nothing but some milk and water, having first ascertained that he had no serious physical injuries that I could discover, I administered to him a strong sleeping-draught from my little travelling medicine case. To our great relief this took effect upon him in about twenty minutes, causing him to sink into a stupor from which he did not awake for many hours.

Quick and I washed ourselves, ate some food that was brought to us, and then took turns to watch Orme throughout the night. When I was at my post about six o'clock on the following morning he woke up and asked for drink, which I gave to him. After swallowing it he began to wander in his mind, and, on taking his temperature, I found that he had over five degrees of fever. The end of it was that he went off to sleep again, only waking up from time to time and asking for more drink.

Twice during the night and early morning Maqueda sent to inquire as to his condition, and, apparently not satisfied with the replies, about ten in the forenoon arrived herself, accompanied by two waiting-ladies and a long-bearded old gentleman who, I understood, was the court physician.

"May I see him?" she asked anxiously.

I answered yes, if she and those with her were quite quiet. Then I led them into the darkened room where Quick stood like a statue at the head of the bed, only acknowledging her presence with a silent salute. She gazed at Oliver's flushed face and the forehead blackened where the gases from the explosion had struck him, and as she gazed I saw her beautiful violet eyes fill with tears. Then abruptly she turned and left the sick-chamber. Outside its doors she waved back her attendants imperiously and asked me in a whisper:

"Will he live?"

"I do not know," I answered, for I thought it best that she should learn the truth. "If he is only suffering from shock, fatigue, and fever, I think so, but if the explosion or the blow on his head where it cut has fractured the skull, then----"

"Save him," she muttered. "I will give you all I--nay, pardon me; what need is there to tempt you, his friend, with reward? Only save him, save him."

"I will do what I can, Lady, but the issue is in other hands than mine," I answered, and just then her attendants came up and put an end to the conversation.

To this day the memory of that old rabbi, the court physician, affects me like a nightmare, for of all the medical fools that ever I met he was by far the most pre-eminent. All about the place he followed me suggesting remedies that would have been absurd even in the Middle Ages. The least harmful of them, I remember, was that poor Orme's head should be plastered with a compound of butter and the bones of a still-born child, and that he should be given some filthy compound to drink which had been specially blessed by the priests. Others there were also that would certainly have killed him in half-an-hour.

Well, I got rid of him at last for the time, and returned to my vigil. It was melancholy work, since no skill that I had could tell me whether my patient would live or die. Nowadays the young men might know, or say that they did, but it must be remembered that, as a doctor, I am entirely superannuated. How could it be otherwise, seeing that I have passed the best of my life in the desert without any opportunity of keeping up with the times.

Three days went by in this fashion, and very anxious days they were. For my part, although I said nothing of it to any one, I believed that there was some injury to the patient's skull and that he would die, or at best be paralyzed. Quick, however, had a different opinion. He said that he had seen two men in this state before from the concussion caused by the bursting of large shells near to them, and that they both recovered although one of them became an idiot.

But it was Maqueda who first gave me any definite hope. On the third evening she came and sat by Orme for awhile, her attendants standing at a little distance. When she left him there was a new look upon her face--a very joyful look--which caused me to ask her what had happened.

"Oh! he will live," she answered.

I inquired what made her think so.

"This," she replied, blushing. "Suddenly he looked up and in my own tongue asked me of what colour were my eyes. I answered that it depended upon the light in which they might be seen.

"'Not at all,' he said. 'They are always /vi-o-let/, whether the curtain is drawn or no.' Now, physician Adams, tell me what is this colour /vi-o-let/?"

"That of a little wild flower which grows in the West in the spring, O Maqueda--a very beautiful and sweet-scented flower which is dark blue like your eyes."

"Indeed, Physician," she said. "Well, I do not know this flower, but what of that? Your friend will live and be sane. A dying man does not trouble about the colour of a lady's eyes, and one who is mad does not give that colour right."

"Are you glad, O Child of Kings?" I asked.

"Of course," she answered, "seeing that I am told that this captain alone can handle the firestuffs which you have brought with you, and, therefore, that it is necessary to me that he should not die."

"I understand," I replied. "Let us pray that we may keep him alive. But there are many kinds of firestuffs, O Maqueda, and of one of them which chances to give out violet flames I am not sure that my friend is master. Yet in this country it may be the most dangerous of all."

Now when she heard these words the Child of Kings looked me up and down angrily. Then suddenly she laughed a little in a kind of silent way that is peculiar to her, and, without saying anything, beckoned to her ladies and left the place.

"Very variegated thing, woman, sir," remarked Quick, who was watching. (I think he meant to say "variable.") "This one, for instance, comes up that passage like a tired horse--shuffle, shuffle, shuffle--for I could hear the heels of her slippers on the floor. But now she goes out like a buck seeking its mate--head in air and hoof lifted. How do you explain it, Doctor?"

"You had better ask the lady herself, Quick. Did the Captain take that soup she brought him?"

"Every drop, sir, and tried to kiss her hand afterward, being still dazed, poor man, poor man! I saw him do it, knowing no better. He'll be sorry enough when he comes to himself."

"No doubt, Sergeant. But meanwhile let us be glad that both their spirits seem to have improved, and if she brings any more soup when I am not there, I should let him have it. It is always well to humour invalids and women."

"Yes, Doctor; but," he added, with a sudden fall of face, "invalids recover sometimes, and then how about the women."

"Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof," I answered; "you had better go out for exercise; it is my watch." But to myself I thought that Fate was already throwing its ominous shadow before, and that it lay deep in Maqueda's violet eyes.

Well, to cut a long story short, this was the turning-point of Orme's illness, and from that day he recovered rapidly, for, as it proved, there was no secret injury to the skull, and he was suffering from nothing except shock and fever. During his convalescence the Child of Kings came to see him several times, or to be accurate, if my memory serves me right, every afternoon. Of course, her visits were those of ceremony--that is to say, she was always accompanied by several of her ladies, that thorn in my flesh, the old doctor, and one or two secretaries and officers-in-waiting.

But as Oliver was now moved by day into a huge reception room, and these people of the court were expected to stop at one end of it while she conversed with him at the other, to all intents and purposes, save for the presence of myself and Quick, her calls were of a private nature. Nor were we always present, since, now that my patient was out of danger the Sergeant and I went out riding a good deal-- investigating Mur and its surroundings.

It may be asked what they talked about on these occasions. I can only answer that, so far as I heard, the general subject was the politics of Mur and its perpetual war with the Fung. Still, there must have been other topics which I did not hear, since incidently I discovered that Orme was acquainted with many of Maqueda's private affairs whereof he could only have learned from her lips.

Thus when I ventured to remark that perhaps it was not altogether wise for a young man in his position to become so intimate with the hereditary ruler of an exclusive tribe like the Abati, he replied cheerfully that this did not in the least matter, as, of course,


Queen Sheba's Ring - 20/54

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