But while Mokatto and the other savage kings who had thrown in their lot with him for the purpose of "eating up" the Izreelites, and partitioning their country, were solacing themselves with the assurance that, despite their frightful daily losses in men, they were winning all along the line, Dick was artfully drawing them after him into the heart of the chain of mountains that encircled the lake and the island city of Bethalia.
Those were strenuous days indeed for all concerned, and especially for the defenders; for the fighting usually began with the dawn, and continued all through the day as long as there was light enough to distinguish friend from foe; while, so far as the Izreelites were concerned, they were obliged to maintain a watch all through the hours of darkness, in order to be prepared for the surprise night attacks which the savages sprang upon them from time to time, with the obvious purpose of exhausting the defenders' strength.
This was precisely what the Izreelites had always feared more than any other earthly thing; and when authentic intelligence began to arrive, pointing to the conclusion that the long-feared attack was about to be made, the Izreelites grew almost crazy with panic, some of them contending that their gods were angry at the admission of two aliens into the country, and that the only way by which their anger could be appeased was by offering the strangers as a sacrifice upon the great altar of the temple which formed the top story of the Legislative building.
The moment was not without its emotions, for although it had already been planned that at no very distant date Maitland should revisit Izreel, bringing with him certain matters which Grosvenor felt it would be highly desirable for him to possess as monarch of a people of such great potential possibilities as the Izreelites, both remembered that the journey from Bethalia to the nearest confines of civilisation was a long and arduous one, bristling with perils of every imaginable kind, and who could say that it would be accomplished in safety, or, if accomplished, could be repeated?
As for the Izreelites, infuriated at the wanton invasion of their country, and fully realising what would have been their own fate had the savages chanced to have been the victors, they relentlessly pursued the flying enemy during the whole of their retreat down the passes, and would doubtless have destroyed them to the very last man had not Dick personally, and by means of imperative messages persistently reiterated, stayed the slaughter, by pointing out that the victory was too decisive and complete for further aggression to ever again become a possibility; and that a too relentless pursuit of already desperate men could but result in a further loss of life among the Izreelites themselves.
This was the kind of thing that marked the end of each day's fight when, the stock of the Izreelites, arrows being exhausted, it became necessary at last to evacuate a stubbornly held position and to retire before the overwhelming hordes of savages that, despite the frightful losses sustained by them in the course of each day's fighting, seemed daily to increase in numbers as the encircling cloud of them contracted with the daily retirement of the defenders towards the lake.
Then he resumed: "But we learn from the officer Benoni, who brought you hither, that since entering our country ye have saved the lives of two men; and since men's lives are more valuable to the Izreelites than aught else, we have decided to mitigate your punishment to this extent: ye shall live, if ye will, upon condition that ye swear never to attempt to leave the country without the royal assent, and to devote yourselves henceforth to the service of Izreel in such manner as ye may be directed.
And when he came to speak of Dick's qualifications as a healer of all manner of diseases and injury to the human anatomy, they were even more greatly surprised and delighted, for, astonishing as it may appear in the case of a people so highly civilised in many respects as were the Izreelites, they knew practically nothing of either medicine or surgery, and pinned their faith entirely to the efficacy of charms and incantations.
For, whatever inducements there might be for Phil to pass the remainder of his life in the strange, scarcely-heard-of land of the Izreelites, no such inducements existed in the case of Dick Maitland, who was now all impatience to return to England and provide for the welfare of his mother if, haply, she still survived.
But when at length the first rays of the morning sun smote the topmost ridges of the hills and came stealing down their sides, arousing the combatants to another day of sanguinary strife, behold! there were no Izreelites to be seen in the neighbourhood of the still briskly blazing fires, nor could the fresh scouts which were promptly sent out find any trace of them.