She had not spoken; she had not cried out. As a matter of fact she did not know into whose hands she had now fallen. Her reaction to her rescue had been anything but a happy one, for she felt that she had been snatched from merciful death to face some new horror of life. The most reasonable explanation was that Bobolo had arrived in time to snatch her from the hands of the pygmies, and she preferred death to Bobolo.
A short distance from the village Old Timer lowered her to the ground and commenced to cut away her bonds. He had not spoken either. He had not dared trust his voice to speak, so loudly was his heart pounding in his throat. When the last bond was cut he helped her to her feet. He wanted to take her in his arms and crush her to him, but something stayed him. Suddenly he felt almost afraid of her. Then he found his voice.
“Thank God that I came in time,” he said.
The girl voiced a startled exclamation of surprise. “You are a white man!” she cried. “Who are you?”
“Who did you think I was?”
He laughed. “I am the man you don’t like,” he explained.
“Oh! And you risked your life to save me. Why did you do it? It was obvious that you did not like me; perhaps that was the reason I did not like you.”
“Let’s forget all that and start over.”
“Yes, of course,” she agreed; “but you must have come a long way and faced many dangers to save me. Why did you do it?”
“Because I—” He hesitated. “Because I couldn’t see a white woman fall into the hands of these devils.”
“What are we going to do now? Where can we go?”
“We can’t do much of anything before morning,” he replied. “I’d like to get a little farther away from that village; then we must rest until morning. After that we’ll try to reach my camp. It’s two days’ march on the opposite side of the river—if I can find the river. I got lost today trying to locate Rebega’s village.”
They moved on slowly through the darkness. He knew that they were starting in the right direction, for when he had come to the clearing where the village stood he had noted the constellations in the sky; but how long they could continue to hold their course in the blackness of the forest night where the stars were hidden from their view, he did not know.
“What happened to you after Bobolo dragged me from the canoe at the mouth of that frightful river?” she asked.
“They took me back to the temple.”
The girl shuddered. “That terrible place!”
“They were going to—to prepare me for one of their feasts,” he continued. “I imagine I’ll never be so close to death as that again without dying. The priestesses were just about to mess me up with their clubs.”
“How did you escape?”
“It was nothing short of a miracle,” he replied. “Even now I cannot explain it. A voice called down from the rafters of the temple, claiming to be the muzimo of some native. A muzimo, you know, is some kind of ghost; I think each one of them is supposed to have a muzimo that looks after him. Then the finest looking white man I ever saw shinned down one of the pillars, grabbed me right out from under the noses of the priests and priestesses, and escorted me to the river where he had a canoe waiting for me.”
“Hadn’t you ever seen him before?”
“No. I tell you it was a modern miracle, not unlike one that happened in the pygmy village just as I had busted in to head off that bloodthirsty, old she-devil who was going to knife you.”
“The only miracle that I am aware of was your coming just when you did; if there was another I didn’t witness it. You see I had my eyes closed, waiting for Wlala to use her knife, when you stopped her.”
“I didn’t stop her.”
“That was the miracle.”
“I do not understand.”
“Just as the woman grabbed you by the hair and raised her knife to kill you, an arrow passed completely through her body, and she fell dead. Then as I rushed in and the warriors started to interfere with me, three or four of them fell with arrows through them, but where the arrows came from I haven’t the slightest idea. I didn’t see anyone who might have shot them. I don’t know whether it was someone trying to aid us, or some natives attacking the Betete village.”
“Or some one else trying to steal me,” suggested the girl. “I have been stolen so many times recently that I have come to expect it; but I hope it wasn’t that, for they might be following us.”
“Happy thought,” commented Old Timer; “but I hope you’re wrong. I think you are, too, for if they had been following us to get you, they would have been on us before. There is no reason why they should have waited.”
They moved on slowly through the darkness for about half an hour longer; then the man stopped. “I think we had better rest until morning,” he said, “though I don’t know just how we are going to accomplish it. There is no place to lie down but the trail, and as that is used by the leopards at night it isn’t exactly a safe couch.”
“We might try the trees,” she suggested.
“It is the only alternative. The underbrush is too thick here—we couldn’t find a place large enough to lie down. Can you climb?”
“I may need a little help.”
“I’ll go up first and reach down and help you up,” he suggested.
A moment later he had found a low branch and clambered onto it. “Here,” he said, reaching down, “give me your hand.” Without difficulty he swung her to his side. “Stay here until I find a more comfortable place.”
She heard him climbing about in the tree for a few minutes, and then he returned to her. “I found just the place,” he announced. “It couldn’t have been better if it had been made to order.” He helped her to her feet, and then he put an arm about her and assisted her from branch to branch as they climbed upward toward the retreat he had located.
It was a great crotch where three branches forked, two of them laterally and almost parallel. “I can fix this up like a Pullman,” he observed. “Just wait a minute until I cut some small branches. How I ever stumbled on it in the dark gets me.”
“Another miracle, perhaps,” she suggested.
Growing all about them were small branches, and it did not take Old Timer long to cut as many as he needed. These he laid close together across the two parallel branches. Over them he placed a covering of leaves.
“Try that,” he directed. “It may not be a feather bed, but it’s better than none.”
“It’s wonderful.” She had stretched out on it in the first utter relaxation she had experienced for days—relaxation of the mind and nerves even more than of the body. For the first time in days she did not lie with terror at her side.
He could see her only dimly in the darkness; but in his mind’s eyes he visualized the contours of that perfect form, the firm bosom, the slender waist, the rounded thigh; and again passion swept through him like a racing torrent of molten gold.
“Where are you going to sleep?” she asked.
“I’ll find a place,” he replied huskily. He was edging closer to her. His desire to take her in his arms was almost maniacal.
“I am so happy,” she whispered sleepily. “I didn’t expect ever to be happy again. It must be because I feel so safe with you.”
The man made no reply. Suddenly he felt very cold, as though his blood had turned to water; then a hot flush suffused him. “What the devil did she say that for?” he soliloquized. It angered him. He felt that it was not fair. What right had she to say it? She was not safe with him. It only made the thing that he contemplated that much harder to do—took some of the pleasure from it. Had he not saved her life at the risk of his own? Did she not owe him something? Did not all women owe him a debt for what one woman had done to him?
“It seems so strange,” she said drowsily.
“What?” he asked.
“I was so afraid of you after you came to my camp, and now I should be afraid if you were not here. It just goes to show that I am not a very good judge of character, but really you were not very nice then. You seem to have changed.”
He made no comment, but he groped about in the darkness until he had found a place where he could settle himself, not comfortably, but with a minimum of discomfort. He felt that he was weak from hunger and exhaustion. He would wait until tomorrow. He thought that it might be easier then when her confidence in him was not so fresh in his mind, but he did not give up his intention.
He wedged himself into a crotch where a great limb branched from the main bole of the tree. He was very uncomfortable there, but at least there was less danger that he might fall should he doze. The girl was a short distance above him. She seemed to radiate an influence that enveloped him in an aura at once delicious and painful. He was too far from her to touch her, yet always he felt her. Presently he heard the regular breathing that denoted that she slept. Somehow it reminded him of a baby—innocent, trusting, confident. He wished that it did not. Why was she so lovely? Why did she have hair like that? Why had God given her such eyes and lips? Why— Tired nature would be denied no longer. He slept.
Old Timer was very stiff and sore when he awoke. It was daylight. He glanced up toward the girl. She was sitting up looking at him. When their eyes met she smiled. Little things, trivial things often have a tremendous effect upon our lives. Had Kali Bwana not smiled then in just the way that she did, the lives of two people might have been very different.
“Good morning,” she called, as Old Timer smiled back at her. “Did you sleep in that awful position all night?”
“It wasn’t so bad,” he assured her; “at least I slept.”
“You fixed such a nice place for me; why didn’t you do the same for yourself?”
“You slept well?” he asked.
“All night. I must have been dead tired; but perhaps what counted most was the relief from apprehension. It is the first night since before my men deserted me that I have felt free to sleep.”
“I am glad,” he said; “and now we must be on the move; we must get out of this district.”
“Where can we go?”
“I want to go west first until we are below Bobolo’s stamping grounds and then cut across in a northerly direction toward the river. We may have a little difficulty crossing it, but we shall find a way. At present I am more concerned about the Betetes than about Bobolo. His is a river tribe. They hunt and trap only a short distance in from the river, but the Betetes range pretty well through the forest. Fortunately for us they do not go very far to the west.”
He helped her to the ground, and presently they found a trail that seemed to run in a westerly direction. Occasionally he saw fruits that he knew to be edible and gathered them; thus they ate as they moved slowly through the forest. They could not make rapid progress because both were physically weak from abstinence from sufficient food; but necessity drove them, and though they were forced to frequent rests they kept going.
Thirst had been troubling them to a considerable extent when they came upon a small stream, and here they drank and rested. Old Timer had been carefully scrutinizing the trail that they had been following for signs of the pygmies; but he had discovered no spoor of human foot and was convinced that this trail was seldom used by the Betetes.
The girl sat with her back against the stem of a small tree, while Old Timer lay where he could gaze at her profile surreptitiously. Since that morning smile he looked upon her out of new eyes from which the scales of selfishness and lust had fallen. He saw now beyond the glittering barrier of her physical charms a beauty of character that far transcended the former. Now he could appreciate the loyalty and the courage that had given her the strength to face the dangers of this savage world for—what?
The question brought his pleasant reveries to an abrupt conclusion with a shock. For what? Why, for Jerry Jerome, of course. Old Timer had never seen Jerry Jerome. All that he knew about him was his name, yet he disliked the man with all the fervor of blind jealousy. Suddenly he sat up.
“Are you married?” He shot the words as though from a pistol.
The girl looked at him in surprise. “’Why, no,” she replied.
“Are you engaged?”
“Aren’t your questions a little personal?” There was just a suggestion of the total frigidity that had marked her intercourse with him that day that he had come upon her in her camp.
Why shouldn’t he be personal, he thought. Had he not saved her life; did she not owe him everything? Then came a realization of the caddishness of his attitude. “I am sorry,” he said.
For a long time he sat gazing at the ground, his arms folded across his knees, his chin resting on them. The girl watched him intently; those level, grey eyes seemed to be evaluating him. For the first time since she had met him she was examining his face carefully. Through the unkempt beard she saw strong, regular features, saw that the man was handsome in spite of the dirt and the haggard look caused by deprivation and anxiety. Neither was he as old as she had thought him. She judged that he must still be in his twenties.
“Do you know,” she remarked presently, “that I do not even know your name?”
He hesitated a moment before replying and then said, “The Kid calls me Old Timer.”
“That is not a name,” she remonstrated, “and you are not old.”
“Thank you,” he acknowledged, “but if a man is as old as he feels I am the oldest living man.”
“You are tired,” she said soothingly, her voice like the caress of a mother’s hand; “you have been through so much, and all for me.” Perhaps she recalled the manner in which she had replied to his recent question, and regretted it. “I think you should rest here as long as you can.”
“I am all right,” he told her; “it is you who should rest, but it is not safe here. We must go on, no matter how tired we are, until we are farther away from the Betete country.” He rose slowly to his feet and offered her his hand.
Across the stream, through which he carried her despite her objections that he must not overtax his strength, they came upon a wider trail along which they could walk abreast. Here he stopped again to cut two staffs. “They will help us limp along,” he remarked with a smile; “we are getting rather old, you know.” But the one that he cut for himself was heavy and knotted at one end. It had more the appearance of a weapon than a walking stick.
Again they took up their weary flight, elbow to elbow. The feel of her arm touching his occasionally sent thrills through every fiber of his body; but recollection of Jerry Jerome dampened them. For some time they did not speak, each occupied with his own thoughts. It was the girl who broke the silence.
“Old Timer is not a name,” she said; “I cannot call you that—it’s silly.”
“It is not much worse than my real name,” he assured her. “I was named for my grandfather, and grandfathers so often have peculiar names.”
“I know it,” she agreed, “but yet they were good old substantial names. Mine was Abner.”
“Did you have only one?” he bantered.
“Only one named Abner. What was yours, the one you were named for?”
“Hiram; but my friends call me Hi,” he added hastily.
“But your last name? I can’t call you Hi.”
“Why not? We are friends, I hope.”
“All right,” she agreed; “but you haven’t told me your last name.”
“Just call me Hi,” he said a little shortly.
“But suppose I have to introduce you to some one?”
“To whom, for instance?”
“Oh, Bobolo,” she suggested, laughingly.
“I have already met the gentleman; but speaking about names,” he added, “I don’t know yours.”
“The natives called me Kali Bwana.”
“But I am not a native,” he reminded her.
“I like Kali,” she said; “call me Kali.”
“It means woman. All right, Woman.”
“If you call me that, I shan’t answer you.”
“Just as you say, Kali.” Then after a moment, “I rather like it myself; it makes a cute name for a girl.”
As they trudged wearily along, the forest became more open, the underbrush was not so dense, and the trees were farther apart. In an open space Old Timer halted and looked up at the sun; then he shook his head.
“We’ve been going east instead of south,” he announced.
“I’m sorry; it was stupid of me, but I couldn’t see the sun because of the damned trees. Oftentimes inanimate objects seem to assume malign personalities that try to thwart one at every turn and then gloat over his misfortunes.”
“Oh, it wasn’t your fault,” she cried quickly. “I didn’t intend to imply that. You’ve done all that anyone could have.”
“I’ll tell you what we can do,” he announced.
“We can go on to the next stream and follow that to the river; it’s bound to run into the river somewhere. It’s too dangerous to go back to the one we crossed back there. In the meantime we might as well make up our minds that we’re in for a long, hard trek and prepare for it.”
“How? What do you mean?”
“We must eat; and we have no means of obtaining food other than the occasional fruits and tubers that we may find, which are not very strengthening food to trek on. We must have meat, but we have no means for obtaining it. We need weapons.”
“And there is no sporting goods house near, not even a hardware store.” Her occasional, unexpected gaieties heartened him. She never sighed or complained. She was often serious, as became their situation; but even disaster, added to all the trials she had endured for weeks, could not dampen her spirits entirely nor destroy her sense of humor.
“We shall have to be our own armorers,” he explained. “We shall have to make our own weapons.”
“Let’s start on a couple of Thompson machine guns,” she suggested. “I should feel much safer if we had them.”
“Bows and arrows and a couple of spears are about all we rate,” he assured her.
“I imagine I could make a machine gun as readily,” she admitted. “What useless things modern women are!”
“I should scarcely say that. I don’t know what I should do without you.” The involuntary admission slipped out so suddenly that he scarcely realized what he had said—he, the woman-hater. But the girl did, and she smiled.
“I thought you didn’t like women,” she remarked, quite seriously. “It seems to me that I recall quite distinctly that you gave me that impression the afternoon that you came to my camp.”
“Please don’t,” he begged. “I did not know you then.”
“What a pretty speech! It doesn’t sound at all like the old bear I first met.”
“I am not the same man, Kali.” He spoke the words in a low voice seriously.
To the girl it sounded like a confession and a plea for forgiveness. Impulsively she placed a hand on his arm. The soft, warm touch was like a spark to powder. He wheeled and seized her, pressing her close to him, crushing her body to his as though he would make them one; and in the same instant, before she could prevent it, his lips covered hers in a brief, hot kiss of passion.
She struck at him and tried to push him away. “How—how dared you!” she cried. “I hate you!”
He let her go and they stood looking at one another, panting a little from exertion and excitement.
“I hate you!” she repeated.
He looked into her blazing eyes steadily for a long moment. “I love you, Kali,” he said, “my Kali!”