He was, however, cunning; so he hid the fact that his greatest interest lay in the two girl members of the company. Not did he ever approach them unless men of their own race were with them.
This afternoon Rhonda Terry was writing at a little camp table in front of her tent, for it was not yet dark: Gordon Z. Marcus had stopped to chat with her. Atewy from the corners of his eyes noted this and strolled casually closer.
“Turning literary, Rhonda?” inquired Marcus.
The girl looked up and smiled. “Trying to bring my diary up to date.”
“I fear that it will prove a most lugubrious document.”
“Whatever that is. Oh, by the way!” She picked up a folded paper: “I just found this map in my portfolio. In the last scene we shot they were taking close-ups of me examining it. I wonder if they want it again—I’d like to swipe it for a souvenir.”
As she unfolded the paper Atewy moved closer, a new light burning in his eyes.
“Keep it,” suggested Marcus, “until they ask you for it. Perhaps they’re through with it. Its a most autheatic looking thing, isn’t it? I wonder if they made it in the studio.”
“No. Bill says that Joe found it between the leaves of a book he bought in a secondhand book store. When he was commissioned to write this story it occurred to him to write it around this old map. It is intriguing, isn’t it? Almost makes one believe that it would be easy to find a valley of diamonds.” She folded the map and replaced it in her portfolio. Hawklike, the swarthy Atewy watched her.
Marcus regarded her with his kindly eyes: “You were speaking of Bill,” he said. “What’s wrong with you two children? He used to be with you so much.”
With a gesture Rhonda signified her inability to explain. “I haven’t the remotest idea,” she said. “He just avoids me as though I were some particular variety of pollen to which he reacted. Do I give you hives or hay fever?”
Marcus laughed. “I can imagine, Rhonda, that you might induce high temperatures in the male of the species; but to suggest hives or hay fever—that would be sacrilege.”
Naomi Madison came from the tent. Her face was white and drawn. “My God!” she exclaimed. “How can you people joke at such a time? Why, any minute any of us may be killed!”
“We must keep up our courage,” said Marcus. “We cannot do it by brooding over our troubles and giving way to our sorrows.”
“Pulling a long face isn’t going to bring back Major White or those other poor fellows,” said Rhonda. “Every one knows how sorry every one feels about it; we don’t have to wear crepe to prove that.”
“Well, we might be respectful until after the funeral anyway,” snapped Naomi.
“Don’t be stupid,” said Rhonda, a little tartly.
“When are they going to bury them, Mr. Marcus?” asked Naomi.
“Not until after dark. They don’t want the Bansutos to see where they’re buried.”
The girl shuddered. “What a horrible countryt I feel that I shall never leave it—alive.”
“You certainly won’t leave it dead.” Rhonda, who seldom revealed her emotions, evinced a trace of exasperation.
The Madison sniffed. “They would never bury me here. My public would never stand for that. I shall lie in state in Hollywood.”
“Come, come!” exclaimed Marcus. “You girls must not dwell on such morbid, depressing subjects. We must all keep our minds from such thoughts. How about a rubber of contract before supper? We’ll just about have time.”
“I’m for it,” agreed Rhonda.
“You would be,” sneered the Madison; “you have no nerves. But no bridge for me at such a time. I am too highly organized, too temperamental. I think that is the way with all true artistes, don’t you, Mr. Marcus? We are like high-strung thoroughbreds.”
“Well;” laughed Rhonda, running her am, through Marcus’s, “I guess well have to go and dig up a couple more skates if we want a rubber before supper. Perhaps we could get Bill and Jerrold: Neither of them would ever take any prizes in a horse show.”
They found Bill West pottering around his cameras. He declined their invitation glumly. “You might get Obroski,” he suggested, “if you can wake him up.”
Rhonda shot a quick glance at him through narrowed lids: “Another thoroughbred,” she said, as she walked away. And to herself she thought, “That’s the second crack he’s made about Obroski. All right, I’ll show him!”
“Where to now, Rhonda?” inquired Marcus.
“You dig up Jerrold; I’m going to find Obroski. Well have a game yet.”
They did, and it so happened that their table was set where Bill West could not but see them. It seemed to Marcus that Rhonda laughed a little more than was usual and a little more than was necessary.
That night white men and black carried each their own dead into the outer darkness beyond the range of the camp fires and buried them. The graves were smoothed over and sprinkled with leaves and branches, and the excess dirt was carried to, the opposite side of camp where it was formed in little mounds that looked like graves.
The true graves lay directly in the line of march of the morrow. The twenty-three trucks and the five passenger cars would obliterate the last trace of the new-made graves.
The silent men working in the dark hoped that they were unseen by prying eyes; but long into the night a figure lay above the edge of the camp, hidden by the concealing foliage of a great tree, and observed all that took, place below. Then, when the last of the white men had gone to bed, it melted silently into the somber depths of the forest.
Toward morning Orman lay sleepless on his army cot. He had tried to read to divert his mind from the ghastly procession of thoughts that persisted despite his every effort to sleep or to think of other things. In the light of the lantern that he had placed near his head harsh shadows limned his face as a drawn and haggard mask.
From his cot on the opposite side of the tent Pat O’Grady opened his eyes and surveyed his chief. “Hell, Tom,” he said, “you better get some sleep or you’ll go nuts.”
“I can’t sleep,” replied Orman wearily. “I keep seein’ White. I killed him: I killed all those blacks.”
“Hooey!” scoffed O’Grady: “It wasn’t any more your fault than it was the studio’s. They sent you out here to make a picture, and you did what you thought was the thing to do. There can’t nobody blame you.”
“It was my fault all right. White warned me not to come this way. He was right; and I knew he was right, but I was too damn pig-headed to admit it.”
“What you need is a drink. It’ll brace you up and put you to sleep.”
“It’s all right to quit; but don’t quit so sudden—taper off.”
Orman shook his head. “I ain’t blamin’ it on the booze,” he said; “there’s no one nor nothing to blame but me—but if I hadn’t been drinkin’ this would never have happened, and White and those other poor devils would have been alive now.”
“One won’t hurt, Tom; you need it.”
Orman lay silent in thought for a moment; then he threw aside the mosquito bar and stood up. “Perhaps you’re right, Pat,” he said.
He stepped to a heavy, well-worn pigskin bag that stood at the foot of his cot and, stooping, took out a fat bottle and a tumbler. He shook a little as he filled the latter to the brim.
O’Grady grinned. “I said one drink, not four.”
Slowly Orman raised the tumbler toward his lips. He held it there for a moment looking at it; then his vision seemed to pass beyond it, pass through the canvas wall of the tent out into the night toward the new-made graves.
With an oath, he hurled the full tumbler to the ground; the bottle followed it, breaking into a thousand pieces.
“That’s goin’ to be hell on bare feet,” remarked O’Grady.
“I’m sorry, Pat,” said Orman; then he sat down wearily on the edge of his cot and buried his face in his hands.
O’Grady sat up, slipped his bare feet into a pair of shoes, and crossed the tent. He sat down beside his friend and threw an arm about his shoulders. “Buck up, Tom!” That was all he said, but the pressure of the friendly arm was more strengthening than many words or many drinks.
From somewhere out in the night came the roar of a lion and a moment later a blood-crudling cry that seemed neither that of beast nor man.
“Sufferin’ cats!” ejaculated O’Grady. “What was that?”
Orman had raised, his head and was listening. “Probably some more grief for us,” he replied forebodingly.
They sat silent for a moment then, listening.
“I wonder what could make such a noise.” O’Grady spoke in hushed tones.
“Pat,” Orman’s tone was serious, “do you believe in ghosts?”
O’Grady hesitated before he replied. “I don’t know—but I’ve seen some funny things in my time.”
“So have I,” said Orman.
But perhaps of all that they could conjure to their minds nothing so strange as the reality; for how could they know that they had heard the victory cry of an English lord and a great lion who had just made their kill together?