“Ullah yelbisak berneta!” scoffed Atewy.
“Thou foundest the map; was not that enough? They would not have followed and killed us for the map, but when you take away men’s women they follow and kill—yes! be they Arab, English, or Negro.” Eyad spat a period.
“I will tell thee, fool, why we brought the two girls,” said Atewy. “There may be no valley of diamonds, or we may not find it. Should we therefore, after much effort, return to our own country empty-handed? These girls are not ill-favored. They will bring money at several places of which I know, or it may be that the mad Nasara will pay a large ransom for their return. But in the end we shall profit if they be not harmed by us; which reminds me, Eyad, that I have seen thee cast evil eyes upon them. Wellah! If one harms them the sheykh will kill him; and if the sheykh doth not, I will.”
“They will bring us nothing but trouble,” insisted Eyad. “I wish that we were rid of them.”
“And there is still another reason why we brought them,” continued Atewy. “The map is written in the language of el-Engleys, which I can speak but cannot read; the benat will read it to me. Thus it is well to keep them.”
But still Eyad grumbled. He was a dour young Bedauwy with sinister eyes and a too full lower lip. Also, he did not speak what was in his thoughts; for the truth was not in him.
Since very early in the morning the horsemen had been pushing northward with the two girls. They had found and followed an open trail, add so had suffered no delays, Near the center of the little column rode the prisoners, often side by side; for much of the way the trail had been wide. It had been a trying day for them, not alone because of the fatigue of the hard ride, but from the nervous shock, that the whole misadventure had entailed since Atewy and two others had crept into their tent scarcely more than an hour after midnight, silenced them with threats of death, and, after ransacking the tent, carried them away into the night.
All day long they had waited expectantly for signs of rescue, though realizing that they were awaiting the impossible. Men on foot could not have overtaken the horsemen, and no motor could traverse the trail they had followed without long delays for clearing trail in many places.
“I can’t stand much more,” said Naomi: “I’m about through.”
Rhonda reined closer to her. “If you feel like falling, take hold of me,” she said. “It can’t last much longer today. They’ll be making camp soon. It sure has been a tough ride not much like following Ernie Vogt up Coldwater Canyon; and I used to come home from one of those rides and think I’d done something. Whew! They must have paved this saddle with bricks.”
“I, don’t see how you can stay so cheerful.”
“Cheerful! I’m about as cheerful as a Baby Star whose option hasn’t been renewed.”
“Do you think they’re going to kill us, Rhonda?”
“They wouldn’t have bothered to bring us all this way to kill us. They’re probably after a ransom.”
“I hope you’re right. Tom’ll pay ’em anything to get us back. But suppose they’re going to sell us! I’ve heard that they sell white girls to black sultans in Africa.”
“The black sultan that gets me is goin’ to be out of luck.”
The sun was low in the west when the Arabs made camp that night: Sheykh Ab el-Ghrennem had no doubt but that angry and determined men were pursuing him, but he felt quite certain that now they could not overtake him. His first thought had been to put distance between himself and the Nasara he had betrayed—now he could look into the matter of the map of which Atewy had told him, possession of which had been the principal incentive of his knavery.
Supper over, he squatted where the light of the fire fell upon the precious document; and Atewy leaning over his shoulder scanned it with him.
“I can make nothing of it,” growled the sheykh. “Fetch the bint from whom you took it:”
“I shall have to fetch them both,” replied Atewy, “since I cannot tell them apart.”
“Fetch them both then,” commanded el-Ghrennem; and while he waited he puffed meditatively upon his nargily, thinking of a valley filled with diamonds and of the many riding camels and mares that they would buy; so that he was in a mellow humor when Atewy returned with the prisoners.
Rhonda walked with her chin up and the glint of battle in her eye, but Naomi revealed her fear in her white face and trembling limbs.
Sheykh Ab el-Ghrennem looked at her and smiled. “Ma aleyk,” he said in what were meant to be reassuring tones.
“He says,” interpreted Atewy, “that thou hast nothing to fear—that there shall no evil befall thee.”
“You tell him,” replied Rhonda, “that it will be just too bad for him if any evil does befall us and that if he wants to save his skin he had better return us to our people pronto.”
“The Bedauwy are not afraid of your people,” replied Atewy, “but if you do what the sheykh asks no harm will come to you.”
“What does he want?” demanded Rhonda.
“He wishes you to help us find the valley of diamonds,” replied Atewy.
“What valley of diamonds?”
“It is on. this map which we cannot read because we cannot read the language of el-Engleys.” He pointed at the map the sheykh was holding.
Rhonda glanced at the paper and broke into laughter. “You don’t mean to tell me that you dumb bunnies kidnapped us because you believe that there is a valley of diamonds! Why, that’s just a prop map.”
“Dumb bunnies! Prop! I do not understand.”
“I am trying to tell you that that map doesn’t mean a thing. It was just for use in the picture we are making. You might as well return us to our people, for there isn’t any valley of diamonds.”
Atewy and the sheykh jabbered excitedly to one another for a few moments, and then the former turned again to the girl. “You cannot make fools of the Bedauwy,” he said. “We are smarter than you. We knew that you would say that there, is no valley of diamonds, because you want to save it all for your father. If you know what is well for you, you will read this map for us and help us find the valley. Otherwise—” he, scowled horridly and drew a forefinger across his throat.
Naomi shuddered; but Rhonda was not impressed—she knew that while they had ransom or sale value the Arabs would not destroy them except as a last resort for self-protection.
“You are not going to kill us, Atewy,” she said, “even if I do not read the map to you; but there is no reason why I should not read it. I am perfectly willing to; only don’t, blame us if there is no valley of diamonds;”
“Come here and sit beside Ab el-Ghrennem and read the map to us,” ordered Atewy.
Rhonda kneeled beside the sheykh and looked over his shoulder at the yellowed, timeworn map. With a slender finger she pointed at the top of the map. “This is north,” she said, “and up here—this is the valley of diamonds. You see this little irregular thing directly west of the valley and close to it? It has an arrow pointing to it and a caption that says, ‘Monolithic column: Red granite outcropping near, only opening into valley. And right north of it this arrow points to ‘Entrance to valley.’
“Now here, at the south end of the valley, is the word ‘Falls’ and below the falls a river that runs south and then southwest”
“Ask her what this is,” the sheykh instructed Atewy, pointing to characters at the eastern edge of the map southeast of the falls.
“That says ‘Cannibal village,’” explained the girl:. “And all across the map down there it says, ‘Forest!’ See this river that rises at the southeast edge of the valley; flows east, southeast, and then west in a big loop before it enters the ‘Big river’ here. Inside this loop it says, ‘Open country,’ and near the west end of the loop is a ‘Barren, cone-shaped hill— volcanic.’ Then, here is another river that rises in the southeast part of the map and flows northwest, emptying into the second river just before the latter joins the big river.”
Sheykh Ab el-Ghrennem ran his fingers through his beard as he sat in thoughtful contemplation of the map. At last he placed a finger on the falls.
“Shuf, Atewy!” he exclaimed. “This should be the Omwamwi Falls, and over here the village of the Bansuto. We are here.” He pointed at a spot near the junction of the second and third rivers. “Tomorrow we should cross this other river and come to open country. There we shall find a barren hill.”
“Billah!” exclaimed Atewy: “If we do we shall soon be in the valley of diamonds, for the rest of the way is plain.”
“What did the sheik say?” asked Rhonda.
Atewy told her, adding, “We shall all be very rich; then I shall buy you from the sheykh and take you back to my ashirat.”
“You and who else?” scoffed Rhonda.
“Billah! No one else. I shall buy you for myself alone.”
“Caveat emptor,” advised the girl.
“I do not understand, bint,” said Atewy.
“You will if you ever buy me. And when you call me bint, smile. It doesn’t sound like a nice word.”
Atewy grinned. He translated what she had said to the sheykh, and they both laughed. “The Narrawia would be good to have in the beyt of Ab el-Ghrennem,” said the sheykh, who had understood nothing of what Atewy had said to Rhonda. “When we are through with this expedition, I think that I shall keep them both; for I shall be so rich that I shall not have to sell them. This one will amuse me; she hath a quick tongue that is like aud in tasteless food.”
Atewy was not pleased. He wanted Rhonda for himself; and he was determined to have her, sheykh or no sheykh. It was then that plans commenced to formulate in the mind of Atewy that would have caused Sheykh Ab el-Ghrennem’s blood pressure to rise had he known of them.
The Arabs spread blankets on the ground near the fire for the two girls; and the sentry who watched the camp was posted near, that they might have no opportunity to escape.
“We’ve got to get away from these highbinders, Naomi,” said Rhonda as the girls lay close together beneath their blankets: “When they find out that the valley of diamonds isn’t just around the corner, they’re going to be sore. The poor saps really believe that that map is genuine—they expect to find that barren, volcanic hill tomorrow. When they don’t find it tomorrow, nor next week nor next, they’ll just naturally sell us ‘down river’; and by that time we’ll be so far from the outfit that we won’t have a Chinaman’s chance ever to find it.”
“You mean to go out alone into this forest at night!” whispered Naomi, aghast. “Think of the lions!”
“I am thinking of them; but I’m thinking of some fat, greasy, black sultan too. I’d ratber take a chance with the lion—he’d be sporting at least.”
“It’s all so horrible! Oh, why did I ever leave Hollywood!”
“D’you know it’s a funny thing, Naomi, that a woman has to fear her own kind more than she does the beasts of the jungle. It sort o’ makes one wonder if there isn’t something wrong somewhere—it’s hard to believe that a divine intelligence would create something in His own image that was more brutal and cruel and corrupt than anything else that He created. It kind of explains why some of the ancients worshipped snakes and bulls and birds. I guess they, had more sense than we have.”
At the edge of the camp Atewy squatted beside Eyad. “You would like one of the white benat, Eyad,” whispered Atewy. “I have seen it in your eyes.”
Eyad eyed the other through narrowed lids. “Who would not?” he demanded. “Am I not a man?”
“But you will, not get one, for the sheykh is; going to keep them both. You will not get one—unless——”
“Unless what?” inquired Eyad.
“Unless an accident should befall Ab el-Ghrenaem. Nor will you get so many diamonds, for the sheykh’s share of the booty is one-fourth. If there were no sheykh we should divide more between us.”
“Thou art hatab lit nar,” ejaculated Eyad.
“Perhaps I am fuel for hell-fire,” admitted Atewy, “but I shall burn hot while I burn.”
“What dost thou get out of it!” inquired Eyad after a short silence.
Atewy breathed an inaudible sigh of relief: Eyad was coming around! “The same as thou,” he replied, “my full share of the diamonds and one of the benat.”
“Accidents befall sheykhs even as they befall other men,” philosophized Eyad as he rolled himself in his blanket and prepared to sleep.
Quiet fell upon the camp of the Arabs: A single sentry squatted by the fire, half dozing. The other Arabs slept.
Not Rhonda Terry. She. lay listening to the diminishing sounds of the camp, she heard the breathing of sleeping men, she watched the sentry, whose back was toward her.
She placed her lips close to one of Naomi Madison’s beautiful ears. “Listen!” she whispered, “but don’t move nor make a sound. When I get up, follow me. That is all you have to do. Don’t make any noise.”
“What are you going to do?” The Madison’s voice was quavering.
“Shut up, and do as I tell you.”
Rhonda Terry had been planning ahead. Mentally she had rehearsed every smallest piece of business in the drama that was to be enacted. There were no lines—at least she hoped there would be none. If there were the tag might be very different from that which she hoped for.
She reached out and grasped a short, stout piece of wood that had been gathered for the fire. Slowly, stealthily, catlike, she drew herself from her blankets. Trembling, Naomi Madison followed her.
Rhonda rose, the piece of firewood in her hand. She crept toward the back of the unsuspecting sentry. She lifted the stick above the head of the Arab. She swung it far back, and then—