“What right have you got to whine?” growled Alexis. “You got us into this, you and your aviator.” He spat the last word out contemptuously.
“Listen, Prince,” said Jane, “you and the rest of us can thank Brown’s cool head and efficiency for the fact that we are alive and uninjured. It is little short of a miracle that none of us is hurt. I’ll venture to say that there’s not one pilot in a thousand who could set this ship down as he did.”
“I beg your pardon,” said Tibbs, “if I may say so, it has stopped raining.”
“And there’s the sun,” cried Annette, excitedly. Making her way to the door, Jane opened it and looked down. “We are only fifty feet from the ground,” she said, “but we may have a little difficulty getting down—that is, some of us may.”
“What in the world are you doing, my dear?” demanded the princess, as Jane commenced to take off her shoes and stockings.
“I am going to have a look around. I want to see if I can get at the baggage compartment. We are going to need some of the stuff in there. I’m afraid we are going to find it mighty uncomfortable on the ground; it may be cold in here, but it will be cold and wet both, down there.”
“We might make a fire, madam, if I might be so bold as to suggest it,” offered Tibbs.
“Everything is rather wet and soggy, but perhaps we can manage it. It’s too bad we haven’t gasoline left. That would help a lot.”
“There’ll be some in the sump in the bottom of the tank,” said Brown.
“But why are you taking off your shoes and stockings?” asked the princess.
“It’s the only safe way to climb around in trees, Kitty.”
“But my dear, I mean—after all, you don’t intend to climb around in that tree?”
“Precisely, and that is what you will have to do, too, if you ever want to get down from here.”
“Oh, but my dear, I couldn’t. I positively couldn’t do it.”
“We’ll help you when the time comes, and see that you don’t fall; and while I am looking around, Brown, I wish you and Tibbs would remove all the safety belts and fasten them together into one long strap. It may be necessary to lower the princess to the ground, and a strap will come in handy in getting the luggage down safely.”
“You better let me go out and look around, Miss,” said Brown; “you might fall.”
Jane smiled. “I am used to it, Brown,” she said. “You’d probably be in far more danger than I.” And then she stepped out onto the crumpled wing and leaped lightly to a nearby branch.
“Great scott, look out, Miss, you’ll fall!” shouted Brown.
“Be careful, madam! You’ll kill yourself.” Tibbs almost showed emotion.
“My dear, I mean, come back,” wailed the princess.
Annette screamed and covered her eyes with her palms.
“My dear lady, come back! For my sake, come back!” begged Alexis.
But Jane paid no attention to them, as she took two short steps along the branch that brought her within reach of the baggage compartment. It was not locked, and she quickly opened the door.
“Wh-ew!” she exclaimed. “What a mess. There’s a broken branch rammed right up through here. It’s a good thing for us it didn’t come through the cabin.”
“Is everything ruined?” asked Alexis.
“Oh, my no, some of the things must be damaged, but I imagine we can salvage nearly everything; and one of the first things I want to salvage is a pair of shorts. Skirts are bad enough at any time, but in a treetop they are a calamity. What luck! Here is my bag right in front. I won’t be but a jiffy, and after I’ve changed I’ll be able to accomplish something.”
She opened her bag and selected two or three garments. Then she swung lightly to a lower branch and disappeared from their view beneath the ship.
“Say!” exclaimed Brown, admiringly. “She’s as much at home in the trees as a monkey. I never saw anything like it.”
Alexis clambered to a point from which he could look out of the door. Brown and Tibbs were removing the safety belts and fastening them together.
Alexis looked down and shuddered. “It must be a hundred feet to the ground,” he said. “I don’t see how we are ever going to make it; and those branches are wet and slippery.”
“Take off your shoes and stockings like she did,” advised Brown.
“I’m no monkey.”
“If I might venture to suggest it, sir, we could fasten the strap around you and lower you.”
“It will hold a thousand pounds,” said Brown; “it’s tested for that. It’ll sure hold you, but you’d better leave your title behind; that’s the heaviest part of you.”
“I’ve stood about enough of your impertinence, fellow,” snapped Alexis. “Another word like that from you and I’ll—I’ll—”
“You’ll what?” demanded Brown. “—you and who else?”
“I wish you two would quit quarrelling,” said the princess. “I mean, aren’t things bad enough as they are without that?”
“My dear, I do not quarrel with servants,” said Alexis, haughtily.
“In the first place,” said Brown, “I ain’t no servant; and in the second place, you’d better not quarrel if you know what’s good for you. There’s nothing I’d like better than an excuse to smack you on the beezer.”
“If you ever dare lay hands on me, I’ll—”
“What? Fire me again?” exclaimed Brown. “Now I’ll just naturally have to paste you one to learn you your place; then maybe you’ll remember that you ain’t nothing but a worm, and that if you had a title a block long you’d still be a worm.”
“Don’t you dare strike me,” cried the prince, shrinking back.
“What is the meaning of all this?” Jane stepped lightly into the doorway of the cabin. “I thought I told you two to stop quarrelling. Now before we go any further, I want to tell you something. We’re stranded here, the Lord only knows where; there may not be a white man within hundreds of miles; we shall have to depend solely upon our own resources. Quarrelling and bickering among ourselves won’t get us anywhere; it will just make our plight all the worse. One of us has got to take charge. It should be a man, and the only man here having any jungle experience, insofar as I know, or who is capable of commanding, is Brown. But there’s too much friction between him and the prince; so Brown is out of the question.”
“I will take full charge,” said Alexis.
“The heck you will!” exclaimed Brown.
“My rank entitles me to the post,” insisted Alexis, haughtily.
“You said it,” jibed Brown. “You’re rank all right.”
“No, Alexis, you’re out, too,” said Jane. “We’ve got to have someone whom all will obey.”
“That just leaves Tibbs, then,” said Brown. “Tibbs will suit me all right.”
“Oh, dear me, no,” cried Tibbs. “Really, if you’ll permit me, I couldn’t think of assuming so much authority. I—I—well, you know, I haven’t been accustomed to it, madam.” He turned piteously to Jane. “But you, madam, I am sure that we would all be extraordinarily proud to have you for our leader.”
“That is what I was going to suggest,” said Jane. “I know the jungle better than any of you, and I am sure there isn’t anyone else we could all agree on.”
“But it’s our expedition,” objected Alexis. “We paid for everything; we own the ship and all the supplies; I am the one who should command. Isn’t that right, my dear?” He turned to his wife.
“Oh, really, my dear, I mean. I don’t know. Since you said those horrid things to me, I am crushed. My world has collapsed around my ears.”
“Well,” said Brown, “there’s no use chewing the fat any more about that. Lady Greystoke is boss from now on, and if there’s anybody that don’t like it, I’ll attend to them.”
The Princess Sborov was slumped dejectedly on the floor of the ship, her handkerchief pressed to her eyes. “It doesn’t make any difference to me,” she said; “I don’t care what happens now. I don’t care if I die; I hope I do.” As she finished, she glanced up, presumably to note the effect of her words upon her listeners, and for the first time since Jane had returned to the ship she saw her. “Oh, my dear,” she exclaimed, “what a cute outfit. I mean, it’s perfectly ducky.”
“Thanks,” said Jane, “I’m glad you like it; it’s practical, at least.” She was wearing shorts, and a leather jacket. Her legs and feet were bare. A figured red scarf, wrapped once around her head, confined her hair and served the purposes of a hat.
“But, my dear, won’t you freeze to death?” demanded the princess.
“Well,” laughed Jane, “I won’t exactly freeze to death, but I shall probably be cold lots of times—one gets used to being either too hot or too cold in the jungle. Now I am going down to look around for a suitable camping place, and you’d all better pray that there’s one close by. While I am gone, Brown, you and Tibbs lower the luggage to the ground. Alexis, you go below and receive it; there’s got to be someone there to unfasten the strap each time.”
“Let Annette do it,” growled Alexis. “What do you suppose we’ve got servants for?”
“Each of us has got to do his share, Alexis,” said Jane, quietly, “and there are certain things, the heavier and more dangerous work, that will naturally fall to the men. There are no servants and no masters among us now. The sooner we all realize that, the better off and the happier we are going to be.”
Alexis approached the door of the ship gingerly and looked down. “Let Brown go down,” he said; “I’ll help Tibbs lower the baggage to him.” Then he glanced in the direction of the baggage compartment. “How could anyone get out there on that branch,” he said, “and do anything? He’d fall and break his neck.”
“Ah, can the chatter and go on down, as Lady Greystoke told you to,” said Brown. “Say the word, Miss, and I’ll toss him down.”
“No you won’t; you don’t dare touch me.”
“Then get on over the edge and start down.”
“I can’t; I’d fall.”
“Put the strap around him, Brown,” said Jane, “and you and Tibbs lower him to the ground. I’m going along now.” And with that, she jumped lightly to a nearby branch and swung down through the leafy foliage toward the ground below.
She breathed the odors of the steaming jungle with a keen delight. The restrictions of ordered society, the veneer of civilization, fell away, leaving her free; and she sensed this new freedom with a joy that she had not felt since she had left the jungle to return to London.
Everything about her reminded her of Tarzan. She looked about her, listening intently. It seemed inevitable that at the next moment she would see a bronzed giant swing down through the foliage to clasp her in his arms; and then, with a sigh and a rueful smile, she shook her head, knowing full well that Tarzan was probably hundreds of miles away, ignorant both of her whereabouts and her plight. It was possible that he might not even yet have received her cable, telling him that she was flying to Nairobi. When he did receive it and she did not come, how would he know where to search for her? They had flown blind for so long that even Brown had no idea how far off their course they had been, nor even the approximate location of their landing place. It seemed quite hopeless that they should expect outside help. Their only hope lay within themselves.
Whatever their situation, she and Brown she felt might reasonably expect to pull through; that is, if they had been alone. But how about the others? Tibbs, she thought, might have possibilities of resourcefulness and endurance. She had her doubts about Alexis. Men of his stamp were oftentimes almost as helpless as women. Annette was young and strong, but temperamentally unfitted for the grim realities of the jungle against which they would have to pit themselves. Her efficiency and even her strength would be lessened by the constant terror in which she would exist. As for Kitty, Jane mentally threw up her hands—hopeless, absolutely hopeless, in the face of any hardship, emergency, or danger. Yes, she felt that she and Brown could pull through; but could they pull the others through? It went without saying that they would not desert them.
Her mind partially occupied with these thoughts, she moved through the lower terrace of the jungle, for so thickly was the ground overgrown with underbrush that she had kept to the lower branches of the trees to make her progress easier.
She did not go far in one direction, because she realized the difficulty of transporting their supplies for any great distance through the heavy undergrowth.
Circling, she sought for an open space, however small, in which they might build a temporary camp; but the jungle appeared to become wilder and less penetrable.
She had completed half the circle, and was on the side of the ship opposite that from which she had descended, when she came unexpectedly upon a game trail.
Immediately her spirits rose, for now they were assured of comparatively easy going and the certainty, almost, that eventually they would find natives.
Before returning to the ship, she followed the trail a short distance, when suddenly she came upon a small stream and, beside it, an opening in the underbrush, perhaps an acre in extent.
Elated, she turned back toward the ship, following the trail to ascertain how close it ran to the point from which the baggage must be transported.
As she turned, she heard a slight rustling in the undergrowth behind her, a sound which her trained ears detected quickly and almost identified. Yet she was not sure.
Nevertheless, she increased her gait, taking quick glances ahead and upward that she might always have an avenue of escape located in the event of sudden necessity.
The sound continued, a little behind her and paralleling the trail along which she moved.
She could hear Brown and Alexis quarrelling with one another and bickering over the handling of the baggage. Alexis was on the ground, and he seemed very close. Of course, she might be mistaken. The thing that she heard might not be what she feared it was; but perhaps it would be as well to warn Alexis before it was too late, and so she called to him.
“What is it?” he demanded, sullenly.
“You had better climb a tree, Alexis. I think a lion is following me. He is very close.”
“I can’t climb a tree,” shouted Alexis. “I can’t move through this undergrowth. Help! Brown, help! Do something, somebody!”
“Lower the strap to him and pull him up,” shouted Jane. “It may not be a lion; and he may not bother us if it is, but we’d better be on the safe side.”
“Hurry up with that strap, you fool,” shrieked Alexis.
“There ain’t no hurry,” Brown replied, tantalizingly; “at least, I ain’t in no hurry.”
“If you let that lion get me, it’ll be murder.”
“Oh, I guess he can stand it,” replied Brown.
“Hurry up and lower that strap, you murderer.”
“Ain’t I lowering it, as fast as I can?”
“Oh, I can hear him now; he’s right on top of me; he’ll get me.”
“That is me you hear, Alexis,” said Jane, reassuringly.
“Well, what if he does get you?” demanded Brown. “Ain’t a lion got to eat? In California they feed them animals that ain’t no good; so what are you crabbing about?”
“Hurry now, Brown,” cried Jane. “The lion is coming, and he’s coming fast.”