BROWN and Tibbs followed the game trail in the direction of the uncanny scream that had startled the camp. “Milady!” shouted Tibbs. “Milady, where are you? What has happened?”
Brown quickly forged ahead of Tibbs who had not run a hundred feet in ten years. “Yes, Miss!” he bellowed, “where are you?”
“Here, follow the trail,” came back the answer in clear, unshaken tones. “I’m all right; don’t get excited.”
Presently Brown came in sight of her. She was withdrawing the last of three arrows from the carcass of a leopard, and just beyond her lay the eviscerated carcass of an antelope.
“What the—what’s all this?” demanded Brown.
“I just killed this bush-buck,” explained Jane, “and Sheeta here tried to take it away from me.”
“You killed him?” demanded Brown. “You killed him with your arrows?”
“Well, I didn’t bite him to death, Brown,” laughed the girl.
“Was it him or you that let out that yell?”
“That was Sheeta. He was charging; and when my first arrow struck him, he didn’t seem to like it at all.”
“And one arrow settled him?” asked the pilot.
“I let him have two more. I don’t know which one stopped him. All three went into his heart.”
Brown wiped the perspiration from his forehead. “By golly,” he said, “I’ve got to take my hat off to you, Miss.”
“Well, you can put it back on, Brown, and pack that antelope back to camp. I’ll like that a whole lot better.”
Tibbs had come up and was standing in wide-eyed astonishment gazing at the dead leopard. “If I may make so bold, Milady, I might say that it’s most extraordinary. I would never have believed it, Milady, upon my honor, I wouldn’t. I never thought those little arrows would kill anything bigger than a bird.”
“You’d be surprised, Hibbs,” said Jane.
“I am, Milady.”
“Do we take the cat back to camp, too?” asked Brown.
“No,” replied Jane. “Saving the pelt is too much of a job; and, besides that, Princess Sborov would probably collapse with fright at sight of it.”
The pilot picked up the carcass of the antelope, and together the three returned to camp.
Annette was standing wide-eyed, awaiting them. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that all three had returned safely.
“Oh,” she cried, “you really got something to eat. I am so hungry.”
“Where are the prince and princess?” demanded Jane.
Annette snickered, and pointed toward the shelter. “As soon as Brown and Tibbs left, they ran in there and hid,” she whispered.
Almost immediately the prince appeared. He was very white, and he was also very angry. “You men had no right running off and leaving this camp unguarded,” he snapped. “There’s no telling what might have happened. Hereafter, see that both of you are never absent at the same time.”
“Oh, Lord, give me strength,” groaned Brown. “I am long suffering, but I can’t stand much more of this bozo.”
“What’s that?” demanded Alexis.
“I was just going to say that if you ever shoot off your yap in that tone of voice to me again, I’m going to make a king out of you.”
“What?” demanded Alexis, suspiciously.
“I’m going to crown you.”
“I suppose that is another weird Americanism,” sneered the prince; “but whatever it is, coming from you, I know it is insulting.”
“And how!” exclaimed Brown.
“Instead of standing around here quarreling,” said Jane, “let’s get busy. Brown, will you and Tibbs build a fire, please. Alexis, you can cut up the antelope. Cut five or six good-sized steaks, and then Annette can cook them. Do you know how to grill them over an open fire, Annette?”
“No, Madame, but I can learn, if you’ll just show me once.”
The princess emerged from the shelter. “Oh, my dear, whatever have you there?” she demanded. “Oh, take it away; it’s all covered with blood.”
“That’s your supper, Kitty,” said Jane.
“Eat that thing? Oh, don’t; I shall be ill. Take it away and bury it.”
“Well, here’s your chance to reduce, lady,” said Brown, “because if you don’t eat that, you ain’t going to eat nothing.”
“How dare you, Brown, ultimate that you would even think of keeping food away from me?” demanded the princess.
“I ain’t going to keep no food away from you. I’m just trying to tell you that there ain’t no food except this. If you won’t eat this, you don’t eat, that’s all.”
“Oh, I never could bring myself—really, my dear, how it smells.”
Less than an hour later, the princess was tearing away at an antelope steak like a famished wolf. “How perfectly thrilling,” she took time out to remark. “I mean, isn’t it just like camping out?”
“Quite similar,” said Jane, drily.
“Terrible,” said Alexis; “this steak is much too rare. Hereafter, Annette, see that mine are quite well done.”
“You take what you get, playboy, and like it,” said Brown. “And hereafter don’t use that tone of voice in speaking to Annette or anyone else in this bunch.”
Tibbs was very much embarrassed. He always was when what he considered a member of the lower classes showed lack of proper deference to one of what he liked to call the aristocracy. “If I may make so bold as to inquire, Milady,” he said, addressing Jane in an effort to divert the conversation into another channel, “might I ask how we are going to get out of here and back to civilization?”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about that myself, Tibbs,” replied Jane. “You see, if we were all in good physical condition, we might follow this stream down to a larger river when eventually we would be sure to come to a native village where we could get food and employ guides and carriers to take us on to some settlement where there are Europeans; or, failing in that, we could at least hire runners to carry a message out for us.”
“I think that is a splendid idea, Milady; I ’ope we start soon.”
“I doubt that we could all stand the hardships of a long trek,” said Jane.
“I suppose you mean me, my dear,” said the princess, “but really I am very fond of walking. I remember I used to walk a mile every morning. That was before dear Mr. Peters passed on. He insisted upon my doing it; he was such an athletic man himself. He played golf every Wednesday afternoon. But after he went, I gave it up; it hurt my feet so.”
“We could build a litter,” suggested Alexis. “I have seen pictures of them in the cinema. Brown and Tibbs could carry the princess.”
“Yeah?” demanded Brown, “and who’d carry you?”
“Oh, I think that would be just wonderful, I mean, I think that would solve every problem!” exclaimed Kitty. “We could build the litter large enough for two and then we could both ride.”
“Why not a four-passenger job?” demanded Brown; “and then Tibbs and I could carry you all.”
“Oh, no,” exclaimed the princess. “I’m afraid that would be much too heavy a load for you.”
“The fellow is attempting to be facetious, my dear,” said Alexis; “but certainly there is no reason why they could not carry you.”
“Except only one,” said Brown.
“And pray, what is that?” asked Kitty. “I mean, I see no reason why you and Tibbs should not carry me.”
“It’s absolutely out of the question, Kitty,” said Jane, with some asperity. “You simply don’t know what you’re talking about. Two men could not carry anyone through this jungle; and no matter what you may think, you wouldn’t last an hour if you tried to walk.”
“Oh, but my dear Jane, what am I going to do—stay here forever?”
“One or two of us will have to go out and look for help; the others will remain here in camp. That is the only way.”
“Who’s going?” asked Brown, “me and Tibbs?”
Jane shook her head. “I’m afraid Tibbs couldn’t make the grade,” she said; “he’s never had any experience in anything of this sort, and anyway he’d be very much more useful in camp. I thought you and I should go. We know something about Africa, and how to take care of ourselves in the jungle.”
“I don’t know about that,” said Brown. “I don’t see how both of us can go and leave these people. They are the most helpless bunch of yaps I’ve ever seen.”
The Sborovs showed their resentment of Brown’s blunt appraisal, but they said nothing. Tibbs appeared shocked, but Annette turned away to hide a smile.
“I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” continued the pilot. “You stay here and take care of these people and run the camp. I’ll go out and look for help.”
“I wouldn’t trust him, Jane,” said Alexis. “If he once got away, he’d never come back; he’d leave us here to die.”
“Nonsense,” snapped Jane. “Brown is perfectly right in saying that both of us should not leave you. None of you is experienced; you couldn’t find food; you couldn’t protect yourselves. No; one of us will have to stay; and as I can travel faster through the jungle than any of you, I shall go out and look for help.”
There were several protesting voices raised against this program. Alexis sat regarding the girl through half-closed lids; he seemed to be appraising her; the expression in his eyes was not pleasant. Presently he spoke.
“You shouldn’t go alone, Jane,” he said. “You’re right in saying that I couldn’t be of much help around the camp. I’ll go with you; you should have someone to protect you.”
Brown laughed, a very rude and annoying laugh. The princess looked shocked and startled.
“Why, Alexis,” she cried, “I am surprised that you would even suggest such an impossible thing. Think of Jane’s reputation.”
It was now Jane’s turn to laugh. “My dear Kitty,” she cried, “don’t be ridiculous. Of course, I don’t intend to let Alexis go with me, but not for the reason that you suggest. When one’s life is at stake, one may ride rough-shod over conventions.”
“Naturally,” agreed the prince.
“Well,” said the princess, definitely, “Alexis may go; but if he goes, I go with him.”
“That’s right,” said Alexis, “you got us into this mess; and now you’re trying to put obstacles in the way of our getting ourselves out of it. If it were not for you, we could all leave together; and as for that, if it hadn’t been for you and your American pilot, we wouldn’t be in this fix now.”
“Oh, Alexis,” sobbed the princess, “how can you be so cruel to me? You don’t love me any more.”
He shot a contemptuous glance at her, and turned and walked away. There was an uncomfortable silence that was finally broken by Jane.
“I shall leave in the morning,” she said, “very early. Do you think, Brown, that you could provide food for these people while I am away?”
“I reckon I can if they’re light eaters and ain’t particular what they eat,” he replied, with a grin.
“Do you know which plants and fruits are edible and which are unsafe?” she asked.
“I know enough of the safe ones to get by on,” he said, “and I’ll leave the others alone.”
“That’s right; be very careful about what you eat and drink.” Brown grinned. “We won’t have much to be careful about.”
In the growing coolness of the jungle night, the warmth of the beast-fire was pleasant; and most of the party remained around it, only Alexis, moody and sullen, holding aloof. He stood in the opening of the men’s shelter, glowering at the figures illuminated by the fire. His dark eyes rested upon his wife, who sat with her back toward him; and his expression at this time that he was free from observation was marked with loathing. The thoughts that were passing through his petty brain were not lovely thoughts. In the outer rim of the light from the fire, he looked what he was, a small, cheap grafter who had suddenly become sinister and dangerous.
And then his eyes moved on to Jane and his expression changed. He licked his full, weak lips—lips that were flabby and repulsive.
His gaze wandered again to his wife. “If it were not for you,” he thought—“seventy million dollars—I wish I were out of here—that fellow, Brown; I’d like to kill him—Annette’s not so bad looking—seventy million dollars—Paris, Nice, Monte Carlo—the old fool—Jane is beautiful—I suppose the old fool will live forever—dead, dead, dead—seventy million dollars.”
Over by the fire, Jane was arranging for the guarding of the camp by night. “I think three four-hour shifts will be long enough,” she said. “It’s just a matter of keeping the fire going. If any animals come around, you’ll be able to see their eyes shining in the dark. If they come too close, light a brand and throw at them. They are all afraid of fire.”
“Oh, my dear, do I have to do that?” cried Kitty. “I never could, really, I mean, do I have to sit out here alone at night?”
“No, my dear,” said Jane, “you’ll be excused from guard duty. How about you, Annette? Do you think you could do it?”
“I can do my share, Madame,” said the girl, “whatever the others do.”
“Atta girl,” said Brown.
“If I may make so bold as to suggest it, Milady,” said Tibbs, deferentially, “I rather think the three men should stand guard. It’s no job for a lady.”
“I think Tibbs is perfectly right,” said the princess. “And I really think that Alexis should not stand guard; he’s a very susceptible person to colds; and night air always affects him; and now I think that I shall go to bed. Annette, come and help me.”
“You’d better turn in, too, Miss,” said Brown. “If you’re going to start out early in the morning, you’ll need all the sleep you can get.” Jane rose. “Perhaps you’re right,” she said. “Good night.”
When she had gone, Brown glanced at his watch. “It’s nine o’clock now, Tibbs. Suppose you stand guard until midnight, then wake me, and I’ll take it until three. After that, his nibs, the grand duke, can watch until morning.”
“Really, Mr. Brown, if you mean the prince, I rather fawncy he won’t be caring to stand guard.”
“Well, he’s going to,” said Brown, “and he’s going to like it.”
Tibbs sighed. “If it weren’t for the princess,” he said, “we wouldn’t have to stay here at all. I don’t fawncy staying here and just waiting. I’m sure something terrible will happen to us if Lady Greystoke leaves us. She’s the only one that can do anything.”
“Yes,” said Brown, “the old girl is a damned nuisance. You might bump her off, Tibbs.” Brown grinned, rose, and stretched. “I’ll be turning in, Tibbsy. Wake me at midnight.”
Sborov was sitting in the entrance of the shelter which was only a few steps from the fire and as Brown entered, he spoke to him. “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation with Tibbs,” he said. “I am perfectly willing to do my share. Call me at three, and I will stand guard. I’m going to bed now. I am a very sound sleeper, and you may have difficulty in waking me.”
The change in the man’s tone and attitude so surprised Brown that for once he had no reply to make. He merely grunted as he passed on into the shelter. Sborov followed and lay down, and in a few moments Brown was fast asleep.
It seemed to him when Tibbs woke him at midnight that he had not slept at all.
He had been on guard but a few minutes when Annette joined him. She came and sat down beside him.
“What the dickens are you doing up this time of the morning, girlie?” he demanded.
“Something awoke me about half an hour ago,” she said, “and I haven’t been able to get back to sleep. I don’t know what it could have been, but I awoke with a start; and I had a feeling that there was someone crawling around inside the hut. You know, it’s really very dark in there after the curtain is hung up in front of the door.”