TIBBS AWOKE suddenly out of a sound sleep, and as he opened his eyes he saw Sborov with upraised hatchet kneeling above Brown. With a cry of warning, he leaped to his feet. Sborov hesitated an instant and looked quickly toward Tibbs. It was that momentary hesitation that saved Brown’s life.
Tibbs’ cry awakened him, and almost instinctively he recoiled and rolled to one side; perhaps it was a natural reaction to the note of warning and the terror in the voice of the Englishman.
Sborov struck, but the sharp blade missed Brown by a fraction of an inch and was buried in the earth where his bead had lain but a brief instant before.
At Tibbs’ cry Jane leaped to her feet, fully awake on the instant. Sborov, on one knee, reached his feet before Brown, and clinging to the hatchet fled into the jungle.
Brown started in pursuit, but Jane called him back. “Don’t follow him,” she said. “What’s the use? We are well rid of him; he won’t dare come back now. If you followed him, he might lie in wait for you and kill you. We can’t spare any more; we are all too few now.”
Brown turned back. “I hate to let him get away with anything like that. But I suppose you’re right. He could hide and get me in that mess of trees and undergrowth before I knew what it was all about.” He shook his head ruefully. “But I still hate to let him go; he ought to get what’s coming to him.”
“He will—out there alone,” prophesied Jane.
“Hi ’opes ’e does before hever Hi lays eyes on ’im again, the bounder, if you’ll pardon me, Milady.”
“I think you’re quite right, Tibbs; we all feel the same about the man. But now we are only three—though he never was much good to us.”
“’Much good’!” exploded Brown. “Migawd, Miss, he wasn’t no good. He never done a thing except make trouble. If I don’t never see the sight of him again that will be twenty years too soon.”
“Prince!” There was a world of contempt and irony in the American’s tones. “If they was all like him I don’t wonder they been kickin’ ’em out.”
Jane smiled. “There have been some pretty good ones, Brown; and there still are. Princes like Sborov are not really princes at all—it is often just a courtesy title, as meaningless as a colonelcy in Kentucky. They don’t rate very high in their own countries.”
Brown grinned. “They sure are the fair haired boys in America, though. It was that title the poor old lady fell for, and look what it cost her. American women are fools, the way they go for titles.”
Jane smiled good naturedly. “I’m an American, you know, Brown.”
The pilot flushed. “Heck, no, Miss, I didn’t know it. I’m sorry.”
“You needn’t be, because you’re right about some American women—the climbers. It’s not as bad as it used to be; but Americans still buy titles, and they don’t often get very much for their money beside the titles. Oftentimes even the titles are as spurious as their owners.
“I recall reading a book written a number of years ago by a French count who had married a daughter of one of America’s richest railroad families. He made fun of his wife’s people, their poor taste, their love of money. Yet nothing that they were accused of could have been in such rotten taste as this book, nor was their love of money any greater than his by his own admission; for he bragged of having sold his title for their money. In the same breath he spoke of the honor of his house and his ancient lineage. He and his kind are sickening.
“I grow more and more to agree with my husband’s appraisal of beasts and men—he prefers the beasts.”
Brown shook his head dubiously. “I ain’t got much use for men, myself,” he admitted; “leastwise some men, but if your husband was in our fix I reckon he’d be doggone glad to get out of this jungle back where there were plenty of men and no beasts.”
“You don’t know my husband.”
“Well, perhaps he’d rather be here than in good old Chi; but I wouldn’t.”
“Then we’d better start getting out,” suggested Jane. “There’s nothing to keep us here any longer.”
“Quite right, Milady, if you’ll pardon my saying so,” agreed Tibbs.
“I’m for hopping off right away,” said Brown. “Perhaps—well, perhaps—”
“Perhaps what?” asked Jane.
“I was just thinking of Annette. I know there ain’t no chance of running across her, but I can’t help hoping.”
“We’re all hoping, Brown. That’s about all we can do, I’m afraid.” Jane laid a sympathetic hand on the man’s arm.
As the three set out once more upon the trail toward the east, a pair of eyes watched them from the foliage of a nearby tree, sinister, unblinking eyes that appraised the two men casually but were most often centered upon Jane.
Brown took the lead, setting a pace that would not be too hard on Tibbs; he had learned that whatever pace he set, the girl was equal to it; perhaps even more. He often wondered at her strength, endurance, and nerve. She was not at all the sort of person that he had imagined a titled English woman would be. He had always thought of women of her class as pampered, helpless creatures. It seemed strange to him now that he should look up to one as a trusted, dependable leader; that is, it seemed strange when he gave the matter any thought; otherwise, it appeared perfectly natural. He had never followed a man in whom he had greater confidence, or for whom he had more respect, than this slender, beautiful lady of quality.
Behind Brown came Tibbs. The night’s rest had refreshed him. His muscles were already becoming inured to the hardships of the trail. He swung along this morning like a veteran.
“Hit’s a grand day, Milady,” he remarked, “if you don’t mind my saying so. I feels as ’ow things was goin’ to be a little bit of all right, you know, from now on.”
“I hope so, Tibbs. Perhaps the worst is over. If we only knew just where we were, it would make things so much easier. We may be headed straight for some friendly village where we can get guides, or we may be headed into a wilderness. That is what troubles me most. If we only knew.”
“The Duke of Doningham used to say that what we don’t know won’t never harm us, Milady.”
“It won’t do us any good, either,” laughed Jane.
“But maybe ’e wasn’t ever lost in Africa,” suggested Tibbs, “Hi never ’ad no idea Africa was such a large place.”
“It covers quite a lot of territory, Tibbs. It’s no place to be lost.”
“Hi’d ’ate to be lost in it all alone, milady—like ‘is ’igh-ness. My word, milady, but ’e must be frightened back there all alone—nothin’ only his thoughts to keep ’im company.”
“And such terrible thoughts, Tibbs. I shudder to think what they must be; but I’m not worrying about him—it’s poor little Annette.”
Tibbs was silent. He too was thinking of Annette.
Gliding silently through the trees behind them followed a tireless stalker. Seldom now were those cruel eyes allowed to wander from the slender figure of the girl swinging along behind the two men.
As the hours passed, Tibbs commenced to tire again. He lagged a little and dropped farther behind Brown. He no longer sought to converse with Jane. He was too tired to talk. The last couple of times that he had glanced back to see if the girl were coming he had stumbled because his muscles were so weary and his feet seemed so heavy; so he gave it up, and set his mind wholly upon plodding steadily ahead.
He thought that Brown would never stop. What was the man made of, anyway—iron? His legs and feet seemed to be mechanical things that must go on and on, forever. They no longer seemed a part of him. Yet he realized that he had done better today, that he had tired less quickly than on previous days. That was something; but—sitting down would be Heaven. Would Brown never stop?
But at last Brown did stop. “This looks like as good a place as any to stop for the night,” he said. “Tired, Tibbsy?”
The Englishman staggered up and threw himself to the ground. “Tired!” he echoed. “Mr. Brown, there ain’t no word in the whole bloomin’ Hoxford Hinglish Dictionary that’s as tired as Hi am.”
Brown laughed. “Well, I don’t feel so chipper myself,” he admitted. “I’ll bet the lady’s the freshest one of all. Say, where is she?”
Tibbs looked back along the trail. “She was right behind me the last time I looked. Doubtless she’ll be along in a second.”
“She shouldn’t get so far behind,” grumbled Brown. It was evident that he was becoming apprehensive. Then he called aloud. “Hi, there! Lady Greystoke!”
There was no answering call. The two men stared expectantly along the trail. Tibbs rose wearily to his feet. Brown called again. There was only silence. Brown looked at Tibbs. There was an expression on the American’s face that Tibbs had never seen there before. It was fear; but it was not fear for himself.
At a run Brown started along the back trail. Tibbs staggered after him. Occasionally Brown would stop and call the missing girl’s name aloud, but there was never any answer. They kept on until darkness overtook them.
Tibbs was exhausted; he could go no farther. Brown, too, was almost at the limit of his powers. They threw themselves to the ground.
“It ain’t no use,” said Brown wearily. “She’s gone—just like Annette—and I think in the same way. Why didn’t she let me kill him? Why didn’t I kill him anyway? I knew I should of.”
“You think it was the prince?”
“Sure it was, the dirty—. Oh, what’s the use? It’s all my fault for lettin’ a woman tell me what to do. She’s a grand woman, but women are all alike when it comes to a job like that; they’re too soft hearted. I ought to of killed him when I first wanted to. We’d of had Lady Greystoke and Annette both with us now if I had.”
“Hit ain’t your fault, Mr. Brown,” said Tibbs soothingly. “You only done what any man would ’ave done. We hall of us promised to hobey Lady Greystoke, hand she told you not to kill ’im. Though, if you’ll pardon my saying so, Hi think the blighter ought to have been killed long ago.”
The rumble of a lion’s roar echoed through the darkening forest awakening the men to the dangers of the coming night. Brown groaned.
“If I only knew where they were! If I just knew they was alive. If he hasn’t killed ’em; just think of ’em back there somewheres in the dark with only that—that pansy to look after ’em,” The gloom of Brown’s mood was reflected in his voice.
“You don’t really think ’e’d kill Lady Greystoke, do you?” demanded Tibbs, horrified. It was quite one thing to kill a lady’s maid, but another, an unthinkable thing, to kill a titled lady. Tibbs’ viewpoint on such matters was largely a matter of heredity (his people had been serving people as far back as any of them knew) and training and habit of thought. His snobbishness was the snobbishness of the serving class, ingrained and ineradicable.
“No, I don’t think he’d kill her, unless she resisted him; and there ain’t no question about that. But he did have good reason to want to kill poor little Annette. If it was him that got her, she’s dead all right. God, if I could only lay my hands on him! What say we back track tomorrow and keep on huntin’ ’till we find him. We may never find them, but it would be some satisfaction to find him. What do you say, Tibbsy? I’ll let you help me kill him.”
“Hi’ve never been one that believed in bloodshed, Mr. Brown; but Hi do say, hand Hi’m not ashamed of hit, that hif ’e killed Lady Greystoke and Annette Hi’d like nothing better than to do ’im in all by my bloomin’ self; but, Mr. Brown, Hi don’t think we ought to turn back. Hi think we should carry on just like milady told us to, hand get ’elp to come back ’ere hand search for them—some one that knows the country.”
“I suppose you’re right, Tibbsy. We couldn’t find the Empire State building if it was wandering around in this man’s jungle, let alone a couple of girls.”
A lion roared again, nearer this time.
“I reckon we’d better climb a tree, Tibbsy, and wait for daylight. It don’t look like sleepin’ on the ground was goin’ to be very healthy.”
“My father always said it was most un’ealthy. ’E got rheumatism something terrible sleeping on the ground in the Crimea.”
“Then let’s climb,” said Brown. “I don’t want to get rheumatism.”