“We must get away from here,” she said. “They will be upon us in a moment.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to help me support your friend,” said Smith. “She cannot walk alone.”
“Put your left arm around her,” directed Lady Barbara. “That will leave your right hand free for your pistol. I will support her on the other side.”
“Leave me,” begged Jezebel. “I will only keep you from escaping.”
“Nonsense,” said Smith. “Put your arm across my shoulders.”
“You will soon be able to walk,” Lady Barbara told her, “when the blood gets back into your feet. Come! Let’s get away from here while we can.”
Half carrying Jezebel, the two started to move toward the circle of menacing figures surrounding them. Jobab was the first to regain his wits since the Prophet had collapsed at the critical moment. “Stop them!” he cried, as he prepared to block their way, at the same time drawing a knife from the folds of his filthy garment.
“One side, fellow!” commanded Smith, menacing Jobab with his pistol.
“The wrath of Jehovah will be upon you,” cried Lady Barbara in the Midian tongue, “as it has been upon the others who would have harmed us, if you fail to let us pass in peace.”
“It is the work of Satan,” shrilled Timothy. “Do not let them weaken your heart with lies, Jobab. Do not let them pass!” The elder was evidently under great mental and nervous strain. His voice shook as he spoke, and his muscles were trembling. Suddenly he, too, collapsed as had Abraham, the son of Abraham. But still Jobab stood his ground, his knife raised in a definite menace against them. All around them the circle was growing smaller and its circumference more solidly knit by the forward pressing bodies of the Midians.
“I hate to do it,” said Smith, half aloud, as he raised his pistol and aimed it at Jobab. The Apostle was directly in front of Lafayette Smith and little more than a yard distant when the American, aiming point blank at his chest, jerked the trigger and fired.
An expression of surprise mingled with that of rage which had convulsed the unbecoming features of Jobab the Apostle. Lafayette Smith was also surprised and for the same reason—he had missed Jobab. It was incredible—there must be something wrong with the pistol!
But Jobab’s surprise, while based upon the same miracle, was of a loftier and nobler aspect. It was clothed in the sanctity of divine revelation. It emanated from a suddenly acquired conviction that he was immune to the fire and thunder of this strange weapon that he had seen lay Lamech low but a few minutes earlier. Verily, Jehovah was his shield and his buckler!
For a moment, as the shot rang out, Jobab paused and then, clothed in the fancied immunity of this sudden revelation, he leaped upon Lafayette Smith. The sudden and unexpected impact of his body knocked the pistol from Smith’s hand and simultaneously the villagers closed in upon him. A real menace now that they had witnessed the futility of the strange weapon.
Lafayette Smith was no weakling, and though his antagonist was inspired by a combination of maniacal fury and religious fanaticism the outcome of their struggle must have been a foregone conclusion had there been no outside influences to affect it. But there were. Beside the villagers, there was Lady Barbara Collis.
With consternation she had witnessed the futility of Smith’s marksmanship; and when she saw him disarmed and in the grip of Jobab, with others of the villagers rushing to his undoing, she realized that now, indeed, the lives of all three of them were in direct jeopardy.
The pistol lay at her feet, but only for a second. Stooping, she seized it; and then, with the blind desperation of self-preservation, she shoved the muzzle against Jobab’s side and pulled the trigger; and as he fell, a hideous shriek upon his lips, she turned the weapon upon the advancing villagers and fired again. It was enough. Screaming in terror, the Midians turned and fled. A wave of nausea swept over the girl; she swayed and might have fallen had not Smith supported her.
“I’ll be all right in a moment,” she said. “It was so horrible!”
“You were very brave,” said Lafayette Smith.
“Not as brave as you,” she replied with a weak little smile; “but a better shot.”
“Oh,” cried Jezebel, “I thought they would have us again. Now that they are frightened, let us go away. It will require only a word from one of the apostles to send them upon us again.”
“You are right,” agreed Smith. “Have you any belongings you wish to take with you?”
“Only what we wear,” replied Lady Barbara.
“What is the easiest way out of the valley?” asked the man, on the chance that there might be another and nearer avenue of escape than the fissure through which he had come.
“We know of no way out,” replied Jezebel.
“Then follow me,” directed Smith. “I’ll take you out the way I came in.”
They made their way from the village and out onto the dark plain toward Chinnereth, nor did they speak again until they had gone some distance from the fires of the Midians and felt that they were safe from pursuit. It was then that Lafayette Smith asked a question prompted by natural curiosity.
“How can it be possible that you young ladies know of no way out of this valley?” he asked. “Why can’t you go out the way you came in?”
“I could scarcely do that,” replied Jezebel; “I was born here.”
“Born here?” exclaimed Smith. “Then your parents must live in the valley. We can go to their home. Where is it?”
“We just came from it,” explained Lady Barbara. “Jezebel was born in the village from which we have just escaped.”
“And those beasts killed her parents?” demanded Lafayette.
“You do not understand,” said Lady Barbara. “Those people are her people.”
Smith was dumbfounded. He almost ejaculated: “How horrible!” but stayed the impulse. “And you?” he asked presently. “Are they your people, too?” There was a note of horror in his voice.
“No,” replied Lady Barbara. “I am English.”
“And you don’t know how you got into this valley?”
“Yes, I know—I came by parachute.”
Smith halted and faced her. “You’re Lady Barbara Collis!” he exclaimed.
“How did you know?” she asked. “Have you been searching for me?”
“No, but when I passed through London the papers were full of the story of your flight and your disappearance—pictures and things, you know.”
“And you just stumbled onto me? What a coincidence! And how fortunate for me.”
“To tell you the truth, I am lost myself,” admitted Smith. “So possibly you are about as badly off as you were before.”
“Scarcely,” she said. “You have at least prevented my premature cremation.”
“They were really going to burn you? It doesn’t seem possible in this day and age of enlightenment and civilization.”
“The Midians are two thousand years behind the times,” she told him, “and in addition to that they are religious, as well as congenital, maniacs.”
Smith glanced in the direction of Jezebel whom he could see plainly in the light of a full moon that had but just topped the eastern rim of the crater. Perhaps Lady Barbara sensed the unspoken question that disturbed him.
“Jezebel is different,” she said. “I cannot explain why, but she is not at all like her people. She tells me that occasionally one such as she is born among them.”
“But she speaks English,” said Smith. “She cannot be of the same blood as the people I saw in the village, whose language is certainly not the same as hers, to say nothing of the dissimilarity of their physical appearance.”
“I taught her English,” explained Lady Barbara.
“She wants to go away and leave her parents and her people?” asked Smith.
“Of course I do,” said Jezebel. “Why should I want to stay here and be murdered? My father, my mother, my brothers and sisters were in that crowd you saw about the crosses tonight. They hate me. They have hated me from the day I was born, because I am not like them. But then there is no love in the land of Midian—only religion, which preaches love and practices hate.”
Smith fell silent as the three plodded on over the rough ground down toward the shore of Chinnereth. He was considering the responsibility that Fate had loaded upon his shoulders so unexpectedly and wondering if he were equal to the emergency, who, as he was becoming to realize, could scarcely be sure of his ability to insure his own existence in this savage and unfamiliar world.
Keenly the realization smote him that in almost thirty hours that he had been thrown exclusively upon his own resources he had discovered not a single opportunity to provide food for himself, the result of which was becoming increasingly apparent in a noticeable loss of strength and endurance. What then might he hope to accomplish with two additional mouths to feed?
And what if they encountered either savage beasts or unfriendly natives? Lafayette Smith shuddered. “I hope they can run fast,” he murmured.
“Who?” asked Lady Barbara. “What do you mean?”
“Oh,” stammered Lafayette. “I—I did not know that I spoke aloud.” How could he tell her that he had lost confidence even in his .32? He could not. Never before in his life had he felt so utterly incompetent. His futility seemed to him to border on criminality. At any rate it was dishonorable, since it was deceiving these young women who had a right to expect guidance and protection from him.
He was very bitter toward himself; but that, perhaps, was due partly to the nervous reaction following the rather horrible experience at the village and physical weakness that was bordering on exhaustion. He was excoriating himself for having dismissed Obambi, which act, he realized, was at the bottom of all his troubles; and then he recalled that had it not been for that there would have been no one to save these two girls from the horrible fate from which he had preserved them. This thought somewhat restored his self-esteem, for he could not escape the fact that he had, after all, saved them.
Jezebel, the circulation restored to her feet, had been walking without assistance for some time. The three had lapsed into a long silence, each occupied with his own thoughts, as Smith led the way in search of the opening into the fissure.
A full African moon lighted their way, its friendly beams lessening the difficulties of the night march. Chinnereth lay upon their right, a vision of loveliness in the moonlight, while all about them the grim mass of the crater walls seemed to have closed in upon them and to hang menacingly above their heads, for night and moonlight play strange tricks with perspective.
It was shortly after midnight that Smith first stumbled and fell. He arose quickly, berating his awkwardness; but as he proceeded, Jezebel, who was directly behind him, noticed that he walked unsteadily, stumbling more and more often. Presently he fell again, and this time it was apparent to both girls that it was only with considerable effort that he arose. The third time he fell they both helped him to his feet.
“I’m terribly clumsy,” he said. He was swaying slightly as she stood between them.
Lady Barbara observed him closely. “You are exhausted,” she said.
“Oh, no,” insisted Smith. “I’m all right.”
“When did you eat last?” demandd thee girl.
“I had some chocolate with me,” replied Smith. “I ate the last of it this afternoon sometime.”
“When did you eat a meal, I mean?” persisted Lady Barbara.
“Well,” he admitted, “I had a light lunch yesterday noon, or rather day before yesterday. It must be after midnight now.”
“And you have been walking all the time since?”
“Oh, I ran part of the time,” he replied, with a weak laugh. “That was when the lion chased me. And I slept in the afternoon before I came to the village.”
“We are going to stop right here until you are rested” announced the English girl.
“Oh, no,” he demurred, “we mustn’t do that. I want to get you out of this valley before daylight, as they will probably pursue us as soon as the sun comes up.”
“I don’t think so,” said Jezebel. “They are too much afraid of the North Midians to come this far from the village; and, anyway, we have such a start that we can reach the cliffs, where you say the fissure is, before they could overtake us.”
“You must rest,” insisted Lady Barbara.
Reluctantly Lafayette sat down. “I’m afraid I’m not going to be much help to you,” he said. “You see I am not really familiar with Africa, and I fear that I am not adequately armed for your protection. I wish Danny were here.”
“Who is Danny?” asked Lady Barbara.
“He’s a friend who accompanied me on this trip.”
“He’s had African experience?”
“No,” admitted Lafayette, “but one always feels safe with Danny about. He seems so familiar with firearms. You see he is a protection guy.”
“What is a protection guy?” asked Lady Barbara.
“To be quite candid,” replied Lafayette, “I am not at all sure that I know myself what it is. Danny is not exactly garrulous about his past; and I have hesitated to pry into his private affairs, but he did volunteer the information one day that he had been a protection guy for a big shot. It sounded reassuring.”
“What is a big shot?” inquired Jezebel.
“Perhaps a big game hunter,” suggested Lady Barbara.
“No,” said Lafayette. “I gather from Danny’s remarks that a big shot is a rich brewer or distiller who also assists in directing the affairs of a large city. It may be just another name for political boss.”
“Of course,” said Lady Barbara, “it would be nice if your friend were here; but he is not, so suppose you tell us something about yourself. Do you realize that we do not even know your name?”
Smith laughed. “That’s about all there is to know about me,” he said. “It’s Lafayette Smith, and now will you introduce me to this other young lady? I already know who you are.”
“Oh, this is Jezebel,” said Lady Barbara.
There was a moment’s silence. “Is that all?” asked Smith. Lady Barbara laughed. “Just Jezebel,” she said. “If we ever get out of here we’ll have to find a surname for her. They don’t use ’em in the land of Midian.”
Smith lay on his back looking up at the moon. Already he was commencing to feel the beneficial effects of relaxation and rest. His thoughts were toying with the events of the past thirty hours. What an adventure for a prosaic professor of geology, he thought. He had never been particularly interested in girls, although he was far from being a misogynist, and to find himself thus thrown into the intimate relationship of protector to two beautiful young women was somewhat disconcerting. And the moon had revealed that they were beautiful. Perhaps the sun might have a different story to tell. He had heard of such things and he wondered. But sunlight could not alter the cool, crisp, well bred voice of Lady Barbara Collis. He liked to hear her talk. He had always enjoyed the accent and diction of cultured English folk.
He tried to think of something to ask her that he might listen to her voice again. That raised the question of just how he should address her. His contacts with nobility had been few—in fact almost restricted to a single Russian prince who had been a door man at a restaurant he sometimes patronized, and he had never heard him addressed otherwise than as Mike. He thought Lady Barbara would be the correct formula, though that smacked a little of familiarity. Lady Collis seemed, somehow, even less appropriate. He wished he were sure. Mike would never do. Jezebel. What an archaic name! And then he fell asleep.
Lady Barbara looked down at him and raised a warning finger to her lips lest Jezebel awaken him. Then she rose and walked away a short distance, beckoning the golden one to follow.
“He is about done up,” she whispered, as they seated themselves again. “Poor chap, he has had a rough time of it. Imagine being chased by a lion with only that little popgun with which to defend oneself.”
“Is he from your country?” asked Jezebel.
“No, he’s an American. I can tell by his accent.”
“He is very beautiful,” said Jezebel, with a sigh.
“After looking at Abraham, the son of Abraham, and Jobab, for all these weeks I could agree with you if you insisted that St. Ghandi is an Adonis,” replied Lady Barbara.
“I do not know what you mean,” said Jezebel; “but do you not think him beautiful?”
“I am less interested in his pulchritude than in his marksmanship, and that is positively beastly. He’s got sand though, my word! no end. He walked right into that village and took us out from under the noses of hundreds of people with nothing but his little peashooter for protection. That, Jezebel, was top hole.”
The golden Jezebel sighed. “He is much more beautiful than the men of the land of North Midian,” she said.
Lady Barbara looked at her companion for a long minute; then she sighed. “If I ever get you to civilization,” she said, “I’m afraid you are going to prove something of a problem.” Wherewith she stretched herself upon the ground and was soon asleep, for she, too, had had a strenuous day.