“Hell!” he muttered. “I ain’t goin’ to tail that guy no longer till I get me a drink. My mouth feels like I’d been eating cotton for a week.”
He turned away from the cliffs and started down in the direction of the lake, the inviting waters of which sparkled alluringly in the afternoon sun; but the beauties of the scene were wasted upon the ‘Gunner,’ who saw only a means of quenching his thirst.
The way led through a field of scattered boulders fallen from the towering rim above. He had to pick his way carefully among the smaller ones, and his eyes were almost constantly upon the ground. Occasionally he was compelled to skirt some of the larger masses, many of which towered above his head obstructing his view ahead.
He was damning Africa in general and this section of it in particular as he rounded the corner of an unusually large fragment of rock, when suddenly he stopped and his eyes went wide.
“Geeze!” he exclaimed aloud. “A broad!”
Before him, and coming in his direction, was a golden haired girl attired in a single, scant piece of rough material. She saw him simultaneously and halted.
“Oh,” exclaimed Jezebel with a happy smile. “Who art thou?” but as she spoke in the language of the land of Midian the ‘Gunner’ failed to understand her.
“Geeze,” he said. “I knew I must of come to Africa for something, and I guess you’re it. Say kid, you’re about all right. I’ll tell the world you are all right.”
“Thank you,” said Jezebel in English. “I am so glad that you like me.”
“Geeze,” said Danny. “You talk United States, don’t you? Where you from?”
“Midian,” replied Jezebel.
“Ain’t never heard of it. What you doin’ here? Where’re your people?”
“I am waiting for Lady Barbara,” replied the girl, “and Smith,” she added.
“Smith! What Smith?” he demanded.
“Oh, he is beautiful,” confided Jezebel.
“Then he ain’t the Smith I’m lookin’ for,” said the ‘Gunner.’ “What’s he doin’ here, and who’s this Lady Barbara dame?”
“Abraham, the son of Abraham, would have killed Lady Barbara and Jezebel if Smith had not come and saved us. He is very brave.”
“Now I know it ain’t my Smith,” said Danny, “though I ain’t sayin’ he ain’t got guts. What I mean is he wouldn’t know how to save no one—he’s a geologist.”
“Who are you?” demanded Jezebel.
“Call me Danny, Kid.”
“My name is not kid,” she explained sweetly. “It is Jezebel.”
“Jezebel! Geeze, what a monicker! You look like it ought to be Gwendolyn.”
“It is Jezebel,” she assured him. “Do you know who I hoped you’d be?”
“No. Now just tell me, kid, who you supposed I was. Probably President Hoover or Big Bill Thompson, eh?”
“I do not know them,” said Jezebel. “I hoped that you were the ‘Gunner.’”
“The ‘Gunner’? What do you know about the ‘Gunner,’ kid?”
“My name is not kid, it is Jezebel,” she corrected him, sweetly.
“Oke, Jez,” conceded Danny, “but tell me who wised you up to the ‘Gunner’ bozo.”
“My name is not Jez, it is—”
“Oh, sure kid, it’s Jezebel—that’s oke by me; but how about the ‘Gunner’?”
“What about him?”
“I just been a-askin’ you.”
“But I don’t understand your language,” explained Jezebel. “It sounds like English, but it is not the English Lady Barbara taught me.”
“It ain’t English,” Danny assured her, seriously; “it’s United States.”
“It is quite like English though, isn’t it?”
“Sure,” said the ‘Gunner.’ “The only difference is we can understand English but the English don’t never seem to understand all of ours. I guess they’re dumb.”
“Oh, no; they’re not dumb,” Jezebel assured him. “Lady Barbara is English, and she can talk quite as well as you.”
Danny scratched his head. “I didn’t say they was dummies. I said they was dumb. Dummies can’t talk only with their mits. If a guy’s dumb, he don’t know nothing.”
“Oh,” said Jezebel.
“But what I asked you is, who wised you up to this ‘Gunner’ bozo?”
“Can you say it in English, please,” asked Jezebel. “Geeze, what could be plainer? I asked who told you about the ‘Gunner’ and what did they tell you?” Danny was waxing impatient.
“Smith told us. He said the ‘Gunner’ was a friend of his; and when I saw you I thought you must be Smith’s friend, hunting for him.”
“Now, what do you know about that!” exclaimed Danny.
“I have just told you what I know about it,” explained the girl; “but perhaps you did not understand me. Perhaps you are what you call dumb.”
“Are you trying to kid me, kid?” demanded the ‘Gunner.’
“My name is not—”
“Oh, all right, all right. I know what your name is.”
“Then why do you not call me by my name? Do you not like it?”
“Sure, kid—I mean Jezebel—sure I like it. It’s a swell handle when you get used to it. But tell me, where is old Smithy?”
“I do not know such a person.”
“But you just told me you did.”
“Oh, I see,” cried Jezebel. “Smithy is the United States for Smith. But Smith is not old. He’s quite young.”
“Well, where is he?” demanded Danny, resignedly.
“We were captured by the beautiful men from North Midian,” explained Jezebel; “but we escaped and ran away. We ran in different directions, but we are going to meet tonight farther south along the cliffs.”
“Beautiful men?” demanded the ‘Gunner.’ “Did old Smithy let a bunch of fairies hoist him?”
“I do not understand,” said Jezebel.
“You wouldn’t,” he assured her; “but say, kid—”
“Aw, forget it—you know who I mean. As I was saying, let’s me and you stick together till we find old Smithy. What say?”
“That would be nice, the ‘Gunner,’” she assured him.
“Say, call me Danny, k—Jezebel.”
“Geeze, I never knew Danny was such a swell monicker till I heard you say it. What say we beat it for the big drink down there? I got me such a thirst my tongue’s hanging out. Then we can come back to this here rock pile and look for old Smithy.”
“That will be nice,” agreed Jezebel. “I, too, am thirsty.” She sighed. “You can not know how happy I am, Danny.”
“Why?” he asked.
“Because you are with me.”
“Geeze, k—Jezebel, but you’re sure a fast worker.”
“I do not know what you mean,” she replied, innocently.
“Well just tell me why you’re happy because I’m with you.”
“It is because I feel safe with you after what Smith told us. He said he always felt safe when you were around.”
“So that’s it? All you want is a protection guy, eh? You don’t like me for myself at all, eh?”
“Oh, of course I like you, Danny,” cried the girl. “I think you are beautiful.”
“Yeah? Well, listen, sister. You may be a swell kidder—I dunno—or you may be just a dumb egg—but don’t call me no names. I know what my pan looks like; and it ain’t beautiful, and I ain’t never wore a beret.”
Jezebel, who only caught the occasional high-spots of Danny’s conversation, made no reply, and they walked on in the direction of the lake, in silence, for some time. The forest was some little distance away, on their left, and they had no knowledge of what was transpiring there, nor did any sound reach their ears to acquaint them with the misfortune that was befalling Lady Barbara and Lafayette Smith.
At the lake they quenched their thirst, after which the ‘Gunner’ announced that he was going to rest for a while before he started back toward the cliffs. “I wonder,” he said, “just how far a guy can walk, because in the last two days I’ve walked that far and back again.”
“How far is that?” inquired Jezebel.
He looked at her a moment and then shook his head. “It’s twice as far,” he said, as he stretched himself at full length and closed his eyes. “Geeze, but I’m about all in,” he murmured.
He deigned no reply, and presently the girl noted from his altered breathing that he was asleep. She sat with her eyes glued upon him, and occasionally a deep sigh broke from her lips. She was comparing Danny with Abraham, the son of Abraham, with Lafayette Smith and with the beautiful men of North Midian; and the comparison was not uncomplimentary to Danny.
The hot sun was beating down upon them, for there was no shade here; and presently its effects, combined with her fatigue, made her drowsy. She lay down near the ‘Gunner’ and stretched luxuriously. Then she, too, fell asleep.
The ‘Gunner’ did not sleep very long; the sun was too hot. When he awoke he raised himself on an elbow and looked around. His eyes fell on the girl and there they rested for some time, noting the graceful contours of the lithe young body, the wealth of golden hair, and the exquisite face.
“The kid’s sure some looker,” soliloquized Danny. “I seen a lotta broads in my day, but I ain’t never seen nothin’ could touch her. She’d sure be a swell number dolled up in them Boul Mich rags. Geeze, wouldn’t she knock their lamps out! I wonder where this Midian burgh is she says she comes from. If they’s all as swell lookin’ as her, that’s the burgh for me.”
Jezebel stirred and he reached over and shook her on the shoulder. “We’d better be beatin’ it,” he said. “We don’t want to miss old Smithy and that dame.”
Jezebel sat up and looked about her. “Oh,” she exclaimed, “you frightened me. I thought something was coming.”
“Why? Been dreaming?”
“No. You said we’d have to beat something.”
“Aw, cheese it! I meant we’d have to be hittin’ the trail for the big rocks.”
Jezebel looked puzzled.
“Hike back to them cliffs where you said old Smithy and that Lady Barbara dame were going to meet you.”
“Now I understand,” said Jezebel. “All right, come on.” But when they reached the cliffs there was no sign of Smith or Lady Barbara, and at Jezebel’s suggestion they walked slowly southward in the direction of the place where she and the English girl had hoped to make a crossing to the outer world.
“How did you get into the valley, Danny?” asked the girl. “I come through a big crack in the mountain,” he replied. “That must be the same place Smith came through,” she said. “Could you find it again?”
“Sure. That’s where I’m headed for now.”
It was only mid-afternoon when Danny located the opening into the fissure. They had seen nothing of Lady Barbara and Smith, and they were in a quandary as to what was best to do.
“Maybe they come along and made their getaway while we was hittin’ the hay,” suggested Danny.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” said Jezebel, “but what I think is that they may have located the opening while we were asleep and gone out of the valley.”
“Well ain’t that what I said?” demanded Danny.
“It didn’t sound like it.”
“Say, you trying to high hat me?”
“Aw, what’s the use?” growled the ‘Gunner,’ disgustedly. “Let’s you and me beat it out of this here dump and look for old Smithy and the skirt on the other side. What say?”
“But suppose they haven’t gone out?”
“Well, then we’ll have to come back again; but I’m sure they must have. See this foot print?” he indicated one of his own, made earlier in the day, which pointed toward the valley. “I guess I’m getting good,” he said. “Pretty soon that Tarzan guy won’t have no edge on me at all.”
“I’d like to see what’s on the other side of the cliffs,” said Jezebel. “I have always wanted to do that.”
“Well, you won’t see nothin’ much,” he assured her. “Just some more scenery. They ain’t even a hot dog stand or a single speakeasy.”
“What are those?”
“Well, you might call ’em filling stations.”
“What are filling stations?”
“Geeze, kid, what do you think I am, a college perfessor? I never saw anyone who could ask so many questions in my whole life.”
“Yes, I know what your name is. Now come on and we’ll crawl through this hole-in-the-wall. I’ll go first. You follow right behind me.”
The rough going along the rocky floor of the fissure taxed the “Gunner’s” endurance and his patience, but Jezebel was all excitement and anticipation. All her life she had dreamed of what might lie in the wonderful world beyond the cliffs.
Her people had told her that it was a flat expanse filled with sin, heresy, and iniquity, where, if one went too far he would surely fall over the edge and alight in the roaring flames of an eternal hades; but Jezebel had been a doubter. She had preferred to picture it as a land of flowers and trees and running water, where beautiful people laughed and sang through long, sunny days. Soon she was to see for herself, and she was much excited by the prospect.
And now at last they came to the end of the great fissure and looked out across the rolling foot hills toward a great forest in the distance.
Jezebel clasped her hands together in ecstacy. “Oh, Danny,” she cried, “how beautiful it is!”
“What?” asked the ‘Gunner.’
“Oh, everything. Don’t you think it is beautiful, Danny?”
“The only beautiful thing around here, k—Jezebel, is you,” said Danny.
The girl turned and looked up at him with her great blue eyes. “Do you think I am beautiful, Danny?”
“Sure I do.”
“Do you think I am too beautiful?”
“There ain’t no such thing,” he replied, “but if they was you’re it. What made you ask?”
“Lady Barbara said I was.”
The ‘Gunner’ considered this for some moments, “I guess she’s right at that kid.”
“You like to call me Kid, don’t you?” asked Jezebel.
“Well, it seems more friendly-like,” he explained, “and it’s easier to remember.”
“All right, you may call me Kid if you want to, but my name is Jezebel.”
“That’s a bet,” said Danny. “When I don’t think to call you Jezebel, I’ll call you kid, Sister.”
The girl laughed. “You’re a funny man, Danny. You like to say everything wrong. I’m not your sister, of course.”
“And I’m damn glad you ain’t, kid.”
“Why? Don’t you like me?”
Danny laughed. “I never seen a kid like you before,” he said. “You sure got me guessin’. But at that,” he added, a little seriously for him, “they’s one thing I ain’t guessin’ about and that’s that you’re a good little kid.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” said Jezebel.
“And at that I’ll bet you don’t,” he replied; “and now kid, let’s sit down and rest. I’m tired.”
“I’m hungry,” said Jezebel.
“I ain’t never see a skirt that wasn’t, but why did you have to bring that up? I’m so hungry I could eat hay.”
“Smith killed a kid and we ate some of that,” said Jezebel. “He wrapped the rest up in the skin and I suppose he lost it when the North Midians attacked us. I wish—”
“Say,” exclaimed Danny, “what a dumb-bell I am!” He reached down into one of his pockets and brought out several strips of raw meat. “Here I been packin’ this around all day and forgets all about it—and me starvin’ to death.”
“What is it?” asked Jezebel, leaning closer to inspect the unsavory morsels.
“It’s pig,” said Danny as he started searching for twigs and dry grass to build a fire, “and I know where they is a lot more that I thought I couldn’t never eat but I know now I could—even if I had to fight with the maggots for it.”
Jezebel helped him gather wood, which was extremely scarce, being limited to dead branches of a small variety of artemisia that grew on the mountain side; but at length they had collected quite a supply, and presently they were grilling pieces of the boar meat over the flames. So preoccupied were they that neither saw three horsemen draw rein at the top of a ridge a mile away and survey them.
“This is like housekeeping, ain’t it?” remarked the ‘Gunner.’
“What is that?” asked Jezebel.
“That’s where a guy and his girl friend get hitched and go to doin’ their own cooking. Only in a way this is better—they ain’t goin’ to be no dishes to wash.”
“What is hitched, Danny?” asked Jezebel.
“Why—er,” Danny flushed. He had said many things to many girls in his life, many of them things that might have brought a blush to the cheek of a wooden Indian; but this was the first time, perhaps, that Danny had felt any embarrassment.
“Why—er,” he repeated, “hitched means married.”
“Oh,” said Jezebel. She was silent for a while, watching the pork sizzling over the little flames. Then she looked up at Danny. “I think housekeeping is fun,” she said.
“So do I,” agreed Danny; “with you,” he added and his voice was just a trifle husky. His eyes were on her; and there was a strange light in them, that no other girl had ever seen there. “You’re a funny little kid,” he said presently. “I never seen one like you before,” and then the neglected pork fell off the end of the sharpened twig, with which be had been holding it, and tumbled into the fire.
“Geeze!” exclaimed Danny. “Look at that!” He fished the unsavory looking morsel from the ashes and flames and surveyed it. “It don’t look so good, but I’m goin’ to fool it. I’m goin’ to eat it anyway. I wouldn’t care if a elephant had sat on it for a week—I’d eat it, and the elephant, too.”
“Oh, look!” cried Jezebel. “Here come some men and they are all black. What strange beasts are they sitting on? Oh, Danny, I am afraid.”
At her first exclamation the ‘Gunner’ had turned and leaped to his feet. A single look told him who the strangers were—no strangers to him.
“Beat it, kid!” he cried. “Duck back into the crack, and hit the trail for the valley. They can’t follow you on gee-gees.”
The three shiftas were already close; and when they saw that they had been discovered they spurred forward at a gallop, and yet Jezebel stood beside the little fire, wide eyed and frightened. She had not understood the strange argot that the ‘Gunner’ employed in lieu of English. “Beat it” and “duck” and “hit the trail” had not been included in the English idiom she had gleaned from Lady Barbara Collis. But even had she understood him it would have made no difference, for Jezebel was not of the clay that is soft in the face of danger, her little feet not of the kind that run away, leaving a companion in distress.
The ‘Gunner’ glanced behind him and saw her. “For God’s sake run, kid,” he cried. “These are tough guys. I know ‘em,” then the shiftas were upon him.
To conserve ammunition, which was always scarce and difficult to obtain, they tried to ride him down, striking at him with their rifles. He dodged the leading horseman; and as the fellow reined in to wheel his mount back to the attack, the ‘Gunner’ leaped to his side and dragged him from the saddle. The mount of a second shifta stumbled over the two men and fell, unhorsing its rider.
The ‘Gunner’ seized the long rifle that had fallen from the hands of the man he had dragged down and scrambled to his feet. Jezebel watched him in wide eyed wonder and admiration. She saw him swing the rifle like a club and strike at the third horsemaa, and then she saw the one he had first grappled lunge forward and, seizing him around the legs, drag him down, while the second to be unhorsed ran in now and leaped upon him just as the remaining shifta struck him a heavy blow-on the head.
As she saw him fall, the blood gushing from an ugly wound in his head, Jezebel ran forward to him; but the shiftas seized her. She was thrown to the back of a horse in front of one of them, the others mounted, and the three galloped away with their prisoner, leaving Danny ‘Gunner’ Patrick lying motionless in a welter of his own blood.