It was during the morning of July 6, 2137, that we entered the mouth of th_hames—to the best of my knowledge the first Western keel to cut thos_istoric waters for two hundred and twenty-one years!
But where were the tugs and the lighters and the barges, the lightships an_he buoys, and all those countless attributes which went to make up the myria_ife of the ancient Thames?
Gone! All gone! Only silence and desolation reigned where once the commerce o_he world had centered.
I could not help but compare this once great water-way with the waters abou_ur New York, or Rio, or San Diego, or Valparaiso. They had become what the_re today during the two centuries of the profound peace which we of the nav_ave been prone to deplore. And what, during this same period, had shorn th_aters of the Thames of their pristine grandeur?
Militarist that I am, I could find but a single word of explanation—war!
I bowed my head and turned my eyes downward from the lonely and depressin_ight, and in a silence which none of us seemed willing to break, we proceede_p the deserted river.
We had reached a point which, from my map, I imagined must have been about th_ormer site of Erith, when I discovered a small band of antelope a shor_istance inland. As we were now entirely out of meat once more, and as I ha_iven up all expectations of finding a city upon the site of ancient London, _etermined to land and bag a couple of the animals.
Assured that they would be timid and easily frightened, I decided to stal_hem alone, telling the men to wait at the boat until I called to them to com_nd carry the carcasses back to the shore.
Crawling carefully through the vegetation, making use of such trees and bushe_s afforded shelter, I came at last almost within easy range of my quarry, when the antlered head of the buck went suddenly into the air, and then, a_hough in accordance with a prearranged signal, the whole band moved slowl_ff, farther inland.
As their pace was leisurely, I determined to follow them until I came agai_ithin range, as I was sure that they would stop and feed in a short time.
They must have led me a mile or more at least before they again halted an_ommenced to browse upon the rank, luxuriant grasses. All the time that I ha_ollowed them I had kept both eyes and ears alert for sign or sound that woul_ndicate the presence of Felis tigris; but so far not the slightest indicatio_f the beast had been apparent.
As I crept closer to the antelope, sure this time of a good shot at a larg_uck, I suddenly saw something that caused me to forget all about my prey i_onderment.
It was the figure of an immense grey-black creature, rearing its colossa_houlders twelve or fourteen feet above the ground. Never in my life had _een such a beast, nor did I at first recognize it, so different in appearanc_s the live reality from the stuffed, unnatural specimens preserved to us i_ur museums.
But presently I guessed the identity of the mighty creature as Elepha_fricanus, or, as the ancients commonly described it, African elephant.
The antelope, although in plain view of the huge beast, paid not the slightes_ttention to it, and I was so wrapped up in watching the mighty pachyderm tha_ quite forgot to shoot at the buck and presently, and in quite a startlin_anner, it became impossible to do so.
The elephant was browsing upon the young and tender shoots of some low bushes, waving his great ears and switching his short tail. The antelope, scarc_wenty paces from him, continued their feeding, when suddenly, from clos_eside the latter, there came a most terrifying roar, and I saw a great, tawn_ody shoot, from the concealing verdure beyond the antelope, full upon th_ack of a small buck.
Instantly the scene changed from one of quiet and peace to indescribabl_haos. The startled and terrified buck uttered cries of agony. His fellow_roke and leaped off in all directions. The elephant raised his trunk, and, trumpeting loudly, lumbered off through the wood, crushing down small tree_nd trampling bushes in his mad flight.
Growling horribly, a huge lion stood across the body of his prey—such _reature as no Pan-American of the twenty- second century had ever behel_ntil my eyes rested upon this lordly specimen of "the king of beasts." Bu_hat a different creature was this fierce-eyed demon, palpitating with lif_nd vigor, glossy of coat, alert, growling, magnificent, from the dingy, moth- eaten replicas beneath their glass cases in the stuffy halls of our publi_useums.
I had never hoped or expected to see a living lion, tiger, or elephant—usin_he common terms that were familiar to the ancients, since they seem to m_ess unwieldy than those now in general use among us—and so it was wit_entiments not unmixed with awe that I stood gazing at this regal beast as, above the carcass of his kill, he roared out his challenge to the world.
So enthralled was I by the spectacle that I quite forgot myself, and th_etter to view him, the great lion, I had risen to my feet and stood, no_ifty paces from him, in full view.
For a moment he did not see me, his attention being directed toward th_etreating elephant, and I had ample time to feast my eyes upon his splendi_roportions, his great head, and his thick black mane.
Ah, what thoughts passed through my mind in those brief moments as I stoo_here in rapt fascination! I had come to find a wondrous civilization, an_nstead I found a wild- beast monarch of the realm where English kings ha_uled. A lion reigned, undisturbed, within a few miles of the seat of one o_he greatest governments the world has ever known, his domain a howlin_ilderness, where yesterday fell the shadows of the largest city in the world.
It was appalling; but my reflections upon this depressing subject were doome_o sudden extinction. The lion had discovered me.
For an instant he stood silent and motionless as one of the mangy effigies a_ome, but only for an instant. Then, with a most ferocious roar, and withou_he slightest hesitancy or warning, he charged upon me.
He forsook the prey already dead beneath him for the pleasures of th_electable tidbit, man. From the remorselessness with which the grea_arnivora of modern England hunted man, I am constrained to believe that, whatever their appetites in times past, they have cultivated a gruesome tast_or human flesh.
As I threw my rifle to my shoulder, I thanked God, the ancient God of m_ncestors, that I had replaced the hard- jacketed bullets in my weapon wit_oft-nosed projectiles, for though this was my first experience with Feli_eo, I knew the moment that I faced that charge that even my wonderfull_erfected firearm would be as futile as a peashooter unless I chanced to plac_y first bullet in a vital spot.
Unless you had seen it you could not believe credible the speed of a chargin_ion. Apparently the animal is not built for speed, nor can he maintain it fo_ong. But for a matter of forty or fifty yards there is, I believe, no anima_n earth that can overtake him.
Like a bolt he bore down upon me, but, fortunately for me, I did not lose m_ead. I guessed that no bullet would kill him instantly. I doubted that _ould pierce his skull. There was hope, though, in finding his heart throug_is exposed chest, or, better yet, of breaking his shoulder or foreleg, an_ringing him up long enough to pump more bullets into him and finish him.
I covered his left shoulder and pulled the trigger as he was almost upon me.
It stopped him. With a terrific howl of pain and rage, the brute rolled ove_nd over upon the ground almost to my feet. As he came I pumped two mor_ullets into him, and as he struggled to rise, clawing viciously at me, I pu_ bullet in his spine.
That finished him, and I am free to admit that I was mighty glad of it. Ther_as a great tree close behind me, and, stepping within its shade, I leane_gainst it, wiping the perspiration from my face, for the day was hot, and th_xertion and excitement left me exhausted.
I stood there, resting, for a moment, preparatory to turning and retracing m_teps to the launch, when, without warning, something whizzed through spac_traight toward me. There was a dull thud of impact as it struck the tree, an_s I dodged to one side and turned to look at the thing I saw a heavy spea_mbedded in the wood not three inches from where my head had been.
The thing had come from a little to one side of me, and, without waiting t_nvestigate at the instant, I leaped behind the tree, and, circling it, peere_round the other side to get a sight of my would-be murderer.
This time I was pitted against men—the spear told me that all too plainly—bu_o long as they didn't take me unawares or from behind I had little fear o_hem.
Cautiously I edged about the far side of the trees until I could obtain a vie_f the spot from which the spear must have come, and when I did I saw the hea_f a man just emerging from behind a bush.
The fellow was quite similar in type to those I had seen upon the Isle o_ight. He was hairy and unkempt, and as he finally stepped into view I sa_hat he was garbed in the same primitive fashion.
He stood for a moment gazing about in search of me, and then he advanced. A_e did so a number of others, precisely like him, stepped from the concealin_erdure of nearby bushes and followed in his wake. Keeping the trees betwee_hem and me, I ran back a short distance until I found a clump of underbrus_hat would effectually conceal me, for I wished to discover the strength o_he party and its armament before attempting to parley with it.
The useless destruction of any of these poor creatures was the farthest ide_rom my mind. I should have liked to have spoken with them, but I did not car_o risk having to use my high-powered rifle upon them other than in the las_xtremity.
Once in my new place of concealment, I watched them as they approached th_ree. There were about thirty men in the party and one woman—a girl whos_ands seemed to be bound behind her and who was being pulled along by two o_he men.
They came forward warily, peering cautiously into every bush and haltin_ften. At the body of the lion, they paused, and I could see from thei_esticulations and the higher pitch of their voices that they were muc_xcited over my kill.
But presently they resumed their search for me, and as they advanced I becam_uddenly aware of the unnecessary brutality with which the girl's guards wer_reating her. She stumbled once, not far from my place of concealment, an_fter the balance of the party had passed me. As she did so one of the men a_er side jerked her roughly to her feet and struck her across the mouth wit_is fist.
Instantly my blood boiled, and forgetting every consideration of caution, _eaped from my concealment, and, springing to the man's side, felled him wit_ blow.
So unexpected had been my act that it found him and his fellow unprepared; bu_nstantly the latter drew the knife that protruded from his belt and lunge_iciously at me, at the same time giving voice to a wild cry of alarm.
The girl shrank back at sight of me, her eyes wide in astonishment, and the_y antagonist was upon me. I parried his first blow with my forearm, at th_ame time delivering a powerful blow to his jaw that sent him reeling back; but he was at me again in an instant, though in the brief interim I had tim_o draw my revolver.
I saw his companion crawling slowly to his feet, and the others of the part_acing down upon me. There was no time to argue now, other than with th_eapons we wore, and so, as the fellow lunged at me again with the wicked- looking knife, I covered his heart and pulled the trigger.
Without a sound, he slipped to the earth, and then I turned the weapon upo_he other guard, who was now about to attack me. He, too, collapsed, and I wa_lone with the astonished girl.
The balance of the party was some twenty paces from us, but coming rapidly. _eized her arm and drew her after me behind a nearby tree, for I had seen tha_ith both their comrades down the others were preparing to launch thei_pears.
With the girl safe behind the tree, I stepped out in sight of the advancin_oe, shouting to them that I was no enemy, and that they should halt an_isten to me. But for answer they only yelled in derision and launched _ouple of spears at me, both of which missed.
I saw then that I must fight, yet still I hated to slay them, and it was onl_s a final resort that I dropped two of them with my rifle, bringing th_thers to a temporary halt. Again, I appealed to them to desist. But they onl_istook my solicitude for them for fear, and, with shouts of rage an_erision, leaped forward once again to overwhelm me.
It was now quite evident that I must punish them severely, or—myself—die an_elinquish the girl once more to her captors. Neither of these things had _he slightest notion of doing, and so I again stepped from behind the tree, and, with all the care and deliberation of target practice, I commence_icking off the foremost of my assailants.
One by one the wild men dropped, yet on came the others, fierce and vengeful, until, only a few remaining, these seemed to realize the futility of combatin_y modern weapon with their primitive spears, and, still howling wrathfully, withdrew toward the west.
Now, for the first time, I had an opportunity to turn my attention toward th_irl, who had stood, silent and motionless, behind me as I pumped death int_y enemies and hers from my automatic rifle.
She was of medium height, well formed, and with fine, clear- cut features. He_orehead was high, and her eyes both intelligent and beautiful. Exposure t_he sun had browned a smooth and velvety skin to a shade which seemed t_nhance rather than mar an altogether lovely picture of youthful femininity.
A trace of apprehension marked her expression—I cannot call it fear since _ave learned to know her—and astonishment was still apparent in her eyes. Sh_tood quite erect, her hands still bound behind her, and met my gaze wit_evel, proud return.
"What language do you speak?" I asked. "Do you understand mine?"
"Yes," she replied. "It is similar to my own. I am Grabritin. What are you?"
"I am a Pan-American," I answered. She shook her head. "What is that?"
I pointed toward the west. "Far away, across the ocean."
Her expression altered a trifle. A slight frown contracted her brow. Th_xpression of apprehension deepened.
"Take off your cap," she said, and when, to humor her strange request, I di_s she bid, she appeared relieved. Then she edged to one side and leaned ove_eemingly to peer behind me. I turned quickly to see what she discovered, bu_inding nothing, wheeled about to see that her expression was once mor_ltered.
"You are not from there?" and she pointed toward the east. It was a hal_uestion. "You are not from across the water there?"
"No," I assured her. "I am from Pan-America, far away to the west. Have yo_ver heard of Pan-America?"
She shook her head in negation. "I do not care where you are from," sh_xplained, "if you are not from there, and I am sure you are not, for the me_rom there have horns and tails."
It was with difficulty that I restrained a smile.
"Who are the men from there?" I asked.
"They are bad men," she replied. "Some of my people do not believe that ther_re such creatures. But we have a legend—a very old, old legend, that once th_en from there came across to Grabritin. They came upon the water, and unde_he water, and even in the air. They came in great numbers, so that the_olled across the land like a great gray fog. They brought with them thunde_nd lightning and smoke that killed, and they fell upon us and slew our peopl_y the thousands and the hundreds of thousands. But at last we drove them bac_o the water's edge, back into the sea, where many were drowned. Some escaped, and these our people followed—men, women, and even children, we followed the_ack. That is all. The legend says our people never returned. Maybe they wer_ll killed. Maybe they are still there. But this, also, is in the legend, tha_s we drove the men back across the water they swore that they would return, and that when they left our shores they would leave no human being aliv_ehind them. I was afraid that you were from there."
"By what name were these men called?" I asked.
"We call them only the 'men from there,'" she replied, pointing toward th_ast. "I have never heard that they had another name."
In the light of what I knew of ancient history, it was not difficult for me t_uess the nationality of those she described simply as "the men from ove_here." But what utter and appalling devastation the Great War must hav_rought to have erased not only every sign of civilization from the face o_his great land, but even the name of the enemy from the knowledge an_anguage of the people.
I could only account for it on the hypothesis that the country had bee_ntirely depopulated except for a few scattered and forgotten children, who, in some marvelous manner, had been preserved by Providence to re-populate th_and. These children had, doubtless, been too young to retain in thei_emories to transmit to their children any but the vaguest suggestion of th_ataclysm which had overwhelmed their parents.
Professor Cortoran, since my return to Pan-America, has suggested anothe_heory which is not entirely without claim to serious consideration. He point_ut that it is quite beyond the pale of human instinct to desert littl_hildren as my theory suggests the ancient English must have done. He is mor_nclined to believe that the expulsion of the foe from England was synchronou_ith widespread victories by the allies upon the continent, and that th_eople of England merely emigrated from their ruined cities and thei_evastated, blood-drenched fields to the mainland, in the hope of finding, i_he domain of the conquered enemy, cities and farms which would replace thos_hey had lost.
The learned professor assumes that while a long-continued war had strengthene_ather than weakened the instinct of paternal devotion, it had also dulle_ther humanitarian instincts, and raised to the first magnitude the law of th_urvival of the fittest, with the result that when the exodus took place th_trong, the intelligent, and the cunning, together with their offspring, crossed the waters of the Channel or the North Sea to the continent, leavin_n unhappy England only the helpless inmates of asylums for the feebleminde_nd insane.
My objections to this, that the present inhabitants of England are mentall_it, and could therefore not have descended from an ancestry of undilute_unacy he brushes aside with the assertion that insanity is not necessaril_ereditary; and that even though it was, in many cases a return to natura_onditions from the state of high civilization, which is thought to hav_nduced mental disease in the ancient world, would, after several generations, have thoroughly expunged every trace of the affliction from the brains an_erves of the descendants of the original maniacs.
Personally, I do not place much stock in Professor Cortoran's theory, though _dmit that I am prejudiced. Naturally one does not care to believe that th_bject of his greatest affection is descended from a gibbering idiot and _aving maniac.
But I am forgetting the continuity of my narrative—a continuity which I desir_o maintain, though I fear that I shall often be led astray, so numerous an_aried are the bypaths of speculation which lead from the present day story o_he Grabritins into the mysterious past of their forbears.
As I stood talking with the girl I presently recollected that she still wa_ound, and with a word of apology, I drew my knife and cut the rawhide thong_hich confined her wrists at her back.
She thanked me, and with such a sweet smile that I should have been ampl_epaid by it for a much more arduous service.
"And now," I said, "let me accompany you to your home and see you safely agai_nder the protection of your friends."
"No," she said, with a hint of alarm in her voice; "you must not come wit_e—Buckingham will kill you."
Buckingham. The name was famous in ancient English history. Its survival, wit_any other illustrious names, is one of the strongest arguments in refutal o_rofessor Cortoran's theory; yet it opens no new doors to the past, and, o_he whole, rather adds to than dissipates the mystery.
"And who is Buckingham," I asked, "and why should he wish to kill me?"
"He would think that you had stolen me," she replied, "and as he wishes me fo_imself, he will kill any other whom he thinks desires me. He killed Wettin _ew days ago. My mother told me once that Wettin was my father. He was king.
Now Buckingham is king."
Here, evidently, were a people slightly superior to those of the Isle o_ight. These must have at least the rudiments of civilized government sinc_hey recognized one among them as ruler, with the title, king. Also, the_etained the word father. The girl's pronunciation, while far from identica_ith ours, was much closer than the tortured dialect of the Eastenders of th_sle of Wight. The longer I talked with her the more hopeful I became o_inding here, among her people, some records, or traditions, which migh_ssist in clearing up the historic enigma of the past two centuries. I aske_er if we were far from the city of London, but she did not know what I meant.
When I tried to explain, describing mighty buildings of stone and brick, broa_venues, parks, palaces, and countless people, she but shook her head sadly.
"There is no such place near by," she said. "Only the Camp of the Lions ha_laces of stone where the beasts lair, but there are no people in the Camp o_he Lions. Who would dare go there!" And she shuddered.
"The Camp of the Lions," I repeated. "And where is that, and what?"
"It is there," she said, pointing up the river toward the west. "I have see_t from a great distance, but I have never been there. We are much afraid o_he lions, for this is their country, and they are angry that man has come t_ive here.
"Far away there," and she pointed toward the south-west, "is the land o_igers, which is even worse than this, the land of the lions, for the tiger_re more numerous than the lions and hungrier for human flesh. There wer_igers here long ago, but both the lions and the men set upon them and drov_hem off."
"Where did these savage beasts come from?" I asked.
"Oh," she replied, "they have been here always. It is their country."
"Do they not kill and eat your people?" I asked.
"Often, when we meet them by accident, and we are too few to slay them, o_hen one goes too close to their camp. But seldom do they hunt us, for the_ind what food they need among the deer and wild cattle, and, too, we mak_hem gifts, for are we not intruders in their country? Really we live upo_ood terms with them, though I should not care to meet one were there not man_pears in my party."
"I should like to visit this Camp of the Lions," I said.
"Oh, no, you must not!" cried the girl. "That would be terrible. They woul_at you." For a moment, then, she seemed lost in thought, but presently sh_urned upon me with: "You must go now, for any minute Buckingham may come i_earch of me. Long since should they have learned that I am gone from th_amp—they watch over me very closely—and they will set out after me. Go! _hall wait here until they come in search of me."
"No," I told her. "I'll not leave you alone in a land infested by lions an_ther wild beasts. If you won't let me go as far as your camp with you, the_'ll wait here until they come in search of you."
"Please go!" she begged. "You have saved me, and I would save you, but nothin_ill save you if Buckingham gets his hands on you. He is a bad man. He wishe_o have me for his woman so that he may be king. He would kill anyone wh_efriended me, for fear that I might become another's."
"Didn't you say that Buckingham is already the king?" I asked.
"He is. He took my mother for his woman after he had killed Wettin. But m_other will die soon—she is very old—and then the man to whom I belong wil_ecome king."
Finally, after much questioning, I got the thing through my head. It appear_hat the line of descent is through the women. A man is merely head of hi_ife's family—that is all. If she chances to be the oldest female member o_he "royal" house, he is king. Very naively the girl explained that there wa_eldom any doubt as to whom a child's mother was.
This accounted for the girl's importance in the community and for Buckingham'_nxiety to claim her, though she told me that she did not wish to become hi_oman, for he was a bad man and would make a bad king. But he was powerful, and there was no other man who dared dispute his wishes.
"Why not come with me," I suggested, "if you do not wish to becom_uckingham's?"
"Where would you take me?" she asked.
Where, indeed! I had not thought of that. But before I could reply to he_uestion she shook her head and said, "No, I cannot leave my people. I mus_tay and do my best, even if Buckingham gets me, but you must go at once. D_ot wait until it is too late. The lions have had no offering for a long time, and Buckingham would seize upon the first stranger as a gift to them."
I did not perfectly understand what she meant, and was about to ask her when _eavy body leaped upon me from behind, and great arms encircled my neck. _truggled to free myself and turn upon my antagonist, but in another instant _as overwhelmed by a half dozen powerful, half-naked men, while a score o_thers surrounded me, a couple of whom seized the girl.
I fought as best I could for my liberty and for hers, but the weight o_umbers was too great, though I had the satisfaction at least of giving them _ood fight.
When they had overpowered me, and I stood, my hands bound behind me, at th_irl's side, she gazed commiseratingly at me.
"It is too bad that you did not do as I bid you," she said, "for now it ha_appened just as I feared—Buckingham has you."
"Which is Buckingham?" I asked.
"I am Buckingham," growled a burly, unwashed brute, swaggering truculentl_efore me. "And who are you who would have stolen my woman?"
The girl spoke up then and tried to explain that I had not stolen her; but o_he contrary I had saved her from the men from the "Elephant Country" who wer_arrying her away.
Buckingham only sneered at her explanation, and a moment later gave th_ommand that started us all off toward the west. We marched for a matter of a_our or so, coming at last to a collection of rude huts, fashioned fro_ranches of trees covered with skins and grasses and sometimes plastered wit_ud. All about the camp they had erected a wall of saplings pointed at th_ops and fire hardened.
This palisade was a protection against both man and beasts, and within i_welt upward of two thousand persons, the shelters being built very clos_ogether, and sometimes partially underground, like deep trenches, with th_oles and hides above merely as protection from the sun and rain.
The older part of the camp consisted almost wholly of trenches, as though thi_ad been the original form of dwellings which was slowly giving way to th_rier and airier surface domiciles. In these trench habitations I saw _urvival of the military trenches which formed so famous a part of th_peration of the warring nations during the twentieth century.
The women wore a single light deerskin about their hips, for it was summer, and quite warm. The men, too, were clothed in a single garment, usually th_elt of some beast of prey. The hair of both men and women was confined by _awhide thong passing about the forehead and tied behind. In this leather_and were stuck feathers, flowers, or the tails of small mammals. All wor_ecklaces of the teeth or claws of wild beasts, and there were numerous meta_ristlets and anklets among them.
They wore, in fact, every indication of a most primitive people—a race whic_ad not yet risen to the heights of agriculture or even the possession o_omestic animals. They were hunters—the lowest plane in the evolution of th_uman race of which science takes cognizance.
And yet as I looked at their well shaped heads, their handsome features, an_heir intelligent eyes, it was difficult to believe that I was not among m_wn. It was only when I took into consideration their mode of living, thei_cant apparel, the lack of every least luxury among them, that I was forced t_dmit that they were, in truth, but ignorant savages.
Buckingham had relieved me of my weapons, though he had not the slightest ide_f their purpose or uses, and when we reached the camp he exhibited both m_nd my arms with every indication of pride in this great capture.
The inhabitants flocked around me, examining my clothing, and exclaiming i_onderment at each new discovery of button, buckle, pocket, and flap. I_eemed incredible that such a thing could be, almost within a stone's throw o_he spot where but a brief two centuries before had stood the greatest city o_he world.
They bound me to a small tree that grew in the middle of one of their crooke_treets, but the girl they released as soon as we had entered the enclosure.
The people greeted her with every mark of respect as she hastened to a larg_ut near the center of the camp.
Presently she returned with a fine looking, white-haired woman, who proved t_e her mother. The older woman carried herself with a regal dignity tha_eemed quite remarkable in a place of such primitive squalor.
The people fell aside as she approached, making a wide way for her and he_aughter. When they had come near and stopped before me the older woma_ddressed me.
"My daughter has told me," she said, "of the manner in which you rescued he_rom the men of the elephant country. If Wettin lived you would be wel_reated, but Buckingham has taken me now, and is king. You can hope fo_othing from such a beast as Buckingham."
The fact that Buckingham stood within a pace of us and was an intereste_istener appeared not to temper her expressions in the slightest.
"Buckingham is a pig," she continued. "He is a coward. He came upon Wetti_rom behind and ran his spear through him. He will not be king for long. Som_ne will make a face at him, and he will run away and jump into the river."
The people began to titter and clap their hands. Buckingham became red in th_ace. It was evident that he was far from popular.
"If he dared," went on the old lady, "he would kill me now, but he does no_are. He is too great a coward. If I could help you I should gladly do so. Bu_ am only queen—the vehicle that has helped carry down, unsullied, the roya_lood from the days when Grabritin was a mighty country."
The old queen's words had a noticeable effect upon the mob of curious savage_hich surrounded me. The moment they discovered that the old queen wa_riendly to me and that I had rescued her daughter they commenced to accord m_ more friendly interest, and I heard many words spoken in my behalf, an_emands were made that I not be harmed.
But now Buckingham interfered. He had no intention of being robbed of hi_rey. Blustering and storming, he ordered the people back to their huts, a_he same time directing two of his warriors to confine me in a dugout in on_f the trenches close to his own shelter.
Here they threw me upon the ground, binding my ankles together and trussin_hem up to my wrists behind. There they left me, lying upon my stomach—a mos_ncomfortable and strained position, to which was added the pain where th_ords cut into my flesh.
Just a few days ago my mind had been filled with the anticipation of th_riendly welcome I should find among the cultured Englishmen of London. Toda_ should be sitting in the place of honor at the banquet board of one o_ondon's most exclusive clubs, feted and lionized.
The actuality! Here I lay, bound hand and foot, doubtless almost upon the ver_ite of a part of ancient London, yet all about me was a primeval wilderness, and I was a captive of half-naked wild men.
I wondered what had become of Delcarte and Taylor and Snider. Would the_earch for me? They could never find me, I feared, yet if they did, what coul_hey accomplish against this horde of savage warriors?
Would that I could warn them. I thought of the girl—doubtless she could ge_ord to them, but how was I to communicate with her? Would she come to see m_efore I was killed? It seemed incredible that she should not make some sligh_ttempt to befriend me; yet, as I recalled, she had made no effort to spea_ith me after we had reached the village. She had hastened to her mother th_oment she had been liberated. Though she had returned with the old queen, sh_ad not spoken to me, even then. I began to have my doubts.
Finally, I came to the conclusion that I was absolutely friendless except fo_he old queen. For some unaccountable reason my rage against the girl for he_ngratitude rose to colossal proportions.
For a long time I waited for some one to come to my prison whom I might ask t_ear word to the queen, but I seemed to have been forgotten. The straine_osition in which I lay became unbearable. I wriggled and twisted until _anaged to turn myself partially upon my side, where I lay half facing th_ntrance to the dugout.
Presently my attention was attracted by the shadow of something moving in th_rench without, and a moment later the figure of a child appeared, creepin_pon all fours, as, wide-eyed, and prompted by childish curiosity, a littl_irl crawled to the entrance of my hut and peered cautiously and fearfully in.
I did not speak at first for fear of frightening the little one away. But whe_ was satisfied that her eyes had become sufficiently accustomed to th_ubdued light of the interior, I smiled.
Instantly the expression of fear faded from her eyes to be replaced with a_nswering smile.
"Who are you, little girl?" I asked.
"My name is Mary," she replied. "I am Victory's sister."
"And who is Victory?"
"You do not know who Victory is?" she asked, in astonishment.
I shook my head in negation.
"You saved her from the elephant country people, and yet you say you do no_now her!" she exclaimed.
"Oh, so she is Victory, and you are her sister! I have not heard her nam_efore. That is why I did not know whom you meant," I explained. Here was jus_he messenger for me. Fate was becoming more kind.
"Will you do something for me, Mary?" I asked.
"If I can."
"Go to your mother, the queen, and ask her to come to me," I said. "I have _avor to ask."
She said that she would, and with a parting smile she left me.
For what seemed many hours I awaited her return, chafing with impatience. Th_fternoon wore on and night came, and yet no one came near me. My captor_rought me neither food nor water. I was suffering considerable pain where th_awhide thongs cut into my swollen flesh. I thought that they had eithe_orgotten me, or that it was their intention to leave me here to die o_tarvation.
Once I heard a great uproar in the village. Men were shouting—women wer_creaming and moaning. After a time this subsided, and again there was a lon_nterval of silence.
Half the night must have been spent when I heard a sound in the trench nea_he hut. It resembled muffled sobs. Presently a figure appeared, silhouette_gainst the lesser darkness beyond the doorway. It crept inside the hut.
"Are you here?" whispered a childlike voice.
It was Mary! She had returned. The thongs no longer hurt me. The pangs o_unger and thirst disappeared. I realized that it had been loneliness fro_hich I suffered most.
"Mary!" I exclaimed. "You are a good girl. You have come back, after all. _ad commenced to think that you would not. Did you give my message to th_ueen? Will she come? Where is she?"
The child's sobs increased, and she flung herself upon the dirt floor of th_ut, apparently overcome by grief.
"What is it?" I asked. "Why do you cry?"
"The queen, my mother, will not come to you," she said, between sobs. "She i_ead. Buckingham has killed her. Now he will take Victory, for Victory i_ueen. He kept us fastened up in our shelter, for fear that Victory woul_scape him, but I dug a hole beneath the back wall and got out. I came to you, because you saved Victory once before, and I thought that you might save he_gain, and me, also. Tell me that you will."
"I am bound and helpless, Mary," I replied. "Otherwise I would do what I coul_o save you and your sister."
"I will set you free!" cried the girl, creeping up to my side. "I will set yo_ree, and then you may come and slay Buckingham."
"Gladly!" I assented.
"We must hurry," she went on, as she fumbled with the hard knots in th_tiffened rawhide, "for Buckingham will be after you soon. He must make a_ffering to the lions at dawn before he can take Victory. The taking of _ueen requires a human offering!"
"And I am to be the offering?" I asked.
"Yes," she said, tugging at a knot. "Buckingham has been wanting a sacrific_ver since he killed Wettin, that he might slay my mother and take Victory."
The thought was horrible, not solely because of the hideous fate to which _as condemned, but from the contemplation it engendered of the sad decadenc_f a once enlightened race. To these depths of ignorance, brutality, an_uperstition had the vaunted civilization of twentieth century England bee_lunged, and by what? War! I felt the structure of our time-honore_ilitaristic arguments crumbling about me.
Mary labored with the thongs that confined me. They proved refractory—defyin_er tender, childish fingers. She assured me, however, that she would releas_e, if "they" did not come too soon.
But, alas, they came. We heard them coming down the trench, and I bade Mar_ide in a corner, lest she be discovered and punished. There was naught els_he could do, and so she crawled away into the Stygian blackness behind me.
Presently two warriors entered. The leader exhibited a unique method o_iscovering my whereabouts in the darkness. He advanced slowly, kicking ou_iciously before him. Finally he kicked me in the face. Then he knew where _as.
A moment later I had been jerked roughly to my feet. One of the fellow_topped and severed the bonds that held my ankles. I could scarcely stan_lone. The two pulled and hauled me through the low doorway and along th_rench. A party of forty or fifty warriors were awaiting us at the brink o_he excavation some hundred yards from the hut.
Hands were lowered to us, and we were dragged to the surface. Then commenced _ong march. We stumbled through the underbrush wet with dew, our way lighte_y a score of torchbearers who surrounded us. But the torches were not t_ight the way—that was but incidental. They were carried to keep off the hug_arnivora that moaned and coughed and roared about us.
The noises were hideous. The whole country seemed alive with lions. Yellow- green eyes blazed wickedly at us from out the surrounding darkness. My escor_arried long, heavy spears. These they kept ever pointed toward the beast o_rey, and I learned from snatches of the conversation I overheard tha_ccasionally there might be a lion who would brave even the terrors of fire t_eap in upon human prey. It was for such that the spears were always couched.
But nothing of the sort occurred during this hideous death march, and with th_irst pale heralding of dawn we reached our goal—an open place in the midst o_ tangled wildwood. Here rose in crumbling grandeur the first evidences I ha_een of the ancient civilization which once had graced fair Albion—a single, time-worn arch of masonry.
"The entrance to the Camp of the Lions!" murmured one of the party in a voic_usky with awe.
Here the party knelt, while Buckingham recited a weird, prayer-like chant. I_as rather long, and I recall only a portion of it, which ran, if my memor_erves me, somewhat as follows:
Lord of Grabritin, we
Fall on our knees to thee,
This gift to bring.
Greatest of kings are thou!
To thee we humbly bow!
Peace to our camp allow.
God save thee, king!
Then the party rose, and dragging me to the crumbling arch, made me fast to _uge, corroded, copper ring which was dangling from an eyebolt imbedded in th_asonry.
None of them, not even Buckingham, seemed to feel any personal animosit_oward me. They were naturally rough and brutal, as primitive men are suppose_o have been since the dawn of humanity, but they did not go out of their wa_o maltreat me.
With the coming of dawn the number of lions about us seemed to have greatl_iminished—at least they made less noise—and as Buckingham and his part_isappeared into the woods, leaving me alone to my terrible fate, I could hea_he grumblings and growlings of the beasts diminishing with the sound of th_hant, which the party still continued. It appeared that the lions had faile_o note that I had been left for their breakfast, and had followed off afte_heir worshippers instead.
But I knew the reprieve would be but for a short time, and though I had n_ish to die, I must confess that I rather wished the ordeal over and the peac_f oblivion upon me.
The voices of the men and the lions receded in the distance, until finall_uiet reigned about me, broken only by the sweet voices of birds and th_ighing of the summer wind in the trees.
It seemed impossible to believe that in this peaceful woodland setting th_rightful thing was to occur which must come with the passing of the next lio_ho chanced within sight or smell of the crumbling arch.
I strove to tear myself loose from my bonds, but succeeded only in tightenin_hem about my arms. Then I remained passive for a long time, letting th_cenes of my lifetime pass in review before my mind's eye.
I tried to imagine the astonishment, incredulity, and horror with which m_amily and friends would be overwhelmed if, for an instant, space could b_nnihilated and they could see me at the gates of London.
The gates of London! Where was the multitude hurrying to the marts of trad_fter a night of pleasure or rest? Where was the clang of tramcar gongs, th_creech of motor horns, the vast murmur of a dense throng?
Where were they? And as I asked the question a lone, gaunt lion strode fro_he tangled jungle upon the far side of the clearing. Majestically an_oiselessly upon his padded feet the king of beasts moved slowly toward th_ates of London and toward me.
Was I afraid? I fear that I was almost afraid. I know that I thought that fea_as coming to me, and so I straightened up and squared my shoulders and looke_he lion straight in the eyes—and waited.
It is not a nice way to die—alone, with one's hands fast bound, beneath th_angs and talons of a beast of prey. No, it is not a nice way to die, not _retty way.
The lion was halfway across the clearing when I heard a slight sound behin_e. The great cat stopped in his tracks. He lashed his tail against his side_ow, instead of simply twitching its tip, and his low moan became a thunderou_oar.
As I craned my neck to catch a glimpse of the thing that had aroused the fur_f the beast before me, it sprang through the arched gateway and was at m_ide—with parted lips and heaving bosom and disheveled hair—a bronzed an_ovely vision to eyes that had never harbored hope of rescue.
It was Victory, and in her arms she clutched my rifle and revolver. A lon_nife was in the doeskin belt that supported the doeskin skirt tightly abou_er lithe limbs. She dropped my weapons at my feet, and, snatching the knif_rom its resting place, severed the bonds that held me. I was free, and th_ion was preparing to charge.
"Run!" I cried to the girl, as I bent and seized my rifle. But she only stoo_here at my side, her bared blade ready in her hand.
The lion was bounding toward us now in prodigious leaps. I raised the rifl_nd fired. It was a lucky shot, for I had no time to aim carefully, and whe_he beast crumpled and rolled, lifeless, to the ground, I went upon my knee_nd gave thanks to the God of my ancestors.
And, still upon my knees, I turned, and taking the girl's hand in mine, _issed it. She smiled at that, and laid her other hand upon my head.
"You have strange customs in your country," she said.
I could not but smile at that when I thought how strange it would seem to m_ountrymen could they but see me kneeling there on the site of London, kissin_he hand of England's queen.
"And now," I said, as I rose, "you must return to the safety of your camp. _ill go with you until you are near enough to continue alone in safety. Then _hall try to return to my comrades."
"I will not return to the camp," she replied.
"But what shall you do?" I asked.
"I do not know. Only I shall never go back while Buckingham lives. I shoul_ather die than go back to him. Mary came to me, after they had taken you fro_he camp, and told me. I found your strange weapons and followed with them. I_ook me a little longer, for often I had to hide in the trees that the lion_ight not get me, but I came in time, and now you are free to go back to you_riends."
"And leave you here?" I exclaimed.
She nodded, but I could see through all her brave front that she wa_rightened at the thought. I could not leave her, of course, but what in th_orld I was to do, cumbered with the care of a young woman, and a queen a_hat, I was at a loss to know. I pointed out that phase of it to her, but sh_nly shrugged her shapely shoulders and pointed to her knife.
It was evident that she felt entirely competent to protect herself.
As we stood there we heard the sound of voices. They were coming from th_orest through which we had passed when we had come from camp.
"They are searching for me," said the girl. "Where shall we hide?"
I didn't relish hiding. But when I thought of the innumerable dangers whic_urrounded us and the comparatively small amount of ammunition that I had wit_e, I hesitated to provoke a battle with Buckingham and his warriors when, b_light, I could avoid them and preserve my cartridges against emergencie_hich could not be escaped.
"Would they follow us there?" I asked, pointing through the archway into th_amp of the Lions.
"Never," she replied, "for, in the first place, they would know that we woul_ot dare go there, and in the second they themselves would not dare."
"Then we shall take refuge in the Camp of the Lions," I said.
She shuddered and drew closer to me.
"You dare?" she asked.
"Why not?" I returned. "We shall be safe from Buckingham, and you have seen, for the second time in two days, that lions are harmless before my weapons.
Then, too, I can find my friends easiest in this direction, for the Rive_hames runs through this place you call the Camp of the Lions, and it i_arther down the Thames that my friends are awaiting me. Do you not dare com_ith me?"
"I dare follow wherever you lead," she answered simply.
And so I turned and passed beneath the great arch into the city of London.