As Meriem struggled with Malbihn, her hands pinioned to her sides by hi_rawny grip, hope died within her. She did not utter a sound for she knew tha_here was none to come to her assistance, and, too, the jungle training of he_arlier life had taught her the futility of appeals for succor in the savag_orld of her up-bringing. But as she fought to free herself one hand came i_ontact with the butt of Malbihn's revolver where it rested in the holster a_is hip. Slowly he was dragging her toward the blankets, and slowly he_ingers encircled the coveted prize and drew it from its resting place.
Then, as Malbihn stood at the edge of the disordered pile of blankets, Merie_uddenly ceased to draw away from him, and as quickly hurled her weigh_gainst him with the result that he was thrown backward, his feet stumble_gainst the bedding and he was hurled to his back. Instinctively his hand_lew out to save himself and at the same instant Meriem leveled the revolve_t his breast and pulled the trigger.
But the hammer fell futilely upon an empty shell, and Malbihn was again upo_is feet clutching at her. For a moment she eluded him, and ran toward th_ntrance to the tent, but at the very doorway his heavy hand fell upon he_houlder and dragged her back. Wheeling upon him with the fury of a wounde_ioness Meriem grasped the long revolver by the barrel, swung it high abov_er head and crashed it down full in Malbihn's face.
With an oath of pain and rage the man staggered backward, releasing his hol_pon her and then sank unconscious to the ground. Without a backward loo_eriem turned and fled into the open. Several of the blacks saw her and trie_o intercept her flight, but the menace of the empty weapon kept them at _istance. And so she won beyond the encircling boma and disappeared into th_ungle to the south.
Straight into the branches of a tree she went, true to the arboreal instinct_f the little mangani she had been, and here she stripped off her ridin_kirt, her shoes and her stockings, for she knew that she had before her _ourney and a flight which would not brook the burden of these garments. He_iding breeches and jacket would have to serve as protection from cold an_horns, nor would they hamper her over much; but a skirt and shoes wer_mpossible among the trees.
She had not gone far before she commenced to realize how slight were he_hances for survival without means of defense or a weapon to bring down meat.
Why had she not thought to strip the cartridge belt from Malbihn's wais_efore she had left his tent! With cartridges for the revolver she might hop_o bag small game, and to protect herself from all but the most ferocious o_he enemies that would beset her way back to the beloved hearthstone of Bwan_nd My Dear.
With the thought came determination to return and obtain the covete_mmunition. She realized that she was taking great chances of recapture; bu_ithout means of defense and of obtaining meat she felt that she could neve_ope to reach safety. And so she turned her face back toward the camp fro_hich she had but just escaped.
She thought Malbihn dead, so terrific a blow had she dealt him, and she hope_o find an opportunity after dark to enter the camp and search his tent fo_he cartridge belt; but scarcely had she found a hiding place in a great tre_t the edge of the boma where she could watch without danger of bein_iscovered, when she saw the Swede emerge from his tent, wiping blood from hi_ace, and hurling a volley of oaths and questions at his terrified followers.
Shortly after the entire camp set forth in search of her and when Meriem wa_ositive that all were gone she descended from her hiding place and ra_uickly across the clearing to Malbihn's tent. A hasty survey of the interio_evealed no ammunition; but in one corner was a box in which were packed th_wede's personal belongings that he had sent along by his headman to thi_esterly camp.
Meriem seized the receptacle as the possible container of extra ammunition.
Quickly she loosed the cords that held the canvas covering about the box, an_ moment later had raised the lid and was rummaging through the heterogeneou_ccumulation of odds and ends within. There were letters and papers an_uttings from old newspapers, and among other things the photograph of _ittle girl upon the back of which was pasted a cutting from a Paris daily—_utting that she could not read, yellowed and dimmed by age and handling—bu_omething about the photograph of the little girl which was also reproduced i_he newspaper cutting held her attention. Where had she seen that pictur_efore? And then, quite suddenly, it came to her that this was a picture o_erself as she had been years and years before.
Where had it been taken? How had it come into the possession of this man? Wh_ad it been reproduced in a newspaper? What was the story that the faded typ_old of it?
Meriem was baffled by the puzzle that her search for ammunition had revealed.
She stood gazing at the faded photograph for a time and then bethought hersel_f the ammunition for which she had come. Turning again to the box sh_ummaged to the bottom and there in a corner she came upon a little box o_artridges. A single glance assured her that they were intended for the weapo_he had thrust inside the band of her riding breeches, and slipping them int_er pocket she turned once more for an examination of the baffling likeness o_erself that she held in her hand.
As she stood thus in vain endeavor to fathom this inexplicable mystery th_ound of voices broke upon her ears. Instantly she was all alert. They wer_oming closer! A second later she recognized the lurid profanity of the Swede.
Malbihn, her persecutor, was returning! Meriem ran quickly to the opening o_he tent and looked out. It was too late! She was fairly cornered! The whit_an and three of his black henchmen were coming straight across the clearin_oward the tent. What was she to do? She slipped the photograph into he_aist. Quickly she slipped a cartridge into each of the chambers of th_evolver. Then she backed toward the end of the tent, keeping the entranc_overed by her weapon. The man stopped outside, and Meriem could hear Malbih_rofanely issuing instructions. He was a long time about it, and while h_alked in his bellowing, brutish voice, the girl sought some avenue of escape.
Stooping, she raised the bottom of the canvas and looked beneath and beyond.
There was no one in sight upon that side. Throwing herself upon her stomac_he wormed beneath the tent wall just as Malbihn, with a final word to hi_en, entered the tent.
Meriem heard him cross the floor, and then she rose and, stooping low, ran t_ native hut directly behind. Once inside this she turned and glanced back.
There was no one in sight. She had not been seen. And now from Malbihn's ten_he heard a great cursing. The Swede had discovered the rifling of his box. H_as shouting to his men, and as she heard them reply Meriem darted from th_ut and ran toward the edge of the boma furthest from Malbihn's tent.
Overhanging the boma at this point was a tree that had been too large, in th_yes of the rest-loving blacks, to cut down. So they had terminated the bom_ust short of it. Meriem was thankful for whatever circumstance had resulte_n the leaving of that particular tree where it was, since it gave her th_uch-needed avenue of escape which she might not otherwise have had.
From her hiding place she saw Malbihn again enter the jungle, this tim_eaving a guard of three of his boys in the camp. He went toward the south, and after he had disappeared, Meriem skirted the outside of the enclosure an_ade her way to the river. Here lay the canoes that had been used in bringin_he party from the opposite shore. They were unwieldy things for a lone gir_o handle, but there was no other way and she must cross the river.
The landing place was in full view of the guard at the camp. To risk th_rossing under their eyes would have meant undoubted capture. Her only hop_ay in waiting until darkness had fallen, unless some fortuitous circumstanc_hould arise before. For an hour she lay watching the guard, one of who_eemed always in a position where he would immediately discover her should sh_ttempt to launch one of the canoes.
Presently Malbihn appeared, coming out of the jungle, hot and puffing. He ra_mmediately to the river where the canoes lay and counted them. It was eviden_hat it had suddenly occurred to him that the girl must cross here if sh_ished to return to her protectors. The expression of relief on his face whe_e found that none of the canoes was gone was ample evidence of what wa_assing in his mind. He turned and spoke hurriedly to the head man who ha_ollowed him out of the jungle and with whom were several other blacks.
Following Malbihn's instructions they launched all the canoes but one. Malbih_alled to the guards in the camp and a moment later the entire party ha_ntered the boats and were paddling up stream.
Meriem watched them until a bend in the river directly above the camp hid the_rom her sight. They were gone! She was alone, and they had left a canoe i_hich lay a paddle! She could scarce believe the good fortune that had come t_er. To delay now would be suicidal to her hopes. Quickly she ran from he_iding place and dropped to the ground. A dozen yards lay between her and th_anoe.
Up stream, beyond the bend, Malbihn ordered his canoes in to shore. He lande_ith his head man and crossed the little point slowly in search of a spo_here he might watch the canoe he had left at the landing place. He wa_miling in anticipation of the almost certain success of his stratagem—soone_r later the girl would come back and attempt to cross the river in one o_heir canoes. It might be that the idea would not occur to her for some time.
They might have to wait a day, or two days; but that she would come if sh_ived or was not captured by the men he had scouting the jungle for he_albihn was sure. That she would come so soon, however, he had not guessed, and so when he topped the point and came again within sight of the river h_aw that which drew an angry oath from his lips—his quarry already was hal_ay across the river.
Turning, he ran rapidly back to his boats, the head man at his heels. Throwin_hemselves in, Malbihn urged his paddlers to their most powerful efforts. Th_anoes shot out into the stream and down with the current toward the fleein_uarry. She had almost completed the crossing when they came in sight of her.
At the same instant she saw them, and redoubled her efforts to reach th_pposite shore before they should overtake her. Two minutes' start of them wa_ll Meriem cared for. Once in the trees she knew that she could outdistanc_nd elude them. Her hopes were high—they could not overtake her now—she ha_ad too good a start of them.
Malbihn, urging his men onward with a stream of hideous oaths and blows fro_is fists, realized that the girl was again slipping from his clutches. Th_eading canoe, in the bow of which he stood, was yet a hundred yards behin_he fleeing Meriem when she ran the point of her craft beneath the overhangin_rees on the shore of safety.
Malbihn screamed to her to halt. He seemed to have gone mad with rage at th_ealization that he could not overtake her, and then he threw his rifle to hi_houlder, aimed carefully at the slim figure scrambling into the trees, an_ired.
Malbihn was an excellent shot. His misses at so short a distance wer_ractically non-existent, nor would he have missed this time but for a_ccident occurring at the very instant that his finger tightened upon th_rigger—an accident to which Meriem owed her life—the providential presence o_ water-logged tree trunk, one end of which was embedded in the mud of th_iver bottom and the other end of which floated just beneath the surface wher_he prow of Malbihn's canoe ran upon it as he fired. The slight deviation o_he boat's direction was sufficient to throw the muzzle of the rifle out o_im. The bullet whizzed harmlessly by Meriem's head and an instant later sh_ad disappeared into the foliage of the tree.
There was a smile on her lips as she dropped to the ground to cross a littl_learing where once had stood a native village surrounded by its fields. Th_uined huts still stood in crumbling decay. The rank vegetation of the jungl_vergrew the cultivated ground. Small trees already had sprung up in what ha_een the village street; but desolation and loneliness hung like a pall abov_he scene. To Meriem, however, it presented but a place denuded of large tree_hich she must cross quickly to regain the jungle upon the opposite sid_efore Malbihn should have landed.
The deserted huts were, to her, all the better because they were deserted—sh_id not see the keen eyes watching her from a dozen points, from tumblin_oorways, from behind tottering granaries. In utter unconsciousness o_mpending danger she started up the village street because it offered th_learest pathway to the jungle.
A mile away toward the east, fighting his way through the jungle along th_rail taken by Malbihn when he had brought Meriem to his camp, a man in tor_haki—filthy, haggard, unkempt—came to a sudden stop as the report o_albihn's rifle resounded faintly through the tangled forest. The black ma_ust ahead of him stopped, too.
"We are almost there, Bwana," he said. There was awe and respect in his ton_nd manner.
The white man nodded and motioned his ebon guide forward once more. It was th_on. Morison Baynes—the fastidious— the exquisite. His face and hands wer_cratched and smeared with dried blood from the wounds he had come by in thor_nd thicket. His clothes were tatters. But through the blood and the dirt an_he rags a new Baynes shone forth—a handsomer Baynes than the dandy and th_op of yore.
In the heart and soul of every son of woman lies the germ of manhood an_onor. Remorse for a scurvy act, and an honorable desire to right the wrong h_ad done the woman he now knew he really loved had excited these germs t_apid growth in Morison Baynes—and the metamorphosis had taken place.
Onward the two stumbled toward the point from which the single rifle shot ha_ome. The black was unarmed—Baynes, fearing his loyalty had not dared trus_im even to carry the rifle which the white man would have been glad to b_elieved of many times upon the long march; but now that they were approachin_heir goal, and knowing as he did that hatred of Malbihn burned hot in th_lack man's brain, Baynes handed him the rifle, for he guessed that ther_ould be fighting—he intended that there should, or he had come to avenge.
Himself, an excellent revolver shot, would depend upon the smaller weapon a_is side.
As the two forged ahead toward their goal they were startled by a volley o_hots ahead of them. Then came a few scattering reports, some savage yells, and silence. Baynes was frantic in his endeavors to advance more rapidly, bu_here the jungle seemed a thousand times more tangled than before. A doze_imes he tripped and fell. Twice the black followed a blind trail and the_ere forced to retrace their steps; but at last they came out into a littl_learing near the big afi—a clearing that once held a thriving village, bu_ay somber and desolate in decay and ruin.
In the jungle vegetation that overgrew what had once been the main villag_treet lay the body of a black man, pierced through the heart with a bullet, and still warm. Baynes and his companion looked about in all directions; bu_o sign of living being could they discover. They stood in silence listenin_ntently.
What was that! Voices and the dip of paddles out upon the river?
Baynes ran across the dead village toward the fringe of jungle upon th_iver's brim. The black was at his side. Together they forced their wa_hrough the screening foliage until they could obtain a view of the river, an_here, almost to the other shore, they saw Malbihn's canoes making rapidly fo_amp. The black recognized his companions immediately.
"How can we cross?" asked Baynes.
The black shook his head. There was no canoe and the crocodiles made i_quivalent to suicide to enter the water in an attempt to swim across. Jus_hen the fellow chanced to glance downward. Beneath him, wedged among th_ranches of a tree, lay the canoe in which Meriem had escaped. The Negr_rasped Baynes' arm and pointed toward his find. The Hon. Morison could scarc_epress a shout of exultation. Quickly the two slid down the drooping branche_nto the boat. The black seized the paddle and Baynes shoved them out fro_eneath the tree. A second later the canoe shot out upon the bosom of th_iver and headed toward the opposite shore and the camp of the Swede. Bayne_quatted in the bow, straining his eyes after the men pulling the other canoe_pon the bank across from him. He saw Malbihn step from the bow of th_oremost of the little craft. He saw him turn and glance back across th_iver. He could see his start of surprise as his eyes fell upon the pursuin_anoe, and called the attention of his followers to it.
Then he stood waiting, for there was but one canoe and two men—little dange_o him and his followers in that. Malbihn was puzzled. Who was this white man?
He did not recognize him though Baynes' canoe was now in mid stream and th_eatures of both its occupants plainly discernible to those on shore. One o_albihn's blacks it was who first recognized his fellow black in the person o_aynes' companion. Then Malbihn guessed who the white man must be, though h_ould scarce believe his own reasoning. It seemed beyond the pale of wildes_onjecture to suppose that the Hon. Morison Baynes had followed him throug_he jungle with but a single companion— and yet it was true. Beneath the dir_nd dishevelment he recognized him at last, and in the necessity of admittin_hat it was he, Malbihn was forced to recognize the incentive that had drive_aynes, the weakling and coward, through the savage jungle upon his trail.
The man had come to demand an accounting and to avenge. It seemed incredible, and yet there could be no other explanation. Malbihn shrugged. Well, other_ad sought Malbihn for similar reasons in the course of a long and checkere_areer. He fingered his rifle, and waited.
Now the canoe was within easy speaking distance of the shore.
"What do you want?" yelled Malbihn, raising his weapon threateningly.
The Hon. Morison Baynes leaped to his feet.
"You, damn you!" he shouted, whipping out his revolver and firing almos_imultaneously with the Swede.
As the two reports rang out Malbihn dropped his rifle, clutched frantically a_is breast, staggered, fell first to his knees and then lunged upon his face.
Baynes stiffened. His head flew back spasmodically. For an instant he stoo_hus, and then crumpled very gently into the bottom of the boat.
The black paddler was at a loss as to what to do. If Malbihn really were dea_e could continue on to join his fellows without fear; but should the Swed_nly be wounded he would be safer upon the far shore. Therefore he hesitated, holding the canoe in mid stream. He had come to have considerable respect fo_is new master and was not unmoved by his death. As he sat gazing at th_rumpled body in the bow of the boat he saw it move. Very feebly the ma_ssayed to turn over. He still lived. The black moved forward and lifted hi_o a sitting position. He was standing in front of him, his paddle in on_and, asking Baynes where he was hit when there was another shot from shor_nd the Negro pitched head long overboard, his paddle still clutched in hi_ead fingers—shot through the forehead.
Baynes turned weakly in the direction of the shore to see Malbihn drawn u_pon his elbows levelling his rifle at him. The Englishman slid to the botto_f the canoe as a bullet whizzed above him. Malbihn, sore hit, took longer i_iming, nor was his aim as sure as formerly. With difficulty Baynes turne_imself over on his belly and grasping his revolver in his right hand dre_imself up until he could look over the edge of the canoe.
Malbihn saw him instantly and fired; but Baynes did not flinch or duck. Wit_ainstaking care he aimed at the target upon the shore from which he now wa_rifting with the current. His finger closed upon the trigger—there was _lash and a report, and Malbihn's giant frame jerked to the impact of anothe_ullet.
But he was not yet dead. Again he aimed and fired, the bullet splintering th_unwale of the canoe close by Baynes' face. Baynes fired again as his cano_rifted further down stream and Malbihn answered from the shore where he la_n a pool of his own blood. And thus, doggedly, the two wounded men continue_o carry on their weird duel until the winding African river had carried th_on. Morison Baynes out of sight around a wooded point.