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Chapter 22

  • 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.