Not so; two lying in the shade of a tree: One was a great black-maned golden lion; the other was a man. He lay on his back, and the lion lay beside him with one huge paw upon his chest.
“Tarmangani!” murmured the man.
A low growl rumbled in the cavernous chest of the carnivore.
“I shall have to look into this matter,” said the man, “perhaps tonight, perhaps tomorrow.” He closed his eyes and fell asleep again, the sleep from which the shots had aroused him.
The lion blinked his yellow-green eyes and yawned; then he lowered his great head, and he too slept.
Near them lay the partially devoured carcass of a zebra, the kill that they had made at dawn. Neither Ungo, the jackal, nor Dango, the hyena, had as yet scented the feast; so quiet prevailed, broken only by the buzzing of insects and the occasional call of a bird.
Before Major White reached the head of the column the firing had ceased, and when he arrived he found the askaris and the white men crouching behind trees gazing into the dark forest before them, their rifles ready. Two black soldiers lay upon the ground, their bodies pierced by arrows. Already their forms were convulsed by the last throes of death. Naomi Madison crouched upon the floor of her car. Rhonda Terry stood with one foot on the running board, a pistol in her hand.
White ran to Orman who stood with rifle in hand peering into the forest. “What happened, Mr. Orman?” he asked.
“An ambush,” replied Orman. “The devils just fired a volley of arrows at us and then beat it. We scarcely caught a glimpse of them.”
“The Bansutos,” said White.
Orman nodded. “I suppose so. They think they can frighten me with a few arrows, but I’ll show the dirty rats.”
“This was just a warning, Orman. They don’t want us in their country.”
“I don’t care what they want; Im going in: They can’t bluff me.”
“Don’t forget, Mr. Orman, that you have a lot of people here for whose lives you are responsible, including two white women, and that you were warned not to come through the Bansuto country.”
“I’ll get my people through, all right; the responsibility is mine, not yours.” Orman’s tone was sullen, his manner that of a man who knows that he is wrong but is constrained by stubbornness from admitting it.
“I cannot but feel a certain responsibility myself,” replied White. “You know I was sent with you in an advisory capacity.”
“I’ll ask for your advice when I want it.”
“You need it now. You know nothing about these people or what to expect from them.”
“The fact that we were ready and sent a volley into them the moment that they attacked has taught ’em a good lesson,” blustered Orman. “You can be sure they won’t bother us again.”
“I wish that I could be sure of that, but I can’t. We haven’t seen the last of those beggars. What you have seen is just a sample of their regular strategy of warfare. They’ll never attack in force or in the open—just pick us off two or three at a time; and perhaps we’ll never see one of them.”
“Well, if you,re afraid, go back,” snapped Orman, “I’ll give you porters and a guard.”
White smiled. “I’ll remain with the company, of course.” Then he turned back to where Rhonda Terry still stood, a trifle pale, her pistol ready in her hand.
“You’d best remain in the car, Miss Terry, he said. “It will afford you some protection from arrows: You shouldn’t expose yourself as you have.”
“I couldn’t help but overhear what you said to Mr. Orman,” said the girl. “Do you really think they will keep on picking us off like this?”
“I am afraid so; it is the way they fight. I don’t wish to frighten you unnecessarily, but you must be careful.”
She glanced at the two bodies that lay quiet now in the grotesque and horrible postures of death. “I had no idea that arrows could kill so quickly.” A little shudder accompanied her words.
“They were poisoned,” explained the major.
“Poisoned!” There was a world of horror in the single word.
White glanced into the tonneau of the car. “I think Miss Madison has fainted,” he said.
“She would!” exclaimed Rhonda, turning toward the unconscious girl.
Together they lifted her to the seat, and Rhonda applied restoratives; and, as they worked, Orman was organizing a stronger advance guard and giving orders to the white men clustered about him.
“Keep your rifles ready beside you all the time. I’ll try to put an extra armed man on every truck. Keep your eyes open, and at the first sight of anything suspicious, shoot.
“Bill, you and Baine ride with the girls; I’ll put an askari on each running board of their car. Clarence, you go to the rear of the column and tell Pat what has happened. Tell him to strengthen the rear guard, and you stay back there and help him.
“And Major White!” The Englishman came forward. “I wish you’d see old el-Ghrennem and ask him to send half his force to the rear and the other half up with us. We can use ’em to send messages up and down the column, if necessary.
“Mr. Marcus,” he turned to the old character man, “you and Obroski ride near the middle of the column.” He looked about him suddenly. “Where is Obroski?”
No one had seen him since the attack. “He was in the car when I left it,” said Marcus. “Perchance he has fallen asleep again.” There was a sly twinkle in the old eyes.
“Here he comes now,” Clarence Noice.
A tall, handsome youth with a shock of black hair was approaching from down the line of cars. He wore a six-shooter strapped about his hips and carried a rifle. When he saw them looking toward him he commenced to run in their direction.
“Where are they?” he called. “Where did they go?”
“Where you been?” demanded Orman.
“I been looking for them. I thought they were back there.”
Bill West turned toward Gordon Z. Marcus and winked a slow wink.
Presently the column moved forward again. Orman was with the advance guard, the most dangerous post; and White remained with him.
Like a great snake the safari wound its way into the forest, the creaking of springs, the sound of the tires, the muffled exhausts its only accompaniment. There was no conversation—only tense, fearful expectancy.
There were many stops while a crew of natives with knives and axes hewed a passage for the great trucks. Then on again into the shadows of the primitive wilderness. Their progress was slow, monotonous, heartbreaking.
At last they came to a river. “Well camp here, “ said Orman.
White nodded. To him had been delegated the duty of making and breaking camp. In a quiet voice he directed the parking of the cars and trucks as they moved slowly into the little clearing along the river bank.
As he was thus engaged, those who had been passengers climbed to the ground and stretched their legs. Orman sat on the running board of a car and took a drink of Scotch. Naomi Madison sat down beside him and lighted a cigarette. She darted fearful glances, into the forest around them and across the river into the still more mysterious wood beyond.
“I wish we were out of here, Tom,” she said. “Let’s” go back before we’re all killed.”
“That ain’t what I was sent out here for. I was sent to make a picture, and I’m goin’ to make it in spite of hell and high water.”
She moved closer and leaned her lithe body against him. “Aw, Tom, if you loved me you’d take me out of here. I’m scared. I know I’m going to die. If it isn’t fever it’ll be those poisoned arrows.”
“Go tell your troubles to your Lion Man,” growled Orman, taking another drink.
“Don’t be an old meany, Tom. You know I don’t care anything about him. There isn’t any one but you.”
“Yes, I know it—except when you think I’m not looking. You don’t think I’m blind, do you?”
“You may not be blind, but you’re all wet,” she snapped angrily. “I—”
A shot from the rear of the column halted her in mid-speech. Then came another and another in quick succession, followed by a fusillade.
Orman leaped to his feet. Men started to run toward the rear. He called them back. “Stay here!” he cried. “They may attack here, too—if that’s who it is back again. Major White! Tell the sheik to send a horseman back there pronto to see what’s happened.”
Naomi Madison fainted. No one paid any attention to her. They left her lying where she had fallen. The black askaris and the white men of the company stood with rifles in tense fingers, straining their eyes into the woods about them.
The firing at the rear ceased as suddenly as it had begun. The ensuing silence seemed a thing of substance. It was broken by a weird, blood-curdling scream from the dark wood on the opposite bank of the river.
“Gad!” exclaimed Baine. “What was that?”
“I think the bounders are just trying to frighten us,” said White.
“Insofar as I am concerned they have succeeded admirbly,” admitted Marcus: “If one could be scared out of seven years growth retroactively, I would soon be a child again.”
Bill West threw a protective arm about Rhonda Terry. “Lie down and roll under the car,” he said. “You’ll be safe from arrows there.”
“And get grease in my eyes? No, thanks.”
“Here comes the sheik’s man now,” said Baine. “There’s somebody behind him on the horse—a white man.”
“It’s Clarence,” said West.
As the Arab reined his pony in near Orman, Noice slipped to the ground.
“Well, what was it?” demanded the director.
“Same thing that happened up in front back there,” replied Noice. “There was a volley of arrows without any warning, two men killed; then we turned and fired; but we didn’t see any one, not a soul. It’s uncanny. Say, those porters of ours are all shot. Can’t see anything but the whites of their eyes, and they’re shaking so their teeth rattle.”
“Is Pat hurryin’ the rest of the safari into camp?” asked Orman.
Noice grinned. “They don’t need any hurryin’. They’re comin’ so fast that they’ll probably go right through without seein’ it.”
A scream burst in their midst, so close to them that even the stolid Major White jumped. All wheeled about with rifeles ready.
Naomi Madison had raised herself to a sitting position. Her hair was dishevelled, her eyes wild. She screamed a second time and then fainted again.
“Shut up!” Yelled Orman, frantically, his nerves on edge; but she, did not hear him.
“If you’ll have our tent set up, I’ll get her to bed,” suggested Rhonda.
Cars, horsemen, black men afoot were crowding into the clearing, No one wished to be left back there in the forest. All was confusion.
Major White, with the assistance of Bill West, tried to restore order from chaos; and when Pat O’Grady came in, he helped.
At last camp was made. Blacks, whites, and horses were crowded close together, the blacks an one side, the whites on the other.
“If the wind changes,” remarked Rhonda Terry, “we’re sunk.”
“What a mess,” groaned Baine, “and I thought this was going to be a lovely outing. I was so afraid I wasn’t going to get the part that I was almost sick.”
“Now you’re sick because you did get it.”
“I’ll tell the world I am.”
“You’re goin’ to be a whole lot sicker before we get out of this Bansuto country,” remarked Bill West.
“You’re telling me!”
“How’s the Madison, Rhonda?” inquired West.
The girl shrugged. “If she wasn’t so darned scared she wouldn’t be in such a bad way. That last touch of fever’s about passed, but she just lies there and shakes—scared stiff.”
“You’re a wonder, Rhonda. You don’t seem to be afraid of anything.”
“Well, I’ll be seein’ yuh,” remarked Baine as he walked toward his own tent.
“Afraid!” exclaimed the girl. “Bill, I never knew what it was to be afraid before. Why, I’ve got goose-pimples inside.”
West shook his head. “You’re sure a game kid. No one would ever know you were afraid you don’t show it.”
“Perhaps I’ve just enough brains to know that it wouldn’t get me anything. It doesn’t even get her sympathy.” She nodded her head toward the tent.
West grimaced. “She’s a—” he hesitated, searching for adequate invective.
The girl placed her fingers against his lips and shook her head. “’Don’t say it,” she admonished. “She can’t help it. I’m really sorry for her.”
“You’re a wonder! And she treats you like scum. Gee, kid, but you’ve got a great disposition. I don’t see how you can be decent to her. It’s that dog-gone patronizing air of hers toward you that gets my nanny. The great artiste! Why, you can act circles all around her, kid; and as for looks! You got her backed off the boards.”
Rhonda laughed. “That’s why she’s a famous star and I’m a double. Quit your kidding.”
“I’m not kidding. The company’s all talking about it. You stole the scenes we shot while she was laid up. Even Orman knows it, and he’s got a crush on her.”
“You’re prejudiced—you don’t like her.”
“She’s nothing in my young life, one way or another. But I do like you, Rhonda. I like you a lot. I—oh, pshaw—you know what I mean.”
“What are you doing, Bill—making love to me?”
“I’m trying to.”
“Well, as a lover you’re a great cameraman—and you’d better stick to your camera. This is not exactly the ideal setting for a love scene. I am surprised that a great cameraman like you should have failed to appreciate that. You’d never shoot a love scene against this background.”
“I’m shootin’ one now, Rhonda. I love you.”
“Cut!” laughed the girl.