Presently, where the trail widened, into a natural clearing, the horses in front of her stopped suddenly; and the one she rode ran in among them before it stopped too.
Then she saw the reason—Sheykh Ab el-Ghrennem and his followers. She tried to rein her horse around and escape; but he was wedged in among the other horses, and a moment later the little herd was surrounded. Once more she girl was a prisoner.
The sheykh was so glad to get his horses back that he almost forgot to be angry over the trick that had robbed him of them temporarily. He was glad, too, to have one of his prisoners. She could read the map to them and be useful in other ways if he decided not to sell her.
“Where is the other one?” demanded Atewy.
“She was killed by a lion,” replied Naomi.
Atewy shrugged. “Well, we still have you; and we have the map, We shall not fare so ill.”
Naomi recalled the cone-shaped volcanic hill and the mountains in the distance. “If I lead you to the valley of diamonds will you return me to my people?” she asked.
Atewy translated to el-Ghrennem. The old sheykh nodded. “Tell her we will do that if she leads us to the valley of diamonds,” he said. “Wellah! yes; tell her that; but after we find the valley of diamonds we may forget what we have promised. But do not tell her that.”
Atewy grinned. “Lead us to the valley of diamonds,” he Said to Naomi, “and all that you wish will be done.”
Unaccustomed to the strenuous labor of pushing through the jungle on foot that the pursuit of the white girls and their ponies had necessitated, the Arabs made camp as soon as they reached the river.
The following day they crossed to the open plain; and when Naomi called their attention to the volcanic hill and the location of the mountains to the northwest, and they had compared these landmarks with the map, they were greatly, elated.
But when they reached the river below the fails the broad and turbulent stream seemed impassable and the cliffs before them unscalable.
They camped that night on the east side of the, river, and late into the night discussed plans for crossing to the west side, for the map clearly indicated but a single entrance to the valley of diamonds, and that was several miles northwest of them.
In the morning they started downstream in search of a crossing, but it was two days before they found a place where they dared make the attempt. Even here they had the utmost difficulty in negotiating the river, and consumed most of the day in vain attempts before they finally succeeded in winning to the opposite shore with the loss of two men and their mounts.
The Madison had been almost paralyzed by terror, not alone by the natural hazards of the swift current but by the constant menace of the crocodiles with which the stream seemed alive. Wet to the skin, she huddled close to the fire; and finally, hungry and miserable, dropped into a sleep of exhaustion.
What provisions the Arabs had had with them had been lost or ruined in the crossing, and so much time had been consumed in reaching the west bank that they had been unable to hunt for game before dark. But they were accustomed to a life of privation and hardship, and their spirits were buoyed by the certainty that all felt that within a few days they would be scooping up diamonds by the handfuls from the floor of the fabulous valley that now lay but a short distance to the north.
Coming down the east bank of the river they had consumed much time in unsuccessful attempts to cross the stream, and they had been further retarded by the absence of a good trail. But on the west side of the river they found a wide and well beaten track along which they moved rapidly.
Toward the middle of the afternoon of the first day after crossing the river Naomi called to Atewy who rode near her.
“Look!” she said, pointing ahead. “There is the red granite column shown on the map. Directly east of it is the entrance to the valley.”
Atewy, much excited, transmitted the information to el-Ghrennem and the others; and broad grins wreathed their usually saturnine countenances.
“And now,” said Naomi, “that I have led you to the valley, keep your promise to me and send me back to my people.”
“Wait a bit,” replied Atewy. “We are not in the valley yet. We must be sure that this is indeed the valley of diamonds. You must come with us yet a little farther.”
“But that was not the agreement,” insisted the girl. “I was to lead you to the valley, and that I have done. I am going back to look for my people now whether you send any one with me or not.”
She wheeled her pony to turn back along the trail they had came. She did not know where her people were; but she had heard the Arabs say that the falls they had passed were the Omwamwi Falls, and she knew that the safari had been marching for this destination when she had been stolen more than week before. They must be close to them by this time.
But she was not destined to carry her scheme into execution, for as she wheeled her mount Atewy spurred to her side, grasped her bridle rein, and with an oath. struck her across the face.
“The next time you try that you’ll get something worse,” he threatened.
Suffering from the blow, helpless, hopeless, the girl broke into tears. She thought that she had plumbed the uttermost depths of terror and despair, but she did not know what the near future held in store for her.
That night the Arabs camped just east of the red granite monolith that they believed marked, the entrance to the valley of diamonds, at the mouth of a narrow canyon.
Early the following morning they started up the canyon on the march that they believed would lead them: to a country of fabulous wealth. From far above them savage eyes looked down from scowling black faces, watching their progress.