THE LION broke through the underbrush into the trail a short distance behind Jane. It was then that she called her warning to Alexis.
At sight of Jane, the lion bared his fangs and growled. Then he came toward her at a trot, and as he did so the girl leaped for an overhanging branch. As she caught it, the lion charged. He leaped for her, and his raking talons barely missed her bare foot as she drew herself safely out of his reach. With a hideous growl, he turned and leaped again.
The prince was only a short distance away, but he was hidden by the dense underbrush beneath the ship. The angry growl sounded very close; the man was paralyzed with terror.
From her position on the branch of the tree, Jane could see him. “You’d better get out of there, Alexis,” she said, “but don’t make any noise. If he hears you, he’ll come for you; he’s terribly sore about something—must have missed his kill last night.”
Alexis tried to speak, but no sound came from his throat. He just stood there trembling, an ashen pallor on his face.
Jane could not see Brown, but she knew that he was directly above Alexis. “Brown,” she called, “drop the end of the strap to the prince. Fasten it around your body underneath your arms, Alexis; and Brown and Tibbs will pull you up. I’ll try and keep Numa’s attention riveted on me.”
The lion was pacing back and forth beneath the tree, glaring hungrily up at the girl.
Jane broke off a small, dead branch and threw it at the beast. It struck him in the face; and, with a roar, he leaped again for the branch on which Jane stood.
In the meantime, Brown lowered the end of the strap quickly to Alexis. “Hurry up; fasten it around you,” he said. “For Pete’s sake, what’s the matter with you? Get a move on.”
But Alexis just stood there trembling, his teeth chattering, and his knees knocking together.
“Alexis, snap out of it,” cried Jane. “You’ve got to get that belt fastened around you before the lion discovers you. Don’t you understand? It’s a matter of life and death with you.”
“You poor sap,” yelled Brown. “Get a move on.”
With trembling hands, Alexis reached for the belt, and at the same time he seemed to find his voice and commenced to scream lustily for help.
“Keep still,” warned Jane. “The lion hears you; he is looking in your direction now.”
“Hurry up, you dumb cluck,” shouted Brown.
The lion was tearing through the underbrush, searching for the author of these new sounds. Jane threw another branch at him, but it did not distract his attention. He only growled and started cautiously into the brush.
With fumbling fingers, Alexis was tying the belt about his body.
“Hoist away, Brown,” cried Jane; “the lion is coming!”
Brown and Tibbs pulled away lustily, and Alexis rose out of the underbrush.
The lion came steadily on. At last he was directly beneath the terrified man. Alexis, looking down straight into the cruel eyes of the carnivore, voiced a scream of horror.
Slowly, a few inches at a time, Brown and Tibbs were raising Alexis out of harm’s way; but still he was perilously close to the great beast. Then the lion rared up to its full height and struck at him. A raking talon touched the heel of the man’s shoe; and, with a final scream, Alexis fainted.
Brown and Tibbs redoubled their efforts. The lion dropped back to the ground, gathered himself and sprang. Again he missed, but only by inches; and before he could spring again, Alexis was safely out of his reach.
The two men hoisted the limp body of Sborov to the ship, and with considerable difficulty dragged him into the cabin.
At sight of him, the princess commenced to scream. “He’s dead! he’s dead! Oh, my darling, and your Kitty was so cross to her Allie.”
“For Pete’s sake, shut up,” snapped Brown. “My nerves are about shot, and anyway the sap isn’t dead; he’s just scared stiff.”
“Brown, how dare you speak to me like that!” cried the princess. “Oh, it’s terrible; nobody knows what I’m suffering. I mean, no one understands me; everyone is against me.”
“Lord,” cried Brown, “a little more of this and we’ll all be nuts.”
“Excuse me, madam, but he seems to be coming to,” said Tibbs; “I think he’ll be all right in a minute, mam.”
“Do something, Annette,” cried the princess. “What are you sitting there for—just like a bump on a log? I mean, where are the smelling salts? Get some water. Oh, isn’t it terrible? Oh, darling, Allie, speak to your Kitty.”
Alexis opened his eyes and looked about him. Then he closed them and shuddered. “I thought he had me,” he said, in a trembling whisper.
“No such luck,” said Brown.
“It was a very close call, sir, if I may make so bold as to say so, sir,” said Tibbs.
Jane stepped into the cabin doorway. “All right?” she asked. “From the noise you were making, Kitty, I thought something dreadful had happened.”
“The Lord only knows what would happen if something really should happen,” said Brown, disgustedly. “I’m getting fed up on all this screaming and bellyaching. I never had no royalty in my hair before, but I sure got ’em now.”
Jane shook her head. “Be patient, Brown,” she said. “Remember this is all new to them, and naturally anyway their nerves are on edge after all that we have passed through.”
“Well, ain’t the rest of us got nerves, Miss? Ain’t we got a right to be upset, too? But you don’t hear none of us bawling around like them. I suppose being royal gives ’em the right to be nuisances.”
“Never mind, now,” said Jane; “you’re getting as bad as the others, Brown. The thing that I am interested in just now is what we are going to do about that lion. He may hang around here for hours; and as long as he does, we’re just blocked. He’s in a nasty mood, and it won’t be safe to go down there until we know that he has cleared out. The best thing for us to do is to kill him, as he may hang around this neighborhood waiting for a chance to get some of us. He’s an old fellow; and because of that, he may be a man-eater. They get that way when they are too old to bag their regular prey.”
“A man-eater!” The Princess Sborov shuddered. “How horrible. I mean, how terribly horrible.”
“I think we can get rid of him,” said Jane. “You brought rifles, of course, Alexis?”
“Oh, yes, indeed, two of them—high-powered rifles—they’d stop an elephant.”
“Good,” said Jane, “where are they?”
“They’re in the baggage compartment, Miss; I’ll get them,” said Brown.
“And bring some ammunition, too,” said Jane.
“Who’s going down there to shoot the horrid thing?” demanded the princess.
“I, of course,” said Jane.
“But, my dear,” cried the princess, “I mean, you just couldn’t.”
Brown returned with a rifle. “I couldn’t find no ammunition, Miss,” he said. “Where is it packed, Sborov?”
“Eh, what?” demanded the prince.
“The ammunition,” snapped Brown.
“Yes, ammunition, you—”
The prince cleared his throat. “Well, you see, I—ah—”
“You mean you didn’t bring any ammunition?” demanded Brown. “Well, of all the—”
“Never mind,” said Jane. “If there’s no ammunition, there’s no ammunition, and grousing about it isn’t going to get us any.”
“If I may be permitted, I think I can be of assistance, Milady,” said Tibbs, not without some show of pride.
“How is that, Tibbs?” asked Jane.
“I have a firearm in my bag, Milady. I will kill the beast.”
“That’s fine, Tibbs,” said Jane; “please go and get it.”
As Tibbs was moving toward the doorway, he suddenly stopped. A flush slowly mantled his face; he appeared most uncomfortable.
“What’s the matter, Tibbs?” asked Jane.
“I—I had forgotten, Milady,” he stammered, “but my bag has already been lowered down there with the bloomin’ lion.”
Jane could not repress a laugh. “This is becoming a comedy of errors,” she cried, “—rifles without ammunition, and our only firearm in possession of the enemy.”
“Oh, my dear, what are we going to do?” demanded the princess.
“There’s nothing to do until that brute goes away. It’s almost too late now anyway to try to make camp; we’ll simply have to make the best of it up here for the night.”
And so it was that a most unhappy and uncomfortable party shivered and grumbled through the long, dark night—a night made hideous by the roars of hunting lions and the shrill screams of stricken beasts. But at last day broke with that uncanny suddenness that is a phenomenon of equatorial regions.
The moment that it was light enough Jane was out reconnoitering. The lion was gone; and a survey of the surrounding country in the immediate vicinity of the ship, from the lower branches of the trees, revealed no sign of him or any other danger.
“I think we can go down now and start making camp,” she said, after she had returned to the ship. “Is most of the baggage down, Brown?”
“All but a few pieces, Miss,” he replied.
“Well, get it down as rapidly as possible; and then we’ll cut an opening to the trail; it is only a few yards.”
“All right, Miss,” said Brown. “Come on, your majesty, we’ll lower you down to unhook the stuff at the other end.”
“You won’t lower me down,” said Alexis. “I wouldn’t go down there alone again for all the baggage in the world.”
Brown looked at the man with disgust that he made no effort to conceal. “All right,” he said, “you stay up here and help Tibbs; I’ll go down and unfasten the stuff when you lower it to me.”
“If you think I’m going to balance out there on that limb and unload the baggage compartment, you’re mistaken,” said the prince. “It’s absolutely out of the question; I get very dizzy in high places, and I should most certainly fall.”
“Well, what are you going to do?” demanded Brown; “sit around here while the rest of us wait on you?”
“That’s what you servants were hired for,” said Alexis.
“Oh, yeah? Well—”
“I’ll go down below,” said Jane. “Brown, you and Tibbs lower the stuff to me. Now let’s get busy,” and with that she turned and dropped down through the trees to the ground below.
With a grunt of disgust, Brown climbed out on the limb that led to the baggage compartment, followed by Tibbs; and the two soon lowered away the remainder of the luggage.
“Now lower your passengers,” called Jane, after Brown had told her that there was no more baggage. “Alexis, you come first.”
“Come on, your majesty,” said Brown; “you’re going first.”
“I told you that I wouldn’t go down there alone,” said the prince. “Lower the others.”
“All right, your majesty, but if you don’t go now, you’ll either climb down yourself or stay here till Hell freezes over, for all I care. Come ahead, Annette; I guess you’re the one to go first, and then we’ll lower the old lady.”
“Brown, how dare you refer to me so disrespectfully?” It was the voice of the Princess Sborov coming from the interior of the cabin.
“There’s nothing wrong with her ears,” said Brown, with a grin.
“I’m terribly afraid, Mr. Brown,” said Annette.
“You needn’t be, little one,” he replied; “we’ll see that nothing happens to you. Come on, sit down in the doorway and I’ll put this belt around you.”
“You won’t drop me?”
“Not a chance, my dear. I might drop royalty, but not you.”
She flashed him a quick smile. “You are so very nice, Mr. Brown,” she said.
“You just finding that out? Well, come on, sister; climb out on this branch here. I’ll help you. Steady—now sit down. Ready, Tibbs?”
“Ready, sir,” replied Tibbs.
“All right. Now down you go.”
Annette clutched her rosary, closed her eyes, and started praying, but before she realized it she had touched the ground and Jane was helping to remove the belt from about her.
“Now, princess,” called Brown.
“Oh, I can’t move,” cried the princess. “I’m paralyzed. I mean, I really am.”
Brown turned to Sborov. “Go in there, mister, and fork your old lady out,” he snapped. “We ain’t got no time to fool around. Tell her if she don’t come pronto, we’ll leave you both up here.”
“You unspeakable ruffian,” sputtered the prince.
“Shut up, and go on and do what I tell you to,” growled the pilot.
Sborov turned back to his wife and helped her to the door of the cabin, but one glance down was enough for her. She screamed and shrank back.
“Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up,” said Brown.
“I can’t. I mean, I just can’t, Brown.”
Brown made his way to the cabin. He carried the end of a long strap with him. “Come on,” he said, “let me get this around you.”
“But I can’t do it, I tell you. I mean, I shall die of fright.”
“You won’t die of nothing; half-witted people live forever.”
“That will be enough out of you, Brown. I have endured all of your insults that I am going to.” The princess bridled and attempted to look very dignified, in which, in her dishevelled condition, she failed miserably.
Brown had stooped and fastened the belt about her.
“Ready, Tibbs?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. All ready, sir,” replied the valet.
“Come on then, princess. Here, you, give me a lift. Shove on her from behind.”
Brown pulled from in front, and Alexis pushed from behind, and the Princess Sborov shrieked and clawed at everything in sight in an attempt to get a hold that they could not break.
“What’s the matter up there?” demanded Jane. “Is anyone hurt?”
“No,” replied Brown. “We’re just moving the better half of the royal family. Now listen, princess, we’re doing this for your own good. If you stays up here alone, you starves to death.”
“Yes, go on, Kitty. You’re delaying things,” said Alexis.
“A lot you’d care if I were killed, Alexis. I suppose you’d be glad if I were dead—it’s all that will you got me to make. I was a big fool to do it; but, believe me, I mean, just as soon as I find writing materials, I’m going to change it, after what you said to me and what you called me. I’ll cut you off without a cent, Alexis, without a cent.”
The eyes of Prince Sborov closed to two ugly slits. His brow contracted in a frown, but he made no reply.
Brown took the princess’ hands and held them away from the chair to which she had been clinging. “There ain’t no use, princess,” he said, a little less harshly this time, for he saw that the woman was genuinely terrified. “Tibbs and I’ll see that you don’t get hurt none. We’ll lower you easy, and Lady Greystoke and Annette are down there to help you. Just get hold of yourself and show a little spunk for a minute and it will be over.”
“Oh, I shall die, I know I shall die.”
Brown and Alexis lifted her out of the cabin onto the branch that passed close to the doorway. Slowly they eased her off it and then lowered her carefully to the ground.
“Well, Tibbs,” said Brown, “I guess you’re next. Do you want to be lowered, or will you climb down?”
“I shall climb down,” replied Tibbs. “You and I can go together and perhaps help one another.”
“Hey, how about me?” demanded Sborov.
“You climb, too, you louse, or you can stay up here,” replied Brown, “and I don’t mean maybe!”