“MAYBE it was Lady Greystoke you heard moving around in the hut,” suggested Brown.
“No,” said Annette, “I could hear her breathing. She was sound asleep.”
“Then it must have been the old girl.”
“It was not she, either. After I woke up, I heard her sort of groaning in her sleep and snoring I guess it was, but she stopped right away.”
“Then I guess you must have been dreaming, girlie,” said Brown.
“Perhaps I was,” said the girl; “but some unusual sound must have awakened me, for I sleep very soundly; and I was sure that I heard someone afterward.”
“Perhaps you had better go back and go to sleep again now,” he suggested.
“Really, Mr. Brown, I couldn’t. I am so wide awake; and then I—I felt funny in there, as though—oh, I don’t know.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “It was as though there were something terrible in there, something that frightened me. You don’t mind my staying out here with you, do you, Mr. Brown?”
“I’ll say I don’t, girlie. You and Lady Greystoke are about the only human beings in the bunch. The rest of ’em are nuts.”
“You do not like them, Mr. Brown?”
“Oh, the old girl’s harmless; she’s just a nuisance; and Tibbsy means well, I guess; but when it comes to doing anything more than pressing somebody’s pants, he just ain’t all there.”
“And the other one?” inquired Annette. “I think you do not like him so much.”
“Him? He’s the last zero after the decimal point.”
“No, I do not like him, either, Mr. Brown. I am afraid of him.”
“Afraid of him? What you got to be afraid of him about?”
“In London he say things to me a man should not say to a nice girl.”
“Well, the dirty so and so,” growled Brown. “If he ever makes any cracks at you again, honey, let me know. Say, I’d spill him all over the ground and then wipe him up with himself.”
“You would protect me, Mr. Brown?” She raised her dark eyes to his, questioningly.
The girl sighed. “You are so beeg and strong.”
“You know,” said Brown, “I like you a lot, girlie.”
“I am glad. I think I like you, too.”
Brown was silent for a moment. “If we ever get out of here,” he said, presently, and then stopped.
“Yes?” she inquired. “If we ever get out of here, what?”
He fidgeted uneasily, and threw another piece of wood on the fire. “I was just thinking,” he said, lamely.
“What were you thinking?”
“I was just thinking that maybe you and me—that may—”
“Yes?” she breathed, encouragingly.
“Say, you don’t have to call me Mr. Brown.”
“What shall I call you?”
“My best friends call me Chi.”
“What a funny name; I never hear a name like that before. What does it mean? It is not really your name?”
“It’s short for the name of the town where I come from—Chicago,” he explained.
“Oh,” she laughed, “then you spell it C-h-i and not S-h-y. I think maybe you should spell it the last way.”
“I ain’t never been accused of being shy before,” he said, “but I guess you’re right. When I try to say things to you, my tongue runs out on me.”
“What funny expressions you use. You Americans are all so funny.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said; “it’s the foreigners that seem funny to me.”
“Am I funny?”
“Well, you got some funny little ways with you, but when you pull them, they’re cute.”
“You think so? I am glad that you do, Mr. Brown.”
“Chi. Have you another name? Maybe that would be easier to say.”
“Yep. My real name’s Neal.”
“That’s a nice name.”
“So’s Annette. I’m crazy about Annette.”
“You like the name?”
“Yes, and the girl, too—I like the girl a lot.” He reached over and took her hand and drew her toward him.
“No, you must not do that,” she said sharply, and pulled away; and then suddenly she cried out, “oh, look, look,” and pointed.
Brown looked up in the direction that she indicated. Blazing against the dark background of the forest were two yellow-green points of flame.
Annette moved quickly toward him and pressed against his side. “What is it?” she whispered in a frightened voice.
“Don’t be scared, honey; it’s only looking at us. That won’t hurt us none.”
“What is it?” she demanded.
“I’ve seen cow’s eyes shine like that in the dark,” he said; “it might be a cow.”
“But you know it’s not a cow. There are no cows in the jungle. You just say that so that I will not be frightened.”
“Well, now that you mention it, maybe there ain’t no cows in the jungle; but whatever it is, I’m going to frighten it away.” He stooped over and gathered a stick from the fire; one end of it was blazing. Then he stood up and hurled it at the burning eyes.
There was a shower of sparks, an angry growl, and the eyes disappeared.
“That fixed him,” he said. “See how easy it was?”
“Oh, you are so very brave, Neal.”
He sat down beside her; and this time, he boldly put an arm about her.
She sighed and snuggled closer to him. “A nice girl should not do this,” she said, “but it make me feel so safe.”
“You never was less safe in your life, girlie,” said Brown.
“You think the eyes will come back?” she asked, with a shudder.
“I was not thinking about eyes, girlie.”
It was long after three o’clock before Brown thought to awaken Sborov. When the prince came into the firelight, he was nervous and ill at ease.
“Did you see or hear anything during the night?” he asked.
“Something came up and looked at us,” said Brown; “but I threw some fire at it, and it beat it.”
“Everything all right in camp?” he asked.
“Sure,” said Brown, “everything’s O.K.”
“I slept so soundly that anything might have happened,” said the prince. “I never knew a thing from the time I lay down until you awakened me.”
“Well, I guess I’ll go tear off a few yards myself,” said the pilot, “and you better go back in and try to get some sleep, girlie.”
They walked together the few paces to the shelter. She shuddered a little. “I hate to go back in there,” she said. “I do not understand why, but I just dread it.”
“Don’t be silly,” he said. “There ain’t nothing going to hurt you. That dream got your nanny.”
“I do not know what is my nanny,” she replied, “and I am not so certain it was a dream.”
“Well, you run along like a good girl; and I’ll sleep with one eye open. If you hear anything, call me.”
It was daylight when Brown was awakened by a piercing scream from the adjoining shelter.
“My word!” exclaimed Tibbs. “What was that?” But Brown was already on his feet and running to the women’s quarters. He saw Sborov standing by the fire, ashen-grey in the morning light. His lower jaw drooped loosely; his eyes were staring, fixed upon the hut in which the women slept.
Brown collided with Annette, who was running from the hut as he started to enter.
“Oh, Neal,” she cried, “it was no dream. Something horrible happened in there last night.”
He brushed past her and went into the hut. Jane was standing in horrified silence, gazing down at the Princess Sborov.
“God!” exclaimed Brown. Kitty Sborov was dead, her skull split wide.
“How horrible,” breathed Jane. “Who could have done this thing?”
Tibbs joined them. He remained silent and unmoved in the face of this gruesome discovery, always the perfect servant.
“Where is the prince?” asked Jane.
“He was on guard,” said Brown. “He was standing there by the fire when I came in.”
“Somebody will have to tell him,” she said.
“I reckon it won’t be no news to him,” said Brown.
Jane looked up at him quickly. “Oh, he couldn’t!” she cried.
“Well, who could, then?” demanded the pilot.
“If you wish, Milady,” suggested Tibbs, “I will inform his ‘ighness.”
“Very well, Tibbs.”
The man stepped out into the open. The prince was still standing gazing at the hut; but when he saw Tibbs coming toward him, he gathered himself together.
“What’s the matter in there?” he asked. “What was Annette screaming about?”
“Something has happened to her ’ighness—she’s—she’s dead.”
“What?—Who?—It can’t be possible. She was quite all right when she went to bed last night.”
“She has been murdered, your ’ighness,” said Tibbs, “oh, so ’orribly!”
“Murdered!” He still stood where he was, making no move to approach the hut. He watched Jane and Brown emerge and come toward him.
“It is horrible, Alexis,” said Jane. “I can’t imagine who could have done it, nor why.”
“I know who did it,” he said, excitedly. “I know who did it and I know why.”
“What do you mean?” demanded Jane.
Alexis pointed a trembling finger at Brown. “Last night I heard that man tell Tibbs to kill her. One of them must have done it, and I don’t believe that it was Tibbs.”
“Prince Sborov, I don’t believe that it was either one of them,” said Jane.
“Ask Tibbs if he didn’t tell him to kill her,” cried Sborov.
Jane looked questioningly at Tibbs.
“Well, Milady, Mr. Brown did suggest that I ‘bump her off’; but it was only by way of being a joke, Milady.”
“How was she killed?” asked the prince.
Jane looked puzzled. “Why—why, it must have been with the hatchet. Where is the hatchet?”
“Find the hatchet, and you’ll have the murderer,” said Sborov.
“But suppose he threw it away?” asked Jane.
“He couldn’t have thrown it away. I’ve been on guard here since three o’clock, and nobody entered your part of the shelter after Annette went in after I came on guard. Whoever did it, probably hid it.”
“It happened before you went on guard,” said Annette. “It happened before Mr. Brown went on guard. It was that that awakened me; I know it now; and when I thought she was moaning in her sleep and snoring, she was really dying—it was the death rattle. Oh, how horrible!”
“Just when was that, Annette?” asked Jane.
“It was while Tibbs was on guard and about half an hour before Mr. Brown went on. I couldn’t get back to sleep, and I went out and joined him. I sat up with him until he awoke the prince.”
Jane turned to Tibbs. “Was Mr. Brown asleep when you went in to wake him at midnight?” she asked.
“Yes, Milady,” replied Tibbs.
“How do you know?”
“Well, I could tell by his breathing for one thing; and then I had difficulty in arousing him.”
“He might have feigned that,” said Sborov.
“Was the prince asleep when you went in there, Tibbs, to awaken Brown?”
“He seemed to be sound asleep, Milady. I carried a burning brand in for a torch. I could see them quite distinctly.”
“He was asleep, and I was pretendin’ to be, I suppose,” said Brown.
“Find the hatchet,” said Sborov.
“Well, suppose you find it,” retorted Brown. “I don’t know where it is.”
“Tibbs says that both of you were asleep. That leaves Tibbs and Annette and me under suspicion,” said Jane.
“There ain’t no sense to that way of figuring,” said Brown. “We all know that you and Annette didn’t have nothin’ to do with it; so you two are out. I know damned well that I didn’t do it, and I’m just about as sure that Tibbs didn’t; so that puts it up to the only one in the bunch that would profit by the old woman’s death.”
“You’d profit as much as any of us,” pointed out Sborov, sullenly. “You knew that your life was at stake, that if you didn’t get out of here very soon you might never get out. You knew and you said that my wife was all that made it impossible for us to start together tomorrow. I can see your whole line of reasoning, my man. You felt that the princess could never get out of here, anyway; and so you just hurried matters along by killing her yourself.”
“All right, Sherlock Holmes, you’ve got it all figured out, haven’t you? But what are you going to do about it?”
“Find the hatchet,” repeated Sborov.
“All right,” said Jane. “You men go in the women’s part of the shelter and search, and Annette and I will search your part.”
Sborov followed Jane to the door of the men’s hut. “I cannot go in there where she is,” he said, “I want to remember her as she was when I last saw her—alive.”
Jane nodded. “Help us search here, then,” she said.
There was really no place to search except among the litter of grasses that the men had used as beds.
Jane searched the pile upon which Alexis had slept, while Alexis took Tibbs’ and Annette poked around in those belonging to Brown. Presently the girl’s hand came into contact with something cold and hard. She stiffened as her fingers touched it, as though by intuition she knew what it was. With a shudder she withdrew her hand. For a moment she remained very quiet and tense. She was thinking rapidly. Then she arose to her feet. “There is nothing here,” she said.
Sborov glanced up at her quickly. “There is nothing here, either,” said Jane.
“I can find nothing in Tibbs’ bed,” said Alexis; “but perhaps, Annette, you did not search Brown’s bed carefully enough. Let me see.”
She took a step toward him as though to prevent the search. “What is the use?” she said. “It is not there; it’s just a waste of time to look again.”
“Nevertheless, I shall look,” said Alexis.
Sborov stooped and slipped his hand in among the grasses. He did not have to search long. “Here it is,” he said. “I don’t see how you could have missed it, Annette,” he added, with a sneer. “You must have had your own reasons.”
He withdrew the hatchet from among the grasses and held it up to their view. The head was smeared with blood.
“Are you satisfied now, Jane?” demanded the prince.
“I can’t believe it of Brown,” she said.
“But you could have believed it of me?”
“Frankly, Alexis, yes.”
“Well, you’ve got plenty of proof now as to who did it. What are you going to do about it? The fellow ought to be destroyed.”
“Who ought to be destroyed?” demanded Brown. He and Tibbs were standing in the doorway.
“The hatchet was found in your bed, Brown,” said Jane. “The prince has it; as you can see, it is covered with blood.”
“Oh, so you planted that thing in my bed, did you, you lousy little runt? Trying to frame me, eh?”
“I do not understand your talk,” said Alexis. “I only know what I heard you say last night and what I found in your bed. Tibbs has already corroborated my report of what you said, and Lady Greystoke and Annette saw me find the hatchet in here right where you had hidden it.”
Brown looked from one to another with a questioning expression in his eyes. Could it be that these people believed that he had done this thing? He realized that what slender evidence was at hand pointed to him.
“Well,” he said, “don’t get it into your heads that you’re going to hang me.”