HAVING first lighted the electric torch, the two men crept stealthily through the narrow passage. In the doorway the fire had burned low, and beside it lay sprawled the figure of Jim Haskins. The nihilist stooped over him and felt cautiously of his heart. Then he straightened himself. “All right,” he murmured, and they passed on out. At each of the two other inhabited caves they made a similar examination, and in every case Sergius’ little dose had done its work. Every one of their captors lay helpless.
“Let us begin with Paul,” said Sergius, in his natural voice, since no need of caution seemed to now exist. But he received an unexpected reply. There was a sudden rustling, a sound of footsteps, and there behind Paul’s outstretched form appeared a slender figure.
“You here!” exclaimed Miss Weston. “What have you done to Paul? Have you killed him? Oh, you — you anarchist!”
She dropped on her knees and felt anxiously for Paul’s heart.
“My dear Miss Weston, certainly I have not killed my brother.” Sergius’ voice showed not the slightest agitation at this discovery by the girl he so much admired. “He is only asleep. They are all asleep. We grew tired of seeing so many people asleep, and we are therefore about to leave.”
She sprang up and faced him with flushed cheeks and blazing eyes. “You have drugged them all! How did you accomplish this dastardly thing?”
“The tomato soup, Miss Weston. You did not eat of it?”
“Of course not. I detest canned tomato soup. Well, I— I hope you are proud of yourself. I hope — I hope something will eat you! So, you were going away, leaving your brother and all of us to be killed, were you?”
“By no means. We were just about to provide against that little contingency. But your being awake alters matters.”
“Oh, does it? Perhaps you are ashamed of your work, now that a woman has seen you at it?”
“Not at all. But on the other hand, I cannot leave you here, awake, to be terrorized all night. Asleep, it would not have mattered. When you awoke it would have been daylight and the others would have also awakened with you. Mr. Jones, the aeroplane will easily carry three passengers, We will have to take Miss Weston with us.”
“Oh, I say,” protested Jones, “do you think that is really necessary?”
“But yes. She will be far safer on the Monterey than here, under any circumstances. You need not fear me, Miss Weston. I am a gentleman and Paul’s brother, when we have settled our brotherly differences, you may return to his side, if that is your choice.”
He looked at her a trifle appealingly, but she flung back her head defiantly.
“You dare!” she stormed. “I will not go a step and leave my friends to be devoured.”
Sergius took one stride across the body of his brother and seized the young lady in his arms, holding her firmly, but as gently as he could. She did not scream, but she fought desperately, and with an amazing strength.
Jones’s gorge rose at the sight. This was going much too far. He sprang forward and seized his companion by the shoulder.
“Here, this won’t do,” he exclaimed. “You can’t force the young lady in that way, Sergius.”
The Russian turned a disgusted face to him and said over his shoulder, “Do you prefer to leave her here to be frightened into insanity? Is that your idea of chivalry?”
“Let me go — let me go!” cried Miss Weston, beating fiercely at him with her hands.
And just at that moment something black, monstrous, hideous shot down upon them out of the blackness beyond the fires. There was a harsh, grating scream, and the shoulder of a giant wing struck Jones, knocking him down, and grazed the rock wall. He was involved in a swirl of beating, struggling pinions, there were two more screams, one human, the other quite the opposite, and the thing, whatever it was, was gone.
Jones picked himself up, bruised and trembling from head to foot. The girl lay limp in Sergius’ arms, her face white, arms and head hanging. Sergius himself was pale as a ghost, but he had not moved from his position.
“I don’t know what it was, Roland Jones,” he said with a rather stiff-lipped smile, “but do you still think we ought to leave her here?”
“Great Heavens, how can we take her? How can we go ourselves? Sergius Petrofsky, I believe that you have gone mad!”
“Not quite,” said the prince patiently. “We have the rifles and the electric torches, and I really believe we can make the trip safely. I have myself passed through an African jungle in the same way, and never received a scratch. We will carry Miss Weston as far as the outer edge of the meadow, then we will revive her and go on. Later we will open negotiations with my brother — he will not then have so much advantage — and Miss Weston, for whom I have great reverence and respect, will be far safer on the Monterey. Come! In the midst of so many perils, the boldest course is best. You say that I saved your life. It was a very ordinary deed, but for this one night let me claim your gratitude!”
Jones was in a quandary. His innate chivalry revolted at the idea of forcing a woman into accompanying them, yet the arguments of Sergius seemed very plausible. And he loved this daring, fanatical, imperious new friend of his as he had never loved any man in his life before.
“All right. I’ll do it. But afterward Miss Weston is to be free to return here if she chooses.”
“Very well, if you wish it. I give my word.”
With no more talk they hastily dragged the insensible members of the party into the selected cavern, and with considerable labor blocked up the entrance. In the morning the imprisoned ones could easily pull it down from within. Then they gathered all the fuel together and made one enormous bonfire, that blazed and roared skyward. Some of the logs were of very satisfactory size, and they felt sure the fire would burn for some hours. It was then nearly midnight and dawn would break shortly after three.
While they worked Jones found himself casting many apprehensive glances upward, but the flying monster did not return and they completed their task unmolested. Miss Weston, fortunately or otherwise, had not awakened from her swoon.
Their own two rifles and ammunition belts, together with an automatic pistol and cartridge clips belonging to Prince Paul, and a heavy, old-fashioned revolver looted from Jim Haskins, they had kept outside the cavern, together with two of the most powerful electric torches.
With one last anxious glance skyward, Mr. Jones picked up the two rifles, both torches and their heavy coats, which he was to carry until they reached the place where Sergius’ remarkable scheme involved reviving the fainting lady. Sergius himself carefully raised his scornful idol in two muscular arms, and so burdened they started out across the meadow.
How they were to find their way along that thread-like trail, between the hidden dens of impossibly large spiders and past the other roaring, screaming, bellowing natives of Joker Island, remained to be shown.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00