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Chapter 7

We stood there, grouped about the body of the dead
Grabritin, looking futilely down the river to where it made
an abrupt curve to the west, a quarter of a mile below us,
and was lost to sight, as though we expected to see the
truant returning to us with our precious launch--the thing
that meant life or death to us in this unfriendly, savage
world.

I felt, rather than saw, Taylor turn his eyes slowly toward
my profile, and, as mine swung to meet them, the expression
upon his face recalled me to my duty and responsibility as
an officer.

The utter hopelessness that was reflected in his face must
have been the counterpart of what I myself felt, but in that
brief instant I determined to hide my own misgivings that I
might bolster up the courage of the others.

"We are lost!" was written as plainly upon Taylor's face as
though his features were the printed words upon an open
book. He was thinking of the launch, and of the launch
alone. Was I? I tried to think that I was. But a greater
grief than the loss of the launch could have engendered in
me, filled my heart--a sullen, gnawing misery which I tried
to deny--which I refused to admit--but which persisted in
obsessing me until my heart rose and filled my throat, and I
could not speak when I would have uttered words of
reassurance to my companions.

And then rage came to my relief--rage against the vile
traitor who had deserted three of his fellow countrymen in
so frightful a position. I tried to feel an equal rage
against the woman, but somehow I could not, and kept
searching for excuses for her--her youth, her inexperience,
her savagery.

My rising anger swept away my temporary helplessness. I
smiled, and told Taylor not to look so glum.

"We will follow them," I said, "and the chances are that we
shall overtake them. They will not travel as rapidly as
Snider probably hopes. He will be forced to halt for fuel
and for food, and the launch must follow the windings of the
river; we can take short cuts while they are traversing the
detour. I have my map--thank God! I always carry it upon my
person--and with that and the compass we will have an
advantage over them."

My words seemed to cheer them both, and they were for
starting off at once in pursuit. There was no reason why we
should delay, and we set forth down the river. As we
tramped along, we discussed a question that was uppermost in
the mind of each--what we should do with Snider when we had
captured him, for with the action of pursuit had come the
optimistic conviction that we should succeed. As a matter
of fact, we had to succeed. The very thought of remaining
in this utter wilderness for the rest of our lives was
impossible.

We arrived at nothing very definite in the matter of
Snider's punishment, since Taylor was for shooting him,
Delcarte insisting that he should be hanged, while I,
although fully conscious of the gravity of his offense,
could not bring myself to give the death penalty.

I fell to wondering what charm Victory had found in such a
man as Snider, and why I insisted upon finding excuses for
her and trying to defend her indefensible act. She was
nothing to me. Aside from the natural gratitude I felt for
her since she had saved my life, I owed her nothing. She
was a half-naked little savage--I, a gentleman, and an
officer in the world's greatest navy. There could be no
close bonds of interest between us.

This line of reflection I discovered to be as distressing as
the former, but, though I tried to turn my mind to other
things, it persisted in returning to the vision of an oval
face, sun-tanned; of smiling lips, revealing white and even
teeth; of brave eyes that harbored no shadow of guile; and
of a tumbling mass of wavy hair that crowned the loveliest
picture on which my eyes had ever rested.

Every time this vision presented itself I felt myself turn
cold with rage and hate against Snider. I could forgive the
launch, but if he had wronged her he should die--he should
die at my own hands; in this I was determined.

For two days we followed the river northward, cutting off
where we could, but confined for the most part to the game
trails that paralleled the stream. One afternoon, we cut
across a narrow neck of land that saved us many miles, where
the river wound to the west and back again.

Here we decided to halt, for we had had a hard day of it,
and, if the truth were known, I think that we had all given
up hope of overtaking the launch other than by the merest
accident.

We had shot a deer just before our halt, and, as Taylor and
Delcarte were preparing it, I walked down to the water to
fill our canteens. I had just finished, and was
straightening up, when something floating around a bend
above me caught my eye. For a moment I could not believe
the testimony of my own senses. It was a boat.

I shouted to Delcarte and Taylor, who came running to my
side.

"The launch!" cried Delcarte; and, indeed, it was the
launch, floating down-river from above us. Where had it
been? How had we passed it? And how were we to reach it
now, should Snider and the girl discover us?

"It's drifting," said Taylor. "I see no one in it."

I was stripping off my clothes, and Delcarte soon followed
my example. I told Taylor to remain on shore with the
clothing and rifles. He might also serve us better there,
since it would give him an opportunity to take a shot at
Snider should the man discover us and show himself.

With powerful strokes we swam out in the path of the
oncoming launch. Being a stronger swimmer than Delcarte, I
soon was far in the lead, reaching the center of the channel
just as the launch bore down upon me. It was drifting
broadside on. I seized the gunwale and raised myself
quickly, so that my chin topped the side. I expected a blow
the moment that I came within the view of the occupants, but
no blow fell.

Snider lay upon his back in the bottom of the boat alone.
Even before I had clambered in and stooped above him I knew
that he was dead. Without examining him further, I ran
forward to the control board and pressed the starting
button. To my relief, the mechanism responded--the launch
was uninjured. Coming about, I picked up Delcarte. He was
astounded at the sight that met his eyes, and immediately
fell to examining Snider's body for signs of life or an
explanation of the manner in which he met his death.

The fellow had been dead for hours--he was cold and still.
But Delcarte's search was not without results, for above
Snider's heart was a wound, a slit about an inch in length--
such a slit as a sharp knife would make, and in the dead
fingers of one hand was clutched a strand of long brown
hair--Victory's hair was brown.

They say that dead men tell no tales, but Snider told the
story of his end as clearly as though the dead lips had
parted and poured forth the truth. The beast had attacked
the girl, and she had defended her honor.

We buried Snider beside the Rhine, and no stone marks his
last resting place. Beasts do not require headstones.

Then we set out in the launch, turning her nose upstream.
When I had told Delcarte and Taylor that I intended
searching for the girl, neither had demurred.

"We had her wrong in our thoughts," said Delcarte, "and the
least that we can do in expiation is to find and rescue
her."

We called her name aloud every few minutes as we motored up
the river, but, though we returned all the way to our former
camping place, we did not find her. I then decided to
retrace our journey, letting Taylor handle the launch, while
Delcarte and I, upon opposite sides of the river, searched
for some sign of the spot where Victory had landed.

We found nothing until we had reached a point a few miles
above the spot where I had first seen the launch drifting
down toward us, and there I discovered the remnants of a
recent camp fire.

That Victory carried flint and steel I was aware, and that
it was she who built the fire I was positive. But which way
had she gone since she stopped here?

Would she go on down the river, that she might thus bring
herself nearer her own Grabritin, or would she have sought
to search for us upstream, where she had seen us last?

I had hailed Taylor, and sent him across the river to take
in Delcarte, that the two might join me and discuss my
discovery and our future plans.

While waiting for them, I stood looking out over the river,
my back toward the woods that stretched away to the east
behind me. Delcarte was just stepping into the launch upon
the opposite side of the stream, when, without the least
warning, I was violently seized by both arms and about the
waist--three or four men were upon me at once; my rifle was
snatched from my hands and my revolver from my belt.

I struggled for an instant, but finding my efforts of no
avail, I ceased them, and turned my head to have a look at
my assailants. At the same time several others of them
walked around in front of me, and, to my astonishment, I
found myself looking upon uniformed soldiery, armed with
rifles, revolvers, and sabers, but with faces as black as
coal.

Edgar Rice Burroughs

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