A sky like flame, and an atmosphere of sulphur. No breath of air, not a single ruffle in the great, drooping leaves of the African trees and dense, prickly shrubs. All around the dank, nauseous odour of poison flowers, the ceaseless dripping of poisonous moisture. From the face of the man who stood erect, unvanquished as yet in the struggle for life, the fierce sweat poured like rain - his older companion had sunk to the ground and the spasms of an ugly death were twitching at his whitening lips.
"I'm done, Trent," he gasped faintly. "Fight your way on alone. You've a chance yet. The way's getting a bit easier - I fancy we're on the right track and we've given those black devils the slip! Nurse your strength! You've a chance! Let me be. It's no use carrying a dead man." Gaunt and wild, with the cold fear of death before him also, the younger man broke out into a fit of cursing.
"May they rot in the blackest corner of hell, Oom Sam and those miserable vermin!" he shouted. "A path all the way, the fever season over, the swamps dry! Oh! when I think of Sam's smooth jargon I would give my chance of life, such as it is, to have him here for one moment. To think that beast must live and we die!"
"Prop me up against this tree, Trent - and listen," Monty whispered. "Don't fritter away the little strength you have left."
Trent did as he was told. He had no particular affection for his partner and the prospect of his death scarcely troubled him. Yet for twenty miles and more, through fetid swamps and poisoned jungles, he had carried him over his shoulder, fighting fiercely for the lives of both of them, while there remained any chance whatever of escape. Now he knew that it was in vain, he regretted only his wasted efforts - he had no sentimental regrets in leaving him. It was his own life he wanted - his own life he meant to fight for.
"I wouldn't swear at Oom Sam too hard," Monty continued. "Remember for the last two days he was doing all he could to get us out of the place. It was those fetish fellows who worked the mischief and he - certainly - warned us all he could. He took us safely to Bekwando and he worked the oracle with the King!"
"Yes, and afterwards sneaked off with Francis," Trent broke in bitterly, "and took every bearer with him - after we'd paid them for the return journey too. Sent us out here to be trapped and butchered like rats. If we'd only had a guide we should have been at Buckomari by now."
"He was right about the gold," Monty faltered. It's there for the picking up. If only we could have got back we were rich for life. If you escape - you need never do another stroke of work as long as you live."