Presently he came upon it, a young tusker, powerful and agile, his wicked tusks gleaming as he tore bark from a young tree. The ape-man was poised just above him, concealed by the foliage of a great tree.
A vivid flash of lightning broke from the billowing black clouds above. Thunder crashed and boomed. The storm broke, and at the same instant the man launched himself downward upon the back of the unsuspecting boar, in one hand the hunting knife of his long-dead sire.
The weight of the man’s body crushed the boar to the earth, and before it could struggle to its feet again, the keen blade had severed its jugular. Its life blood gushing from the wound, the boar sought to rise and turn to fight; but the steel thews of the ape-man dragged it down, and an instant later, with a last convulsive shudder, Horta died.
Leaping to his feet, Tarzan placed a foot upon the carcass of his kill and, raising his face to the heaven, gave voice to the victory cry of the bull-ape.
Faintly to the ears of marching men came the hideous scream. The blacks in the party halted, wide-eyed.
“What the devil was that?” demanded Zveri.
“It sounded like a panther,” said Colt.
“That was no panther,” said Kitembo. “It was the cry of a bull-ape who has made a kill, or—-”
“Or what?” demanded Zveri.
Kitembo looked fearfully in the direction from which the sound had come. “Let us get away from here,” he said.
Again the lightning flashed and the thunder crashed, and as the torrential rain deluged them, the party staggered on in the direction of the barrier cliffs of Opar.
The storm, titanic in its brief fury, passed on, leaving the deep worn trail a tiny torrent of muddy water: and La thoroughly chilled, hastened onward in an effort to woo new warmth to her chilled body.
She knew that trails must lead somewhere, and in her heart she hoped that this one would lead to the country of Tarzan. If she could live there, seeing him occasionally, she would he content. Even knowing that he was near her would be better than nothing. Of course she had no conception of the immensity of the world she trod. A knowledge of even the extent of the forest that surrounded her would have appalled her. In her imagination she visualized a small world, dotted with the remains of ruined cities like Opar, in which dwelt creatures like those she had known; gnarled and knotted men like the priests of 0par, white men like Tarzan, black men such as she had seen, and great shaggy gorillas like Bolgani, who had ruled in the Valley of the Palace of Diamonds.
And thinking these thoughts, she came at last to a clearing into which the unbroken rays of the warm sun poured without interruption. Near the center of the clearing was a small boulder; and toward this she made her way with the intention of basking in the warm rays of the sun until she should be thoroughly dried and warmed, for the dripping foliage of the forest had kept her wet and cold even after the rain had ceased.
As she seated herself she saw a movement at the edge of the clearing ahead of her, and an instant later a great leopard bounded into view. The beast paused at sight of the woman, evidently as much surprised as she; and then, apparently realizing the defenselessness of this unexpected prey, the creature crouched and with twitching tail slowly wormed itself forward.
La rose and drew from her girdle the knife that she had taken from Darus. She knew that flight was futile. In a few bounds the great beast could overtake her, and even had there been a tree that she could have reached before she was overtaken, it would have proven no sanctuary from a leopard. Defense, too, she knew to be futile, but surrender without battle was not within the fiber of La of Opar.
The metal discs, elaborately wrought by the hands of some long-dead goldsmith of ancient Opar, rose and fell above her firm breasts as her heart beat, perhaps a bit more rapidly, beneath them. On came the leopard. She knew that in an instant he would charge and then of a sudden he rose to his feet, his back arched, his mouth grinning in a fearful snarl; and simultaneously a tawny streak whizzed by her from behind, and she saw a great lion leap upon her would-be destroyer.
At the last instant, but too late, the leopard had turned to flee; and the lion seized him by the back of the neck, and with his jaws and one great paw he twisted the head back until the spine snapped. Then, almost contemptously, he cast the body from him and turned toward the girl.
In an instant La realized what had happened. The lion had been stalking her, and seeing another about to seize his prey, he had leaped to battle in its defense. She had been saved, but only to fall victim immediately to another and more terrible beast.
The lion stood looking at her. She wondered why he did not charge and claim his prey. She did not know that within that little brain the scent of the woman had aroused the memory of another day, when Tarzan had lain bound upon the sacrificial altar of Opar with Jad-bal-ja, the golden lion, standing guard above him. A woman had come—this same woman—and Tarzan, his master, had told him not harm her, and she had approached and cut the bonds that secured him.
This Jad-bal-ja remembered, and he remembered, too, that he was not to harm this woman; and if he was not to harm her, then nothing must harm her. For this reason he had killed Sheeta, the leopard.
But all this, La of Opar did not know, for she had not recognized Jad-bal-ja. She merely wondered how much longer it would be; and when the lion came closer she steeled herself, for still she meant to fight; yet there was something in his attitude that she could not understand. He was not charging; he was merely walking toward her, and when he was a couple of yards from her he half turned away and lay down and yawned.
For what seemed an eternity to the girl she stood there watching him. He paid no attention to her. Could it be that, sure of his prey and not yet hungry, he merely waited until he was quite ready to make his kill? The idea was horrible, and even La’s iron nerves commenced to weaken beneath the strain.
She knew that she could not escape, and so better instant death than this suspense. She determined, therefore, to end the matter quickly and to discover once and for all whether the lion considered her already his prey or would permit her to depart. Gathering all the forces of self-control that she possessed, she placed the point of her dagger to her heart and walked boldly past the lion. Should he attack her, she would end the agony instantly by plunging the blade into her heart.
Jad-bal-ja did not move, but with lazy, half-closed eyes he watched the woman cross the clearing and disappear beyond the turn of the trail that wound its way back into the jungle.
All that day La moved on with grim determination, looking always for a ruined city like Opar, astonished by the immensity of the forest, appalled by its loneliness. Surely, she thought, she must soon come to the country of Tarzan. She found fruits and tubers to allay her hunger, and as the trail descended a valley in which a river ran, she did not want for water. But night came again, and still no sight of man or city. Once again she crept into a tree to sleep, but this time there was no Tarzan of the Apes to fashion a couch for her or to watch over her safety.
When at last he reached the tree and found that La was not there, he was slightly disconcerted, but thinking that perhaps she had descended to stretch her limbs after the storm, he called her name aloud several times. Receiving no answer, he became genuinely apprehensive for her safety and, dropping to the ground, sought some sign of her spoor. It so happened that beneath the tree her footprints were still visible, not having been entirely obliterated by the rain. He saw that they led back in the direction of Opar, so that, although he lost them when they reached the trail, in which water still was running, he was none the less confident that he knew her intended destination; and so he set off in the direction of the barrier cliff.
It was not difficult for him to account for her absence and for the fact that she was returning to Opar, and he reproached himself for his thoughtlessness in having left her for so long a time without first telling her of his purpose. He guessed, rightly, that she had imagined herself deserted and had turned back to the only home she knew, to the only place in the world where La of Opar might hope to find friends; but that she would find them even there Tarzan doubted, and he was determined that she must not go back until she could do so with a force of warriors sufficiently great to insure the overthrow of her enemies.
It had been Tarzan’s plan first to thwart the scheme of the party whose camp he had discovered in his dominion and then to return with La to the country of his Waziri, where he would gather a sufficient body of those redoubtable warriors to insure the safety and success of La’s return to Opir. Never communicative, he had neglected to explain his purposes to La; and this he now regretted, since he was quite certain that had he done so she would not have felt it necessary to have attempted to return alone to Opar.
But he was not much concerned with the outcome since he was confident that he could overtake her long before she reached the city: and, enured as he was to the dangers of the forest and the jungle, he minimized their importance, as we do those which confront us daily in the course of our seemingly humdrum existence, where death threatens us quite as constantly as it does the denizens of the jungle.
At any moment expecting to catch sight of her whom he sought, Tarzan traversed the back trail to the foot of the rocky escarpment that guards the plain of Opar; and now he commenced to have his doubts, for it did not seem possible that La could have covered so great a distance in so short a time. He scaled the cliff and came out upon the summit of the flat mountain that overlooked distant Opar. Here only a light rain had fallen, the storm having followed the course of the valley below, and plain in the trail were the footprints of himself and La where they had passed down from Opar the night before; but nowhere was there any sign of spoor to indicate that the girl had returned, nor, as he looked out across the valley, was there any moving thing in sight.
What had become of her? Where could she have gone? In the great forest that spread below him there were countless trails. Somewhere below, her spoor must be plain in the freshly-wet earth, but he realized that even for him it might prove a long and difficult task to pick it up again.
As he turned back rather sorrowfully to descend the barrier cliff, his attention was attracted by a movement at the edge of the forest below. Dropping to his belly behind a low bush, Tarzan watched the spot to which his attention had been attracted; and as he did so the head of a column of men debouched from the forest and moved toward the foot of the cliff.
Tarzan had known nothing of what had transpired upon the occasion of Zveri’s first expedition to Opar, which had occurred while he had been incarcerated in the cell beneath the city. The apparent mysterious disappearance of the party that he had known to have been marching on Opar had mystified him; but here it was again, and where it had been in the meantime was of no moment.
Tarzan wished that he had his bow and arrow, which the Oparians had taken from him and which he had not had an opportunity to replace since he had escaped. But if he did not have them, there were other ways of annoying the invaders. From his position he watched them approach the cliff and commence the ascent.
Tarzan selected a large boulder, many of which were strewn about the flat top of the mountain, and when the leaders of the party were about half way to the summit and the others were strung out below them, the ape-man pushed the rock over the edge of the cliff just above them. In its descent it just grazed Zveri, struck a protuberance beyond him, bounded over Colt’s head, and carried two of Kitembo’s warriors to death at the base of the escarpment.
The ascent stopped instantly. Several of the blacks who had accompanied the first expedition started a hasty retreat; and utter disorganization and rout faced the expedition, whose nerves had become more and more sensitive the nearer that they approached Opar.
“Stop the damn cowards!” shouted Zveri to Dorsky and Ivitch, who were bringing up the rear. “Who will volunteer to go over the top and investigate?”
“I’ll go,” said Romero.
“And I’ll go with him,” offered Colt.
“Who else?” demanded Zveri; but no one else volunteered, and already the Mexican and the American were climbing upward.
“Cover our advance with a few rifles,” Colt shouted back to Zveri. “That ought to keep them away from the edge.”
Zveri issued instructions to several of the askaris who had not joined in the retreat; and when their rifles commenced popping, it put new heart into those who had started to flee, and presently Dorsky and Ivitch had rallied the men and the ascent was resumed.
Perfectly well aware that he might not stop the advance single-handed, Tarzan had withdrawn quickly along the edge of the cliff to a spot where tumbled masses of granite offered concealment and where he knew that there existed a precipitous trail to the bottom of the cliff. Here he could remain and watch, or, if necessary, make a hasty retreat. He saw Romero and Colt reach the summit and immediately recognized the latter as the man he had seen in the base camp of the invaders. He had previously been impressed by the appearance of the young American, and now he acknowledged his unquestioned bravery and that of his companion in leading a party over the summit of the cliff in the face of an unknown danger.
Romero and Colt looked quickly about them, but there was no enemy in sight, and this word they passed back to the ascending company.
From his point of vantage Tarzan watched the expedition surmount the summit of the cliff and start on its march toward Opar. He believed that they could never find the treasure vaults and now that La was not in the city, he was not concerned with the fate of those who had turned against her. Upon the bare and inhospitable Oparian plain, or in the city itself, they could accomplish little in furthering the objects of the expedition he had overheard Zora Drinov explaining to Colt. He knew that eventually they must return to their base camp, and in the meantime he would prosecute his search for La; and so as Zveri led his expedition once again toward Opar, Tarzan of the Apes slipped over the edge of the barrier cliff and descended swiftly to the forest below.
Just inside the forest and upon the bank of the river was an admirable camp site; and having noticed that the expedition was accompanied by no porters, Tarzan naturally assumed that they had established a temporary camp within striking distance of the city, and it occurred to him that in this camp he might find La a prisoner.
As he had expected, he found the camp located upon the spot where, upon other occasions, he had camped with his Waziri warriors. An old thorn boma that had encircled it for years had been repaired by the newcomers, and within it a number of rude shelters had been erected, while in the center stood the tents of the white men. Porters were dozing in the shade of the trees; a single askari made a pretense of standing guard, while his fellows lolled at their ease, their rifles at their sides; but nowhere could he see La of Opar.
He moved down wind from the camp, hoping to catch her scent spoor if she was a prisoner there, but so strong was the smell of smoke and the body odors of the blacks that he could not be sure but that these drowned La’s scent. He decided, therefore, to wait until darkness had fallen when he might make a more careful investigation, and he was further prompted to this decision by the sight of weapons, which he sorely needed. All of the warriors were armed with rifles, but some, clinging through force of ancient habit to the weapons of their ancestors, carried also bows and arrows, and in addition there were many spears.
As a few mouthfuls of the raw flesh of Morta had constituted the only food that had passed Tarzan’s lips for almost two days, he was ravenously hungry. With the discovery that La had disappeared, he had cached the hind quarter of the boar in the tree in which they had spent the night and set out upon his fruitless search for her; so now, while he waited for darkness, he hunted again, and this time Bara, the antelope, fell a victim to his prowess, nor did he leave the carcass of his kill until he had satisfied his hunger. Then he lay up in a nearby tree and slept.
The anger of Abu Batn against Zveri was rooted deeply in his inherent racial antipathy for Europeans and their religion, and its growth was stimulated by the aspersions which the Russian had cast upon the courage of the Aarab and his followers.
“Dog of a Nasrany!” ejaculated the sheykh. “He called us cowards, we Bedauwy, and he left us here like old men and boys to guard the camp and the woman.”
“He is but an instrument of Allah,” said one of the Aarabs, “in the great cause that will rid Africa of all Nasrany.” “Wellah-billah!” ejaculated Abu Batn. “What proof have we that these people will do as they promise? I would rather have my freedom on the desert and what wealth I can gather by myself than to lie longer in the same camp with these Nasrany pigs.”
“There is no good in them,” muttered another.
“I have looked upon their woman,” said the sheykh, “and I find her good. I know a city where she would bring many pieces of gold.”
“In the trunk of the chief Nasrany there are many pieces of gold and silver,” said one of the men. “His boy told that to a Galla, who repeated it to me.”
“The plunder of the camp is rich besides,” suggested a swarthy warrior.
“If we do this thing, perhaps the great cause will be lost,” suggested he who had first answered the sheykh.
“It is the cause of the Nasrany,” said Abu Batn, “and it is only for profit. Is not the huge pig always reminding us of the money, and the women, and the power that we shall have when we have thrown out the English? Man is moved only by his greed. Let us take our profits in advance and be gone.”
Wamala was preparing the evening meal for his mistress. “Before, you were left with the brown bwana,” he said, “and he was no good; nor do I like any better the sheykh Abu Batn. He is no good. I wish that Bwana Colt were here.”
“So do I,” said Zora. “It seems to me that the Aarabs have been sullen and surly ever since the expedition returned from Opar.”
“They have sat all day in the tent of their chief talking together,” said Wamala, “and often Abu Batn looked at you.”
“That is your imagination, Wamala,” replied the girl. “He would not dare to harm me.”
“Who would have thought that the brown bwana would have dared to?” Wamala reminded her.
“Hush, Wamala, the first thing you know you will have me frightened,” said Zora, and then suddenly, “Look, Wamala! Who is that?”
The black boy turned his eyes in the direction toward which his mistress was looking. At the edge of the camp stood a figure that might have wrung an exclamation of surprise from a Stoic. A beautiful woman stood there regarding them intently. She had halted just at the edge of camp—an almost naked woman whose gorgeous beauty was her first and most striking characteristic. Two golden discs covered her firm breasts, and a narrow stomacher of gold and precious stones encircled her hips, supporting in front and behind a broad strip of soft leather, studded with gold and jewels, which formed the pattern of a pedestal on the summit of which was seated a grotesque bird. Her feet were shod in sandals that were covered with mud, as were her shapely legs upward to above her knees. A mass of wavy hair, shot with golden bronze lights by the rays of the setting sun, half surrounded an oval face, and from beneath narrow penciled brows fearless gray eyes regarded them.
Some of the Aarabs had caught sight of her, too, and they were coming forward now toward her. She looked quickly from Zora and Wamala toward the others. Then the European girl arose quickly and approached her that she might reach her before the Arabs did; and as she came near the stranger with outstretched hands, Zora smiled. La of Opar came quickly to meet her as though sensing in the smile of the other an index to the friendly intent of this stranger.
“Who are you,” asked Zora, “and what are you doing here alone in the jungle?”
La shook her head and replied in a language that Zora did not understand.
Zora Drinov was an accomplished linguist but she exhausted every language in her repertoire, including a few phrases from various Bantu dialects, and still found no means of communicating with the stranger, whose beautiful face and figure but added to the interest of the tantalizing enigma she presented to pique the curiosity of the Russian girl.
The Aarabs addressed her in their own tongue and Wamala in the dialect of his tribe, but all to no avail. Then Zora put an arm about her and led her toward her tent; and there, by means of signs, La of Opar indicated that she would bathe. Wamala was directed to prepare a tub in Zora’s tent, and by the time supper was prepared the stranger reappeared, washed and refreshed.
As Zora Drinov seated herself opposite her strange guest, she was impressed with the belief that never before had she looked upon so beautiful a woman, and she marvelled that one who must have felt so utterly out of place in her surroundings should still retain a poise that suggested the majestic bearing of a queen rather than of a stranger ill at ease.
By signs and gestures, Zora ought to converse with her guest until even the regal La found herself laughing; and then La tried it too until Zora knew that her guest had been threatened with clubs and knives and driven from her home, that she had walked a long way, that either a lion or a leopard had attacked her and that she was very tired.
When supper was over, Wamala prepared another cot for La in the tent with Zora, for something in the faces of the Aarabs had made the European girl fear for the safety of her beautiful guest.
“You must sleep outside the tent door tonight, Wamala,” she said. “Here is an extra pistol.”
In his goat hair beyt Abu Batn, the sheykh, talked long into the night with the principal men of his tribe. “The new one,” he said, “will bring a price such as has never been paid before.”
The camp at the foot of the barrier cliff slept. A single askari kept guard and tended the beast fire. From a tree at the edge of the camp two eyes watched him, and when he was looking away a figure dropped silently into the shadows. Behind the huts of the porters it crept, pausing occasionally to test the air with dilated nostrils. It came at last, among the shadows, to the tents of the Europeans, and one by one it ripped a hole in each rear wall and entered. It was Tarzan searching for La, but be did not find her and, disappointed, he turned to another matter.
Making a half circuit of the camp, moving sometimes only inch by inch as he wormed himself along on his belly, lest the askari upon guard might see him, he made his way to the shelters of the other askaris, and there he selected a bow and arrows, and a stout spear, but even yet he was not done.
For a long time he crouched waiting—waiting until the askari by the fire should turn in a certain direction.
Presently the sentry arose and threw some dry wood upon the fire, after which he walked toward the shelter of his fellows to awaken the man who was to relieve him. It was this moment for which Tarzan had been waiting. The path of the askari brought him close to where Tarzan lay in hiding. The man approached and passed, and in the same instant Tarzan leaped to his feet and sprang upon the unsuspecting black. A strong arm encircled the fellow from behind and swung him to a broad, bronzed shoulder. As Tarzan had anticipated, a scream of terror burst from the man’s lips, awakening his fellows; and then he was borne swiftly through the shadows of the camp away from the beast fire as, with his prey struggling futilely in his grasp, the ape-man leaped the thorn boma and disappeared into the black jungle beyond.
So sudden and violent was the attack, so complete the man’s surprise, that he had loosened his grasp upon his rifle in an effort to clutch his antagonist as he was thrown lightly to the shoulder of his captor.
His screams, echoing through the forest, brought rifled companions from their shelters in time to see an indistinct form leap the boma and vanish into the darkness. They stood temporarily paralyzed by fright, listening to the diminishing cries of their comrade. Presently these ceased as suddenly as they had commenced. Then the headman found his voice.
“Simba!” he said.
“It was not Simba,” declared another. “It ran high upon two legs, like a man. I saw it.”
Presently from the dark jungle came a hideous, long-drawn cry. “That is the voice of neither man nor lion,” said the headman.
“It is a demon,” whispered another, and then they huddled about the fire, throwing dry wood upon it until its blaze had crackled high into the air.
In the darkness of the jungle Tarzan paused and laid aside his spear and bow, possession of which had permitted him to use but one hand in his abduction of the sentry. Now the fingers of his free hand closed upon the throat of his victim, putting a sudden period to his screams. Only for an instant did Tarzan choke the man; and when he relaxed his grasp upon the fellow’s throat, the black made no further outcry, fearing to invite again the ungentle grip of those steel fingers. Quickly Tarzan jerked the fellow to his feet, relieved him of his knife and, grasping him by his thick wool, pushed him ahead of him into the jungle, after stooping to retrieve his spear and bow. It was then that he voiced the victory cry of the bull-ape, for the value of the effect that it would have not only upon his victim, but upon his fellows in the camp behind them.
Tarzan had no intention of harming the fellow. His quarrel was not with the innocent black tools of the white men; and, while he would not have hesitated to take the life of the black had it been necessary, he knew them well enough to know that he might effect his purpose with them as well without bloodshed as with it.
The whites could not accomplish anything without their black allies, and if Tarzan could successfully undermine the morale of the latter, the schemes of their masters would be as effectually thwarted as though he had destroyed them, since he was confident that they would not remain in a district where they were constantly reminded of the presence of a malign, supernatural enemy. Furthermore, this policy accorded better with Tarzan’s grim sense of humor and, therefore, amused him, which the taking of life never did.
For an hour he marched his victim ahead of him in an utter silence, which he knew would have its effect upon the nerves of the black man. Finally he halted him, stripped his remaining clothing from him, and taking the fellow’s loin cloth bound his wrists and ankles together loosely. Then, appropriating his cartridge belt and other belongings, Tarzan left him, knowing that the black would soon free himself from his bonds; yet, believing that he had made his esape, would remain for life convinced that he had narrowly eluded a terrible fate.
Satisfied with his night’s work, Tarzan returned to the tree in which he had cached the carcass of Bara, ate once more and lay up in steep until morning, when he again took up his search for La, seeking trace of her up the valley beyond the barrier cliff of Opar, in the general direction that her spoor had indicated she had gone, though, as a matter of fact, she had gone in precisely the opposite direction, down the valley.