Zveri believed that they had been followed by a band of Oparian warriors, who might be contemplating a night attack, and so he placed a heavy guard about the camp; but his blacks were confident that that unearthly cry had broken from no human throat.
Depressed and dispirited, the men resumed their march the following morning, They made an early start and by dint of much driving arrived at the base camp just before dark. The sight that met their eyes there filled them with consternation. The camp had disappeared, and in the center of the clearing where it had been pitched a pile of ashes suggested that disaster had overtaken the party that had been left behind.
This new misfortune threw Zveri into a maniacal rage, but there was no one present upon whom he might lay the blame, and so he was reduced to the expedient of trampling back and forth while he cursed his luck in loud tones and several languages.
From a tree Tarzan watched him. He, too, was at a loss to understand the nature of the disaster that seemed to have overtaken the camp during the absence of the main party, but as he saw that it caused the leader intense anguish, the ape-man was pleased.
The blacks were confident that this was another manifestation of the anger of the malign spirit that had been haunting them, and they were all for deserting the ill-starred white man, whose every move ended in failure or disaster.
Zveri’s powers of leadership deserve full credit, since from the verge of almost certain mutiny he forced his men by means of both cajolery and threat to remain with him. He set them to building shelters for the entire party, and immediately he dispatched messengers to his various agents, urging them to forward necessary supplies at once. He knew that certain things he needed already were on the way from the Coast—uniforms, rifles, arnmunition. But now he particularly needed provisions and trade goods. To insure discipline, he kept the men working constantly, either in adding to the comforts of the camp, enlarging the clearing, or hunting fresh meats.
And so the days passed and became weeks, and meanwhile Tarzan watched in waiting. He was in no hurry, for hurry is not a characteristic of the beasts. He roamed the jungle often at a considerable distance from Zveri’s camp, but occasionally he would return, though not to molest them, preferring to let them lull themselves into a stupor of tranquil security, the shattering of which in his own good time would have dire effect upon their morale. He understood the psychology of terror, and it was with terror that he would defeat them.
At last scouts that he had sent far up the river on the opposite side returned to report that a way to the west seemed clear along a more northerly route, and so breaking camp, Abu Batn moved north with his lone prisoner.
Great had been his rage when he discovered that Ibn Dammuk had stolen La, and now he redoubled his precaution to prevent the escape of Zora Drinov. So closely was she guarded that any possibility of escape seemed almost hopeless. She had learned the fate for which Abu Batn was reserving her, and now, depressed and melancholy, her mind was occupied with plans for self-destruction. For a time she had harbored the hope that Zveri would overtake the Aarabs and rescue her, but this she had long since discarded, as day after day passed without bringing the hoped for succor.
She could not know, of course, the straits in which Zveri had found himself. He had not dared to detach a party of his men to search for her, fearing that, in their mutinous state of mind, they might murder any of his lieutenants that he placed in charge of them and return to their own tribe, where, through the medium of gossip, word of his expedition and its activities might reach his enemies: nor could he lead all of his force upon such an expedition in person, since he must remain at the base camp to receive the supplies that he knew would presently be arriving.
Perhaps, had he known definitely the danger that confronted Zora, he would have cast aside every other consideration and gone to her rescue; but being naturally suspicious of the loyalty of all men, he had persuaded himself that Zora had deliberatelv deserted him—a half-hearted conviction that had at least the effect of rendering his naturally unpleasant disposition infinitely more unbearable, so that those who should have been his companions and his support in his hour of need contrived as much as possible to keep out of his way.
And while these things were transpiring, little Nkima sped through the jungle upon a mission. In the service of his beloved master, little Nkima could hold to a single thought and a line of action for considerable periods of time at a stretch; but eventually his attention was certain to be attracted by some extraneous matter and then, for hours perhaps, he would forget all about whatever duty had been imposed upon him; but when it again occurred to him, he would carry on entirely without any appreciation of the fact that there had been a break in the continuity of his endeavor.
Tarzan, of course, was entirely aware of this inherent weakness in his little friend; but he knew, too, from experience that, however many lapses might occur, Nkima would never entirely abandon any design upon which his mind had been fixed; and having himself none of civilized man’s slavish subservience to time, he was prone to overlook Nkima’s erratic performance of a duty as a fault of almost negligible consequence. Some day Nkima would arrive at his destination. Perhaps it would be too late. If such a thought occurred at all to the ape-man, doubtless he passed it off with a shrug.
But time is of the essence of many things to civilized man. He fumes, and frets, and reduces his mental and physical efficiency if he is not accomplishing something concrete during the passage of every minute of that medium which seems to him like a flowing river, the waters of which are utterly wasted if they are not utilized as they pass by.
Imbued by some such insane conception of time, Wayne Colt sweated and stumbled through the jungle, seeking his companions as though the very fate of the universe hung upon the slender chance that he should reach them without the loss of a second.
The futility of his purpose would have been entirely apparent to him could he have known that he was seeking his companions in the wrong direction. Wayne Colt was lost. Fortunately for him he did not know it; at least not yet. That stupefying conviction was to come later.
Days passed and still his wanderings revealed no camp. He was hard put to it to find food, and his fare was meager and often revolting, consisting of such fruits as he had already learned to know and of rodents, which he managed to bag only with the greatest difficulty and an appalling waste of that precious time which he still prized above all things. He had cut himself a stout stick and would lie in wait along some tiny runway where observation had taught him he might expect to find his prey, until some unwary little creature came within striking distance. He had learned that dawn and dusk were the best hunting hours for the only animals that he could hope to bag, and he learned other things as he moved through the grim jungle, all of which pertained to his struggle for existence. He had learned, for instance, that it was wiser for him to take to the trees whenever he heard a strange noise. Usually the animals got out of his way as he approached; but once a rhinoceros charged him, and again he almost stumbled upon a lion at his kill. Providence intervened in each instance and he escaped unkilled, but thus he learned caution.
About noon one day he came to a river that effectually blocked his further progress in the direction that he had been travelling. By this time the conviction was strong upon him that he was utterly lost, and not knowing which direction he should take, he decided to follow the line of least resistance and travel down hill with the river, upon the shore of which he was positive that sooner or later he must discover a native village.
He had proceeded no great distance in the new direction, following a hard-packed trail, worn deep by the countless feet of many beasts, when his attention was arrested by a sound that reached his ears dimly from a distance. it came from somewhere ahead of him, and his hearing, now far more acute than it ever had been before, told him that something was approaching. Following the practice that he had found most conducive to longevity since he had been wandering alone and ill-armed against the dangers of the jungle, he flung himself quickly into a tree and sought a point of vantage from where he could see the trail below him. He could not see it for any distance ahead, so tortuously did it wind through the jungle. Whatever was coming would not be visible until it was almost directly beneath him, but that now was of no importance. This experience of the jungle had taught him patience, and perchance he was learning, too, a little of the valuelessness of time, for he settled himself comfortably to wait at his ease.
The noise that he heard was little more than an imperceptible rustling, but presently it assumed a new volume and a new significance, so that now he was sure that it was someone running rapidly along the trail, and not one but two—he distinctly heard the footfalls of the heavier creature mingling with those he had first heard.
And then he heard a man’s voice cry “Stop!” and now the sounds were very close to him, just around the first bend ahead. The sound of running feet stopped, to be followed by that of a scuffle and strange oaths in a man’s voice.
And then a woman’s voice spoke, “Let me go! You will never get me where you are taking me alive.”
“Then I’ll take you for myself now,” said the man.
Colt had heard enough. There had been something familiar in the tones of the woman’s voice. Silently he dropped to the trail, drawing his dagger, and stepped quickly toward the sounds of the altercation. As he rounded the bend in the trail, he saw just before him only a man’s back—by thob and thorib an Arab—but beyond the man and in his clutches Colt knew the woman was hidden by the flowing robes of her assailant.
Leaping forward, he seized the fellow by the shoulder and jerked him suddenly about: and as the man faced him Colt saw that it was Abu Batn, and now too, he saw why the voice of the woman had seemed familiar—she was Zora Drinov.
Abu Batn purpled with rage at the interruption, but great as was his anger so, too, was his surprise as he recognized the American. Just for an instant he thought that possibly this was the advance guard of a party of searchers and avengers from Zveri’s camp, but when he had time to observe the unkempt, disheveled, unarmed condition of Colt he realized that the man was alone and doubtless lost.
“Dog of a Nasrany!” he cried, jerking away from Colt’s grasp. “Lay not your filthy hand upon a true believer.” At the same time he moved to draw his pistol, but in that instant Colt was upon him again, and the two men went down in the narrow trail, the American on top.
What happened then, happened very quickly. As Abu Batn drew his pistol, he caught the hammer in the folds of his thob, so that the weapon was discharged. The bullet went harmlessly into the ground, but the report warned Colt of his imminent danger, and in self defense he ran his blade through the sheykh’s throat.
As he rose slowly from the body of the sheykh, Zora Drinov grasped him by the arm. “Quick!” she said. “That shot will bring the others. They must not find us.”
He did not wait to question her, but, stooping, quickly salvaged Abu Batn’s weapons and ammunition, including a long musket that lay in the trail beside him; and then with Zora in the lead they ran swiftly up the trail down which he had just come.
Presentiy, hearing no indication of pursuit, Colt halted the girl.
“Can you climb?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “Why?”
“We are going to take to the trees,” he said. “We can go into the jungle a short distance and throw them off the trail.”
“Good!” she said, and with his assistance clambered into the branches of a tree beneath which they stood.
Fortunately for them, several large trees grew close together so that they were able to make their way with comparative ease a full hundred feet from the trail, where, climbing high into the branches of a great tree, they were effectually hidden from sight in all directions.
When at last they were seated side by side in a great crotch, Zora turned toward Colt. “Comrade Colt!” she said. “What has happened? What are you doing here alone? Were you looking for me?”
The man grinned. “I was looking for the whole party,” he said. “I have seen no one since we entered Opar. Where is the camp, and why was Abu Batn pursuing you?”
“We are a long way from the camp,” replied Zora. “I do not know how far, though I could return to it, if it were not for the Arabs.” And then briefly she told the story of Abu Batn’s treachery and of her captivity. “The sheykh made a temporary camp shortly after noon today. The men were very tired, and for the first time in days they relaxed their vigilance over me. I realized that at last the moment I had been awaiting so anxiously had arrived, and while they slept I escaped into the jungle. My absence must have been discovered shortly after I left, and Abu Batn overtook me. The rest you witnessed.”
“Fate functioned deviously and altogether wonderfully,” he said. “To think that your only chance of rescue hinged upon the contingency of my capture at Opar!”
She smiled. “Fate reaches back further than that,” she said. “Suppose you had not been born?”
“Then Abu Batn would have carried you off to the harem of some black sultan, or perhaps another man would have been captured at Opar.”
“I am glad that you were born,” said Zora.
“Thank you,” said Colt.
While listening for signs of pursuit, they conversed in low tones, Colt narrating in detail the events leading up to his capture, though some of the details of his escape he omitted through a sense of loyalty to the nameless girl who had aided him. Neither did he stress Zveri’s lack of control over his men, or what Colt considered his inexcusable cowardice in leaving himself and Romero to their fate within the walls of Opar without attempting to succor them, for he believed that the girl was Zveri’s sweetheart and he did not wish to offend her.
“What became of Comrade Romero?” she asked.
“I do not know,” he said. “The last I saw of him he was standing his ground, fighting off those crooked little demons.”
“Alone?” she asked.
“I was pretty well occupied myself,” he said.
“I do not mean that,” she replied. “Of course, I know you were there with Romero, but who else?”
“The others had not arrived,” said Colt.
“You mean you two went in alone?” she asked.
Colt hesitated. “You see,” he said, “the blacks refused to enter the city, so the rest of us had to go in or abandon the attempt to get the treasures.”
“But only you and Miguel did go in. Is that not true?” she demanded.
“I passed out so soon, you see,” he said with a laugh, “that really I do not know exactly what did happen.”
The girl’s eyes narrowed. “It was beastly,” she said.
As they talked, Colt’s eyes were often upon the girl’s face. How lovely she was, even beneath the rags and the dirt that were the outward symbols of her captivity among the Aarabs. She was a little thinner than when he had last seen her, and her eyes were tired and her face drawn from privation and worry. But, perhaps, by very contrast her beauty was the more startling. It seemed incredible that she could love the coarse, loud-mouthed Zveri, who was her antithesis in every respect.
Presently she broke a short silence. “We must try to get back to the base camp,” she said. “It is vital that I be there. So much must be done, so much that no one else can do.”
“You think only of the cause,” he said; “never of yourself. You are very loyal.”
“Yes,” she said in a low voice. “I am loyal to the thing I have sworn to accomplish.”
“I am afraid,” he said, “that for the past few days I have been thinking more of my own welfare than of that of the proletariat.”
“I am afraid that at heart you are still bourgeois,” she said, “and that you cannot yet help looking upon the proletariat with contempt.”
“What makes you say that?” he asked. “I am sure that I said nothing to warrant it.”
“Often a slight unconscious inflection in the use of a word alters the significince of a whole statement, revealing a speaker’s secret thoughts.”
Colt laughed good naturedly. “You are a dangerous person to talk to,” he said. “Am I to be shot at sunrise?”
She looked at him seriously. “You are different from the others,” she said. “I think you could never imagine how suspicious they are. What I have said is only in the way of warning you to watch your every word when you are talking with them. Some of them are narrow and ignorant, and they are already suspicious of you because of your antecedents. They are sensitively jealous of a new importance which they believe their class has attained.”
“Their class?” he asked. “I thought you told me once that you were of the proletariat?”
If he had thought that he had surprised her and that she would show embarrassment, he was mistaken. She met his eyes squarely and without wavering. “I am,” she said, “but I can still see the weaknesses of my class.”
He looked at her steadily for a long moment, the shadow of a smile touching his lips. “I do not believe—-”
“Why do you stop?” she asked. “What is it that you do not believe?”
”Forgive me,” he said. “I was starting to think aloud.”
“Be careful, Comrade Colt,” she warned him. “Thinking aloud is sometimes fatal”; but she tempered her words with a smile.
Further conversation was interrupted by the sound of the voices of men in the distance. “They are coming,” said the girl.
Colt nodded, and the two remained silent, listening to the sounds of approaching voices and footsteps. The men came abreast of them and halted; and Zora, who understood the Aarab tongue, heard one of them say, “The trail stops here. They have gone into the jungle.”
“Who can the man be who is with her?” asked another.
“It is a Nasrany. I can tell by the imprint of his feet,” said another.
“They would go toward the river,” said a third. “That is the way that I should go if I were trying to escape.”
“Wullah! You speak words of wisdom,” said the first speaker. “We will spread out here and search toward the river; but look out for the Nasrany. He has the pistol and the musket of the sheykh.”
The two fugitives heard the sound of pursuit diminishing in the distatice as the Aarabs forced their way into the jungle toward the river. “I think we had better get out of this,” said Colt; “and while it may be pretty hard going. I believe that we had better stick to the brush for awhile and keep on away from the river.”
“Yes,” replied Zora, “for that is the general direction in which the camp lies.” And so they commenced their long and weary march in search of their comrades.
They were still pushing through dense jungle when night overtook them. Their clothes were in rags and their bodies scratched and torn, mute and painful reminders of the thorny way that they had traversed.
Hungry and thirsty they made a dry camp among the branches of a tree, where Colt built a rude platform for the girl, while he prepared to sleep upon the ground at the foot of the great bole. But to this, Zora would not listen.
“That wiil not do at all,” she said. “We are in no position to permit ourselves to be the victims of every silly convention that would ordinarily order our lives in civilized surroundings. I appreciate your thoughtful consideration, but I would rather have you up here in the tree with me than down there where the first hunting lion that passed might get you.” And so with the girl’s help Colt built another platform close to the one that he had built for her; and as darkness fell, they stretched their tired bodies on their rude couches and sought to sleep.
Presently Colt dozed, and in his dream he saw the slender figure of a star-eyed goddess, whose cheeks were wet with tears, but when he took her in his arms and kissed her he saw that she was Zora Drinov; and then a hideous sound from the jungle below awakened him with a start, so that he sat up, seizing the musket of the sheykh in readiness.
“A hunting lion,” said the girl in a low voice.
“Phew!” exclaimed Colt. “I must have been asleep, for that certainly gave me a start.”
“Yes, you were asleep,” said the girl. “I heard you talking,” and he felt that he detected laughter in her voice.
“What was I saying?” asked Colt.
“Maybe you wouldn’t want to hear. It might embarrass you,” she told him.
“No. Come ahead. Tell me.”
“You said ‘I love you.”’
“Did 1, really?”
“Yes. I wonder whom you were talking to,” she said, banteringly.
“I wonder,” said Colt, recalling that in his dream the figure of one girl had merged into that of another.
The lion, hearing their voices, moved away growling. He was not hunting the hated man-things.