At sight of them Zveri was both relieved and angry. “Why didn’t you remain with me?” he snapped at Zora.
“Because I cannot run so fast as you,” she replied, and Zveri said no more.
From the darkness of the trees above the camp came the now familiar warning. “Desert the whites!” A long silence followed this, broken only by the nervous whisperings of the blacks, and then the voice spoke again. “The trails to your own countries are free from danger, but death walks always with the white men. Throw away your uniforms and leave the white men to the jungle and to me.”
A black warrior leaped to his feet and stripped the French uniform from his body, throwing it upon a cooking fire that burned near him. Instantly others followed his example.
“Stop that!” cried Zveri.
“Silence, white man!” growled Kitembo.
“Kill the whites!” shouted a naked Basembo warrior.
Instantly there was a rush toward the whites, who were gathered near Zveri, and then from above them came a warning cry. “The whites are mine!” it cried. “Leave them to me.”
For an instant the advancing warriors halted; and then he, who had constituted himself their leader, maddened perhaps by his hatred and his blood lust, advanced again grasping his rifle menacingly.
From above a bow string twanged. The black, dropping his rifle, screamed as he tore at an arrow protruding from his chest; and, as he fell forward upon his face, the other blacks fell back, and the whites were left alone, while the Negroes huddled by themselves in a far corner of the camp. Many of them would have deserted that night, but they feared the darkness of the jungle and the menace of the thing hovering above them.
Zveri strode angrily to and fro, cursing his luck, cursing the blacks, cursing every one. “If I had had any help. if I had had any cooperation,” he grumbled, “this would not have happened, but I cannot do everything alone.”
“You have done this pretty much alone,” said Romero.
“What do you mean?” demanded Zveri.
“I mean that you have made such an overbearing ass of yourself that you have antagonized everyone in the expedition, but even so they might have carried on if they had had any confidence in your courage no man likes to follow a coward.”
“You call me that, you yellow greaser,” shouted Zveri, reaching for his revolver.
“Cut that,” snapped Romero. “I have you covered. And let me tell you now that if it weren’t for Senorita Drinov I would kill you on the spot and rid the world of at least one crazy mad dog that is threatening the entire world with the hydrophobia of hate and suspicion. Senorita Drinov saved my life once. I have not forgotten that; and because, perhaps, she loves you, you are safe, unless I am forced to kill you in self-defense.”
“This is utter insanity,” cried Zora. “There are five of us here alone with a band of unruly blacks who fear and hate us. Tomorrow, doubtless, we shall be deserted by them. If we hope ever to get out of Africa alive, we must stick together. Forget your quarrels, both of you, and let us work together in harmony hereafter for our mutual salvation.”
“For your sake, Senorita, yes,” said Romero.
“Comrade Drinov is right,” said Ivitch.
Zveri dropped his hand from his gun and turned sulkily away; and for the rest of the night peace, if not happiness, held sway in the disorganized camp of the conspirators.
When morning came the whites saw that the blacks had all discarded their French uniforms, and from the concealing foliage of a nearby tree other eyes had noted this same fact—gray eyes that were touched by the shadow of a grim smile. There were no black boys now to serve the whites, as even their personal servants had deserted them to foregather with the men of their own blood, and so the five prepared their own breakfast, after Zveri’s attempt to command the services of some of their boys had met with surly refusal.
While they were eating, Kitembo approached them, accompanied by the headmen of the different tribes that were represented in the personnel of the expedition. “We are leaving with our people for our own countries,” said the Basembo chief. “We leave food for your journey to your own camp. Many of our warriors wish to kill you, and that we cannot prevent if you attempt to accompany us, for they fear the vengeance of the ghosts that have followed you for many moons. Remain here until tomorrow. After that you are free to go where you will.”
“But,” expostulated Zveri, “you can’t leave us like this without porters or askaris.”
“No longer can you tell us what we can do, white man,” said Kitembo, “for you are few and we are many, and your power over us is broken. In everything you have failed. We do not follow such a leader.”
“You can’t do it,” growled Zveri. “You will all be punished for this, Kitembo.”
“Who will punish us?” dernanded the black. “The English? The French? The Italians? You do not dare go to them. They would punish you, not us. Perhaps you will go to Ras Tafari. He would have your heart cut out and your body thrown to the dogs, if he knew what you were planning.”
“But you can’t leave this white woman alone here in the jungle without servants, or porters, or adequate protection,” insisted Zveri, realizing that his first argument had made no impression upon the black chief, who now held their fate in his hands.
“I do not intend to leave the white woman,” said Kitembo. “She is going with me,” and then it was that, for the first time, the whites realized that the headmen had surrounded them and that they were covered by many rifles.
As he had talked, Kitembo had come closer to Zveri, at whose side stood Zora Drinov, and now the black chief reached out quickly and grasped her by the wrist. “Come!” he said, and as he uttered the word something hummed above their heads, and Kitembo, chief of the Basembos, clutched at an arrow in his chest.
“Do not look up,” cried a voice from above. “Keep your eyes upon the ground, for whosoever looks up dies. Listen well to what I have to say, black men. Go your way to your own countries, leaving behind you all of the white people. Do not harm them. They belong to me. I have spoken.”
Wide-eyed and trembling, the black headmen fell back from the whites, leaving Kitembo writhing upon the ground. They hastened to cross the camp to their fellows, all of whom were now thoroughly terrified; and before the chief of the Basembos ceased his death struggle, the black tribesmen had seized the loads which they had previously divided amongst them and were pushing and elbowing for precedence along the game trail that led out of camp toward the west.
Watching them depart, the whites sat in stupefied silence, which was not broken until after the last black had gone and they were alone.
“What do you suppose that thing meant by saying we belong to him?” asked Ivitch in a slightly thickened voice.
“How could I know?” growled Zveri.
“Perhaps it is a man-eating ghost,” suggested Romero with a smile.
“It has done about all the harm it can do now,” said Zveri. “It ought to leave us alone for awhile.”
“It is not such a malign spirit,” said Zora. “It can’t be, for it certainly saved me from Kitembo.”
“Saved you for itself,” said Ivitch.
“Nonsense!” said Romero. “The purpose of that mysterious voice from the air is just as obvious as is the fact that it is the voice of a man. It is the voice of someone who wanted to defeat the purposes of this expedition, and I imagine Zveri guessed close to the truth yesterday when he attributed it to English or Italian sources that were endeavoring to delay us until they could mobilize a sufficient force against us.”
“Which proves,” declared Zveri, “what I have suspected for a long time; that there is more than one traitor among us,” and he looked meaningly at Romero.
“What it means,” said Romero, “is that crazy, hare-brained theories always fail when they are put to the test. You thought that all the blacks in Africa would rush to your standard and drive all the foreigners into the ocean. In theory, perhaps, you were right, but in practice one man, with a knowledge of native psychology which you did not have, burst your entire dream like a bubble, and for every other hare-brained theory in the world there is always a stumbling block of fact.”
“You talk like a traitor to the cause,” said Ivitch threateningly.
“And what are you going to do about it?” demanded the Mexican. “I am fed up with all of you and your whole rotten, selfish plan. There isn’t an honest hair in your head nor in Zveri’s. I can accord Tony and Senorita Drinov the benefit of a doubt, for I cannot conceive either of them as knaves. As I was deluded, so may they have been deluded, as you and your kind have striven for years to delude countless millions of others.”
“You are not the first traitor to the cause,” cried Zveri, “nor will you be the first traitor to pay the penalty of his treason.”
“That is not a good way to talk now,” said Mori. “We are not already too many. If we fight and kill one another, perhaps none of us will come out of Africa alive. But if you kill Miguel, you will have to kill me, too, and perhaps you will not be successful. Perhaps it is you who will be killed.”
“Tony is right,” said the girl. “Let us call a truce until we reach civilization.” And so it was that under something of the nature of an armed truce, the five set forth the following morning on the back trail toward their base camp; while upon another trail, a full day ahead of them, Tarzan and his Waziri warriors took a short cut for Opar.
“La may not be there,” Tarzan explained to Muviro, “but I intend to punish Oah and Dooth for their treachery and thus make it possible for the high priestess to return in safety, if she still lives.”
“But how about the white enemies in the jungle back of us, Bwana?” asked Muviro.
“They shall not escape us,” said Tarzan. “They are weak and inexperienced to the jungle. They move slowly. We may always overtake them when we will. It is La who concerns me most, for she is a friend, while they are only enemies.”
Many miles away, the object of his friendly solicitude approached a clearing in the jungle, a man-made clearing that was evidently intended for a camp site for a large body of men, though now only a few rude shelters were occupied by a handful of blacks.
At the woman’s side walked Wayne Colt, his strength now fully regained, and at their heels paced Jad-bal-ja, the golden lion.
“We have found it at last,” said the man; “thanks to you.”
“Yes, but it is deserted,” replied La. “They have all left.”
“No,” said Colt, “I see some blacks over by those shelters at the right.”
“It is well,” said La, “and now I must leave you.” There was a note of regret in her voice.
“I hate to say good-bye,” said the man, “but I know where your heart is and that all your kindness to me has only delayed your return to Opar. It is futile for me to attempt to express my gratitude, but I think that you know what is in my heart.”
“Yes,” said the woman, “and it is enough for me to know that I have made a friend, I who have so few loyal friends.”
“I wish that you would let me go with you to Opar,” he said. “You are going back to face enemies, and you may need whatever little help I should be able to give you.”
She shook her head. “No, that cannot be,” she replied. “All the suspicion and hatred of me that was engendered in the hearts of some of my people was caused by my friendship for a man of another world. Were you to return with me and assist me in regaining my throne, it would but arouse their suspicions still further. If Jad-bal-ja and I cannot succeed alone, three of us could accomplish no more.”
“Won’t you at least be my guest for the rest of the day?” he asked. “I can’t offer you much hospitality,” he added with a rueful smile.
“No, my friend,” she said. “I cannot take the chance of losing Jad-bal-ja; nor could you take the chance of losing your blacks, and I fear that they would not remain together in the same camp. Good-bye, Wayne Colt. But do not say that I go alone, at whose side walks Jad-bal-ja.”
From the base camp La knew the trail back to Opar; and as Colt watched her depart, he felt a lump rise in his throat, for the beautiful girl and the great lion seemed personifications of loveliness, and strength, and loneliness.
With a sigh he turned into camp and crossed to where the blacks lay sleeping through the midday heat. He awoke them, and at sight of him they were all very much excited, for they had been members of his own safari from the Coast and recognized him immediately. Having long given him up for lost, they were at first inclined to be a little bit frightened until they had convinced themselves that he was, indeed, flesh and blood.
Since the killing of Dorsky they had had no master, and they confessed to him that they had been seriously considering deserting the camp and returning to their own countries; for they had been unable to rid their minds of the weird and terrifying occurrences that the expedition had witnessed in this strange country, in which they felt very much alone and helpless without the guidance and protection of a white master.
Behind him a hundred warriors swarmed up the rocky cliff. As they gathered about the tall, bronzed, gray-eyed figure that had preceded them, the man pointed. “La!” he said.
“And Numa!” said Muviro. “He is stalking her. It is strange, Bwana, that he does not charge.”
“He will not charge,” said Tarzan. “Why, I do not know; but I know that he will not because it is Jad-bal-ja.”
“The eyes of Tarzan are like the eyes of the eagle,” said Muviro. “Muviro sees only a woman and a lion, but Tarzan sees La and Jad-bal-ja.”
“I do not need my eyes for those two,” said the ape-man. “I have a nose.”
“I, too, have a nose,” said Muviro, “but it is only a piece of flesh that sticks out from my face. It is good for nothing.”
Tarzan smiled. “As a little child you did not have to depend upon your nose for your life and your food,” he said, “as I have always done, then and since. Come, my children, La and Jad-bal-ja will be glad to see us.”
It was the keen ears of Jad-bal-ja that caught the first faint warning noises from the rear. He halted and turned, his great head raised majestically, his ears forward, the skin of his nose wrinkling to stimulate his sense of smell. Then he voiced a low growl, and La stopped and turned back to discover the cause of his displeasure.
As her eyes noted the approaching column, her heart sank. Even Jad-bal-ja could not protect her against so many. She thought then to attempt to outdistance them to the city; but when she glanced again at the ruined walls at the far side of the valley she knew that that plan was quite hopeless, as she would not have the strength to maintain a fast pace for so great a distance, while among those black warriors there must be many trained runners who could easily outdistance her. And so, resigned to her fate, she stood and waited; while Jad-bal-ja, with flattened head and twitching tail, advanced slowly to meet the oncoming men; and as he advanced, his savage growls rose to the tumult of tremendous roars that shook the earth as he sought to frighten away this menace to his loved mistress.
But the men came on; and then, of a sudden, La saw that one who came in advance of the others was lighter in color, and her heart leaped in her breast; and then she recognized him, and tears came to the eyes of the savage high priestess of Opar.
“It is Tarzan! Jad-bal-ja, it is Tarzan!” she cried, the light of her great love illuminating her beautiful features.
Perhaps at the same instant the lion recognized his master, for the roaring ceased, the eyes no longer glared, no longer was the great head flattened as he trotted forward to meet the ape-man. Like a great dog, he reared up before Tarzan. With a scream of terror little Nkima leaped from the ape-man’s shoulder and scampered, screaming, back to Muviro, since bred in the fiber of Nkima was the knowledge that Numa was always Numa. With his great paws on Tarzan’s shoulder Jad-bal-ja licked the bronzed cheek, and then Tarzan pushed him aside and walked rapidly toward La; while Nkima, his terrror gone, jumped frantically up and down on Muviro’s shoulder calling the lion many jungle names for having frightened him.
“At last!” exclaimed Tarzan, as he stood face to face with La.
“At last,” repeated the girl, “you have come back from your hunt.”
“I came back immediately,” replied the man, “but you had gone.”
“You came back?” she asked.
“Yes, La,” be replied. “I travelled far before I made a kill, but at last I found meat and brought it to you, and you were gone and the rain had obliterated your spoor and though I searched for days I could not find you.”
“Had I thought that you intended to return,” she said, “I should have remained there forever.”
“You should have known that I would not have left you thus,” replied Tarzan.
“La is sorry,” she said.
“And you have not been back to Opar since?” he asked.
“Jad-bal-ja and I are on our way to Opar now,” she said. “I was lost for a long time. Only recently did I find the trail to Opar, and then, too, there was the white man who was lost and sick with fever. I remained with him until the fever left him and his strength came back, because I thought that he might be a friend of Tarzan’s.”
”What was his name?” asked the ape-man.
“Wayne Colt,” she replied.
The ape-man smiled. “Did he appreciate what you did for him?” he asked.
“Yes, he wanted to come to Opar with me and help me regain my throne.”
“You liked him then, La?” he asked.
“I liked him very much,” she said, “but not in the same way that I like Tarzan.”
He touched her shoulder in a half caress. “La, the immutable!” he murmured, and then, with a sudden toss of his head as though he would clear his mind of sad thoughts, he turned once more toward Opar. “Come,” he said, “the Queen is returning to her throne.”
The unseen eyes of Opar watched the advancing column. They recognized La, and Tarzan, and the Waziri, and some there were who guessed the identity of Jad-bal-ja; and Oah was frightened, and Dooth trembled, and little Nao, who hated Oah, was almost happy, as happy as one may be who carries a broken heart in one’s bosom.
Oah had ruled with a tyrant hand, and Dooth had been a weak fool, whom no one longer trusted; and there were whisperings now among the ruins, whisperings that would have frightened Oah and Dooth had they heard them, and the whisperings spread among the priestesses and the warrior priests, with the result that when Tarzan and Jad-bal-ja led the Waziri into the courtyard of the outer temple there was no one there to resist them; but instead voices called down to them from the dark arches of surrounding corridors pleading for mercy and voicing earnest assurance of their future loyalty to La.
As they made their way into the city, they heard far in the interior of the temple a sudden burst of noise. High voices were punctuated by loud screams, and then came silence; and when they came to the throne room the cause of it was apparent to them, for lying in a welter of blood were the bodies of Oah and Dooth, with those of a half dozen priests and priestesses who had remained loyal to them; and, but for these, the great throne room was empty.
Once again did La, the high priestess of the Flaming God, resume her throne as Queen of Opar.
That night Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, ate again from the golden platters of Opar, while young girls, soon to become priestesses of the Flaming God, served meats and fruits, and wines so old that no living man knew their vintage, nor in what forgotten vineyard grew the grapes that went into their making.
But in such things Tarzan found little interest, and he was glad when the new day found him at the head of his Waziri crossing the plain of Opar toward the barrier cliffs. Upon his bronzed shoulder sat Nkima, and at the ape-man’s side paced the golden lion, while in column behind him marched his hundred Waziri warriors.
Wayne Colt was sitting in the shade of one of the shelters, and the blacks were lolling in front of another, a short distance away, as Zveri and Ivitch came into sight.
Colt rose and came forward, and it was then that Zveri spied him. “You damned traitor!” he cried. “I’ll get you if it’s the last thing I do on earth,” and as he spoke he drew his revolver and fired point blank at the unarmed American,
His first shot grazed Colt’s side without breaking the skin, but Zveri fired no second shot, for almost simultaneously with the report of his own shot another rang out behind him, and Peter Zveri, dropping his pistol and clutching at his back, staggered drunkenly upon his feet.
Ivitch wheeled about. “My God, Zora, what have you done?” he cried.
“What I have been waiting to do for twelve years,” replied the girl. “What I have been waiting to do ever since I was little more than a child.”
Wayne Colt had run forward and seized Zveri’s gun from the ground where it had fallen, and Romero and Mori now came up at a run.
Zveri had sunk to the ground and was glaring savagely about him. “Who shot me?” he screamed. “I know. It was that damned greaser.”
“It was I,” said Zora Drinov.
“You!” gasped Zveri.
Suddenly she turned to Wayne Colt as though only he mattered. “You might as well know the truth,” she said. “I am not a Red and never have been. This man killed my father, and my mother, and an older brotber and sister. My father was—well, never mind who he was. He is avenged now.” She turned fiercely upon Zveri. “I could have killed you a dozen times in the last few years,” she said, “but I waited because I wanted more than your life. I wanted to help kill the hideous schemes with which you and your kind are seeking to wreck the happiness of the world.”
Peter Zveri sat on the ground, staring at her, his wide eyes slowly glazing. Suddenly he coughed and a torrent of blood gushed from his mouth. Then he sank back dead.
Romero had moved close to Ivitch. Suddenly he poked the muzzle of a revolver into the Russian’s ribs. “Drop your gun,” he said. “I’m taking no chances on you either.”
Ivitch, paling, did as he was bid. He saw his little world tottering, and he was afraid.
Across the clearing a figure stood at the edge of the jungle. It had not been there an instant before. It had appeared silently as though out of thin air. Zora Drinov was the first to perceive it. She voiced a cry of surprised recognition; and as the others turned to follow the direction of her eyes, they saw a bronzed white man, naked but for a loin cloth of leopard skin, coming toward them. He moved with the easy, majestic grace of a lion and there was much about him that suggested the king of beasts.
“Who is that?” asked Colt.
“I do not know who he is,” replied Zora, “other than that he is the man who saved my life when I was lost in the jungle.”
The man halted before them.
“Who are you?” demanded Wayne Colt.
“I am Tarzan of the Apes,” replied the other. “I have seen and heard all that has occurred here. The plan that was fostered by this man,” he nodded at the body of Zveri, “has failed and he is dead. This girl has avowed herself. She is not one of you. My people are camped a short distance away. I shall take her to them and see that she reaches civilization in safety. For the rest of you I have no sympathy. You may get out of the jungle as best you may. I have spoken.”
“They are not all what you think them, my friend,” said Zora.
“What do you mean?” demanded Tarzan.
“Romero and Mori have learned their lesson. They avowed themselves openly during a quarrel when our blacks deserted us.”
“I heard them,” said Tarzan.
She looked at him in surprise. “You heard them?” she asked.
“I have heard much that has gone on in many of your camps,” replied the ape-man, “but I do not know that I may believe all that I hear.”
“I think you may believe what you heard them say,” Zora assured him. “I am confident that they are sincere.”
“Very well,” said Tarzan. “If they wish they may come with me also, but these other two will have to shift for themselves.”
“Not the American,” said Zora.
“No? And why not?” demanded the ape-man.
“Because he is a special agent in the employ of the United States Govemment,” replied the girl.
The entire party, including Colt, looked at her in astonishment. “How did you learn that?” demanded Colt.
“The message that you sent when you first came to camp and we were here alone was intercepted by one of Zveri’s agents. Now do you understand how I know?”
“Yes,” said Colt. “it is quite plain.”
“That is why Zveri called you a traitor and tried to kill you.”
“And how about this other?” demanded Tarzan, indicating Ivitch. “Is he, also, a sheep in wolf’s clothing?”
“He is one of those paradoxes who are so numerous,” replied Zora. “He is one of those Reds who is all yellow.”
Tarzan turned to the blacks who had come forward and were standing, listening questioningly to a conversation they could not understand. “I know your country,” he said to them in their own dialect. “It lies near the end of the railroad that runs to the Coast.”
“Yes, master,” said one of the blacks.
“You will take this white man with you as far as the railroad. See that he has enough to eat and is not harmed, and then tell him to get out of the country. Start now.” Then he turned back to the whites. “The rest of you will follow me to my camp.” And with that he turned and swung away toward the trail by which he had entered the camp. Behind him followed the four who owed to his humanity more than they could ever know, nor had they known could have guessed that his great tolerance, courage, resourcefulness and the protective instinct that had often safeguarded them sprang not from his human progenitors, but from his lifelong association with the natural beasts of the forest and the jungle, who have these instinctive qualities far more strongly developed than do the unnatural beasts of civilization, in whom the greed and lust of competition have dimmed the luster of these noble qualities where they have not eradicated them entirely.
Behind the others walked Zora Drinov and Wayne Colt, side by side.
“I thought you were dead,” she said.
“And I thought that you were dead,” he replied.
“And worse than that,” she continued, “I thought that, whether dead or alive, I might never tell you what was in my heart.”
“And I thought that a hideous gulf separated us that I could never span to ask you the question that I wanted to ask you,” he answered in a low tone.
She turned toward him, her eyes filled with tears, her lips trembling. “And I thought that, alive or dead, I could never say yes to that question, if you did ask me,” she replied.
A curve in the trail hid them from the sight of the others as he took her in his arms and drew her lips to his.