Swiftly, the giant of the jungle bore the Galla toward the east where, beyond the forest, loomed the mountains that hemmed Onthar upon that side. For a mile he carried him through the trees and then swung lightly to the ground.
“If the lions ever pick up your trail now,” he said, “it will not be until long after you have reached the mountains and safety. But do not delay—go now.”
The native fell upon his knees and took the hand of his savior in his own. “I am Hafim,” he said. “If I could serve you, I would die for you. Who are you?”
“I am Tarzan of the Apes. Now go your way, and lose no time.”
“One more favor,” begged the black. “What?”
“I have a brother. He, too, was captured by these people when they captured me. He is a slave in the gold mines south of Cathne. His name is Niaka. If you should ever go to the gold mines, tell him that Hafim has escaped. It will make him happier, and perhaps then he will try to escape.”
“I shall tell him. Now go.”
Silently the African disappeared among the boles of the forest trees, and Tarzan sprang again into the branches and swung rapidly back in the direction of the hunters. When he reached them, dropping to the ground and approaching them from behind, they were clustered near the spot at which Hafim had taken to the trees.
“Where have you been?” asked Xerstle. “We thought that you had become lost.”
“I dropped behind,” replied the ape-man; “but where is your quarry? I thought that you would have had him by this time.”
“We cannot understand it,” admitted Xerstle. “It is evident that he climbed this tree, because the lions followed him to this very spot, where they stood looking up into the tree; but they did not growl as though they saw the man. Then we leashed them again and sent one of the keepers into the tree, but he saw no sign of the quarry.”
“It is a mystery!” exclaimed Pindes.
“It is indeed,” agreed Tarzan; “at least for those who do not know the secret.”
“Who does know the secret?” demanded Xerstle.
“The black slave who has escaped you must know, if no other.”
“He has not escaped me,” snapped Xerstle. “He has but prolonged the hunt and increased its interest.”
“It would add to the excitement of the day to lay same bets on that,” said the ape-man. “I do not believe that your lions can again pick up the trail in time to bring down the quarry before dark.”
“A thousand drachmas that they do!” cried Xerstle.
“Being a stranger who came naked into your country, I have no thousand drachmas,” said Tarzan; “but perhaps Gemnon will cover your bet.” He turned his face away from Xerstle and Pindes and, looking at Gemnon, slowly closed one eye.
“Done!” exclaimed Gemnon to Xerstle.
“I only demand the right to conduct the hunt in my own way,” said the latter.
“Of course,” agreed Gemnon, and Xerstle turned his face toward Pindes and slowly closed one eye.
“We shall separate, then,” explained Xerstle, “and as you and Tarzan are betting against me, one of you must accompany me and the other go with Pindes so that all may be sure that the hunt is prosecuted with fairness and determination.”
“Agreed,” said Tarzan.
“But I am responsible to the Queen for the safe return of Tarzan,” demurred Gemnon; “I do not like to have him out of my sight even for a short time.”
“I promise that I shall not try to escape,” the ape-man assured him.
“It was not that alone of which I was thinking,” explained Gemnon.
“And I can assure you that I can take care of myself, if you feel fears for my safety,” added Tarzan.
“Come, let us go,” urged Xerstle. “I shall hunt with Gemnon and Pindes with Tarzan. We shall take one lion, they the other.”
Reluctantly Gemnon assented to the arrangement, and presently the two parties separated, Xerstle and Gemnon going toward the northwest while Pindes and Tarzan took an easterly direction. The latter had proceeded but a short distance, the lion still upon its leash, when Pindes suggested that they separate, spreading out through the forest, and thus combing it more carefully.
“You go straight east,” he said to Tarzan, “the keepers and the lion will go northeast, and I will go north. If any comes upon the trail he may shout to attract the others to his position. If we have not located the quarry in an hour let us all converge toward the mountains at the eastern side of the forest.”
The ape-man nodded and started off in the direction assigned him, soon disappearing among the trees; but neither Pindes nor the keepers moved from where he had left them, the keepers held by a whispered word from Pindes. The leashed lion looked after the departing ape-man, and Pindes smiled. The keepers looked at him questioningly.
“Such sad accidents have happened many times before,” said Pindes.
Tarzan moved steadily toward the east. He knew that he would not find the Negro and so he did not look for him. The forest interested him but not to the exclusion of all else; his keen faculties were always upon the alert. Presently he heard a noise behind him and glancing back was not surprised by what he saw. A lion was stalking him, a lion wearing the harness of a hunting lion of Cathne. It was one of Xerstle’s lions; it was the same lion that had accompanied Pindes and Tarzan.
Instantly the ape-man guessed the truth, and a grim light glinted in his eyes; it was no light of anger, but there was disgust in it and the shadowy suggestion of a savage smile. The lion, realizing that its quarry had discovered it, began to roar. In the distance Pindes heard and smiled.
“Let us go now,” he said to the keepers; “we must not find the remains too quickly; that might not look well.” The three men moved slowly off toward the north.
From a distance Gemnon and Xerstle heard the roar of the hunting lion. “They have picked up the trail,” said Gemnon, halting; “we had best join them.”
“Not yet,” demurred Xerstle. “It may be a false trail. The animal with them is not so good a hunter as ours; he is not so well trained. We will wait until we hear the hunters call.” But Gemnon was troubled.
Tarzan stood waiting the coming of the lion. He could have taken to the trees and escaped, but a spirit of bravado prompted him to remain. He hated treachery, and exposing it gave him pleasure. He carried a Cathnean spear and his own hunting knife; his bow and arrows he had left behind.
The lion came nearer; it seemed vaguely disturbed. Perhaps it did not understand why the quarry stood and faced it instead of running away. Its tail twitched; its head was flattened; slowly it came on again, its wicked eyes gleaming angrily.
Tarzan waited. In his right hand was the sturdy Cathnean spear, in his left the hunting knife of the father he had never known. He measured the distance with a trained eye as the lion started its swift, level charge; then, when it was coming at full speed, his spear hand flew back and he launched the heavy weapon.
Deep beneath the left shoulder it drove, deep into the savage heart; but it checked the beast’s charge for but an instant. Infuriated now, the carnivore rose upon its hind legs above the ape-man, its great, taloned paws reaching to drag him to the slavering jowls; but Tarzan, swift as Ara, the lightning, stooped and sprang beneath them, sprang to one side and then, in again, closing with the lion, leaping upon its back.
With a hideous roar, the animal wheeled and sought to bury its great fangs in the bronzed body or reach it with those raking talons. It threw itself to right and left as the creature clinging to it drove a steel blade repeatedly into the already torn and bleeding heart.
The vitality and life tenacity of a lion are astounding; but even that mighty frame could not for long withstand the lethal wounds its adversary had inflicted, and presently it slumped to earth and, with a little quiver, died. Then the ape-man leaped to his feet. With one foot upon the carcass of his kill, Tarzan of the Apes raised his face to the leafy canopy of the Cathnean forest and from his great chest rolled the hideous victory cry of the bull ape which has killed.
As the uncanny challenge reverberated down the forest aisles, Pindes and the two keepers looked questioningly at one another and laid their hands upon their sword hilts.
“In the name of Thoos! what was that?” demanded one of the keepers.
“By the name of Thoos! I never heard a sound so horrible before,” answered his companion, looking fearfully in the direction from which those weird notes had come.
“Silence!” admonished Pindes. “Do you want the thing to creep upon us unheard because of your jabbering!”
“What was it, master?” asked one of the men in a whisper.
“It may have been the death cry of the stranger,” suggested Pindes, voicing the hope that was in his heart.
“It sounded not like a death cry, master,” replied the black; “there was a note of strength and elation in it and none of weakness and defeat.”
“Silence, fool!” grumbled Pindes.
At a little distance, Gemnon and Xerstle heard, too. “What was that7” demanded the latter.
Gemnon shook his head. “I do not know, but we had better go and find out. I did not like the sound of it.”
Xerstle appeared nervous. “It was nothing, perhaps, but the wind in the trees; let us go on with our hunting.”
“There is no wind,” demurred Gemnon. “I am going to investigate. I am responsible for the safety of the stranger; but, even of more importance than that, I like him.”
“Oh, so do I!” exclaimed Xerstle eagerly. “But nothing could have happened to him; Pindes is with him.”
“That is precisely what I was thinking,” observed Gemnon.
“That nothing could have happened to him?”
“That Pindes is with him!”
Xerstle shot a quick, suspicious look at the other, motioned to the keepers to follow with the leashed lion, and fell in behind Gemnon who had already started back toward the point at which they had separated from their companions.
In the meantime Pindes, unable to curb his curiosity, overcame his fears and started after Tarzan for the purpose of ascertaining what had befallen him as well as tracing the origin of the mysterious cry that had so filled him and his servants with wondering awe. Rather nervously, the two lion keepers followed him through the brooding silence of the forest, all three men keeping a careful lookout ahead and upon every side.
They had not gone far when Pindes, who was in the lead, halted suddenly and pointed straight ahead. “What is that7” he demanded.
The keepers pressed forward. “Mane of Thoos!” cried one, “it is the lion!”
They advanced slowly, watching the lion, looking to right and left. “It is dead!” exclaimed Pindes.
The three men examined the body of the dead beast, turning it over. “It has been stabbed to death,” announced one of the keepers.
“The Galla slave had no weapon,” said Pindes thoughtfully.
“The stranger carried a knife,” a keeper reminded him.
“Whoever killed the lion must have fought it hand-to-hand,” reflected Pindes aloud.
“Then he must be lying nearby dead or wounded, master.”
“Search for him!” directed Pindes.
“He could have killed Phobeg with his bare hands that day that he threw him into the audience at the stadium,” a keeper reminded the noble. “He carried him around as though Phobeg were a babe. He is very strong.”
“What has that to do with the matter?” demanded Pindes irritably.
“I do not know, master; I was only thinking.”
“I did not tell you to think,” snapped Pindes; “I told you to hunt for the man that killed the lion; he must be dying or dead nearby.”
While they hunted, Xerstle and Gemnon were drawing nearer. The latter was much concerned about the welfare of his charge. He trusted neither Xerstle nor Pindes, and now he commenced to suspect that he and Tarzan had been deliberately separated for sinister purposes. He was walking a little behind Xerstle at the time; the keepers, with the lion, were just ahead of them. He felt a hand upon his shoulder and wheeled about; there stood Tarzan, a smile upon his lips.
“Where did you drop, from?” demanded Gemnon.
“We separated to search for the Galla, Pindes and I,” explained the ape-man as Xerstle turned at the sound of Gemnon’s voice and discovered him.
“Did you hear that terrible scream a while ago?” demanded Xerstle. “We thought it possible that one of you was hurt, and we were hurrying to investigate.”
“Did some one scream?” inquired Tarzan innocently. “Perhaps it was Pindes, for I am not hurt.”
Shortly after Tarzan had rejoined them Xerstle and Gemnon came upon Pindes and his two lion keepers searching the underbrush and the surrounding forest. As his eyes fell upon Tarzan, Pindes’ eyes went wide in astonishment, and he paled a little.
“What has happened?” demanded Xerstle. “What are you looking for? Where is your lion?”
“He is dead,” explained Pindes. “Some one or something stabbed him to death.” He did not look at Tarzan; he feared to do so. “We have been looking for the man who did it, thinking that he must have been badly mauled and, doubtless, killed.”
“Have you found him?” asked Tarzan. “No.”
“Shall I help you search for him? Suppose you and I, Pindes, go away alone and look for him!” suggested the ape-man.
For a moment Pindes seemed choking as he sought for a reply. “No!” he exclaimed presently. “It would be useless; we have searched carefully; there is not even a sign of blood to indicate that he was wounded.”
“And you found no trace of the quarry?” asked Xerstle.
“None,” replied Pindes. “He has escaped, and we might well return to the city. I have had enough hunting for today.”
Xerstle grumbled. It was getting late; he had lost his quarry and one of his lions; but there seemed no reason to continue the hunt, and so he grudgingly acquiesced.
“So this is a grand hunt?” remarked Tarzan meditatively “Perhaps it has not been thrilling; but I have enjoyed it greatly. However, Gemnon appears to be the only one who has profited by it; he has won a thousand drachmas.”
Xerstle only grunted and strode on moodily toward the city. When the party separated before the house of Gemnon’s father Tarzan stood close to Xerstle and whispered in a low voice, “My compliments to Erot, and may he have better luck next time!”