THE RAINY SEASON was over; and forest and jungle were a riot of lush green starred with myriad tropical blooms, alive with the gorgeous coloring and raucous voices of countless birds, scolding, loving, hunting, escaping; alive with chattering monkeys and buzzing insects which all seemed to be busily engaged in doing things in circles and getting nowhere, much after the fashion of their unhappy cousins who dwell in unlovely jungles of brick and marble and cement.
As much a part of the primitive scene as the trees themselves was the Lord of the Jungle, lolling at his ease on the back of Tantor, the elephant, lazing in the mottled sunlight of the noonday jungle. Apparently oblivious to all his surroundings was the ape-man, yet his every sense was alert to all that passed about him; and his hearing and his sense of smell reached out far beyond the visible scene. It was to the latter that Usha, the wind, bore a warning, to his sensitive nostrils—the scent spoor of an approaching Gomangani. Instantly Tarzan was galvanized into alert watchfulness. He did not seek to conceal himself nor escape, for he knew that only one native was approaching. Had there been more, he would have taken to the trees and watched their approach from the concealment of the foliage of some mighty patriarch of the forest, for it is only by eternal vigilance that a denizen of the jungle survives the constant threat of the greatest of all killers—man.
Tarzan seldom thought of himself as a man. From infancy he had been raised by beasts among beasts, and he had been almost full grown before he had seen a man.
Subconsciously, he classed them with Numa, the lion, and Sheeta, the panther; with Bolgani, the gorilla, and Histah, the snake, and such other blood enemies as his environment afforded.
Crouching upon the great back of Tantor, ready for any eventuality, Tarzan watched the trail along which the man was approaching. Already Tantor was becoming restless, for he, too, had caught the scent spoor of the man; but Tarzan quieted him with a word; and the huge bull, obedient, stood motionless. Presently the man appeared at a turn in the trail, and Tarzan relaxed. The native discovered the ape-man almost simultaneously, and stopped; then he ran forward and dropped to his knees in front of the Lord of the Jungle.
“Greetings, Big Bwana!” he cried.
“Greetings, Ogabi!” replied the ape-man. “Why is Ogabi here? Why is he not in his own country tending his cattle?”
“Ogabi looks for the Big Bwana.” answered the black.
“Why?” demanded Tarzan.
“Ogabi has joined white bwana’s safari. Ogabi, askari. White bwana Gregory send Ogabi find Tarzan.”
“I don’t know any white bwana, Gregory,” objected the ape-man. “Why did he send you to find me?”
“White bwana send Ogabi bring Tarzan. Must see Tarzan.”
“Where?” asked Tarzan.
“Big village, Loango,” explained Ogabi.
Tarzan shook his head. “No,” he said; “Tarzan no go.”
“Bwana Gregory say Tarzan must,” insisted Ogabi. “Some bwana lost; Tarzan find.”
“No,” repeated the ape-man. “Tarzan does not like big village. It is full of bad smells and sickness and men and other evils. Tarzan no go.”
“Bwana d’Arnot say Tarzan come,” added Ogabi, as though by second thought.
“D’Arnot in Loango?” demanded the ape-man. “Why didn’t you say so in the first place? For bwana d’Arnot, Tarzan come.”
And so, with a parting word to Tantor, Tarzan swung off along the trail in the direction of Loango, while Ogabi trotted peacefully at his heels.
It was hot in Loango; but that was nothing unusual, as it is always hot in Loango. However, heat in the tropics has its recompenses, one of which is a tall glass filled with shaved ice, rum, sugar, and lime juice. A group on the terrace of a small colonial hotel in Loango was enjoying several recompenses.
Captain Paul d’Arnot of the French navy stretched his long legs comfortably beneath the table and permitted his eyes to enjoy the profile of Helen Gregory as he slowly sipped his drink. Helen’s profile was well worth anyone’s scrutiny, and not her profile alone. Blonde, nineteen, vivacious, with a carriage and a figure charming in chic sport clothes, she was as cool and inviting as the frosted glass before her.
“Do you think this Tarzan you have sent for can find Brian, Captain d’Arnot?” she asked, turning her face toward him after a brief reverie.
“Your full face is even more beautiful than your profile,” thought d’Arnot, “but I like your profile better because I can stare at it without being noticed.” Aloud, he said, “There is none knows Africa better than Tarzan, Ma’moiselle; but you must remember that your brother has been missing two years. Perhaps?”
“Yes, Captain,” interrupted the third member of the party, “I realize that my son may be dead; but we shan’t give up hope until we know.”
“Brian is not dead, Papa,” insisted Helen. “I know it. Everyone else was accounted for. Four of the expedition were killed—the rest got out. Brian simply disappeared—vanished. The others brought back stories—weird, almost unbelievable stories. Anything might have happened to Brian, but he is not dead!”
“This delay is most disheartening,” said Gregory. “Ogabi has been gone a week, and no Tarzan yet. He may never find him. I really think I should plan on getting started immediately. I have a good man in Wolff. He knows his Africa like a book.”
“Perhaps you are right,” agreed d’Arnot. “I do not wish to influence you in any way against your better judgment. If it were possible to find Tarzan, and he would accompany you, you would be much better off; but of course there is no assurance that Tarzan would agree to go with you even were Ogabi to find him.”
“Oh, I think there would be no doubt on that score,” replied Gregory; “I should pay him handsomely.”
D’Arnot lifted a deprecating palm. “Non! Non! mon ami!” he exclaimed. “Never, never think of offering money to Tarzan. He would give you one look from those gray eyes of his—a look that would make you feel like an insect—and then he would fade away into the jungle, and you would never see him again. He is not as other men, Monsieur Gregory.”
“Well, what can I offer him? Why should he go otherwise than for recompense?”
“For me, perhaps,” said d’Arnot; “for a whim—who knows? If he chanced to take a liking for you; if he sensed adventure—oh, there are many reasons why Tarzan might take you through his forests and his jungles; but none of them is money.”
At another table, at the far end of the terrace, a dark girl leaned toward her companion, a tall, thin East Indian with a short, black chin beard. “In some way one of us must get acquainted with the Gregorys, Lal Taask,” she said. “Atan Thome expects us to do something besides sit on the terrace and consume Planter’s Punches.”
“It should be easy, Magra, for you to strike up an acquaintance with the girl,” suggested Lal Taask. Suddenly his eyes went wide as he looked out across the compound toward the entrance to the hotel grounds. “Siva!” he exclaimed. “See who comes!”
The girl gasped in astonishment. “It cannot be!” she exclaimed. “And yet it is. What luck! What wonderful luck!” Her eyes shone with something more than the light of excitement.
The Gregory party, immersed in conversation, were oblivious to the approach of Tarzan and Ogabi until the latter stood beside their table. Then d’Arnot looked up and leaped to his feet. “Greetings, mon ami!” he cried.
As Helen Gregory looked up into the ape-man’s face, her eyes went wide in astonishment and incredulity. Gregory looked stunned.
“You sent for me, Paul?” asked Tarzan.
“Yes, but first let me introduce—why, Miss Gregory! What is wrong?”
“It is Brian,” said the girl in a tense whisper, “and yet it is not Brian.”
“No,” d’Arnot assured her, “it is not your brother. This is Tarzan of the Apes.”
“A most remarkable resemblance,” said Gregory, as he rose and offered his hand to the ape-man.
“Lal Taask,” said Magra, “it is he. That is Brian Gregory.”
“You are right,” agreed Lal Taask. “After all these months that we have been planning, he walks right into our arms. We must get him to Atan Thome at once—but how?”
“Leave it to me,” said the girl. “I have a plan. Fortunately, he has not seen us yet. He would never come if he had, for he has no reason to trust us. Come! We’ll go inside; then call a boy, and I’ll send him a note.”
As Tarzan, d’Arnot, and the Gregorys conversed, a boy approached and handed a note to the ape-man. The latter glanced through it. “There must be some mistake,” he said; “this must be meant for someone else.”
“No, bwana,” said the boy. “She say give it big bwana in loin cloth. No other bwana in loin cloth.”
“Says she wants to see me in little salon next to the entrance,” said Tarzan to d’Arnot. “Says it’s very urgent. It’s signed, ‘An old friend’; but of course it must be a mistake. I’ll go and explain.”
“Be careful, Tarzan,” laughed d’Arnot; “you’re used only to the wilds of Africa, not to the wiles of women.”
“Which are supposed to be far more dangerous,” said Helen, smiling.
A slow smile lighted the face of the Lord of the Jungle as he looked down into the beautiful eyes of the girl. “That is easy to believe,” he said. “I think I should warn d’Arnot.”
“Oh, what Frenchman needs schooling in the ways of women?” demanded Helen. “It is the women who should be protected.”
“He is very nice,” she said to d’Arnot, after Tarzan had left; “but I think that one might be always a little afraid of him. There is something quite grim about him, even when he smiles.”
“Which is not often,” said d’Arnot, “and I have never heard him laugh. But no one who is honorable need ever be afraid of Tarzan.”
As Tarzan entered the small salon he saw a tall, svelte brunette standing by a table at one side of the room. What he did not see was the eye of Lal Taask at the crack of a door in the opposite wall.
“A boy brought me this note,” said Tarzan. “There is some mistake. I don’t know you, and you don’t know me.”
“There is no mistake, Brian Gregory,” said Magra. “You cannot fool such an old friend as I.”
Unsmiling, the ape-man’s steady gaze took the girl in from head to foot; then he turned to leave the room. Another might have paused to discuss the matter, for Magra was beautiful; but not Tarzan—he had said all that there was to say, as far as he was concerned.
“Wait, Brian Gregory!” snapped Magra. “You are too impetuous. You are not going now.”
Tarzan turned back, sensing a threat in her tone. “And why not?” he asked.
“Because it would be dangerous. Lal Taask is directly behind you. His pistol is almost touching your back. You are coming upstairs with me like an old friend, arm in arm; and Lal Taask will be at your back. A false move, and—poof! you are dead.”
Tarzan shrugged. “Why not?” he thought. In some way these two were concerning themselves with the affairs of the Gregorys, and the Gregorys were d’Arnot’s friends. Immediately the ape-man’s sympathies were enlisted upon the side of the Gregorys. He took Magra’s arm. “Where are we going?” he asked.
“To see another old friend, Brian Gregory,” smiled Magra.
They had to cross the terrace to reach the stairway leading to the second floor of another wing of the hotel, Magra smiling and chatting gaily, Lal Taask walking close behind; but now his pistol was in his pocket. D’Arnot looked up at them in surprise as they passed.
“Ah, so it was an old friend,” remarked Helen.
D’Arnot shook his head. “I do not like the looks of it,” he said.
“You have changed, Brian Gregory,” said Magra, smiling up at him, as they ascended the stairway. “And I think I like you better.”
“What is this all about?” demanded Tarzan.
“Your memory shall soon be refreshed, my friend,” replied the girl. “Down this hall is a door, behind the door is a man.”
At the door they halted, and Magra knocked.
“Who is it?” inquired a voice from the interior of the room.
“It is I, Magra, with Lal Taask and a friend,” replied the girl.
The voice bade them enter, and as the door swung open, Tarzan saw a plump, greasy, suave appearing Eurasian sitting at a table at one side of an ordinary hotel room. The man’s eyes were mere slits, his lips thin. Tar-zan’s eyes took in the entire room with a single glance. There was a window at the opposite end; at the left, across the room from the man, was a dresser; beside it a closed door, which probably opened into an adjoining room to form a suite.
“I have found him at last, Atan Thome,” said Magra.
“Ah, Brian Gregory!” exclaimed Thome. “I am glad to see you again—shall I say ‘my friend’?”
“I am not Brian Gregory,” said Tarzan, “and of course you know it. Tell me what you want.”
“You are Brian Gregory, and I can understand that you would wish to deny it to me,” sneered Thome; “and, being Brian Gregory, you know what I want. I want directions to the city of Ashair—the Forbidden City. You wrote those directions down; you made a map; I saw you. It is worth ten thousand pounds to me—that is my offer.”
“I have no map. I never heard of Ashair,” replied Tarzan.
Atan Thome’s face registered an almost maniacal rage as he spoke rapidly to Lal Taask in a tongue that neither Tarzan nor Magra understood. The East Indian, standing behind Tarzan, whipped a long knife from beneath his coat.
“Not that, Atan Thome!” cried Magra.
“Why not?” demanded the man. “The gun would make too much noise. Lal Taask’s knife will do the work quietly. If Gregory will not help us, he must not live to hinder us. Strike, Lal Taask!”