Tarzan and the Forbidden City

Chapter 4

Edgar Rice Burroughs


IN a squalid room, Wolff sat at a table laboriously wielding a pencil by the light of a kerosene lamp—evidently an unaccustomed task. Every time he made a mark, he wet the tip of the pencil on his tongue, which, in the interims, he chewed. At last his work was completed; and as he eyed it, not without pride, he heaved a sigh and rose.

“I guess this ain’t a pretty night’s work or anything!” he soliloquized complacently. “Now they’ll both pay—and how!”

 

Atan Thome sat alone in the back room of Wong Feng’s shop. If he were nervous, the only outward indication of it was the innumerable cigarettes that he smoked. Magra was guarding Helen in the little bedroom adjoining. All three were waiting for the return of Lal Taask with the route map to Ashair. Helen, alone, was positive that it would be forthcoming. The others only hoped.

“Will he let me go when the map comes?” asked Helen.

“He may have to keep you until he can get safely away,” replied Magra, “but I’m sure he will let you go then.”

“Poor Dad,” said the girl. “He’ll be worrying terribly. If there’s going to be any delay about my release, I’d like to write him another note.”

“I’ll try and arrange it,” said Magra. “I’m very sorry about all this, Miss Gregory,” she added after a short silence. “I am really quite as helpless in the matter as you, for reasons which I may not explain; but I may tell you that Atan Thome is obsessed by this desire to possess The Father of Diamonds. At heart he is not a bad man, but I know that he will stop at nothing to realize this one desire; so I hope your father sends the map.”

“You really think that he would sell me in the interior if he didn’t get it?” demanded the American girl.

“Absolutely,” replied Magra. “If he were pressed, he might kill you.”

Helen shuddered. “I am glad that he is going to get the map,” she said.

Lal Taask opened the door to the back room of Wong Feng’s shop, and entered. Atan Thome looked up. “Well?” he inquired.

“They threw it out all right,” said Taask; “here it is.” He handed the paper to Thome. It was still wrapped around the stone. Thome opened it and read. His face turned dark.

“Is it the map?” asked Lal Taask.

“No,” growled Thome. “They say the map has been stolen. They lie! They can’t fool Atan Thome, though. They’ll never see the girl again, and I’ll find Ashair without their map. Listen! There is someone at the door. See who it is.”

Lal Taask opened the door a crack and looked out. “It is Wolff,” he said.

“Bring him in.”

“Nice evening,” said Wolff, as he entered the room.

“You didn’t come here to tell me that,” said Thome. “What is it?”

“What would you give for the route map to Ashair?” asked Wolff.

“Five hundred pounds,” replied Thome.

“Not enough. Make it a thousand and a half interest in the diamond, and I’ll get the map for you.”

“How?”

“I already have it. I stole it from the girl’s room.”

“Have you got it here?” inquired Thome.

“Yes,” replied Wolff, “but don’t try any funny business. I left a note with the old woman I’m stopping with. If I’m not back in an hour, she’ll take it to the police.”

“Let’s see the map,” said Thome.

Wolff took it from his pocket and held it up in front of the other man, but not near enough for him to snatch it. “Fork over the money, and the map’s yours,” he said.

Atan Thome drew a thick wallet from an inner pocket and counted out five hundred pounds in Bank of England notes.

“If I had that roll of yours I wouldn’t be riskin’ my neck lookin’ for no Father of Diamonds,” said Wolff, as he took the notes and stuffed them in his pocket.

“Are you still going along with the Gregory safari?” asked Thome.

“Sure,” replied Wolff; “a poor man’s got to work; but I’m goin’ to be right with you when you get that diamond. I’m goin’ to have my half.”

“You can do something more to help me,” said Thome, “that will also make the diamond safer for us.”

“What’s that?” asked Wolff, suspiciously.

“I’m going to have Magra try to go along with the Gregorys. You may be able to help in that. I want her to make friends with them—and make love to Brian Gregory; then if anything goes wrong she’ll have some influence with them. I don’t want to hang, and neither do you.”

“Where do I come in?” asked Wolff.

“You go along and lead them off onto a wrong trail. When they’re good and lost, bring Magra up toward Ashair. You’ve seen the map; so you’ll know about where to go. You’ll find one of my old camps and wait there for me. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“And you’ll do it?”

“Sure. Why not?”

“All right. Now go along. I’ll be seeing you up around Ashair in a couple of months.”

After Wolff had left, Thome turned to Lal Taask. “We’ve got to get out of here tonight,” he said. “Go down to the river and bribe the captain of that boat to get up steam and leave for Bonga tonight.”

“You are very clever, Master,” said Lal Taask. “You will let the young lady go, now that you have the map?”

“No. They didn’t give me the map. They may catch up with us; and if they do, it will be just as well to have a hostage.”

“Again, Master—you are clever.”

It was past midnight when Atan Thome went aboard the river steamer with Lal Taask and Helen. At the gangplank he bid Magra goodby. “Join the Gregory safari by any ruse,” he directed. “They may reach Ashair, and I want some one with them I can trust. I must be prepared for any eventuality. If they should beat me to it and get the diamond, you must find some way to communicate with me. You may even get an opportunity to steal the diamond. Watch Wolff. I don’t trust him. He has agreed to lead them astray and then bring you up toward Ashair to meet me when I come out. It’s a good thing you’re in love with Brian Gregory. That will help. Work it for all its worth. I didn’t like the idea at first; but when I got to thinking about it, I saw where we could make use of it. Now, goodby; and remember all I have told you.”

Taask and Helen had boarded the steamer, the man walking very close to the girl, his pistol pressed against her side, lest she make an outcry.

“I think you are very foolish not to set her free,” said Magra.

“I can’t now,” replied Thome—“not until after you have left the Gregory party. Can’t you see?”

“Well, see that no harm comes to her—remember the arm of English law is long.” Then Magra turned and walked back into the village.

 

After a sleepless night of searching for Helen, Gregory, Tarzan, and d’Arnot were gathered in Gregory’s room to formulate their plans.

“I’m afraid there’s nothing left to do but notify the authorities,” said d’Arnot.

“I suppose you’re right,” agreed Gregory. “I was so afraid they’d kill her if we notified the police, but now there seems to be nothing else to do.”

There was a knock at the door, and the three men looked up. “Come in!” said Gregory.

The door swung slowly open, and Magra stepped into the room.

“You!” exclaimed d’Arnot.

She paid no attention to him, but looked straight at Tarzan. “Brian Gregory,” she said, “I have come to help you find your sister.”

“What do you know about her? Where is she?” demanded Gregory.

“Atan Thome is taking her into the interior. He left for Bonga on the river boat last night.”

“But the boat doesn’t sail until today,” interrupted d’Arnot.

“Atan Thome bribed the captain to sail last night,” Magra explained. “I was to have gone, but—well, why I didn’t is immaterial.”

“This woman is not to be trusted,” said Tarzan.

“You can trust me—always, Brian Gregory.” She turned to Gregory. “If you doubt me, keep me with you—as a hostage, perhaps. It is possible that I may be able to help you.”

Gregory appeared not to hear her. He seemed stunned. “Both my children,” be said. “First Brian, now Helen, sacrificed—and for what?”

“Do not despair, Monsieur Gregory,” said d’Arnot. “There must be a way.”

“But how?” demanded the older man. “In four days Thome will be in Bonga. The boat will lie there at least one day. Coming back with the current, she will make the return trip in two and a half days, perhaps. Even if we can persuade the captain to return to Bonga immediately Thome will have had six or seven days start of us. He will be far into the interior. He probably has the map that was stolen from Helen’s room. We have none. We will not know where to look for him.”

“Do not worry on that score,” urged d’Arnot. “If Thome is in Africa, Tarzan of the Apes will find him.”

“Yes,” agreed Gregory, dully, “but what will have happened to my poor girl in the mean time?”

“Wait!” exclaimed d’Arnot. “I have it! There is yet a way. We have a naval seaplane here. I’m sure the authorities will fly us to Bonga. We shall be there when Monseiur Thome lands. What a surprise for Monsieur Thome, eh?”

“Wonderful!” cried Gregory. “How can I ever thank you, Captain?”

Whatever her reaction, Magra’s face showed no emotion.


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