OGABI was singing as he grilled antelope steaks over a fire beside which lay the carcass of the animal. Ogabi’s spirits had been rising for four days, for now he was four marches away from that horrible bird thing, in the belly of which he had almost ridden to his death. He had been very fearful that the white men would decide to return to it and fly again. If they had, however, he should have run away into the jungle and hidden. Five white men sat around the fire watching him. “Pretty well convinced you know where we are now, Tarzan?” asked d’Arnot.
“Yes. I’m quite certain that we are east of Bonga and a little south. That buck I killed ranges in that district.”
“Thome probably left Bonga today,” said Gregory.
“By the time we reach Bonga he’ll be many marches ahead of us. We’ll never overtake him.”
“We don’t have to go to Bonga,” said Tarzan. “We can strike out directly northeast and cut his trail; then we can follow! on faster than he can travel—boys with packs will slow him down. We’re not handicapped by anything like that.”
“You mean we can travel without porters or provisions?” demanded Gregory.
“We have been for the last four days,” Tarzan reminded him. He looked quickly about the camp. “Where’s Magra?” he asked. “I told her not to leave camp. This is lion country; and, if I’m right about the location, it’s also cannibal country.”
Magra had not meant to go far from the camp; but the forest was intriguing, and it seemed so quiet and peaceful. She walked slowly, enjoying the blooms, watching the birds. She stopped before a lovely orchid, which, like some beautiful woman, sucked the life blood from the giant that supported it. Presently she recalled Tarzan’s injunction, and turned to retrace her steps to camp. She did not see the great lion behind her which had caught her scent and was stalking her on silent, padded feet.
The men in the camp saw Tarzan rise to his feet, his head up, his nostrils quivering; then, to their amazement, they saw him run a few steps, swing into a tree, and disappear. They did not know that Usha, the wind, had brought the acrid scent spoor of Numa, the lion, to the sensitive nostrils of the ape-man, and that mingled with it was the delicate scent of the perfume that Magra loved, revealing to him an impending tragedy and sending him into the trees in the hope that he would reach the scene in time.
As Magra walked toward camp, an angry snarl from the king of beasts brought her suddenly about to awareness of the danger that confronted her. Instantly she realized the hopelessness of her situation and the futility of calling for help that could not reach her in time to prevent the inevitable. With her accustomed courage, she resigned herself to death; but even with death staring her in the face, she could scarcely restrain an involuntary exclamation of admiration for the magnificence of the great beast facing her. His size, his majestic bearing, the sheer ferocity of his snarling mien thrilled every fiber of her being. She did not want to die, but she felt that there could be no more noble death than beneath the mighty fangs and talons of the king of beasts.
Now the lion was creeping toward her, belly to ground, the end of his tail twitching nervously. Just for a yard or so he came thus; then he rose, but still crouching a little as he advanced. Suddenly, with a mighty roar, he charged; and at the same instant a man leaped from a tree above full upon his back.
“Brian!” she cried, with a gasp of astonishment.
The man clung to the back of the carnivore, his growls mingling with those of the great cat, as he drove his hunting knife again and again into the tawny side of the leaping, striking beast. Thrilled and horrified, Magra watched, fascinated, until the pierced heart ceased forever, and the great beast died. Then Magra had reason to shudder in real horror, as the Lord of the Jungle placed a foot upon the carcass of his kill and voiced the victory cry of the bull ape. Every fiber of the girl’s body vibrated to a new thrill as she watched the man she now knew was not Brian Gregory.
As the uncanny cry broke the stillness of the jungle, Wolff, Gregory, and Lavac sprang to their feet. Wolff seized his rifle. “My God!” he cried. “What was that?”
“Tarzan has a made a kill,” said d’Arnot.
“The Big Bwana has killed Simba,” said Ogabi. “Are the white men deaf that they did not hear Simba roar?”
“Sure I heard it,” said Wolff; “but that wild man never killed no lion—he had nothin’ but a knife. I’d better go out there an’ look after him.” Carrying his rifle, he started in the direction of the sound that had startled them, Gregory and Lavac following. “That yell was when the lion got him,” said Wolff. “He’s deader’n a smelt right now.”
“He doesn’t look very dead to me,” said Lavac, as Tarzan and Magra came into view.
“I’m afraid I was so out of breath that I didn’t—well, thank is a most inadequate word under the circumstance; but I can’t think of another—thank you for saving my life. How silly and banal that sounds, but you know what I’m trying to say. You were wonderful, and a little terrifying, too; but I know now that you are not Brian Gregory. He could not have killed the lion as you did. No other man in the world could have done it.”
She paused. “Until a few minutes ago, I thought that I loved Brian.”
The implication of Magra’s words and tone was quite apparent, yet Tarzan elected to ignore it. “We shall do our best to find him,” he said, “not only on Mr. Gregory’s account but on yours.”
Magra shrugged. She was rebuffed, but she could bide her time. “And the diamond?” she asked.
“I’m not interested in that,” said Tarzan.
A well equipped safari moved toward the northeast ten marches out of Bonga. A girl and two men were the only whites, but the porters seemed to be carrying enough equipment and provisions for two or three times that number.
“Rather clever of me,” said one of the men to the girl, “taking your father’s safari. It will take him a week or longer to get another one together and equip it. By that time we’ll be so far ahead that he’ll never overtake us. I should like to see his face when he reaches Bonga and learns the truth.”
“You are about as clever as the late Mr. Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson,” replied Helen, “and you’ll end up the same way.”
“Who were they?” demanded Thome.
“They were kidnapers and murderers who were also addicted to grand larceny. If you were not a fool, you’d turn me loose and send me back to Bonga. You have the map. I can be of no further use to you. Until I am returned safely to him, my father will never give up until he finds you. I can’t see why you want to hold me any longer.”
“Perhaps I have taken a liking to you, my dear,” replied Thome.
The girl shuddered at the implication of the man’s words. All the rest of the day she plodded on in silence waiting always for a chance to escape, but either Atan Thome or Lal Taask was always at her side. She was spent and weary when they finally made camp, but much of her weariness was from nervous exhaustion—all day long the words of Atan Thome had preyed upon her mind.
After the evening meal, she went to her tent, which had been pitched across the camp from that occupied by Thome, for the man knew that while she might attempt to escape by day, she would not dare to venture the dangers of the forest by night.
Thome and Taask stood talking before the former’s tent, Thorne’s eyes upon the girl entering hers. The two men had been talking, and Lal Taask was watching the other intently.
“You are my master, Atan Thome,” he said; “but out of loyalty, your servant must warn you. The girl is white, and the arm of the white man’s power is long. Into the depth of the jungle or to the frozen wastes of the poles it would reach and drag you back to an accounting.”
“Mind your own affairs,” snapped Thome. “I mean the girl no harm.”
“I am glad to hear you say that. I do not want the white man’s anger upon me. If you are wise you will do as the girl suggested. Send her back to Bonga tomorrow.”
Atan Thome thought a moment; then he nodded. “Perhaps you are right,” he said. “She shall go back to Bonga tomorrow, if she wishes.”
The two men separated, each going to his own tent; and silence fell upon the sleeping camp, a single askari, nodding beside the beast fire, the only suggestion of life within the rude boma that had been thrown up against the intrusion of predatory beasts.
Presently Atan Thome emerged from his tent. His eyes swept the camp. Only the askari was in evidence. At sight of Thome, he simulated an alertness which was, considering the hour and his inclinations, anachronistic; but he was sufficiently aroused to watch the white man creep silently across the camp; and when he understood Atan Thome’s evident goal, he grinned. In the distance, a lion roared. This and the love note of the cicada alone broke the silence of the night.
Sleepless from nervous apprehension, Helen’s mind was filled with dread and misgiving. The altered attitude of Atan Thome worried her. Every slightest sound bore a menace to her expectant ears. Finally she rose from her couch and looked out through the flap of her tent. Her heart sank as she saw Atan Thome creeping toward her.
Again a lion roared out of the mysterious void of blackness that was the jungle night, but a far greater menace lay in the oily man who parted the flaps at the front of the girl’s tent. An aura of repulsiveness surrounded Thome. The girl had always sensed it, feeling in his presence as one might in the presence of a cobra.
Atan Thome pushed the curtains aside and stepped into the tent. The ingratiating, oily smile upon his lips vanished as he discovered that it was vacant. He did not know that the girl had crawled beneath the back wall but a moment before he had entered. For all he knew she might have been gone an hour or more; but he was sure that she must be somewhere about the camp, for he could not imagine that she would have dared the dangers of the jungle night to escape him. Yet this was what she had done.
Frightened, she groped through the darkness which was only partly moderated by the newly risen moon. Again the roar of a hunting lion reverberated through the forest, nearer now; and her heart sank. Yet she steeled herself and stumbled on, more terrified by thoughts of the man behind her than of the lion ahead. She hoped the beast would continue to roar, for in this way she could always locate its position. It it stopped roaring, that might mean that it had caught her scent and was stalking her.
By accident she had stumbled upon a game trail, and this she followed. She thought that it was the back trail toward Bonga, but it was not. It ran in a more southerly direction, which was, perhaps, just as well for her, as the lion was on the Bonga trail; and the sound of its roars receded as she stumbled on through the forest.
After a night of terror, the girl came to an open plain during the early morning. When she saw it, she knew that she had missed the trail to Bonga, for the safari had crossed no plain like this on its trek from the river town. She realized that she was lost, and now she had no plan other than to escape from Thome. Her future, her life lay in the palm of a capricious Fate. How, in this savage land, it could be other than a cruel Fate, she could not imagine; yet she must carry on—and hope.
She was so glad to be out of the forest that she struck out across the plain toward a range of low hills, ignoring the fact that while the forest might be gloomy and depressing, it offered her concealment and escape from many dangers among the branches of its trees. Behind her lay Thome and the memory of the hunting lion. It was well for her peace of mind that she did not know what lay just ahead.