CHEMUNGO, son of Mpingu, Chief of the Buiroos, was hunting with three other warriors for a man-eater which had been terrorizing the villages of his people. They had tracked him through the hills to the edge of a plain beyond which lay a forest; but when they reached a low elevation from which they could survey the plain, they discovered other quarry than that for which they were hunting.
“A white woman,” said Chemungo; “we shall take her to my father.”
“Wait,” counselled a companion; “there will be white men with guns.”
“We can wait and see,” agreed Chemungo, “for she comes this way. Perhaps there are no white men.”
“White women do not come here without white men,” insisted the other warrior.
“She may have wandered away from camp and become lost,” argued Chemungo; “these white women are very helpless and very stupid. See, she has no weapons; so she is not hunting; therefore she must be lost.”
“Perhaps Chemungo is right,” admitted the other.
They waited until Helen was well out into the plain; then Chemungo, leaping to his feet, signalled the others to follow him; and the three ran toward the white girl, shouting and waving their spears.
So sudden and so unexpected was the appearance of this new menace that, for a moment, Helen stood paralyzed by terror, almost regretting that she had left either Thome or the lion; then she turned and fled back toward the forest.
Lithe, athletic, the girl seemed in a fair way to outdistance her pursuers. She felt that if she could reach the forest before they overtook her, she might elude them entirely. Behind her, the cries of Chemungo and his fellows were angry cries now, threatening cries, as they redoubled their efforts to overtake their quarry. Terror lent wings to the girl’s flying feet; and the warriors, burdened by their spears and shields, were falling behind. Helen, glancing over her shoulder, felt that escape was almost assured, when her retreat was suddenly cut off by the appearance of a great lion which was emerging from the forest directly in front of her. It was the man-eater.
The pursuing warriors redoubled their shouting; and the lion, confused, paused momentarily. Now, indeed was the girl faced by a major dilemma, either horn of which would prove fatal. In an attempt to escape both, she turned to the right—a brave but futile gesture of self-preservation. The moving quarry attracted the lion, which started in pursuit, while the warriors, apparently unafraid, raced to intercept him. They might have succeeded had not Helen tripped and fallen.
As the girl fell, the lion charged and sprang upon her prostrate form; but the shouts of the warriors and their proximity attracted his snarling attention before he had mauled her; and as the four closed in upon him, Chemungo cast his spear. It seemed an act of temerity rather than of courage; but these were warriors of a famous lion-hunting clan, well versed in the technique of their dangerous sport.
Chemungo’s spear drove deep into the body of the lion; and, simultaneously, those of two of his companions; the fourth warrior held his weapon in reverse. Roaring horribly, the lion abandoned the girl and charged Chemungo, who threw himself backward upon the ground, his entire body covered by his great shield, while the other warriors danced around them, yelling at the top of their lungs, irritating and confusing the lion; and the fourth warrior awaited his opportunity to drive home the lethal thrust. It came presently, and the lion fell with the spear through his savage heart.
Then Chemungo leaped up and dragged the hapless girl to her feet. She was too stunned by the frightful ordeal through which she had passed to feel either fear or relief. She was alive! Later she was to wonder if it would not have been better had she died.
For hours they dragged her roughly across the plain and through hills to another valley and a village of thatched huts surrounded by a palisade; and as they dragged her through the village street, angry women surrounded them, striking at the girl and spitting upon her. She showed no fear, but half smiled as she likened them to a roomful of envious old women in some civilized city, who might have done likewise but for their inhibitions.
Chemungo took her before his father, Mpingu, the chief. “She was alone,” said Chemungo. “No white man can ever know what we do with her. The women wish her killed at once.”
“I am chief,” snapped Mpingu. “We shall kill her tonight,” he added hastily, as he caught the eye of one of his wives. “Tonight we shall dance—and feast.”
The Gregory safari debouched from a forest at the edge of a plain which stretched before them, tree dotted, to the foot of a cone-shaped hill. “I know where we are now,” said Tarzan, pointing at the hill. “We’ll have to travel north and west to reach Bonga.”
“If we had grub and porters we wouldn’t have to go back,” volunteered Wolff.
“We’ve got to go back to Bonga to get on Thorne’s trail and find Helen,” said Gregory. “If we only had the map, we’d be all right on that score.”
“We don’t need no map,” said Wolff. “I know the way to Ashair.”
“That’s odd,” commented Tarzan. “Back in Loango you said you didn’t know the way.”
“Well, I know it now,” growled Wolff, “and if Gregory wants to pay me a thousand pounds and cut me in on the diamond, fifty-fifty, I’ll take him to Ashair.”
“I think you are a crook,” said the ape-man, “but if Gregory wants to pay you, I’ll take him through without porters.”
Catching Tarzan entirely off his guard, and without warning, Wolff knocked the ape-man down. “There can’t no damn monkey-man call me a crook,” he cried, whipping his pistol from its holster; but before he could fire, Magra seized his arm.
“If I were you, Monsieur Wolff,” said d’Arnot, “I should run. I should run very fast—before Tarzan gets up.”
But Tarzan was already up; and before Wolff could escape, he seized him by the throat and belt and lifted him high above his head, as though to hurl him to the ground.
“Don’t kill him, Tarzan!” cried Gregory, stepping forward. “He is the only man who can lead us to Ashair. I will pay him what he asks. He can have the diamond, if there is one. All I want is to find my daughter and my son. Thome is on his way to Ashair. If Helen is with him, Wolff offers our only hope of rescuing her.”
“As you wish,” said the ape-man, dropping Wolff upon the ground.
The safari crossed the plain and, skirting the foot of the cone-shaped hill, entered a forest, where camp was made beside a small stream. It was a most primitive camp, as they had no equipment—just rude shelters, a makeshift boma, and a fire. Magra, being the only woman, fared best. Hers was the largest and best constructed shelter, the shelters of the men encircling it for protection. As she stood before it, Wolff passed; and she stopped him. It was the first opportunity she had had to speak to him alone since his altercation with Tarzan.
“Wolff, you are a scoundrel,” she said. “You promised Atan Thome you’d lead Gregory off the trail. Now you’ve sold out to him and promised to lead him to Ashair. When I tell Atan Thome that—” She shrugged. “But you do not know Atan Thome as well as I.”
“Perhaps you will not tell Atan Thome anything,” replied Wolff, meaningly.
“Don’t threaten me,” warned the girl. “I’m not afraid of you. Either of two men would kill you if I said the word. Tarzan would wring your neck openly. Thome would have some one stick a knife in your back.”
“He might do the same to you, if I told him you were in love with the monkey-man,” shot back Wolff; and Magra flushed.
“Don’t be a fool,” she said. “I have to keep on the good side of these people; and if you had even a semblance of good sense, you’d do the same.”
“I don’t want to have nothing to do with that monkey-man,” growled Wolff. “Me and him ain’t in the same class.”
“That’s obvious,” said Magra.
“But with me and you it’s different,” continued Wolff, ignoring the implication. “We ought to be more friendly. Don’t you know we could have a swell time if you’d loosen up a bit? I ain’t such a bad fellow when you gets to know me.”
“I’m glad to hear that. I was afraid you were.”
Wolff knitted his brows. He was trying to digest this when his attention was attracted to Tarzan. “There goes the monkey-man,” he said. “Look at him swingin’ through the trees. You can’t tell me he ain’t half monkey.”
Magra, tiring of Wolff, walked toward d’Arnot just as Gregory came up. “Where’s Tarzan going?” asked the latter.
“To reconnoiter for a native village,” replied the Frenchman, “on the chance we can get some supplies and a few ‘boys’—askaris and porters, and, perhaps, a cook. That would give Tarzan a chance to go on ahead and search for your daughter.”
As the Lord of the Jungle swung through the trees in search of some indication of the presence of native habitation his active mind reviewed the events of the past several weeks. He knew that three scoundrels were pitted against him—Thome, Taask, and Wolff. He could cope with them, but could he cope with Magra? He could not understand the girl. Twice she had saved him from the bullets of would-be assassins, yet he knew that she was an associate, perhaps an accomplice, of Thome. The first time it might have been because she had thought him to be Brian Gregory, but now she knew better. It was all quite beyond him. With a shrug, he dismissed the whole matter from his mind, content to know that he was forewarned and, consequently, on guard.
The day was coming to a close as Tarzan gave up the search for a native village and decided to return to camp. Suddenly he stood erect upon a branch of a great tree, head up, statuesque, alert, listening. A vagrant breeze had brought to his nostrils the scent of Wappi, the antelope, suggesting that he take meat back to camp; but as he prepared to stalk his prey, the booming of distant native drums came faintly to his ears.