WOLFF had stumbled along the back trail all night, and his disposition had not been improved by the fact that he had had to drag a resisting Magra most of the way. He had stopped now for a brief rest. The boys had dropped their packs and thrown themselves to the ground. Wolff was wiping the sweat from his forehead and glaring at the girl.
“You might as well come along peaceable,” said the man. “It’ll be easier for both of us. I got you, and I’m goin’ to keep you. You might as well make up your mind to that.”
“You’re wasting your time,” replied Magra. “You can lead a horse to water, you know—”
“And I can make it drink, too,” growled Wolff. “Come here, you!” He seized her and drew her to him.
With her right hand, Magra attempted to push him away, while her left hand sought the pistol at his hip. “Stop!” she cried, “or, before God, I’ll kill you!” but Wolff only laughed at her and drew her closer.
He died with the ugly grin upon his face, as Magra wrested his weapon from its holster and shot him through the chest. As Wolff fell, Mbuli leaped to his feet, followed by his boys. The white girl was alone now, in their power; and Mbuli knew where she would bring a good price. Also, there were two thousand English pounds on the dead man.
Magra swung around and faced Mbuli. “Pick up your loads and get going back to camp!” she ordered. Mbuli hesitated and came toward her. His attitude was insubordinate and threatening. “Do as I tell you, Mbuli,” snapped the girl, “or you’ll get what Wolff got.”
“We are tired,” said Mbuli, seeking tune. “Let us rest.”
“You can rest in camp. Get going!”
Urging the men on, Magra drove them back along the trail toward camp. They grumbled; but they obeyed, for they had seen her kill Wolff. She walked behind them, with Mbuli just in front of her; and she never let him forget that a pistol was aimed at the small of his back. She would have driven them faster had she known that her companions were about to abandon the camp along a route she could not follow, but she did not know.
As the others in the Gregory camp discussed their plans, Lavac stood aside moodily, eyeing d’Arnot and Helen who stood hand in hand; and as the others went to their tents to gather a few of the personal belongings the deserting porters had left behind, he accosted d’Arnot.
“You are very familiar with Ma’moiselle Helen,” he said; “and I resent it, but I suppose she prefers you because you are a captain and have more money than I.”
D’Arnot, ordinarily slow to anger, flushed and then went white. “And I resent that, you pig!” he snapped, slapping Lavac across the face.
“You can’t do that to me!” growled Lavac, whipping his gun from its holster.
Fortunately, Tarzan chanced to be passing close to Lavac. He leaped between the two men and seized the lieutenant’s gun hand. “None of that!” he snapped. “We’ve enough troubles without fighting among ourselves. I’ll keep your gun until you cool off and get a little sense. Now, into the barge, all of you. We’re leaving for Thobos at once.”
“We can’t have any of this,” said Gregory. “If Lieutenant Lavac feels as he does, I think he had better wait here for us.”
“How about it, Lavac?” asked Tarzan.
“It will not occur again,” said the man. “I lost my head. If Captain d’Arnot will accept my apology, I offer it.”
“Certainly,” said d’Arnot. “I regret the whole affair, and I am sorry that I struck you.” Then the two men shook hands quite perfunctorily, and separated coldly. It was obvious that from now on nothing but bad blood would exist between them.
“What about the apes?” asked Gregory, more to bridge the awkward silence than because he was interested.
“I have told them to stay around here for a moon and hunt,” replied Tarzan. “If they don’t forget it, they’ll stay; unless the hunting is very poor.”
As Tarzan was about to board the galley, his keen ears caught the sound of approaching footsteps from the direction of the forest. “Some one is coming,” he said. “We’ll wait and see who it is. Be ready to push off—they may not be friends.”
Presently the head of a safari came into view, debouching from the forest. “Why, those are our men!” exclaimed Helen.
“Yes,” said Tarzan, “and there’s Magra bringing up the rear. You were quite right about her.”
“I was sure she’d never desert us like that,” said Helen. “I wonder where Wolff is.”
“She’s got a gun on Mbuli,” said d’Arnot. “There is a woman!”
Magra herded them down to the river, where she told briefly of how Wolff had persuaded Mbuli and his men to abduct her and desert, and of Wolff’s death. “I found these on him,” she said, “The £2000 of which he defrauded Mr. Gregory and Thorne and the map he stole from Helen’s room.”
“We are well rid of him,” said Gregory.
Tarzan ordered the natives to load all of the supplies and equipment on board the galley, and when they had done so he dismissed them.
“You may wait here for us if you wish,” he said, “or you may go back to your own country. Eventually you will be punished for what you have done.”
Bending to their oars, the slaves drove the galley up stream, as the members of the party momentarily relaxed from the nervous strain of the past hours. Lavac sat in the bow, looking forward, so that he would not see d’Arnot and Helen sitting close to one another. Magra sat beside Tarzan. All were quiet, grateful for the peace and restfulness of the river. For a tune, at least, their way seemed assured as far as Thobos, for they would pass Ashair by night. What their reception in Thobos would be was uncertain. Even Thetan could assure them of nothing more than that he would intercede with his uncle, the King, in their behalf; but he thought that the fact that Tarzan had saved his life and that they were all enemies of the Asharians would go a long way toward insuring them a friendly attitude on the part of King Herat.
Magra sighed and turned to Tarzan. “You have all been so splendid to me,” she said, “although you knew that I was an accomplice of Thorne. I want you to know that I am loyal to you now.”
Tarzan made no reply. His attention was centered on another matter. The galley was too heavily laden. Its gunwales were almost awash as it moved slowly up the narrow gorge.
“Well have to put some of this stuff ashore in that ravine where we found Helen,” he said. “If we ran into swift water in the river or any sort of a blow on the lake, we’d founder.”
“Look!” cried Lavac. “Here comes a galley.”
“An Asharian!” exclaimed Thetan, “and there are others right behind it.”
“Six of ’em,” said Levac.
“Good Lord!” exclaimed Gregory. “We’d better turn back.”
“They’d overtake us in no time,” said Thetan. “We’re in for it.”
Tarzan smiled. “There is nothing to do, then, but fight,” he said.
“We haven’t a chance, have we?” asked Magra.
“It doesn’t look like it,” replied d’Arnot.
“If there is such a thing as a jinx,” said Helen, “we certainly have one camping on our trail.”
The narrow gorge echoed to the war cries of the Asharians, as their galleys bore down on their hapless victims. Gregory’s party met them with gunfire and arrows, while the short Asharian spears hurtled about them. As the men had leaped to their feet to fire over the heads of the slaves, the galley tipped dangerously, shipping water and spoiling their aim. A spear struck one of the oarsmen; and as he lurched forward, dead, his oar fouled that of another slave; and a moment later the galley swung broadside across the river as the leading Asharian galley, sped down stream by forty oars, bore down upon it. There was a crash of splintering wood as the prow of the enemy rammed the Gregory galley amidships. Already listing crazily, she careened to the impact; and as the water poured over her port gunwale, she began to sink, leaving her passengers floundering in the river and her slaves screaming in their chains; then the other galleys moved in to pick up the survivors.
D’Arnot and Helen were dragged into the galley farthest up stream, which immediately set out for Ashair. The other members of the party had drifted down stream before they were finally picked up by a second galley. Tarzan had swum beside Magra, encouraging and supporting her, while Gregory, Lavac, and Ogabi remained nearby. Night was falling, and it would soon be dark in the narrow gorge. When they were in the craft, they saw that Thetan was already there, having been picked up before they were; but Helen and d’Arnot were not there; and the boat in which they were prisoners was out of sight around a bend in the river.
“Did you see anything of Helen?” asked Gregory, but no one had.
“I could almost wish that she drowned,” he added. “God! Why did I ever undertake this stupid venture?”
“It would have been better had we all drowned,” said Thetan. “There is no hope for those who fall into the hands of the Asharians.”
“All that has happened to us so far,” said Tarzan, “is that we have gotten wet. Wait until something really bad happens before you give up hope.”
“But look at what lies ahead of us!” exclaimed Lavac.
“I do not know what lies ahead of us, and neither do you,” the ape-man reminded him; “therefore we might as well anticipate the best as the worst.”
“A most excellent philosophy,” commented Gregory, “but a strain on one’s credulity.”
“I think it is good,” said Magra.
In the leading galley, Helen and d’Arnot sat huddled together, shivering with cold.
“I wonder what became of the others,” said the girl.
“I don’t know, dear,” replied d’Arnot; “but thank God that you and I were not separated.”
“Yes,” she whispered, and then, “I suppose this is the end; but we shall go together.”
“Keep a stiff upper lip, darling. Don’t give up hope; they haven’t harmed us yet.”
“Poor Dad,” said Helen. “Do you suppose he and all the others drowned?”
“They may have been picked up, too,” encouraged d’Arnot.
“Little good it will do any of us,” continued the girl. “No wonder poor Brian never returned from Ashair. What was that?”
An eerie scream shattered the silence of the night, reverberating weirdly in the narrow gorge.