The golden lion Korak exercised upon a leash, since he was not at all confident of his powers of control over the beast, and feared lest, in the absence of his master, Jad-bal-ja might take to the forest and revert to his natural savage state. Such a lion, abroad in the jungle, would be a distinct menace to human life, for Jad-bal-ja, reared among men, lacked that natural timidity of men that is so marked a trait of all wild beasts. Trained as he had been to make his kill at the throat of a human effigy, it required no considerable powers of imagination upon the part of Korak to visualize what might occur should the golden lion, loosed from all restraint, be thrown upon his own resources in the surrounding jungle.
It was during the first week of Tarzan’s absence that a runner from Nairobi brought a cable message to Lady Greystoke, announcing the serious illness of her father in London. Mother and son discussed the situation. It would be five or six weeks before Tarzan could return, even if they sent a runner after him, and, were Jane to await him, there would be little likelihood of her reaching her father in time. Even should she depart at once, there seemed only a faint hope that she would arrive early enough to see him alive. It was decided, therefore, that she should set out immediately, Korak accompanying her as far as Nairobi, and then returning to the ranch and resuming its general supervision until his father’s return.
It is a long trek from the Greystoke estate to Nairobi, and Korak had not yet returned when, about three weeks after Tarzan’s departure, a black, whose duty it was to feed and care for Jad-bal-ja, carelessly left the door of the cage unfastened while he was cleaning it. The golden lion paced back and forth while the black wielded his broom within the cage. They were old friends, and the Waziri felt no fear of the great lion, with the result that his back was as often turned to him as not. The black was working in the far corner of the cage when Jad-bal-ja paused a moment at the door at the opposite end. The beast saw that the gate hung slightly ajar upon its hinges. Silently he raised a great padded paw and inserted it in the opening—a slight pull and the gate swung in.
Instantly the golden lion inserted his snout in the widened aperture, and as he swung the barrier aside the horrified black looked up to see his charge drop softly to the ground outside.
“Stop! Jad-bal-ja! Stop!” screamed the frightened black, leaping after him. But the golden lion only increased his pace, and leaping the fence, loped off in the direction of the forest.
The black pursued him with brandishing broom, emitting loud yells that brought the inmates of the Waziri huts into the open, where they joined their fellow in pursuit of the lion. Across the rolling plains they followed him, but as well have sought to snare the elusive will-o’-the-wisp as this swift and wary fugitive, who heeded neither their blandishments nor their threats. And so it was that they saw the golden lion disappear into the primeval forest and, though they searched diligently until almost dark, they were forced at length to give up their quest and return crestfallen to the farm.
“Ah,” cried the unhappy black, who had been responsible for the escape of Jad-bal-ja, “what will the Big Bwana say to me, what will he do to me when he finds that I have permitted the golden lion to get away!”
“You will be banished from the bungalow for a long time, Keewazi,” old Muviro assured him. “And doubtless you will be sent to the grazing ground far to the east to guard the herd there, where. you will have plenty of lions for company, though they will not be as friendly as was Jad-bal-ja. It is not half what you deserve, and were the heart of the Big Bwana not filled with love for his black children—were he like other white Bwanas old Muviro has seen—you would be lashed until you could not stand, perhaps until you died.”
“I am a man,” replied Keewazi. “I am a warrior and a Waziri. Whatever punishment the Big Bwana inflicts I will accept as a man should.”
It was that same night that Tarzan approached the camp-fires of the strange party he had been tracking. Unseen by them, he halted in the foliage of a tree directly in the center of their camp, which was surrounded by an enormous thorn boma, and brilliantly lighted by numerous fires which blacks were diligently feeding with branches from an enormous pile of firewood that they had evidently gathered earlier in the day for this purpose. Near the center of the camp were several tents, and before one, in the light of a fire, sat four white men. Two of them were great, bull-necked, red-faced fellows, apparently Englishmen of the lower class, the third appeared to be a short, fat, German Jew, while the fourth was a tall, slender, handsome fellow, with dark, wavy brown hair and regular features. He and the German were most meticulously garbed for Central African traveling, after the highly idealized standard of motion pictures, in fact either one of them might have stepped directly from a screening of the latest jungle thriller. The young man was evidently not of English descent and Tarzan mentally cataloged him, almost immediately, as a Slav. Shortly after Tarzan’s arrival this one arose and entered one of the nearby tents, from which Tarzan immediately heard the sound of voices in low conversation. He could not distinguish the words, but the tones of one seemed quite distinctly feminine. The three remaining at the fire were carrying on a desultory conversation, when suddenly from near at hand beyond the boma wall, a lion’s roar broke the silence of the jungle.
With a startled shriek the Jew leaped to his feet, so suddenly that he cleared the ground a good foot, and then, stepping backward, he lost his balance, tripped over his camp-stool, and sprawled upon his back.
“My Gord, Adolph!” roared one of his companions. “If you do that again, damn me if I don’t break your neck. ’Ere we are, and that’s that.”
“Blime if ’e aint worse’ n a bloomin’ lion,” growled the other.
The Jew crawled to his feet. “Mein Gott!” he cried, his voice quavering, “I t’ought sure he vas coming over the fence. S’elp me if I ever get out of diss, neffer again—not for all der gold in Africa vould I go t’rough vat I haf been t’rough dese past t’ree mont’s. Oi! Oi! ven I t’ink of it, Oi! Oi! Lions, und leopards, und rhinoceroses und hippopotamuses, Oi! Oi!”
His companions laughed. “Dick and I tells you right along from the beginning that you ’adn’t oughter come into the interior,” said one of them.
“But for vy I buy all dese do’s?” wailed the German. “Mein Gott, dis suit, it stands me tventy guineas, vot I stand in. Ach, had I know somet’ing, vun guinea vould have bought me my whole wardrobe—tventy guineas for dis und no vun to see it but niggers und lions.”
“And you look like ’ell in it, besides,” commented one of his friends.
“Und look at it, it’s all dirty and torn. How should I know it I spoil dis suit? Mit mine own eyes I see it at der Princess Teayter, how der hero spend t’ree mont’s in Africa hunting lions und killing cannibals, und ven he comes ouid he hasn’t even got a grease spot on his pants—how should I know it Africa was so dirty und full of thorns?”
It was at this point that Tarzan of the Apes elected to drop quietly into the circle of firelight before them. The two Englishmen leaped to their feet, quite evidently startled, and the Jew turned and took a half step as though in flight, but immediately his eyes rested upon the ape-man he halted, a look of relief supplanting that of terror which had overspread his countenance, as Tarzan had dropped upon them apparently from the heavens.
“Mein Gott, Esteban,” shrilled the German, “vy you come back so soon, and for vy you come back like dot, sudden—don’t you suppose ve got nerves?”
Tarzan was angry, angry at these raw intruders, who dared enter without his permission, the wide, domain in which he kept peace and order. When Tarzan was angry there flamed upon his forehead the scar that Bolgani, the gorilla, had placed there upon that long-gone day when the boy Tarzan had met the great beast in mortal combat, and first learned the true value of his father’s hunting knife—the knife that had placed him, the comparatively weak little Tarmangani, upon an even footing with the great beasts of the jungle.
His gray eyes were narrowed, his voice came cold and level as he addressed them. “Who are you,” he demanded, “who dare thus invade the country of the Waziri, the land of Tarzan, without permission from the Lord of the Jungle?”
“Where do you get that stuff, Esteban,” demanded one of the Englishmen, “and wat in ’ell are you doin’ back ’ere alone and so soon? Where are your porters, where is the bloomin’ gold?”
The ape-man eyed the speaker in silence for a moment. “I am Tarzan of the Apes,” he said. “I do not know what you are talking about. I only know that I come in search of him who slew Gobu, the great ape; him who slew Bara, the deer, without my permission.”
“Oh, ’ell,” exploded the other Englishman, “stow the guff, Esteban—if you’re tryin’ for to be funny we don’t see the joke, ’ere we are, and that’s that.”
Inside the tent, which the fourth white man had entered while Tarzan was watching the camp from his hiding place in the tree above, a woman, evidently suddenly stirred by terror, touched the arm of her companion frantically, and pointed toward the tall, almost naked figure of the ape-man as he stood revealed in the full light of the beast fires. “God, Carl,” she whispered, in trembling tones, “look!”
“What’s wrong, Flora?” inquired her companion. “I see only Esteban.”
“It is not Esteban,” hissed the girl. “It is Lord Greystoke himself—it is Tarzan of the Apes!”
“You are mad, Flora,” replied the man, “it cannot be he.”
“It is he, though,” she insisted. “Do you suppose that I do not know him? Did I not work in his town house for years? Did I not see him nearly every day? Do you suppose that I do not know Tarzan of the Apes? Look at that red scar flaming on his forehead—I have heard the story of that scar and I have seen it burn scarlet when he was aroused to anger. It is scarlet now, and Tarzan of the Apes is angry.”
“Well, suppose it is Tarzan of the Apes, what can he do?”
“You do not know him,” replied the girl. “You do not guess the tremendous power he wields here—the power of life and death over man and beast. If he knew our mission here not one of us would ever reach the coast alive. The very fact that he is here now makes me believe that he may have discovered our purpose, and if he has, God help us—unless—unless—”
“Unless what?” demanded the man.
The girl was silent in thought for a moment. “There is only one way,” she said finally. “We dare not kill him. His savage blacks would learn of it, and no power on earth could save us then. There is a way, though, if we act quickly.” She turned and searched for a moment in one of her bags, and presently she handed the man a small bottle, containing liquid. “Go out and talk to him,” she said, “make friends with him. Lie to him. Tell him anything. Promise anything. But get on friendly enough terms with him so that you can offer him coffee. He does not drink wine or anything with alcohol in it, but I know that he likes coffee. I have often served it to him in his room late at night upon his return from the theater or a ball. Get him to drink coffee and then you will know what to do with this.” And she indicated the bottle which the man still held in his hand.
Kraski nodded. “I understand,” he said, and, turning, left the tent.
He had taken but a step when the girl recalled him. “Do not let him see me. Do not let him guess that I am here or that you know me.”
The man nodded and left her. Approaching the tense figures before the fire he greeted Tarzan with a pleasant smile and a cheery word.
“Welcome,” he said, “we are always glad to see a stranger in our camp. Sit down. Hand the gentleman a stool, John,” he said to Peebles.
The ape-man eyed Kraski as he had eyed the others. There was no answering friendly light in his eyes responding to the Russian’s greeting.
“I have been trying to find out what your party is doing here,” he said sharply to the Russian, “but they still insist that I am someone whom I am not. They are either fools or knaves, and I intend to find out which, and deal with them accordingly.”
“Come, come,” cried Kraski, soothingly. “There must be some mistake, I am sure. But tell me, who are you?”
“I am Tarzan of the Apes,” replied the ape-man. “No hunters enter this part of Africa without my permission. That fact is so well known that there is no chance of your having passed the coast without having been so advised. I seek an explanation, and that quickly.”
“Ah, you are Tarzan of the Apes,” exclaimed Kraski. “Fortunate indeed are we, for now may we be set straight upon our way, and escape from our frightful dilemma is assured. We are lost, sir, inextricably lost, due to the ignorance or knavery of our guide, who deserted us several weeks ago. Surely we knew of you; who does not know of Tarzan of the Apes? But it was not our intention to cross the boundaries of your territory. We were searching farther south for specimens of the fauna of the district, which our good friend and employer, here, Mr. Adolph Bluber, is collecting at great expense for presentation to a museum in his home city in America. Now I am sure that you can tell us where we are and direct us upon our proper course.”
Peebles, Throck, and Bluber stood fascinated by Kraski’s glib lies, but it was the German Jew who first rose to the occasion. Too thick were the skulls of the English pugs to grasp quickly the clever ruse of the Russian.
“Vy yes,” said the oily Bluber, rubbing his palms together, “dot iss it, yust vot I vas going to tell you.”
Tarzan turned sharply upon him. “Then what was all this talk about Esteban?” he asked. “Was it not by that name that these others addressed me?”
“Ah,” cried Bluber, “John will haf his leetle joke. He iss ignorant of Africa; he has neffer been here before. He t’ought perhaps dat you vere a native John he calls all der natives Esteban, und he has great jokes by himself mit dem, because he knows dey cannot onderstand vot he says. Hey John, iss it not so, vot it iss I say?” But the shrewd Bluber did not wait for John to reply. “You see,” he went on, “ve are lost, und you take us ouid mit dis jungle, ve pay you anyt’ing—you name your own price.”
The ape-man only half believed him, yet he was somewhat mollified by their evidently friendly intentions. Perhaps after all they were telling him a half-truth and had, really, wandered into his territory unwittingly. That, however, he would find out definitely from their native carriers, from whom his own Waziri would wean the truth. But the matter of his having been mistaken for Esteban still piqued his curiosity, also he was still desirous of learning the identity of the slayer of Gobu, the great ape.
“Please sit down,” urged Kraski. “We were about to have coffee and we should be delighted to have you join us. We meant no wrong in coming here, and I can assure you that we will gladly and willingly make full amends to you, or to whomever else we may have unintentionally wronged.”
To take coffee with these men would do no harm. Perhaps he had wronged them, but however that might be a cup of their coffee would place no great obligation upon him. Flora had been right in her assertion that if Tarzan of the Apes had any weakness whatsoever it was for an occasional cup of black coffee late at night. He did not accept the proffered camp stool, but squatted, ape-fashion, before them, the flickering light of the beast fires playing upon his bronzed hide and bringing into relief the gracefully contoured muscles of his godlike frame. Not as the muscles of the blacksmith or the professional strong man were the muscles of Tarzan of the Apes, but rather those of Mercury or Apollo, so symmetrically balanced were their proportions, suggesting only the great strength that lay in them. Trained to speed and agility were they as well as to strength, and thus, clothing as they did his giant frame, they imparted to him the appearance of a demi-god.
Throck, Peebles, and Bluber sat watching him in spellbound fascination, while Kraski walked over to the cook fire to arrange for the coffee. The two Englishmen were as yet only half awakened to the fact that they had mistaken this newcomer for another, and as it was, Peebles still scratched his head and grumbled to himself in inarticulate half-denial of Kraski’s assumption of the new identity of Tarzan. Bluber was inwardly terror-stricken. His keener intelligence had quickly grasped the truth of Kraski’s recognition of the man for what he was rather than for what Peebles and Throck thought him to be, and, as Bluber knew nothing of Flora’s plan, he was in quite a state of funk as he tried to visualize the outcome of Tarzan’s discovery of them at the very threshold of Opar. He did not realize, as did Flora, that their very lives were in danger—that it was Tarzan of the Apes, a beast of the jungle, with whom they had to deal, and not John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, an English peer. Rather was Bluber considering the two thousand pounds that they stood to lose through this deplorable termination of their expedition, for he was sufficiently familiar with the reputation of the ape-man to know that they would never be permitted to take with them the gold that Esteban was very likely, at this moment, pilfering from the vaults of Opar. Really Bluber was almost upon the verge of tears when Kraski returned with the coffee, which he brought himself.
From the dark shadows of the tent’s interior Flora Hawkes looked nervously out upon the scene before her. She was terrified at the possibility of discovery by her former employer, for she had been a maid in the Greystokes’ London town house as well as at the African bungalow and knew that Lord Greystoke would recognize her instantly should he chance to see her. She entertained for him, now, in his jungle haunts, a fear that was possibly greater than Tarzan’s true character warranted, but none the less real was it to the girl whose guilty conscience conjured all sorts of possible punishments for her disloyalty to those who had always treated her with uniform kindliness and consideration.
Constant dreaming of the fabulous wealth of the treasure vaults of Opar, concerning which she had heard so much in detail from the conversations of the Greystokes, had aroused within her naturally crafty and unscrupulous mind a desire for possession, and in consequence thereof she had slowly visualized a scheme whereby she might loot the treasure vaults of a sufficient number of the golden ingots to make her independently wealthy for life. The entire plan had been hers. She had at first interested Kraski, who had in turn enlisted the cooperation of the two Englishmen and Bluber, and these four had raised the necessary money to defray the cost of the expedition. It had been Flora who had searched for a type of man who might successfully impersonate Tarzan in his own jungle, and she had found Esteban Miranda, a handsome, powerful, and unscrupulous Spaniard, whose histrionic ability aided by the art of make-up, of which he was a past master, permitted him to almost faultlessly impersonate the character they desired him to portray, in so far, as least, as outward appearances were concerned.
The Spaniard was not only powerful and active, but physically courageous as well, and since he had shaved his beard and donned the jungle habiliments of a Tarzan, he had lost no opportunity for emulating the ape-man in every way that lay within his ability. Of jungle craft he had none of course, and personal combats with the more savage jungle beasts caution prompted him to eschew, but he hunted the lesser game with spear and with arrow and practiced continually with the grass rope that was a part of his make-up.
And now Flora Hawkes saw all her well-laid plans upon the verge of destruction. She trembled as she watched the men before the fire, for her fear of Tarzan was very real, and then she became tense with nervous anticipation as she saw Kraski approaching the group with the coffee pot in one hand and cups in the other. Kraski set the pot and the cups upon the ground a little in the rear of Tarzan, and, as he filled the latter, she saw him pour a portion of the contents of the bottle she had given him into one of the cups. A cold sweat broke out upon her forehead as Kraski lifted this cup and offered it to the ape-man. Would he take it? Would he suspect? If he did suspect what horrible punishment would be meted to them all for their temerity? She saw Kraski hand another cup to Peebles, Throck, and Bluber, then return to the circle with the last one for himself. As the Russian raised it before his face and bowed politely to the ape-man, she saw the five men drink. The reaction which ensued left her weak and spent. Turning she collapsed upon her cot, and lay there trembling, her face buried in her arm. And, outside, Tarzan of the Apes drained his cup to the last drop.