Following all this, there had occurred in the afternoon that which finally decided the Spaniard that he was building for himself anything other than a bed of roses, and that the sooner he found an excuse for quitting the company of the Waziri the greater would be his life expectancy.
They were passing through rather open jungle at the time. The brush was not particularly heavy and the trees were at considerable distances apart, when suddenly, without warning, a rhinoceros charged them. To the consternation of the Waziri, Tarzan of the Apes turned and fled for the nearest tree the instant his eyes alighted upon charging Buto. In his haste Esteban tripped and fell, and when at last he reached the tree instead of leaping agilely into the lower branches, he attempted to shin up the huge bole as a schoolboy shins up a telegraph pole, only to slip and fall back again to the ground.
In the meantime Buto, who charges either by scent or hearing, rather than by eyesight, his powers of which are extremely poor, had been distracted from his original direction by one of the Waziri, and after missing the fellow had gone blundering on to disappear in the underbrush beyond.
When Esteban finally arose and discovered that the rhinoceros was gone, he saw surrounding him a semi-circle of huge blacks, upon whose faces were written expressions of pity and sorrow, not unmingled, in some instances, with a tinge of contempt. The Spaniard saw that he had been terrifled into a practically irreparable blunder, yet he seized despairingly upon the only excuse he could conjure up.
“My poor head,” he cried, pressing both palms to his temples.
“The blow was upon your head, Bwana,” said Usula, “and your faithful Waziri thought that it was the heart of their master that knew no fear.”
Esteban made no reply, and in silence they resumed their march. In silence they continued until they made camp before dark upon the bank of the river just above a waterfall. During the afternoon Esteban had evolved a plan of escape from his dilemma, and no sooner had he made camp than he ordered the Waziri to bury the treasure.
“We shall leave it here,” he said, “and tomorrow we shall set forth in search of the thieves, for I have decided to punish them. They must be taught that they may not come into the jungle of Tarzan with impunity. It was only the injury to my head that prevented me from slaying them immediately I discovered their perfidy.”
This attitude pleased the Waziri better. They commenced to see a ray of hope. Once again was Tarzan of the Apes becoming Tarzan. And so it was that with lighter hearts and a new cheerfulness they set forth the next morning in search of the camp of the Englishmen, and by shrewd guessing on Usula’s part they cut across the jungle to intercept the probable line of march of the Europeans to such advantage that they came upon them just as they were making camp that night. Long before they reached them they smelled the smoke of their fires and heard the songs and chatter of the west coast carriers.
Then it was that Esteban gathered the Waziri about him. “My children,” he said, addressing Usula in English, “these strangers have come here to wrong Tarzan. To Tarzan, then, belongs the vengeance. Go, therefore, and leave me to punish my enemies alone and in my own way. Return home, leave the gold where it is, for it will be a long time before I shall need it.”
The Waziri were disappointed, for this new plan did not at all accord with their desires, which contemplated a cheerful massacre of the west coast blacks. But as yet the man before them was Tarzan, their big Bwana, to whom they had never failed in implicit obedience. For a few moments following Esteban’s declaration of his intention, they stood in silence shifting uneasily, and then at last they commenced to speak to one another in Waziri. What they said the Spaniard did not know, but evidently they were urging something upon Usula, who presently turned toward him.
“Oh, Bwana,” cried the black. “How can we return home to the Lady Jane and tell her that we left you injured and alone to face the rifles of the white men and their askari? Do not ask us to do it, Bwana. If you were yourself we should not fear for your safety, but since the injury to your head you have not been the same, and we fear to leave you alone in the jungle. Let us, then, your faithful Waziri, punish these people, after which we will take you home in safety, where you may be cured of the evils that have fallen upon you.”
The Spaniard laughed. “I am entirely recovered,” he said, “and I am in no more danger alone than I would be with you,” which he knew, even better than they, was but a mild statement of the facts. “You will obey my wishes,” he continued sternly. “Go back at once the way that we have come. After you have gone at least two miles you may make camp for the night, and in the morning start out again for home. Make no noise, I do not want them to know that I am here. Do not worry about me. I am all right, and I shall probably overtake you before you reach home. Go!”
Sorrowfully the Waziri turned back upon the trail they had just covered and a moment later the last of them disappeared from the sight of the Spaniard.
With a sigh of relief Esteban Miranda turned toward the camp of his own people. Fearing that to surprise them suddenly might invite a volley of shots from the askari he whistled, and then called aloud as he approached.
“It is Tarzan!” cried the first of the blacks who saw him. “Now indeed shall we all be killed.”
Esteban saw the growing excitement among the carriers and askari—he saw the latter seize their rifles and that they were fingering the triggers nervously.
“It is I, Esteban Miranda,” he called aloud. “Flora! Flora, tell those fools to lay aside their rifles.”
The whites, too, were standing watching him, and at the sound of his voice Flora turned toward the blacks. “It is all right,” she said, “that is not Tarzan. Lay aside your rifles.”
Esteban entered the camp, smiling. “Here I am,” he said.
“We thought that you were dead,” said Kraski. “Some of these fellows said that Tarzan said that he had killed you.”
“He captured me,” said Esteban, “but as you see he did not kill me. I thought that he was going to, but he did not, and finally he turned me loose in the jungle. He may have thought that I could not survive and that he would accomplish his end just as surely without having my blood upon his hands.”
“’E must have knowed you,” said Peebles. “You’d die, all right, if you were left alone very long in the jungle—you’d starve to death.”
Esteban made no reply to the sally but turned toward Flora. “Are you not glad to see me, Flora?” he asked.
The girl shrugged her shoulders. “What is the difference?” she asked. “Our expedition is a failure. Some of them think you were largely to blame.” She nodded her head in the general direction of the other whites.
The Spaniard scowled. None of them cared very much to see him. He did not care about the others, but he had hoped that Flora would show some enthusiasm about his return. Well, if she had known what he had in his mind, she might have been happier to see him, and only too glad to show some kind of affection. But she did not know. She did not know that Esteban Miranda had hidden the golden ingots where he might go another day and get them. It had been his intention to persuade her to desert the others, and then, later, the two would return and recover the treasure, but now he was piqued and offended—none of them should have a shilling of it—he would wait until they left Africa and then he would return and take it all for himself. The only fly in the ointment was the thought that the Waziri knew the location of the treasure, and that, sooner or later, they would return with Tarzan and get it. This weak spot in his calculations must be strengthened, and to strengthen it he must have assistance which would mean sharing his secret with another, but whom?
Outwardly oblivious of the sullen glances of his companions he took his place among them. It was evident to him that they were far from being glad to see him, but just why he did not know, for he had not heard of the plan that Kraski and Owaza had hatched to steal the loot of the ivory raiders, and that their main objection to his presence was the fear that they would be compelled to share the loot with him. It was Kraski who first voiced the thought that was in the minds of all but Esteban.
“Miranda,” he said, “it is the consensus of opinion that you and Bluber are largely responsible for the failure of our venture. We are not finding fault. I just mention it as a fact. But since you have been away we have struck upon a plan to take something out of Africa that will partially recompense us for the loss of the gold. We have worked the thing all out carefully and made our plans. We don’t need you to carry them out. We have no objection to your coming along with us, if you want to, for company, but we want to have it understood from the beginning that you are not to share in anything that we get out of this.”
The Spaniard smiled and waved a gesture of unconcern. “It is perfectly all right,” he said. “I shall ask for nothing. I would not wish to take anything from any of you.” And he grinned inwardly as he thought of the more than quarter of a million pounds in gold which he would one day take out of Africa for himself, alone. At this unexpected attitude of acquiescence upon Esteban’s part the others were greatly relieved, and immediately the entire atmosphere of constraint was removed.
“You’re a good fellow, Esteban,” said Peebles. “I’ve been sayin’ right along that you’d want to do the right thing, and I want to say that I’m mighty glad to see you back here safe an’ sound. I felt terrible when I ’eard you was croaked, that I did.”
“Yes,” said Bluber, “John he feel so bad he cry himself to sleep every night, ain’t it, John?”
“Don’t try to start nothin’, Bluber,” growled Peebles, glaring at the Jew.
“I vasn’t commencing to start nodding,” replied Adolph, seeing that the big Englishman was angry; “of course ve vere all sorry dat ve t’ought Esteban was killed und ve is all glad dot he is back.”
“And that he don’t want any of the swag,” added Throck.
“Don’t worry,” said Esteban, “If I get back to London I’ll be happy enough—I’ve had enough of Africa to last me all the rest of my life.”
Before he could get to sleep that night, the Spaniard spent a wakeful hour or two trying to evolve a plan whereby he might secure the gold absolutely to himself, without fear of its being removed by the Waziri later. Ue knew that he could easily find the spot where he had buried it and remove it to another close by, provided that he could return immediately over the trail along which Usula had led them that day, and he could do this alone, insuring that no one but himself would know the new location of the hiding place of the gold, but he was equally positive that he could never again return later from the coast and find where he had hidden it. This meant that he must share his secret with another—one familiar with the country who could find the spot again at any time and from any direction. But who was there whom he might trust! In his mind he went carefully over the entire personnel of their safari, and continually his mind reverted to a single individual—Owaza. He had no confidence in the wily old scoundrel’s integrity, but there was no other who suited his purpose as well, and finally he was forced to the conclusion that he must share his secret with this black, and depend upon avarice rather than honor for his protection. He could repay the fellow well—make him rich beyond his wildest dreams, and this the Spaniard could well afford to do in view of the tremendous fortune at stake. And so he fell asleep dreaming of what gold, to the value of over a quarter of a million pounds sterling, would accomplish in the gay capitals of the world.
The following morning while they were breakfasting Esteban mentioned casually that he had passed a large herd of antelope not far from their camp the previous day, and suggested that he take four or five men and do a little hunting, joining the balance of the party at camp that night. No one raised any objection, possibly for the reason that they assumed that the more he hunted and the further from the safari he went the greater the chances of his being killed, a contingency that none of them would have regretted, since at heart they had neither liking nor trust for him.
“I will take Owaza,” he said. “He is the cleverest hunter of them all, and five or six men of his choosing.” But later, when he approached Owaza, the black interposed objections to the hunt.
“We have plenty of meat for two days,” he said. “Let us go on as fast as we can, away from the land of the Waziri and Tarzan. I can find plenty of game anywhere between here and the coast. March for two days, and then I will hunt with you.”
“Listen,” said Esteban, in a whisper. “It is more than antelope that I would hunt. I cannot tell you here in camp, but when we have left the others I will explain. It will pay you better to come with me today than all the ivory you can hope to get from the raiders.” Owaza cocked an attentive ear and scratched his woolly head.
“It is a good day to hunt, Bwana,” he said. “I will come with you and bring five boys.”
After Owaza had planned the march for the main party and arranged for the camping place for the night, so that he and the Spaniard could find them again, the hunting party set out upon the trail that Usula had followed from the buried treasure the preceding day. They had not gone far before Owaza discovered the fresh spoor of the Waziri.
“Many men passed here late yesterday,” he said to Esteban, eyeing the Spaniard quizzically.
“I saw nothing of them,” replied the latter. “They must have come this way after I passed.”
“They came almost to our camp, and then they turned about and went away again,” said Owaza. “Listen, Bwana, I carry a rifle and you shall march ahead of me. If these tracks were made by your people, and you are leading me into ambush, you shall be the first to die.”
“Listen, Owaza,” said Esteban, “we are far enough from camp now so that I may tell you all. These tracks were made by the Waziri of Tarzan of the Apes, who buried the gold for me a day’s march from here. I have sent them home, and I wish you to go back with me and move the gold to another hiding place. After these others have gotten their ivory and returned to England, you and I will come back and get the gold, and then, indeed, shall you be well rewarded.”
“Who are you, then?” asked Owaza. “Often have I doubted that you are Tarzan of the Apes. The day that we left the camp outside of Opar one of my men told me that you had been poisoned by your own people and left in the camp. He said that he saw it with his own eyes—your body lying hidden behind some bushes—and yet you were with us upon the march that day. I thought that he lied to me, but I saw the consternation in his face when he saw you, and so I have often wondered if there were two Tarzans of the Apes.”
“I am not Tarzan of the Apes,” said Esteban. “It was Tarzan of the Apes who was poisoned in our camp by the others. But they only gave him something that would put him to sleep for a long time, possibly with the hope that he would be killed by wild animals before he awoke. Whether or not he still lives we do not know. Therefore you have nothing to fear from the Waziri or Tarzan on my account, Owaza, for I want to keep out of their way even more than you.”
The black nodded. “Perhaps you speak the truth,” he said, but still he walked behind, with his rifle always ready in his hand.
They went warily, for fear of overtaking the Waziri, but shortly after passing the spot where the latter had camped they saw that they had taken another route and that there was now no danger of coming in contact with them.
When they had reached a point within about a mile of the spot where the gold had been buried, Esteban told Owaza to have his boys remain there while they went ahead alone to effect the transfer of the ingots.
“The fewer who know of this,” he said to the black, “the safer we shall be.”
“The Bwana speaks words of wisdom,” replied the wily black.
Esteban found the spot near the waterfall without difficulty, and upon questioning Owaza he discovered that the latter knew the location perfectly, and would have no difficulty in coming directly to it again from the coast. They transferred the gold but a short distance, concealing it in a heavy thicket near the edge of the river, knowing that it would be as safe from discovery there as though they had transported it a hundred miles, for the chances were extremely slight that the Waziri or anyone else who should learn of its original hiding place would imagine that anyone would go to the trouble of removing it but a matter of a hundred yards.
When they had finished Owaza looked at the sun.
“We will never reach camp tonight,” he said, “and we will have to travel fast to overtake them even tomorrow.”
“I did not expect to,” replied Esteban, “but I could not tell them that. If we never find them again I shall be satisfied.” Owaza grinned. In his crafty mind an idea was formed.
“Why,” he thought, “risk death in a battle with the Arab ivory raiders on the chance of securing a few tusks, when all this gold awaits only transportation to the coast to be ours?”