“God!” exclaimed the strange apparition.
Tarzan eyed the other quizzically. That single English word opened up such tremendous possibilities for conjecture as baffled the mind of the ape-man.
“What are you? Who are you?” continued the old man, but this time in the dialect of the great apes.
“You used an English word a moment ago,” said Tarzan. “Do you speak that language?” Tarzan himself spoke in English.
“Ah, dear God!” cried the old man, “that I should have lived to hear that sweet tongue again.” And he, too, now spoke in English, halting English, as might one who was long unaccustomed to voicing the language.
“Who are you?” asked Tarzan, “and what are you doing here?”
“It is the same question that I asked you,” replied the old man. “Do not be afraid to answer me. You are evidently an Englishman, and you have nothing to fear from me.”
“I am here after a woman, captured by the Bolgani,” replied Tarzan.
The other nodded. “Yes,” he said, “I know. She is here.”
“Is she safe?” asked Tarzan.
“She has not been harmed. She will be safe until tomorrow or the next day,” replied the old man. “But who are you, and how did you find your way here from the outer world?”
“I am Tarzan of the Apes,” replied the ape-man. “I came into this valley looking for a way out of the valley of Opar where the life of my companion was in danger. And you?”
“I am an old man,” replied the other, “and I have been here ever since I was a boy. I was a stowaway on the ship that brought Stanley to Africa after the establishment of the station on Stanley Pool, and I came into the interior with him. I went out from camp to hunt, alone, one day. I lost my way and later was captured by unfriendly natives. They took me farther into the interior to their village from which I finally escaped, but so utterly confused and lost that I had no idea what direction to take to find a trail to the coast. I wandered thus for months, until finally, upon an accursed day I found an entrance to this valley. I do not know why they did not put me to death at once, but they did not, and later they discovered that my knowledge could be turned to advantage to them. Since then I have helped them in their quarrying and mining and in their diamond cutting. I have given them iron drills with hardened points and drills tipped with diamonds. Now I am practically one of them, but always in my heart has been the hope that some day I might escape from the valley—a hopeless hope, though, I may assure you.”
“There is no way out?” asked Tarzan.
“There is a way, but it is always guarded.”
“Where is it?” queried Tarzan.
“It is a continuation of one of the mine tunnels, passing entirely through the mountain to the valley beyond. The mines have been worked by the ancestors of this race for an almost incalculable length of time. The mountains are honeycombed with their shafts and tunnels. Back of the gold-bearing quartz lies an enormous deposit of altered peridotite, which contains diamonds, in the search for which it evidently became necessary to extend one of the shafts to the opposite side of the mountain, possibly for purposes of ventilation. This tunnel and the trail leading down into Opar are the only means of ingress to the valley. From time immemorial they have kept the tunnel guarded, more particularly, I imagine, to prevent the escape of slaves than to thwart the inroads of an enemy, since they believe that there is no fear of the latter emergency. The trail to Opar they do not guard, because they no longer fear the Oparians, and know quite well that none of their Gomangani slaves would dare enter the valley of the sunworshipers. For the same reason, then, that the slaves cannot escape, we, too, must remain prisoners here forever.”
“How is the tunnel guarded?” asked Tarzan.
“Two Bolgani and a dozen or more Gomangani warriors are always upon duty there,” replied the old man.
“The Gomangani would like to escape?”
“They have tried it many times in the past, I am told,” replied the old man, “though never since I have lived here, and always they were caught and tortured. And all their race was punished and worked the harder because of these attempts upon the part of a few.”
“They are numerous—the Gomangani?”
“There are probably five thousand of them in the valley,” replied the old man.
“And how many Bolgani?” the ape-man asked.
“Between ten and eleven hundred.”
“Five to one,” murmured Tarzan, “and yet they are afraid to attempt to escape.”
“But you must remember,” said the old man, “that the Bolgani are the dominant and intelligent race—the others are intellectually little above the beasts of the forest.”
“Yet they are men,” Tarzan reminded him.
“In figure only,” replied the old man. “They cannot band together as men do. They have not as yet reached the community plane of evolution. It is true that families reside in a single village, but that idea, together with their weapons, was given to them by the Bolgani that they might not be entirely exterminated by the lions and panthers.
“Formerly, I am told, each individual Gomangani, when he became old enough to hunt for himself, constructed a hut apart from others and took up his solitary life, there being at that time no slightest semblance of family life. Then the Bolgani taught them how to build palisaded villages and compelled the men and women to remain in them and rear their children to maturity, after which the children were required to remain in the village, so that now some of the communities can claim as many as forty or fifty people. But the death rate is high among them, and they cannot multiply as rapidly as people living under normal conditions of peace and security. The brutalities of the Bolgani kill many; the carnivora take a considerable toll.”
“Five to one, and still they remain in slavery—what cowards they must be,” said the ape-man.
“On the contrary, they are far from cowardly,” replied the old man. “They will face a lion with the utmost bravery. But for so many ages have they been subservient to the will of the Bolgani, that it has become a fixed habit in them—as the fear of God is inherent in us, so is the fear of the Bolgani inherent in the minds of the Gomangani from birth.”
“It is interesting,” said Tarzan. “But tell me now where the woman is of whom I have come in search.”
“She is your mate?” asked the old man.
“No,” replied Tarzan. “I told the Gomangani that she was, so that they would protect her. She is La, queen of Opar, High Priestess of the Flaming God.”
The old man looked his incredulity. “Impossible!” he cried. “It cannot be that the queen of Opar has risked her life by coming to the home of her hereditary enemies.”
“She was forced to it,” replied Tarzan, “her life being threatened by a part of her people because she had refused to sacrifice me to their god.”
“If the Bolgani knew this there would be great rejoicing,” replied the old man.
“Tell me where she is,” demanded Tarzan. “She preserved me from her people, and I must save her from whatever fate the Bolgani contemplate for her.”
“It is hopeless,” said the old man. “I can tell you where she is, but you cannot rescue her.”
“I can try,” replied the ape-man.
“But you will fail and die.”
“If what you tell me is true, that there is absolutely no chance of my escaping from the valley, I might as well die,” replied the ape-man. “However, I do not agree with you.”
The old man shrugged. “You do not know the Bolgani,” he said.
“Tell me where the woman is,” said Tarzan.
“Look” replied the old man, motioning Tarzan to follow him into his apartment, and approaching a window which faced toward the west, he pointed towards a strange flat tower which rose above the roof of the main building near the west end of the palace. “She is probably somewhere in the interior of that tower,” said the old man to Tarzan, “but as far as you are concerned, she might as well be at the north pole.”
Tarzan stood in silence for a moment, his keen eyes taking in every salient detail of the prospect before him. He saw the strange, flat-topped tower, which it seemed to him might be reached from the roof of the main building. He saw, too, branches of the ancient trees that sometimes topped the roof itself, and except for the dim light shining through some of the palace windows he saw no signs of life. He turned suddenly upon the old man.
“I do not know you,” he said, “but I believe that I may trust you, since after all blood ties are strong, and we are the only men of our race in this valley. You might gain something in favor by betraying me, but I cannot believe that you will do it.”
“Do not fear,” said the old man, “I hate them. If I could help you I would, but I know that there is no hope of success for whatever plan you may have in mind—the woman will never be rescued; you will never leave the Valley of the Palace of Diamonds—you will never leave the palace itself unless the Bolgani wish it.”
The ape-man grinned. “You have been here so long,” he said, “that you are beginning to assume the attitude of mind that keeps the Gomangani in perpetual slavery. If you want to escape, come with me. We may not succeed, but at least you will have a better chance if you try than as if you remained forever in this tower.”
The old man shook his head. “No,” he said, “it is hopeless. If escape had been possible I should have been away from here long ago.”
“Good-bye then,” said Tarzan, and swinging out of the window he clambered toward the roof below, along the stout stem of the old ivy.
The old man watched him for a moment until he saw him make his way carefully across the roof toward the flat-topped tower where he hoped to find and liberate La. Then the old fellow turned and hurried rapidly down the crude stairway that rose ladder-like to the center of the tower.
Tarzan made his way across the uneven roof of the main building, clambering up the sides of its higher elevations and dropping again to its lower levels as he covered a considerable distancc between the east tower and that flat-topped structure of peculiar design in which La was supposed to be incarcerated. His progress was slow, for he moved with the caution of a beast of prey, stopping often in dense shadows to listen.
When at last he reached the tower, he found that it had many openings letting upon the roof-openings which were closed only with hangings of the heavy tapestried stuff which he had seen in the tower. Drawing one of these slightly aside he looked within upon a large chamber, bare of furnishings, from the center of which there protruded through a circular aperture the top of a stairway similar to that he had ascended in the east tower. There was no one in sight within the chamber, and Tarzan crossed immediately to the stairway. Peering cautiously into the opening Tarzan saw that the stairway descended for a great distance, passing many floors. How far it went he could not judge, except it seemed likely that it pierced subterranean chambers beneath the palace. Sounds of life came up to him through the shaft, and odors, too, but the latter largely nullified, in so far as the scent impressions which they offered Tarzan were concerned, by the heavy incense which pervaded the entire palace.
It was this perfume that was to prove the ape-man’s undoing, for otherwise his keen nostrils would have detected the scent of a near-by Gomangani. The fellow lay behind one of the hangings at an aperture in the tower wall. He had been lying in such a position that he had seen Tarzan enter the chamber, and he was watching him now as the ape-man stood looking down the shaft of the stairway. The eyes of the black had at first gone wide in terror at sight of this strange apparition, the like of which he had never seen before. Had the creature been of sufficient intelligence to harbor superstition, he would have thought Tarzan a god descended from above. But being of too low an order to possess any imagination whatsoever, he merely knew that he saw a strange creature, and that all strange creatures must be enemies, he was convinced. His duty was to apprise his masters of this presence in the palace, but he did not dare to move until the apparition had reached a sufficient distance from him to ensure that the movements of the Gomangani would not be noticed by the intruder—he did not care to call attention to himself, for he had found that the more one effaced oneself in the presence of the Bolgani, the less one was likely to suffer.
For a long time the stranger peered down the shaft of the stairway, and for a long time the Gomangani lay quietly watching him. But at last the former descended the stairs and passed out of sight of the watcher, who immediately leaped to his feet and scurried away across the roof of the palace toward a large tower arising at its western end.
As Tarzan descended the ladder the fumes of the incense became more and more annoying. Where otherwise he might have investigated quickly by scent he was now compelled to listen for every sound, and in many cases to investigate the chambers opening upon the central corridor by entering them. Where the doors were locked, he lay flat and listened close to the aperture at their base. On several occasions he risked calling La by name, but in no case did he receive any reply.
He had investigated four landings and was descending to the fifth when he saw standing in one of the doorways upon this level an evidently much excited and possibly terrified black. The fellow was of giant proportions and entirely unarmed. He stood looking at the ape-man with wide eyes as the latter jumped lightly from the stairway and stood facing him upon the same level.
“What do you want?” finally stammered the black. “Are you looking for the white she, your mate, whom the Bolgani took?”
“Yes,” replied Tarzan. “What do you know of her?”
“I know where she is hidden,” replied the black, “and if you will follow me I will lead you to her.”
“Why do you offer to do this for me?” asked Tarzan, immediately suspicious. “Why is it that you do not go at once to your masters and tell them that I am here that they may send men to capture me?”
“I do not know the reason that I was sent to tell you this,” replied the black. “The Bolgani sent me. I did not wish to come for I was afraid.”
“Where did they tell you to lead me?” asked Tarzan.
“I am to lead you into a chamber, the door of, which will be immediately bolted upon us. You will then be a prisoner.”
“And you?” inquired Tarzan.
“I, too, shall be a prisoner with you. The Bolgani do not care what becomes of me. Perhaps you will kill me, but they do not care.”
“If you lead me into a trap I shall kill you,” replied Tarzan. “But if you lead me to the woman perhaps we shall all escape. You would like to escape, would you not?”
“I should like to escape, but I cannot.”
“Have you ever tried?”
“No, I have not. Why should I try to do something that cannot be done?”
“If you lead me into the trap I shall surely kill you. If you lead me to the woman, you at least have the chance that I do to live. Which will you do?”
The black scratched his head in thought, the idea slowly filtering through his stupid mind. At last he spoke.
“You are very wise,” he said. “I will lead you to the woman.”
“Go ahead, then,” said Tarzan, “and I will follow you.”
The black descended to the next level and opening the door, entered a long, straight corridor. As the ape-man followed his guide he had leisure to reflect upon the means through which the Bolgani had learned of his presence in the tower, and the only conclusion he could arrive at was that the old man had betrayed him, since in so far as Tarzan was aware he alone knew that the ape-man was in the palace. The corridor along which the black was leading him was very dark, receiving a dim and inadequate illumination from the dimly lighted corridor they had just left, the door into which remained open behind them. Presently the black stopped before a closed door.
“The woman is in there,” said the black, pointing to the door.
“She is alone?” asked Tarzan.
“No,” replied the black. “Look,” and he opened the door, revealing a heavy hanging, which he gently separated, revealing to Tarzan the interior of the chamber beyond.
Seizing the black by the wrist, that he might not escape, Tarzan stepped forward and put his eyes to the aperture. Before him lay a large chamber, at one end of which was a raised dais, the base of which was of a dark, ornately carved wood. The central figure upon this dais was a huge, black-maned lion—the same that Tarzan had seen escorted through the gardens of the palace. His golden chains were now fastened to rings in the floor, while the four blacks stood in statuesque rigidity, two upon either side of the beast. Upon golden thrones behind the lion sat three magnificently ornamented Bolgani. At the foot of the steps leading to the stair stood La, between two Gomangani guards. Upon either side of a central aisle were carved benches facing the dais, and occupying the front section of these were some fifty Bolgani, among whom Tarzan almost immediately espied the little, old man that he had met in the tower, the sight of whom instantly crystallized the ape-man’s conviction of the source of his betrayal.
The chamber was lighted by hundreds of cressets, burning a substance which gave forth both light and the heavy incense that had assailed Tarzan’s nostrils since first he entered the domain of the Bolgani. The long, cathedralesque windows upon one side of the apartment were thrown wide, admitting the soft air of the jungle summer night. Through them Tarzan could see the palace grounds and that this chamber was upon the same level as the terrace upon which the palace stood. Beyond those windows was an open gate-way to the jungle and freedom, but interposed between him and the windows were fifty armed gorilla-men. Perhaps, then, strategy would be a better weapon than force with which to carve his way to freedom with La. Yet to the forefront of his mind was evidently a belief in the probability that in the end it would be force rather than strategy upon which he must depend. He turned to the black at his side.
“Would the Gomangani guarding the lion like to escape from the Bolgani?” he asked.
“The Gomangani would all escape if they could,” replied the black.
“If it is necessary for me to enter the room, then,” said Tarzan to the black, “will you accompany me and tell the other Gomangani that if they will fight for me I will take them out of the valley?”
“I will tell them, but they will not believe,” replied the black.
“Tell them that they will die if they do not help me, then,” said Tarzan.
“I will tell them.”
As Tarzan turned his attention again to the chamber before him he saw that the Bolgani occupying the central golden throne was speaking.
“Nobles of Numa, King of Beasts, Emperor of All Created Things,” he said in deep, growling tones, “Numa has heard the words that this she has spoken, and it is the will of Numa that she die. The Great Emperor is hungry. He, himself, will devour her here in the presence of his Nobles and the Imperial Council of Three. It is the will of Numa.”
A growl of approval arose from the beast-like audience, while the great lion bared his hideous fangs and roared until the palace trembled, his wicked, yellow-green eyes fixed terribly upon the woman before him, evidencing the fact that these ceremonies were of sufficient frequency to have accustomed the lion to what he might expect as the logical termination of them.
“Day after tomorrow,” continued the speaker, “the mate of this creature, who is by this time safely imprisoned in the Tower of the Emperors, will be brought before Numa for judgment. Slaves,” he cried suddenly in a loud voice, rising to his feet and glaring at the guards holding La, “drag the woman to your emperor.”
Instantly the lion became frantic, lashing its tail and straining at its stout chains, roaring and snarling as it reared upon its hind feet and sought to leap upon La, who was now being forcibly conducted up the steps of the dais toward the bejeweled man-eater so impatiently awaiting her.
She did not cry out in terror, but she sought to twist herself free from the detaining hands of the powerful Gomangani—all futilely, however.
They had reached the last step, and were about to push La into the claws of the lion, when they were arrested by a loud cry from one side of the chamber—a cry that halted the Gomangani and brought the assembled Bolgani to their feet in astonishment and anger, for the sight that met their eyes was well qualified to arouse the latter within them. Leaping into the room with raised spear was the almost naked white man of whom they had heard, but whom none of them had as yet seen. And so quick was he that in the very instant of entry—even before they could rise to their feet—he had launched his spear.