The obsession which possessed him that he was in truth Tarzan of the Apes, imparted to him a false courage, so that he could camp alone upon the ground without recourse to artificial protection of any kind, and fortune had favored him in this respect in that it had sent no prowling beasts of prey to find him upon those occasions that he had dared too much. During the period that Flora Hawkes had been with him he had built shelters for her, but now that he had deserted her and was again alone, he could not, in the role that he had assumed, consider so effeminate an act as the building of even a thorn boma for protection during the darkness of the night.
He did, however, build a fire, for he had made a kill and had not yet reached a point of primitive savagery which permitted him even to imagine that he enjoyed raw meat.
Having devoured what meat he wanted and filled himself at the little rivulet, Esteban came back and squatted before his fire, where he drew the pouch of diamonds from his loin cloth and, opening it, spilled a handful of the precious gems into his palm. The flickering firelight playing upon them sent scintillant gleams shooting into the dark of the surrounding jungle night as the Spaniard let a tiny stream of the sparkling stones trickle from one hand to the other, and in the pretty play of light the Spaniard saw visions of the future—power, luxury, beautiful women—all that great wealth might purchase for a man. With half closed eyes he dreamed of the ideal that he should search the world over to obtain—the dream-woman for whom he had always searched—the dream-woman he had never found, the fit companion for such as Esteban Miranda imagined himself to be. Presently through the dark lashes that veiled his narrowed lids the Spaniard seemed to see before him in the flickering light of his camp fire a vague materialization of the figure of his dream—a woman’s figure, clothed in flowing diaphanous white which appeared to hover just above him at the outer rim of his firelight at the summit of the ancient river bank.
It was strange how the vision persisted. Esteban closed his eyes tightly, and then opened them ever so little, and there, as it had been before he closed them, the vision remained. And then he opened his eyes wide, and still the figure of the woman in white floated above him.
Esteban Miranda went suddenly pale. “Mother of God!” he cried. “It is Flora. She is dead and has come back to haunt me.”
With staring eyes he slowly rose to his feet to confront the apparition, when in soft and gentle tones it spoke.
“Heart of my heart,” it cried, “it is really you!”
Instantly Esteban realized that this was no disembodied spirit, nor was it Flora—but who was it? Who was this vision of beauty, alone in the savage African wilderness?
Very slowly now it was descending the embankment and coming toward him. Esteban returned the diamonds to the pouch and replaced it inside his loin cloth.
With outstretched arms the girl came toward him. “My love, my love,” she cried, “do not tell me that you do not know me.” She was close enough now for the Spaniard to see her rapidly rising and falling breasts and her lips trembling with love and passion. A sudden wave of hot desire swept over him, so with outstretched arms he sprang forward to meet her and crush her to his breast.
Tarzan, following the spoor of the man and the woman, moved in a leisurely manner along the jungle trail, for he realized that no haste was essential to overtake these two. Nor was he at all surprised when he came suddenly upon the huddled figure of a woman, lying in the center of the pathway. He knelt beside her and laid a hand upon her shoulder, eliciting a startled scream.
“God!” she cried, “this is the end!”
“You are in no danger,” said the ape-man. “I will not harm you.”
She turned her eyes and looked up at him. At first she thought he was Esteban. “You have come back to save me, Esteban?” she asked.
“Esteban!” he exclaimed. “I am not Esteban. That is not my name.” And then she recognized him.
“Lord Greystoke!” she cried. “It is really you?”
“Yes,” he said, “and who are you?”
“I am Flora Hawkes. I was Lady Greystoke’s maid.”
“I remember you,” he said. “What are you doing here?”
“I am afraid to tell you,” she said. “I am afraid of your anger.”
“Tell me,” he commanded. “You should know, Flora, that I do not harm women.”
“We came to get gold from the vaults of Opar,” she said. “But that you know.”
“I know nothing of it,” he replied. “Do you mean that you were with those Europeans who drugged me and left me in their camp?”
“Yes,” she said, “we got the gold, but you came with your Waziri and took it from us.”
“I came with no Waziri and took nothing from you,” said Tarzan. “I do not understand you.”
She raised her eyebrows in surprise, for she knew that Tarzan of the Apes did not lie.
“We became separated,” she said, “after our men turned against us. Esteban stole me from the others, and then, after a while Kraski found us. He was the Russian. He came with a bagful of diamonds and then Esteban killed him and took the diamonds.”
It was now Tarzan’s turn to experience surprise.
“And Esteban is the man who is with you?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, “but he has deserted me. I could not walk farther on my sore feet. He has gone and left me here to die and he has taken the diamonds with him.”
“We shall find him,” said the ape-man. “Come.”
“But I cannot walk,” said the girl.
“That is a small matter,” he said, and stooping lifted her to his shoulder.
Easily the ape-man bore the exhausted girl along the trail. “It is not far to water,” he said, “and water is what you need. It will help to revive you and give you strength, and perhaps I shall be able to find food for you soon.”
“Why are you so good to me?” asked the girl.
“You are a woman. I could not leave you alone in the jungle to die, no matter what you may have done,” replied the ape-man. And Flora Hawkes could only sob a broken plea for forgiveness for the wrong she had done him.
It grew quite dark, but still they moved along the silent trail until presently Tarzan caught in the distance the reflection of firelight.
“I think we shall soon find your friend,” he whispered. “Make no noise.”
A moment later his keen ears caught the sound of voices. He halted and lowered the girl to her feet.
“If you cannot follow,” he said, “wait here. I do not wish him to escape. I will return for you. If you can follow on slowly, do so.” And then he left her and made his way cautiously forward toward the light and the voices. He heard Flora Hawkes moving directly behind him. It was evident that she could not bear the thought of being left alone again in the dark jungle. Almost simultaneously Tarzan heard a low whine a few paces to his right. “Jad-bal-ja,” he whispered in a low voice, “heel,” and the great black-maned lion crept close to him, and Flora Hawkes, stifling a scream, rushed to his side and grasped his arms.
“Silence,” he whispered; “Jad-bal-ja will not harm you.”
An instant later the three came to the edge of the ancient river bank, and through the tall grasses growing there looked down upon the little camp beneath.
Tarzan, to his consternation, saw a counterpart of himself standing before a little fire, while slowly approaching the man, with outstretched arms, was a woman, draped in flowing white. He heard her words; soft words of love and endearment, and at the sound of the voice and the scent spoor that a vagrant wind carried suddenly to his nostrils, strange complex of emotion overwhelmed him—happiness, despair, rage, love, and hate.
He saw the man at the fire step forward with open arms to take the woman to his breast, and then Tarzan separated the grasses and stepped to the very edge of the embankment, his voice shattering the jungle with a single word.
“Jane!” he cried, and instantly the man and woman turned and looked up at him, where his figure was dimly revealed in the light of the campfire. At sight of him the man wheeled and raced for the jungle on the opposite side of the river, and then Tarzan leaped to the bottom of the wash below and ran toward the woman.
“Jane,” he cried, “it is you, it is you!”
The woman showed her bewilderment. She looked first at the retreating figure of the man she had been about to embrace and then turned her eyes toward Tarzan. She drew her fingers across her brow and looked back toward Esteban, but Esteban was no longer in sight. Then she took a faltering step toward the ape-man.
“My God,” she cried, “what does it mean? Who are you, and if you are Tarzan who was he?”
“I am Tarzan, Jane,” said the ape-man.
She looked back and saw Flora Hawkes approaching. “Yes,” she said, “you are Tarzan. I saw you when you ran off into the jungle with Flora Hawkes. I cannot understand, John. I could not believe that you, even had you suffered an accident to your head, could have done such a thing.”
“I, run off into the jungle with Flora Hawkes?” he asked, in unfeigned surprise.
“I saw you,” said Jane.
The ape-man turned toward Flora. “I do not understand it,” he said.
“It was Esteban who ran off into the jungle with me, Lady Greystoke,” said the girl. “It was Esteban who was about to deceive you again. This is indeed Lord Greystoke. The other was an impostor, who only just deserted me and left me to die in the jungle. Had not Lord Greystoke come when he did I should be dead by now.”
Lady Greystoke took a faltering step toward her husband. “Ah, John,” she said, “I knew it could not have been you. My heart told me, but my eyes deceived me. Quick,” she cried, “that impostor must be captured. Hurry, John, before he escapes.”
“Let him go,” said the ape-man. “As much as I want him, as much as I want that which he has stolen from me, I will not leave you alone again in the jungle, Jane, even to catch him.”
“But Jad-bal-ja,” she cried. “What of him?”
“Ah”, cried the ape-man, “I had forgotten,” and turning to the lion he pointed toward the direction that the Spaniard had escaped. “Fetch him, Jad-bal-ja,” he cried; and, with a bound, the tawny beast was off upon the spoor of his quarry.
“He will kill him?” asked Flora Hawkes, shuddering. And yet at heart she was glad of the just fate that was overtaking the Spaniard.
“No, he will not kill him,” said Tarzan of the Apes. “He may maul him a bit, but he will bring him back alive if it is possible.” And then, as though the fate of the fugitive was already forgotten, he turned toward his mate.
“Jane,” he said, “Usula told me that you were dead. He said that they found your burned body in the Arab village and that they buried it there. How is it, then, that you are here alive and unharmed? I have been searching the jungles for Luvini to avenge your death. Perhaps it is well that I did not find him.”
“You would never have found him,” replied Jane Clayton, “but I cannot understand why Usula should have told you that he had found my body and buried it.”
“Some prisoners that he took,” replied Tarzan, “told him that Luvini had taken you bound hand and foot into one of the Arab huts near the village gateway, and that there he had further secured you to a stake driven into the floor of the hut. After the village had been destroyed by fire Usula and the other Waziri returned to search for you with some of the prisoners they had taken who pointed out the location of the hut, where the charred remains of a human body were found beside a burned stake to which it had apparently been tied.”
“Ah!” exclaimed the girl, “I see. Luvini did bind me hand and foot and tie me to the stake but later he came back into the hut and removed the bonds. He attempted to attack me—long we fought I do not know, but so engrosses were we in our struggle that neither one of us was aware of the burning of the village about us. As I persistently fought him off I caught a glimpse of a knife in his belt, and then I let him seize me and as his arms encircled me I grasped the knife and, drawing it from its sheath, plunged it into his back, below his left shoulder—that was the end. Luvini sank lifeless to the floor of the hut. Almost simultaneously the rear and roof of the structure burst into flames.
“I was almost naked, for he had torn nearly all my clothing from me in our struggles. Hanging upon the wall of the hut was this white burnoose, the property, doubtless, of one of murdered Arabs. I seized it, and throwing about me ran into the village street. The huts were now all aflame, and the last of the natives was disappearing through the gateway. To my right was a section of palisade that had not been attacked by the flames. To escape into jungle by the gateway would have meant into the arms of my enemies, and so, somehow, I managed to scale the palisade and drop into the jungle unseen by any.
“I have had considerable difficulty eluding the various bands of blacks who escaped the village. A part of the time I have been hunting for the Waziri and the balance I have had to remain in hiding. I was resting in the crotch of a tree, about half a mile from here, when I saw the light of this man’s fire, and when I came to investigate I was almost stunned by joy to discover that I had, as I imagined, stumbled upon my Tarzan.”
“It was Luvini’s body, then, and not yours that they buried,” said Tarzan.
“Yes,” said Jane, “and it was this man who just escaped whom I saw run off into the jungle with Flora, and not you, as I believed.”
Flora Hawkes looked up suddenly. “And it must have been Esteban who came with the Waziri and stole the gold from us. He fooled our men he must have fooled the Waziri, too.”
“He might have fooled anyone if he could have me,” said Jane Clayton. “I should have discovered the deception in a few minutes I have no doubt, but in the flickering light of the campfire, and influenced as I was by the great joy of seeing Lord Greystoke again, I believed quickly that which I wanted to believe.”
The ape-man ran his fingers through his thick shock of hair in a characteristic gesture of meditation. “I cannot understand how he fooled Usula in broad daylight,” he said with a shake of his head.
“I can,” said Jane. “He told him that he had suffered an injury to his head which caused him to lose his memory partially—an explanation which accounted for many lapses in the man’s interpretation of your personality.”
“He was a clever devil,” commented the ape-man.
“He was a devil, all right,” said Flora.
It was more than an hour later that the grasses at the river bank suddenly parted and Jad-bal-ja emerged silently into their presence. Grasped in his jaws was a torn and bloody leopard skin which he brought and laid at the feet of his master.
The ape-man picked the thing up and examined it, and then he scowled. “I believe Jad-bal-ja killed him after all,” he said.
“He probably resisted,” said Jane Clayton, “in which ’event Jad-bal-ja could do nothing else in self-defense but slay him.”
“Do you suppose he ate him?”’ cried Flora Hawkes, drawing fearfully away from the beast.
“No,” said Tarzan, “he has not had time. In the morning we will follow the spoor and find his body. I should like to have the diamonds again.” And then he told Jane the strange story connected with his acquisition of the great wealth represented by the little bag of stones.
The following morning they set out in search of Esteban’s corpse. The trail led through dense brush and thorns to the edge of the river farther down stream, and there it disappeared, and though the ape-man searched both sides of the river for a couple of miles above and below the point at which he had lost the spoor, he found no further sign of the Spaniard. There was blood along the tracks that Esteban had made and blood upon the grasses at the river’s brim.
At last the ape-man returned to the two women. That is the end of the man who would be Tarzan,” he said.
“Do you think he is dead?” asked Jane.
“Yes, I am sure of it,” said the ape-man. “From the blood I imagine that Jad-bal-ja mauled him, but that he managed to break away and get into the river. The fact that I can find no indication of his having reached the bank within a reasonable distance of this spot leads me to believe that he has been devoured by crocodiles.”
Again Flora Hawkes shuddered. “He was a wicked man,” she said, “but I would not wish even the wickedest such a fate as that.”
The ape-man shrugged. “He brought it upon himself, and, doubtless, the world is better off without him.”
“It was my fault,” said Flora. “It was my wickedness that brought him and the others here. I told them of what I had heard of the gold in the treasure vaults of Opar—it was my idea to come here and steal it and to find a man who could impersonate Lord Greystoke. Because of my wickedness many men have died, and you, Lord Greystoke, and your lady, have almost met your death—I do not dare to ask for forgiveness.”
Jane Clayton put her arm about the girl’s shoulder. “Avarice has been the cause of many crimes since the world began,” she said, “and when crime is invoked in its aid it assumes its most repulsive aspect and brings most often its own punishment, as you, Flora, may well testify. For my part I forgive you. I imagine that you have learned your lesson.”
“You have paid a heavy price for your folly,” said the ape-man. “You have been punished enough. We will take you to your friends who are on their way to the coast under escort of a friendly tribe. They cannot be far distant, for, from the condition of the men when I saw them, long marches are beyond their physical powers.”
The girl dropped to her knees at his feet. “How can I thank you for your kindness?” she said. “But I would rather remain here in Africa with you and Lady Greystoke, and work for you and show by my loyalty that I can redeem the wrong I did you.”
Tarzan glanced at his wife questioningly, and Jane Clayton signified her assent to the girl’s request.
“Very well, then,” said the ape-man, “you may remain with us, Flora.”
“You will never regret it,” said the girl. “I will work my fingers off for you.”
The three, and Jad-bal-ja, had been three days upon the march toward home when Tarzan, who was in the lead, paused, and, raising his head, sniffed the jungle air. Then he turned to them with a smile. “My Waziri are disobedient,” he said. “I sent them home and yet here they are, coming toward us, directly away from home.”
A few minutes later they met the van of the Waziri, and great was the rejoicing of the blacks when they found both their master and mistress alive and unscathed.
“And now that we have found you,” said Tarzan, after the greetings were over, and innumerable questions had been asked and answered, “tell me what you did with the gold that you took from the camp of the Europeans.”
“We hid it, O Bwana, where you told us to hide it,” replied Usula.
“I was not with you, Usula,” said the ape-man. “It was another, who deceived Lady Greystoke even as he deceived you—a bad man—who impersonated Tarzan of the Apes so cleverly that it is no wonder that you were imposed upon.”
“Then it was not you who told us that your head had been injured and that you could not remember the language of the Waziri?” demanded Usula.
“It was not I,” said Tarzan, “for my head has not been injured, and I remember well the language of my children.”
“Ah,” cried Usula, “then it was not our Big Bwana who ran from Buto, the rhinoceros?”
Tarzan laughed. “Did the other run from Buto?”
“That he did,” cried Usula; “he ran in great terror.”
“I do not know that I blame him,” said Tarzan, “for Buto is no pleasant playfellow.”
“But our Big Bwana would not run from him,” said Usula, proudly.
“Even if another than I hid the gold it was you who dug the hole. Lead me to the spot then, Usula.”
The Waziri constructed rude yet comfortable litters for the two white women, though Jane Clayton laughed at the idea that it was necessary that she be carried and insisted upon walking beside her bearers more often than she rode. Flora Hawkes, however, weak and exhausted as she was, could not have proceeded far without being carried, and was glad of the presence of the brawny Waziri who bore her along the jungle trail so easily.
It was a happy company that marched in buoyant spirits toward the spot where the Waziri had cached the gold for Esteban. The blacks were overflowing with good nature because they had found their master and their mistress, while the relief and joy of Tarzan and Jane were too deep for expression.
When at last they came to the place beside the river where they had buried the gold the Waziri, singing and laughing, commenced to dig for the treasure, but presently their singing ceased and their laughter was replaced by expressions of puzzled concern.
For a while Tarzan watched them in silence and then a slow smile overspread his countenance.
“You must have buried it deep, Usula,” he said.
The black scratched his head. “No, not so deep as this, Bwana,” he cried. “I cannot understand it. We should have found the gold before this.”
“Are you sure you are looking in the right place?” asked Tarzan.
“This is the exact spot, Bwana,” the black assured him, “but the gold is not here. Someone has removed it since we buried it.”
“The Spaniard again,” commented Tarzan. “He was a slick customer.”
“But he could not have taken it alone,” said Usula. “There were many ingots of it.”
“No,” said Tarzan, “he could not, and yet it is not here.”
The Waziri and Tarzan searched carefully about the spot where the gold had been buried, but so clever had been the woodcraft of Owaza that he had obliterated even from the keen senses of the ape-man every vestige of the spoor that he and the Spaniard had made in carrying the gold from the old hiding place to the new.
“It is gone,” said the ape-man, “but I shall see that it does not get out of Africa,” and he despatched runners in various directions to notify the chiefs of the friendly tribes surrounding his domain to watch carefully every safari crossing their territory, and to let none pass who carried gold.
“That will stop them,” he said after the runners had departed.
That night as they made their camp upon the trail toward home, the three whites were seated about a small fire with Jad-bal-ja lying just behind the ape-man, who was examining the leopard skin that the golden lion had retrieved in his pursuit of the Spaniard, when Tarzan turned toward his wife.
“You were right, Jane,” he said. “The treasure vaults of Opar are not for me. This time I have lost not only the gold but a fabulous fortune in diamonds as well, beside risking that greatest of all treasures—yourself.”
“Let the gold and the diamonds go, John,” she said; “we have one another, and Korak.”
“And a bloody leopard skin,” he supplemented, “with a mystery map painted upon it in blood.”
Jad-bal-ja sniffed the hide and licked his chops in anticipation or retrospection—which?