On the other hand he knew that the gorilla god purposed death for him and either death or a worse fate for the girl. Whatever course he pursued, then, would evidently prove disastrous. The ape-man, seldom hesitant in reaching a decision, was frankly in a quandary.
Briefly he explained his doubts to Rhonda: “I think I’ll rush them,” he concluded. “At least there will be some satisfaction in that.”
“They’d only kill you, Stanley,” she said. “Oh, I wish you hadn’t come. It was brave, but you have just thrown away your life. I can never—” The stifling smoke terminated her words in a fit of coughing.
“We can’t stand this any longer,” he muttered. “I’m going out. Follow me, and watch for a chance to escape.”
Stooping low, the ape-man sprang from the tower. A savage growl rumbled from his deep chest. The girl, following directly behind him, heard and was horrified. She thought only of the man with her as Stanley Obroski, the coward; and she believed that his mind must have been deranged by the hopelessness of his situation.
The gorillas leaped forward to seize him. “Capture him!” cried the gorilla god. “But do not kill him.”
Tarzan leaped at the nearest beast. His knife flashed in the light of the torches that some of the creatures carried. It sank deep into the chest of the victim that chance had placed in the path of the lord of the jungle. The brute Screamed, clutched at the ape-man only to collapse at his feet.
But others closed upon the bronzed giant; then another and another tasted the steel of that swift blade. The gorilla god was beside himself with rage and excitement. “Seize, him! Seize him!” he screamed. “Do not kill him! He is mine!”
During the excitement Rhonda sought an avenue of escape: She slunk behind the battling beasts to search for a stairway leading from the roof. Every eye, every thought was on the battle being waged before the tower. No one noticed the girl. She came to a doorway in another tower. Before her she saw the top of a flight of stairs. They were illuminated by the flickering light of torches.
At a run she started down. Below her, smoke was billowing, shutting off her view. It was evident, she guessed, that the smoke from the fire that had been lighted to dislodge Obroski and herself from the tower had drifted to other parts of the castle.
At a turn in the stairs she ran directly into the arms of a gorilla leaping upward. Behind him were two others. The first seized her and whirled her back to the others. “She must be trying to escape,” said her captor. “Bring her along to God.” Then he leaped swiftly on up the stairs.
Three gorillas had fallen before Tarzan’s knife, but the fourth seized his wrist and struck at him with the haft of his pike. The ape-man closed; his teeth sought the jugular of his antagonist and fastened there. The brute screamed and sought to tear himself free; then one of his companions stepped in and struck Tarzan heavily across one temple with the butt of a battle axe.
The lord of the jungle sank senseless to the roof amid the victorious shouts of his foemaen. The gorilla god pushed forward.
“Do not kill him!” he screamed again.
“He is already dead, My Lord,” said one of the gorillas.
The god trembled with disappointment and rage, and was about to speak when the gorilla that had recaptured Rhonda forced its way through the crowd.
“The castle is afire, My Lord!” he cried. “The smudge that was built to smoke out the prisoners spread to the dry grass on the floor of their cell, and now the beams and floor above are all ablaze—the first floor of the castle is a roaring furnace. If you are not to be trapped, My Lord, you must escape at once.”
Those who heard him looked quickly about. A dense volume of smoke was pouring from the tower from which Tarzan and Rhonda had come; smoke was coming from other towers nearby; it was rising from beyond the parapet, evidently coming from the windows of the lower floors.
There was instant uneasiness. The gorillas rushed uncertainly this way and that. All beasts are terrified by fire, and the instincts of beasts dominated these aberrant creatures. Presently, realizing that they might be cut off from all escape, panic seized them.
Screaming and roaring, they bolted for safety, deserting their prisoners and their god. Some rushed headlong down blazing stairways to death, others leaped the parapet to an end less horrible, perhaps, but equally certain.
Their piercing shrieks, their terrified roars rose above the crackling and the roaring of the flames, above the screamed commands of their gorilla god, who, seeing himself deserted by his creatures, completely, lost his head and joined in the mad rush for safety.
Fortunately for Rhonda, the two who had her in charge ignored the instructions of their fellow to bring her before their god; but, instead, turned and fled down the stairway before retreat was cut off by the hungry flames licking their upward way from the pits beneath the castle.
Fighting their way through blinding smoke, their shaggy coats at one time seared by a sudden burst of flame, the maddened brutes forgot their prisoner; forgot everything but their fear of the roaring flames. Even when they won to the comparative safety of a courtyard they did not stop, but ran on until they had swung open an outer gate and rushed headlong from the vicinity of the castle.
Rhonda, almost equally terrified but retaining control of her wits, took advantage of this opportunity to escape. Following the two gorillas, she came out upon the great ledge upon which the castle stood. The rising flames now illuminated the scene, and she saw behind her a towering cliff, seemingly unscalable. Below her lay the city, dark but for a few flickering torches that spotted the blackness of the night with their feeble rays.
To her right she saw the stairway leading from the castle ledge to the city below—the only avenue of escape that she could discern. If she could reach the city, with its winding, narrow alleyways, she might make her way unseen across the wall and out into the valley beyond.
The river would lead her down the valley to the brink of the escarpment at the foot of which she knew that Orman and West and Naomi were camped. She shuddered at the thought of descending that sheer cliff, but she knew that she would risk much more than this to escape the horrors of the valley of diamonds.
Running quickly along the ledge to the head of the stairway, she started downward toward the dark city. She ran swiftly, risking a fall in her anxiety to escape. Behind her rose the roaring and the crackling of the flames gutting the castle of God, rose the light of the fire casting her dancing shadow grotesquely before her, illuminating the stairway; and then, to her horror, a horde of gorillas rushing up to the doomed building.
She stopped, but she could not go back. There was no escape to the right nor to the left. Her only chance lay in the possibility that they might ignore her in their excitement. Then the leaders saw her.
“The girl!” they cried. “The hairless one! Catch her! Take her to the king!”
Hairy hands seized her. They passed her back to those behind. “Take her to the king!” And again she was hustled and pushed on to others behind. “Take her to the king! Take her to the king!” And so, pulled and hauled and dragged, she was borne down to the city and to the palace of the king.
Once again she found herself with the shes of Henry’s harem. They cuffed her and growled at her, for most of them did not wish her back. Catherine of Aragon was the most vindictive. She would have torn the girl to pieces had not Catherine Parr intervened.
“Leave her alone,” she warned; “or Henry will have us all beaten, and some of us will lose our heads. All he needs is an excuse to get yours, Catherine,” she told the old queen.
At last they ceased abusing her; and, crouching in a corner, she had an opportunity to think for the first time since she had followed Tarzan from the tower. She thought of the man who had risked his life to save hers. It seemed incredible that all of them had so misunderstood Stanley Obroski. Strength and courage seemed so much a part of him now that it was unbelievable that not one of them had ever discerned it. She saw him now through new eyes with a on that revealed qualities such as women most admire men and invoked a tenderness that brought a sob to her throat.
Where was he now? Had he escaped? Had they recaptured him? Was he a victim of the flames that she could see billowing from the windows of the great castle on the ledge? Had he died for her?
Suddenly she sat up very straight, her fists clenched until her nails bit into her flesh. A new truth had dawned upon her. This man whom yesterday she had considered with nothing but contempt had aroused within her bosom an emotion that she had never felt for any other man. Was it love? Did she love Stanley Obroski?
She shook her head as though to rid herself of an obession. No, it could not be that. It must be gratitude and sorrow that she felt—nothing more. Yet the thought persisted. The memory of no other man impinged upon her thoughts in this moment of her extremity before, exhausted by fatigue and excitement, she finally sank into restless slumber.
And while she slept the castle,on the ledge burned itself out, the magnificent funeral pyre of those who had been trapped within it.