He knew he was out of Tarzan’s country now, but he also knew that where boundaries were so vague he could not definitely count upon this fact as an assurance of safety from reprisal. His one hope was that Tarzan was awaiting his return through Tarzan’s country, and this Ibn Jad had definitely decided not to attempt. Instead he was planning upon moving directly west, passing north of the ape-man’s stamping grounds, until he picked up the trail to the north down which he had travelled from the desert country.
In the mukaad of the sheik with Ibn Jad sat Tollog, his brother, and Fahd and Stimbol, besides some other ’Aarab. They were speaking of Batando’s delay in sending guides and they were fearful of treachery, for it had long been apparent to them that the old chief was gathering a great army of warriors, and though Fejjuan assured them that they would not be used against the ’Aarab if Ibn Jad resorted to no treachery, yet they were all apprehensive of danger.
Ateja, employed with the duties of the hareem, did not sing nor smile as had been her wont, for her heart was heavy with mourning for her lover. She heard the talk in the mukaad but it did not interest her. Seldom did her eyes glance above the curtain that separated the women’s quarters from the mukaad, and when they did the fires of hatred blazed within them as they crossed the countenance of Fahd.
She chanced to be thus glancing when she saw Fahd’s eyes, which were directed outward across the menzil, go suddenly wide with astonishment.
“Billah, Ibn Jad!” cried the man. “Look!”
With the others Ateja glanced in the direction Fahd was staring and with the others she voiced a little gasp of astonishment, though those of the men were rounded into oaths.
Walking straight across the menzil toward the sheik’s beyt strode a bronzed giant armed with a spear, arrows and a knife. Upon his back was suspended an oval shield and across one shoulder and his breast was coiled a rope, hand plaited from long fibers.
“Tarzan of the Apes!” ejaculated Ibn Jad. “The curse of Ullah be upon him!”
“He must have brought his black warriors with him and left them hidden in the forest,” whispered Tollog. “Not else would he dare enter the menzil of the Beduw.”
Ibn Jad was heart sick and he was thinking fast when the ape-man halted directly in the outer opening of the mukaad. Tarzan let his eyes run quickly over the assemblage. They stopped upon Stimbol, finally. “Where is Blake?” he demanded of the American.
“You ought to know,” growled Stimbol.
“Have you seen him since you and he separated?”
“You are sure of that?” insisted the ape-man.
“Of course I am.”
Tarzan turned to Ibn Jad. “You have lied to me. You are not here to trade but to find and sack a city; to take its treasure and steal its women.”
“That is a lie!” cried Ibn Jad. “Whoever told thee that, lied.”
“I do not think he lied,” replied Tarzan. “He seemed an honest youth.”
“Who was he?” demanded Ibn Jad.
“His name is Zeyd.” Ateja heard and was suddenly galvanized to new interest. “He says all this and more, and I believe him.”
“What else did he tell thee, Nasrany?”
“That another stole his musket and sought to slay thee, Ibn Jad, and then put the blame upon him.
“That is a lie, like all he hath told thee!” cried Fahd.
Ibn Jad sat in thought, his brows contracted in a dark scowl, but presently he looked up at Tarzan with a crooked smile. “Doubtless the poor youth thought that he spoke the truth,” he said. “Just as he thought that he should slay his sheykh and for the same reason. Always hath his brain been sick, but never before did I think him dangerous.
“He hath deceived thee, Tarzan of the Apes, and that I can prove by all my people as well as by this Nasrany I have befriended, for all will tell thee that I am seeking to obey thee and leave thy country. Why else then should I have travelled north back in the direction of my own beled?”
“If thou wished to obey me why didst thou hold me prisoner and send thy brother to slay me in the night?” asked Tarzan.
“Again thou wrongst Ibn Jad,” said the sheik sadly. “My brother came to cut thy bonds and set thee free, but thou set upon him and then came el-fil and carried thee away.”
“And what meant thy brother when he raised his knife and cried: ‘Die, Nasrany!” demanded the ape-man. “Sayeth a man thus who cometh to do a kindness?”
“I did but joke,” mumbled Tollog.
“I am here again,” said Tarzan, “but not to joke. My Waziri are coming. Together we shall see you well on your way toward the desert.”
“It is what we wish,” said the sheik quickly. “Ask this other Nasrany if it be not true that we are lost and would be but too glad to have thee lead us upon the right way. Here we be beset by Galla warriors. Their chief hath been gathering them for days and momentarily we fear that we shall be attacked. Is that not true, Nasrany?” he turned to Stimbol as he spoke.
“Yes, it is true,” said Stimbol.
“It is true that you are going to leave the country,” said Tarzan, “and I shall remain to see that you do so. Tomorrow you will start. In the meantime set aside a beyt for me—and let there be no more treachery.”
“Thou needst fear nothing,” Ibn Jad assured him, then he turned his face toward the women’s quarters. “Hirfa! Ateja!” he called. “Make ready the beyt of Zeyd for the sheykh of the jungle.”
To one side but at no great distance from the beyt of Ibn Jad the two women raised the black tent for Tarzan, and when the am’Jan had been placed and straightened and the tunb el-beyt made fast to the pegs that Ateja drove into the earth Hirfa returned to her household duties, leaving her daughter to stretch the side curtains.
The instant that Hirfa was out of ear shot Ateja ran to Tarzan.
“Oh, Nasrany,” she cried, “thou hast seen my Zeyd? He is safe?”
“I left him in a village where the chief will care for him until such time as thy people come upon thy return to the desert country. He is quite safe and well.”
“Tell me of him, oh, Nasrany, for my heart hungers for word of him,” implored the girl. “How came you upon him? Where was he?”
“His mare had been dragged down by el-adrea who was about to devour your lover. I chanced to be there and slew el-adrea. Then I took Zeyd to the village of a chief who is my friend, for I knew that he could not survive the perils of the jungle should I leave him afoot and alone. It was my thought to send him from the country in safety, but he begged to remain until you returned that way. This I have permitted. In a few weeks you will see your lover.”
Tears were falling from Ateja’s long, black lashes—tears of joy—as she seized Tarzan’s hand and kissed it. “My life is thine, Nasrany,” she cried, “for that thou hast given me back my lover.”
That night as the Galla slave, Fejjuan, walked through the menzil of his masters he saw Ibn Jad and Tollog sitting in the sheik’s mukaad whispering together and Fejjuan, well aware of the inherent turpitude of this precious pair, wondered what might be the nature of their plotting.
Behind the curtain of the hareem Ateja lay huddled upon her sleeping mat, but she did not sleep. Instead she was listening to the whispered conversation of her father and her uncle.
“He must be put out of the way,” Ibn Jad insisted.
“But his Waziri are coming,” objected Tollog. “If they do not find him here what can we say? They will not believe us, whatever we say. They will set upon us. I have heard that they are terrible men.”
“By Ullah!” cried Ibn Jad. “If he stays we are undone. Better risk something than to return empty handed to our own country after all that we have passed through.”
“If thou thinkest that I shall again take this business upon myself thou art mistaken, brother,” said Tollog. “Once was enough.”
“No, not thee; but we must find a way. Is there none among us who might wish more than another to be rid of the Nasrany?” asked Ibn Jad, but to himself as though he were thinking aloud.
“The other Nasrany!” exclaimed Tollog. “He hateth him.”
Ibn Jad clapped his hands together. “Thou hast it, brother!”
“But still shall we be held responsible,” reminded Tollog.
“What matter if he be out of the way. We can be no worse off than we now are. Suppose Batando came tomorrow with the guides? Then indeed would the jungle sheykh know that we have lied to him, and it might go hard with us. No, we must be rid of him this very night.”
“Yes, but how?” asked Tollog.
“Hold! I have a plan. Listen well, O brother!” and Ibn Jad rubbed his palms together and smiled, but he would not have smiled, perhaps had he known that Ateja listened, or had he seen the silent figure crouching in the dark just beyond the outer curtain of his beyt.
“Speak, Ibn Jad,” urged Tollog, “tell me thy plan.”
“Wellah, it is known by all that the Nasrany Stimbol hates the sheykh of the jungle. With loud tongue he hath proclaimed it many times before all when many were gathered in my mukaad.”
“You would send Stimbol to slay Tarzan of the Apes?”
“Thou guessed aright,” admitted Ibn Jad.
“But how wilt that relieve us of responsiblity? He wilt have been slain by thy order in thine’ own menzil,” objected Tollog.
“Wait! I shall not command the one Nasrany to slay the other; I shall but suggest it, and when it is done I shall be filled with rage and horror that this murder hath been done in my menzil. And to prove my good faith I shall order that the murderer be put to death in punishment for his crime. Thus we shall be rid of two unbelieving dogs and at the same time be able to convince the Waziri that we were indeed the friends of their sheykh, for we shall mourn him with loud lamentations—when the Waziri shall have arrived.”
“Allah be praised for such a brother!” exclaimed Tollog, enraptured.
“Go thou now, at once, and summon the Nasrany Stimbol,” directed Ibn Jad. “Send him to me alone, and after I have spoken with him and he hath departed upon his errand come thee back to my beyt.”
Ateja trembled upon her sleeping mat, while the silent figure crouching outside the sheik’s tent arose after Tollog had departed and disappeared in the darkness of the night.
Hastily summoned from the beyt of Fahd, Stimbol, cautioned to stealth by Tollog, moved silently through the darkness to the mukaad of the sheik where he found Ibn Jad awaiting him.
“Sit, Nasrany,” invited the Beduin.
“What in hell do you want of me this time of night?” demanded Stimbol.
“I have been talking with Tarzan of the Apes,” said Ibn Jad, “and because you are my friend and he is not I have sent for you to tell you what he plans for you. He has interfered in all my designs and is driving me from the country, but that is as nothing compared with what he intends for you.”
“What in hell is he up to now?” demanded Stimbol. “He’s always butting into some one else’s business.”
“Thou dost not like him?” asked Ibn Jad.
“Why should I?” and Stimbol applied a vile epithet to Tarzan.
“Thou wilt like him less when I tell thee,” said Ibn Jad.
“Well, tell me.”
“He says that thou hast slain thy companion, Blake,” explained the sheik, “and for that Tarzan is going to kill thee on the morrow.”
“Eh? What? Kill me?” demanded Stimbol. “Why he can’t do it! What does he think he is—a Roman emperor?”
“Nevertheless he will do as he says,” insisted Ibn Jad. “He is all powerful here. No one questions the acts of this great jungle sheykh. Tomorrow he will kill thee.”
“But—you won’t let him, Ibn Jad! Surely, you won’t let him?” Stimbol was already trembling with terror.
Ibn Jad elevated his palms, “What can I do?” he asked.
“You can—you can—why there must be something that you can do,” wailed the frightened man.
“There is naught that any can do—save yourself,” whispered the sheik.
“What do you mean?”
“He lies asleep in yon beyt and—thou hast a sharp khusa.”
“I have never killed a man,” whispered Stimbol.
“Nor hast thou ever been killed,” reminded the sheik; “but tonight thou must kill or tomorrow thou wilt be killed.”
“God!” gasped Stimbol.
“It is late,” said Ibn Jad, “and I go to my sleeping mat I have warned thee—do what thou wilt in the matter,” and he arose as though to enter the women’s quarters.
Trembling, Stimbol staggered out into the night For a moment he hesitated, then he crouched and crept silently through the darkness toward the beyt that bad been erected for the ape-man.
But ahead of him ran Ateja to warn the man who had saved her lover from the fangs of el-adrea. She was almost at the beyt she had helped to erect for the ape-man when a figure stepped from another tent and clapping a palm across her mouth and an arm about her waist held her firmly.
“Where goest thou?” whispered a voice in her ear, a voice that she recognized at once as belonging to her uncle; but Tollog did not wait for a reply, he answered for her. “Thou wants to warn the Nasrany because he befriended thy lover! Go thee back to thy father’s beyt. If he knew this he would lay thee. Go!” And he gave her a great shove in the direction from which she had come.
There was a nasty smile upon Tollog’s lips as he thought how neatly he had foiled the girl, and he thanked Allah that chance had placed him in a position to intercept her before she had been able to ruin them all; and even as Tollog, the brother of the sheik, smiled in his beard a hand reached out of the darkness behind him and seized him by the throat—fingers grasped him and dragged him away.
Trembling, bathed in cold sweat, grasping in tightly clenched fingers the hilt of a keen knife, Wilbur Stimbol crept through the darkness toward the tent of his victim.
Stimbol had been an irritable man, a bully and a coward; but he was no criminal. Every fiber of his being revolted at the thing he contemplated. He did not want to kill, but he was a cornered human rat and he thought that death stared him in the face, leaving open only this one way of escape.
As he entered the beyt of the ape-man he steeled himself to accomplish that for which he had come, and he was indeed a very dangerous, a very formidable man, as he crept to the side of the figure lying in the darkness, wrapped in an old burnous.