“I am Gayat,” growled one of the bull apes, “I kill.”
“I am Zutho,” bellowed another. “I kill.”
“Kill the Tarmangani,” barked Go-yad, as the six lumbered forward—sometimes erect upon their hind feet, sometimes swinging with gnarled knuckles to the ground.
The crowd hooted and groaned. “Down with Caesar!” “Death to Sublatus!” rose distinctly above the tumult. To a man they were upon their feet, but the glittering pikes held them in awe as one or two, with more courage than brains, sought to reach the loge of Caesar, but ended upon pikes of the legionaries instead. Their bodies, lying in aisles, served as a warning to the others.
Sublatus turned and whispered to a guest in the imperial loge. “This should be a lesson to all who would dare affront Caesar,” he said.
“Quite right,” replied the other. “Glorious Caesar is, indeed, all powerful,” but the fellow’s lips were blue from terror as he saw how great and menacing was the crowd and how slim and few looked the glittering pikes that stood between it and the imperial loge.
As the apes approached, Zutho was in the lead. “I Zutho,” he cried. “I kill.”
“Look well, Zutho, before you kill your friend,” replied the ape-man. “I am Tarzan of the Apes.”
Zutho stopped, bewildered. The others crowded about him.
“The Tarmangani spoke in the language of the great apes,” said Zutho.
“I know him,” said Go-yad. “He was king of the tribe when I was a young ape.”
“It is, indeed, Whiteskin,” said Gayat.
“Yes,” said Tarzan, “I am Whiteskin. We are all prisoners here together. These Tarmangani are my enemies and yours. They wish us to fight, but we shall not.”
“No,” said Zutho, “we shall not fight against Tarzan.”
“Good,” said the ape-man, as they gathered close around him, sniffing that their noses might validate the testimony of their eyes.
“What has happened?” growled Sublatus. “Why do they not attack him?”
“He has cast a spell upon them,” replied Caesar’s guest.
The people looked on wonderingly. They heard the beasts and the man growling at one another. How could they guess that they were speaking together in their common language? They saw Tarzan turn and walk toward Caesar’s loge, bronzed skin brushing against the black coats of the savage beasts lumbering at his side. The ape-man and the apes halted below imperial Caesar. Tarzan’s eyes ran quickly around the arena. The wall was lined with legionaries so not even Tarzan might pass these unscathed. He looked up at Sublatus.
“Your plan has failed, Caesar. These that you thought would tear me to pieces are my own people. They will not harm me. If there are any others that you would turn against me let them come now, but be quick, for my patience is growing short and if I should say the word these apes will follow me into the imperial loge and tear you to shreds.”
And that is exactly what Tarzan would have done had he not known that while he doubtless could have killed Sublatus his end would come quickly beneath the pikes of the legionaries. He was not sufficiently well versed in the ways of mobs to know that in their present mood the people would have swarmed to protect him and that the legionaries, with few exceptions, would have joined forces with them against the hated tyrant.
What Tarzan wanted particularly was to effect the escape of Cassius Hasta and Caecilius Metellus simultaneously with his own, so that he might have the advantage of their as-sistance in his search for Erich von Harben in the Empire of the East; therefore, when the praefect ordered him back to his dungeon he went, taking the apes with him to their cages.
As the arena gates closed behind him he heard again, above the roaring of the populace, the insistent demand: “Down with Sublatus!”
As the jailer opened the cell door, Tarzan saw that its only occupant was Maximus Praeclarus.
“Welcome, Tarzan!” cried the Roman. “I had not thought to see you again. How is it that you are neither dead nor free?”
“It is the justice of Caesar,” replied Tarzan, with a smile, “but at least our friends are free, for I see they are not here.”
“Do not deceive yourself, barbarian,” said the jailer. “Your friends are chained safely in another cell.”
“But they won their freedom,” exclaimed Tarzan.
“And so did you,” returned the jailer, with a grin; “but are you free?”
“It is an outrage,” cried Praeclarus. “It cannot be done.”
The jailer shrugged. “But it is already done,” he said.
“And why?” demanded Praeclarus.
“Think you that a poor soldier has the confidence of Caesar?” asked the jailer; “but I have heard the reason rumored. Sedition is in the air. Caesar fears you and all your friends because the people favor you and you favor Dion Splendidus.”
”I see,” said Praeclarus, “and so we are to remain here indefinitely.”
“I should scarcely say indefinitely,” grinned the jailer, as he closed the door and locked it, leaving them alone.
“I did not like the look in his eye nor the tone of his voice,” said Praeclarus, after the fellow was out of hearing. “The gods are unkind, but how can I expect else from them when even my best friend fails me?”
“You mean Appius Applosus?” asked Tarzan.
“None other,” replied Praeclarus. “If he had fetched the keys, we might yet escape.”
“Perhaps we shall in any event,” said Tarzan. “I should never give up hope until I were dead—and I have never been dead.”
“You do not know either the power or perfidy of Caesar,” replied the Roman.
“Nor does Caesar know Tarzan of the Apes.”
Darkness had but just enveloped the city, blotting out even the dim light of their dungeon cell, when the two men perceived wavering light beams lessening the darkness of the corridor without. The light increased and they knew that someone was approaching, lighting his way with a flaring torch.
Visitors to the dungeon beneath the Colosseum were few in the daytime. Guards and jailers passed occasionally and twice each day slaves came with food, but at night the silent approach of a single torch might more surely augur ill than well. Praeclarus and Tarzan dropped the desultory conversation with which they had been whiling away the time and waited in silence for whoever might be coming.
Perhaps the night-time visitor was not for them, but the egotism of misfortune naturally suggested that he was and that his intentions might be more sinister than friendly. But they had not long to wait and their suspicions precluded any possibility of surprise when a man halted before the barred gateway to their cell. As the visitor fitted the key to the lock Praeclarus recognized him through the bars.
“Appius Applosus!” he cried. “You have come!”
“Ps-st!” cautioned Applosus, and quickly opening the gate he stepped within and closed it silently behind him. With a quick glance he surveyed the cell and then extinguished his torch against the stone wall. “It is fortunate that you are alone,” he said, speaking in whispers, as he dropped to the floor close to the two men.
“You are trembling,” said Praeclarus. “What has happened?”
“It is not what has happened but what is about to happen that alarms me,” replied Applosus. “You have probably wondered why I had not brought the keys. You have doubtless thought me faithless, but the fact is that up to this instant it has been impossible, although I have stood ready before to risk my life in the attempt, even as I am now doing.”
“But why should it be so difficult for the commander of the Colosseum guard to visit the dungeon?”
“I am no longer the commander of the guards,” replied Applosus. “Something must have aroused Caesar’s suspicions, for I was removed in the hour that I last left you. Whether someone overheard and reported our plan or whether it was merely my known friendship for you that aroused his misgivings, I may only surmise, but the fact remains that I have been kept on duty constantly at the Porta Praetoria since I was transferred there from the Colosseum. I have not even been permitted to return to my home, the reason given being that Caesar expects an uprising of the barbarians of the outer villages, which, as we all know, is utterly ridiculous.
“I risked everything to leave my post only an hour ago and that because of a word of gossip that was passed to me by a young officer, who came to relieve another at the gate.”
“What said he?” demanded Praeclarus.
“He said that an officer of the palace guard had told him that he had been ordered to come to your cell tonight and assassinate both you and this white barbarian. I hastened to Festivitas and together we found the keys that I promised to bring you, but even as I slunk through the shadows of the city’s streets, endeavoring to reach the Colosseum unobserved or unrecognized, I feared that I might be too late, for Caesar’s orders are that you are to be dispatched at once. Here are the keys, Praeclarus. If I may do more, command me.”
“No, my friend,” replied Praeclarus, “you have already risked more than enough. Go at once. Return to your post lest Caesar learn and destroy you.”
“Farewell then and good luck,” said Applosus. “If you would leave the city, remember that Appius Applosus commands the Porta Praetoria.”
“I shall not forget, my friend,” replied Praeclarus, “but I shall not impose further risks upon your friendship.”
Appius Applosus turned to leave the cell, but he stopped suddenly at the gate. “It is too late,” he whispered. “Look!”
The faint gleams of distant torch-light were cutting the gloom of the corridor.
“They come!” whispered Praeclarus. “Make haste!” but instead Appius Applosus stepped quickly to one side of the doorway, out of sight of the corridor beyond, and drew his Spanish sword.
Rapidly the torch swung down the corridor. The scraping of sandals on stone could be distinctly heard, and the ape-man knew that whoever came was alone. A man wrapped in a long dark cloak halted before the barred door and, holding his torch above his head, peered within.
“Maximus Praeclarus!” he whispered. “Are you within?”
“Yes,” replied Praeclarus.
“Good!” exclaimed the other. “I was not sure that this was the right cell.”
“What is your errand?” demanded Praeclarus.
“I come from Caesar,” said the other. “He sends a note.”
“A sharp one?’, inquired Praeclarus.
“Sharp and pointed,” laughed the officer.
“We are expecting you.”
“You knew?” demanded the other.
“We guessed, for we know Caesar.”
“Then make your peace with your gods,” said the officer, drawing his sword and pushing the door open, “for you are about to die.”
There was a cold smile upon his lips as he stepped across the threshold, for Caesar knew his men and had chosen well the proper type for this deed—a creature without conscience whose envy and jealousy Praeclarus had aroused, and the smile was still upon his lips as the sword of Appius Applosus crashed through his helmet to his brain. As the man lunged forward dead, the torch fell from his left hand and was extinguished upon the floor.
“Now go,” whispered Praeclarus to Applosus, “and maybe the gratitude of those you have saved prove a guard against disaster.”
“It could not have turned out better,” whispered Applosus. “You have the keys; you have his weapons, and now you have ample time to make your escape before the truth is learned. Good-by, again. Good-by, and may the gods protect you.”
As Applosus moved cautiously along the dark corridor, Maximus Praeclarus fitted keys to their manacles and both men stood erect, freed at last from their hated chains. No need to formulate plans—they had talked and talked of nothing else for weeks, changing them only to meet altered conditions. Now their first concern was to find Hasta and Metellus and the others upon whose loyalty they could depend and to gather around them as many of the other prisoners as might be willing to follow them in the daring adventure they contemplated.
Through the darkness of the corridor they crept from cell to cell and in the few that still held prisoners they found none unwilling to pledge his loyalty to any cause or to any leader that might offer freedom. Lukedi, Mpingu, and Ogonyo were among those they liberated. They had almost given up hope of finding the others when they came upon Metellus and Hasta in a cell close to the entrance to the arena. With them were a number of professional gladiators, who should have been liberated with the other victors at the end of the games, but who were being kept because of some whim of Caesar that they could not understand and that only inflamed them to anger against the Emperor.
To a man they pledged themselves to follow wherever Tarzan might lead.
“Few of us will come through alive,” said the ape-man, when they had all gathered in the large room that was reserved for the contestants before they were ushered into the arena, “but those who do will have been avenged upon Caesar for the wrongs that he has done them.”
“The others will be welcomed by the gods as heroes worthy of every favor,” added Praeclarus.
“We do not care whether your cause be right or wrong, or whether we live or die,” said a gladiator, “so long as there is good fighting.”
“There will be good fighting. I can promise you that,” said Tarzan, “and plenty of it.”
“Then lead on,” said the gladiator.
“But first I must liberate the rest of my friends,” said the ape-man.
“We have emptied every cell,” said Praeclarus. “There are no more.”
”Oh, yes, my friend,” said Tarzan. “There are still others —the great apes.”