Miguel Romero once more led the invaders, and directly behind him was Wayne Colt. According to the plan the blacks were to have followed closely behind these two, with the rest of the whites bringing up the rear, where they might rally and encourage the Negroes, or if necessary, force them on at the points of their pistols. But the blacks would not even enter the opening of the outer wall, so demoralized were they by the uncanny warning screams which their superstitious minds attributed to malignant demons, against which there could be no defense and whose animosity meant almost certain death for those who disregarded their wishes.
“In with you, you dirty cowards!” cried Zveri, menacing the blacks with his revolver in an effort to force them into the opening.
One of the warriors raised his rifle threateningly. “Put away your weapon, white man,” he said. “We will fight men, but we will not fight the spirits of the dead.”
“Lay off, Peter,” said Dorsky. “You will have the whole bunch on us in a minute and we shall all be killed.”
Zveri lowered his pistol and commenced to plead with the warriors, promising them rewards that amounted to riches to them if they would accompany the whites into the city; but the volunteers were obdurate—nothing could induce them to venture into Opar.
Seeing failure once again imminent and with a mind already obsessed by the belief that the treasures of Opar would make him fabulously wealthy and insure the success of his secret scheme of empire, Zveri determined to follow Romero and Colt with the remainder of his aides, which consisted only of Dorsky, Ivitch and the Filipino boy. “Come on,” he said, “we will have to make a try at it alone, if these yellow dogs won’t help us.”
By the time the four men had passed through the outer wall, Romero and Colt were already out of sight beyond the inner wall. Once again the warning scream broke menacingly upon the brooding silence of the ruined city.
“God!” ejaculated Ivitch. “What do you suppose it could be?”
“Shut up,” exclaimed Zveri irritably. “Stop thinking about it, or you’ll go yellow like those damn blacks.”
Slowly they crossed the court toward the inner wall, nor was there much enthusiasm manifest among them other than for an evident desire in the breast of each to permit one of the others the glory of leading the advance. Tony had reached the opening when a bedlam of noise from the opposite side of the wall burst upon their ears—a hideous chorus of war cries, mingled with the sound of rushing feet. There was a shot, and then another and another.
Tony turned to see if his companions were following him. They had halted and were standing with blanched faces, listening.
Then Ivitch turned. “To hell with the gold!” he said, and started back toward the outer wall at a run.
“Come back, you lousy cur,” cried Zveri, and took after him with Dorsky at his heels. Tony hesitated for a moment and then scurried in pursuit, nor did any of them halt until they were beyond the outer wall. There Zveri overtook Ivitch and seized him by the shoulder. “I ought to kill you,” he cried in a trembling voice.
“You were as glad to get out of there as I was,” growled Ivitch. “What was the sense of going in there? We should only have been killed like Colt and Romero. There were too many of them. Didn’t you hear them?”
“I think Ivitch is right,” said Dorsky. “It’s all right to be brave, but we have got to remember the cause—if we are killed everything is lost.”
“But the gold!” exclaimed Zveri. “Think of the gold!”
“Gold is no good to dead men,” Dorsky reminded him.
“How about our comrades?” asked Tony. “Are we to leave them to be killed?”
“To hell with the Mexican,” said Zveri, “and as for the American I think his funds will still be available as long as we can keep the news of his death from getting back to the Coast.”
“You are not even going to try to rescue them?” asked Tony.
“I cannot do it alone,” said Zveri.
“I will go with you,” said Tony.
“Little good two of us can accomplish,” mumbled Zveri, and then in one of his sudden rages, he advanced menacingly upon the Filipino, his great figure towering above that of the other.
“Who do you think you are anyway7” he demanded. “I am in command here. When I want your advice I’ll ask for it.”
When Romero and Colt passed through the inner wall, that part of the interior of the temple which they could see appeared deserted, and yet they were conscious of movement in the darker recesses and the apertures of the ruined galleries that looked down into the courtway.
Colt glanced back. “Shall we wait for the others?” he asked.
Romero shrugged. “I think we are going to have this glory all to ourselves, comrade,” he said with a grin.
Colt smiled back at him. “Then let’s get on with the business,” he said. “I don’t see anything very terrifying yet.”
“There is something in there though,” said Romero. “I’ve seen things moving.”
“So have I,” said Colt.
With their rifles ready, they advanced boldly into the temple; but they had not gone far when, from shadowy archways and from numerous gloomy doorways there rushed a horde of horrid men, and the silence of the ancient city was shattered by hideous war cries.
Colt was in advance and now he kept on moving forward, firing a shot above the heads of the grotesque warrior priests of Opar. Romero saw a number of the enemy running along the side of the great room which they had entered, with the evident intention of cutting off their retreat. He swung about and fired, but not over their heads. Realizing the gravity of their position, he shot to kill, and now Colt did the same, with the result that the screams of a couple of wounded men mingled now with the war cries of their fellows.
Romero was forced to drop back a few steps to prevent the Oparians from surrounding him. He shot rapidly now and succeeded in checking the advance around their flank. A quick glance at Colt showed him standing his ground, and at the same instant he saw a hurled club strike the American on the head. The man dropped like a log, and instantly his body was covered by the terrible little men of Opar.
Miguel Romero realized that his companion was lost, and even if not now already dead, he, singlehanded, could accomplish nothing toward his rescue. If he escaped with his own life he would be fortunate, and so, keeping up a steady fire, he fell back toward the aperture in the inner wall.
Having captured one of the invaders, seeing the other falling back, and fearing to risk further the devastating fire of the terrifying weapon in the hand of their single antagonist, the Oparians hesitated.
Romero passed through the inner wall, turned and ran swiftly to the outer and a moment later had joined his companions upon the plain.
“Where is Colt?” demanded Zveri.
“They knocked him out with a club and captured him,” said Romero. “He is probably dead by this time.”
“And you deserted him?” asked Zveri.
The Mexican turned upon his chief in fury. “You ask me that?” he demanded. “You turned pale and ran even before you saw the enemy. If you fellows had backed us up Colt might not have been lost, but to let us go in there alone the two of us didn’t have a Chinaman’s chance with that bunch of wild men. And you accuse me of cowardice?”
“I didn’t do anything of the kind,” said Zveri sullenly. “I never said you were a coward.”
“You meant to imply it though,” snapped Romero, “but let me tell you, Zveri, that you can’t get away with that with me or anyone else who has been to Opar with you.”
From behind the walls rose a savage cry of victory; and while it still rumbled through the tarnished halls of Opar, Zveri turned dejectedly away from the city. “It’s no use,” he said. “I can’t capture Opar alone. We are returning to camp.”
The little priests, swarming over Colt, stripped him of his weapons and secured his hands behind his back. He was still unconscious, and so they lifted him to the shoulder of one of their fellows and bore him away into the interior of the temple.
When Colt regained consciousness he found himself lying on the floor of a large chamber. It was the throne room of the temple of Opar, where he had been fetched that Oah, the high priestess, might see the prisoner.
Perceiving that their captive had regained consciousness, his guards jerked him roughly to his feet and pushed him forward toward the foot of the dais upon which stood Oah’s throne.
The effect of the picture bursting suddenly upon him imparted to Colt the definite impression that he was the victim of an hallucination or a dream. The outer chamber of the ruin, in which he had fallen, had given no suggestion of the size and semi-barbaric magnificence of this great chamber, the grandeur of which was scarcely dimmed by the ruin of ages.
He saw before him, upon an ornate throne, a young woman of exceptional physical beauty, surrounded by the semi-barbaric grandeur of an ancient civilization. Grotesque and hairy men and beautiful maidens formed her entourage. Her eyes, resting upon him, were cold and cruel: her mien haughty and contemptuous. A squat warrior, more ape-like in his conformation than human, was addressing her in a language unfamiliar to the American.
When he had finished, the girl rose from the throne and, drawing a long knife from her girdle, raised it high above her head as she spoke rapidly and almost fiercely, her eyes fixed upon the prisoner.
From among a group of priestesses it the riqht of Oah’s throne, a girl, just come into womanhood, regarded the prisoner through half-closed eyes, and beneath the golden plates that confined her smooth, white breasts, the heart of Nao palpitated to the thoughts that contemplation of this strange warrior engendered within her.
When Oah had finished speaking, Colt was lead away, quite ignorant of the fact that he had been listening to the sentence of death imposed upon him by the high priestess of the Flaming God. His guards conducted him to a cell just within the entrance of a tunnel leading from the sacrificial court to the pits beneath the city and because it was not entirely below ground, fresh air and light had access to it through a window and the grated bars of its dorrway. Here the escort left him, after renoving the bonds from his wrists.
Through the small window in his cell Wayne Colt looked out upon the inner court of the Temple of the Sun at Opar. He saw the surrounding galleries rising tier upon tier to the summit of a lofty wall. He saw the stone altar standing in the center of the court, and the brown stains upon it and upon the pavement at its foot told him what the unitelligible words of Oah had been unable to convey. For an instant he felt his heart sink within his breast, and a shudder passed through his frame as he contemplated his inability to escape the fate which confronted him. There could be no mistaking the purpose of that altar when viewed in connection with the grinning skulls of former human sacrifices which stared through eyeless sockets upon him from their niches in the surrounding walls.
Fascinated by the horror of his situation, he stood staring at the altar and skulls, but presently he gained control of himself and shook the terror from him, yet the hopelessness of his situation continued to depress him. His thoughts turned to his companion. He wondered what Romero’s fate had been. There, indeed, had been a brave and gallant comrade, in fact, the only member of the party who had impressed Colt favorably, or in whose society he had found pleasure. The others had seemed either ignorant fanatics or avaricious opportunists, while the manner and speech of the Mexican had stamped him as a light-hearted soldier of fortune, who might gayly offer his life in any cause which momentarily seized his fancy with an eye more singly for excitement and adventure than for any serious purpose. He did not know, of course, that Zveri and the others had deserted him; but he was confident that Romero had not before his cause had become utterly hopeless, or until the Mexican himself had been killed or captured.
In lonely contemplation of his predicament, Colt spent the rest of the long afternoon. Darkness fell, and still there came no sign from his captors. He wondered if they intended leaving him there without food or water, or if, perchance, the ceremony that was to see him offered in sacrifice upon that grim, brown-stained altar was scheduled to commence so soon that they felt it unnecessary to minister to his physical needs.
He had lain down upon the hard cement-like surface of the cell floor and was trying to find momentary relief in sleep, when his attention was attracted by the shadow of a sound coming from the courtyard where the altar stood. As he listened he was positive that someone was approaching, and rising quietly he went to the window and looked out. In the shadowy darkness of the night, relieved only by the faint light of distant stars, he saw something moving across the courtyard toward his cell, but whether man or beast he could not distinguish; and then, from somewhere high up among the lofty ruins, there pealed out upon the silent night the long drawn scream, which seemed now to the American as much a part of the mysterious city of Opar as the crumblimg ruins themselves.
No time was lost in narrating to the members of the returning expedition the story of the sentry who had been carried off into the jungle at night by a demon, from whom the man had managed to escape before being devoured. Still fresh in their minds was the uncanny affair of the death of Raghunath Jafar, nor were the nerves of those who had been before the walls of Opar inclined to be at all steadied by that experience, so that it was a nervous company that bivouacked that night beneath the dark trees at the edge of the gloomy forest and, with sighs of relief, witnessed the coming of dawn.
Later, after they had taken up the march toward the base camp, the spirit of the blacks gradually returned to normal and presently the tension under which they had been laboring for days was relieved by song and laughter, but the whites were gloomy and sullen. Zveri and Romero did not speak to one another, while Ivitch, like all weak characters, nursed a grievance against everyone because of his own display of cowardice during the fiasco at Opar.
From the interior of a hollow tree in which he had been hiding, little Nkima saw the column pass; and after it was safely by he emerged from his retreat and, dancing up and down upon a limb of the tree, shouted dire threats after them and called them many names.
Today Tarzan had come upon Tantor and, as had been his custom from childhood, he had tarried for that silent communion with the sagacious old patriarch of the forest which seemed always to impart to the man something of the beast’s great strength of character and poise. There was an atmosphere of restful stability about Tantor that fillued the ape-man with a peace and tranquillity that he found restful; and Tantor, upon his part, welcomed the companionship of the Lord of the Jungle, whom, alone, of all two legged creatures, he viewed with friendship and affection.
The beasts of the jungle acknowledge no master, least of all the cruel tyrant that drives civilized man throughout his headlong race from the cradle to the grave—Time, the master of countless millions of slaves. Time, the measurable aspect of duration, was measureless to Tarzan and Tantor. Of all the vast resources that Nature had placed at their disposal, she had been most profligate with Time, since she had awarded to each all that he could use during his lifetime, no matter how extravagant of it he might be. So great was the supply of it that it could not be wasted, since there was always more, even up to the moment of death, after which it ceased, with all things, to be essential to the individual. Tantor and Tarzan, therefore, were wasting no time as they communed together in silent meditation; but though Time and space go on forever, whether in curves or straight lines, all other things must end; and so the quiet and the peace that the two friends were enjoying were suddenly shattered by the excited screams of a diminutive monkey in the foliage of a great tree above them.
It was Nkima. He had found his Tarzan, and his relief and joy aroused the jungle to the limit of his small, shrill voice. Lazily Tarzan rolled over and looked up at the jabbering simian above him; and then Nkima, satisfied now beyond peradventure of a doubt that this was, indeed, his master, launched himself downward to alight upon the bronzed body of the ape-man. Slender, hairy little arms went around Tarzan’s neck as Nkima hugged close to this haven of refuge which imparted to him those brief moments in his life when he might enjoy the raptures of a temporary superiority complex. Upon Tarzan’s shoulder he felt atmost fearless and could, with impunity, insult the entire world.
“Where have you been, Nkima?” asked Tarzan.
“Looking for Tarzan,” replied the monkey.
“What have you seen since I left you at the walls of Opar?” demanded the ape-man.
“I have seen many things. I have seen the great Mangani dancing in the moonlight around the dead body of Sheeta. I have seen the enemies of Tarzan marching through the forest. I have seen Histah, gorging himself on the carcass of Bara.”
“Have you seen a Tarmangani she?” demanded Tarzan.
“No,” replied Nkima. “There were no shes among the Gomangani and Tarmangani enemies of Tarzan. Only bulls, and they marched back toward the place where Nkima first saw them.”
“When was this?” asked Tarzan.
“Kudu had climbed into the heavens but a short distance out of the darkness when Nkima saw the enemies of Tarzan marching back to the place where he first saw them.”
“Perhaps we had better see what they are up to,” said the ape-man. He slapped Tantor affectionately with his open palm in farewell, leaped to his feet and swung nimbly into the overhanging branches of a tree; while far away Zveri and his party plodded through the jungle toward their base camp.
Tarzan of the Apes follows no earth-bound trails where the density of the forest offers him the freedom of leafy highways, and thus he moves from point to point with a speed that has often been disconcerting to his enemies.
Now he moved in an almost direct line so that he overtook the expedition as it made camp for the night. As he watched them from behind a leafy screen of high-flung foliage, he noticed, though with no surprise, that they were not burdened with any treasure from Opar.
As the success and happiness of jungle dwellers, nay, even life itself, is largely dependent upon their powers of observation, Tarzan had developed his to a high degree of perfection. At his first encounter with this party he had made himself familiar with the faces, physiques and carriages of all of its principals and of many of its humble warriors and porters, with the result that he was immediately aware that Colt was no longer with the expedition. Experience permitted Tarzan to draw a rather accurate picture of what had happened at Opar and of the probable fate of the missing man.
Years ago he had seen his own courageous Waziri turn and flee upon the occasion of their first experience of the weird warning screarns from the ruined city, and he could easily guess that Colt, attempting to lead the invaders into the city, had been deserted and found either death or capture within the gloomy interior. This, however, did not greatly concern Tarzan. While he had been rather drawn toward Colt by that tenuous and invisible power known as personality, he still considered him as one of his enemies, and if he were either dead or captured Tarzan’s cause was advanced by that much.
From Tarzan’s shoulder Nkima looked down upon the camp, but he kept silent as Tarzan had instructed him to do. Nkima saw many things that he would have liked to have possessed, and particularly he coveted a red calico shirt worn by one of the askaris. This, he thought, was very grand, indeed, being set off as it was by the unrelieved nakedness of the majority of the blacks. Nkima wished that his master would descend and slay them all, but particularly the man with the red shirt; for, at heart, Nkima was bloodthirsty, which made it fortunate for the peace of the jungle that he had not been born a gorilla. But Tarzan’s mind was not set upon carnage. He had other means for thwarting the activities of these strangers. During the day he had made a kill, and now he withdrew to a safe distance from the camp and satisfied his hunger, while Nkima searched for birds’ eggs, fruit, and insects.
And so night fell and when it had enveloped the jungle in impenetrable darkness, relieved only by the beast fires of the camp, Tarzan returned to a tree where he could overlook the activities of the bivouacked expedition. He watched them in silence for a long time, and then suddenly he raised his voice in a long scream that perfectly mimicked the hideous warning cry of Opar’s defenders.
The effect upon the camp was instantaneous. Conversation, singing, and laughter ceased. For a moment the men sat as in a paralysis of terror. Then, seizing their weapons, they came closer to the fire.
With the shadow of a smile upon his lips, Tarzan melted away into the jungle.