He had left her thus today, safe in a great tree beside a winding stream. She was very tired. It seemed to her that now she was always tired. The thought of continuing the march appalled her, and yet she knew that it must be undertaken. She wondered how much longer shec could go on before she sank exhausted for the last time. It was not, however, for herself that she was most concerned, but for this man—this scion of wealth, and capitalism, and power, whose constant consideration and cheerfullness and tenderness had been a revelation to her. She knew that when she could go no further, he would not leave her and that thus his chances of escape from the grim jungle would be jeopardized and perhaps lost forever because of her. She hoped, for his sake, that death would come quickly to her that, thus relieved of responsibility, he might move on more rapidly in search of that elusive camp that seemed to her now little more than a meaningless myth. But from the thought of death she shrank, not because of the fear of death, as well might have been the case, but for an entirely new reason, the sudden realization of which gave her a distinct shock. The tragedy of this sudden self-awakening left her numb with terror. It was a thought that must be put from her, one that she must not entertain even for an instant; and yet it persisted—persisted with a dull insistency that brought tears to her eyes.
Colt had gone farther afield than usual this morning in his search for food, for he had sighted an antelope; and, his imagination inflamed by the contemplation of so much meat in a single kill and what it would mean for Zora, he clung doggedly to the trail, lured further on by an occasional glimpse of his quarry in the distance.
The antelope was only vaguely aware of an enemy, for he was upwind from Colt and had not caught his scent, while the occasional glimpses he had had of the man had served mostly to arouse his curiosity; so that though he moved away he stopped often and turned back in an effort to satisfy his wonderment. But presently he waited a moment too long. In his desperation, Colt chanced a long shot; and as the animal dropped, the man could not stifle a loud cry of exultation.
As time, that she had no means of measuring, dragged on, Zora grew increasingly apprehensive on Colt’s account. Never before had he left her for so long a time, so that she began to construct all sorts of imaginary calamities that might have overtaken him. She wished now that she had gone with him. If she had thought it possible to track him, she would have followed him; but she knew that that was impossible. However, her forced inactivity made her restless. Her cramped position in the tree became unendurable; and then, suddenly assailed by thirst, she lowered herself to the ground and walked toward the river.
When she had drunk and was about to return to the tree, she heard the sound of something approaching from the direction in which Colt had gone. Instantly her heart leaped with gladness, her depression and even much of her fatigue seemed to vanish, and she realized suddenly how very lonely she had been without him. How dependent we are upon the society of our fellow-men, we seldom realize until we become the victims of enforced solitude. There were tears of happiness in Zora Drinov’s eyes as she advanced to meet Colt. Then the bushes before her parted, and there stepped into view, before her horrified gaze, a monstrous, hairy ape.
To-yat, the king, was as much surprised as the girl, but his reactions were almost opposite. It was with no horror that he viewed this soft, white she-Mangani. To the girl there was naught but ferocity in his mien, though in his breast was an entirely different emotion. He lumbered toward her; and then, as though released from a momentary paralysis, Zora turned to flee. But how futilely, she realized an instant later as a hairy paw gripped her roughly by the shoulder. For an instant sbe had forgotten the sheykh’s pistol that Colt always left with her for self-protection. Jerking it from its holster, she turned upon the beast; but To-yat, seeing in the weapon a club with which she intended to attack him, wrenched it from her grasp and hurled it aside; and then, though she struggled and fought to regain her freedom, he lifted her lightly to his hip and lumbered off into the jungle in the direction that he had been going.
Colt tarried at his kill only long enough to remove the feet, the head and the viscera, that he might by that much reduce the weight of the burden that he must carry back to camp, for he was quite well aware that his privation had greatly reduced his strength.
Lifting the carcass to his shoulder, he started back toward camp, exulting in the thought that for once he was returning with an ample quantity of strength-giving flesh. As he staggered along beneath the weight of the small antelope, he made plans that imparted a rosy hue to the future. They would rest now until their strength returned; and while they were resting they would smoke all of the meat of his kill that they did not eat at once, and thus they would have a reserve supply of food that he felt would carry them a great distance. Two days’ rest with plenty of food would, he was positive, fill them with renewed hope and vitality.
As he started laboriously along the back trail, he commenced to realize that he had come much farther than he had thought, but it had been well worth while. Even though he reached Zora in a state of utter exhaustion, he did not fear for a minute but that he would reach her, so confident was he of his own powers of endurance and the strength of his will.
As he staggered at last to his goal, he looked up into the tree and called her by name. There was no reply. In that first brief instant of silence, a dull and sickening premonition of disaster crept over him. He dropped the carcass of the deer and looked hurriedly about.
“Zora! Zora!” he cried; but only the silence of the jungle was his answer. Then his searching eyes found the pistol of Abu Batn where To-yat had dropped it; and his worst fears were substantiated, for he knew that if Zora had gone away of her own volition she would have taken the weapon with her. She had been attacked by something and carried off, of that he was positive; and presently as he examined the ground closely he discovered the imprints of a great man-like foot.
A sudden madness seized Wayne Colt. The cruelty of the jungle, the injustice of Nature aroused within his breast a red rage. He wanted to kill the thing that had stolen Zora Drinov. He wanted to tear it with his hands and rend it with his teeth. All the savage instincts of primitive man were reborn within him as, forgetting the meat that the moment before had meant so much to him, he plunged headlong into the jungle upon the faint spoor of To-yat, the king ape.
Presently she became aware of pursuit, and so she increased her speed and kept ahead of those who were following her. Finding a trail, she followed it, knowing that if it permitted her to increase her speed it would permit her pursuers also to increase theirs, nor would she be able to hear them now as plainly as she had before, when they were forcing their way through the jungle. Still she was confident that they could not overtake her; but as she was moving swiftly on, a turn in the trail brought her to a sudden stop, for there, blocking her retreat, stood a great, maned lion. This time La remembered the animal, not as Jad-bal-ja, the hunting mate of Tarzan, but as the lion that had rescued her from the leopard, after Tarzan had deserted her.
Lions were familiar creatures to La of Opar, where they were often captured by the priests while cubs, and where it was not unusual to raise some of them occasionally as pets until their growing ferocity made them unsafe. Therefore, La knew that lions could associate with people without devouring them; and, having had experience of this lion’s disposition and having as little sense of fear as Tarzan himself, she quickly made her choice between the lion and the Aarabs pursuing her and advanced directly toward the great beast, in whose attitude she saw there was no immediate menace. She was sufficiently a child of nature to know that death came quickly and painlessly in the embrace of a lion, and so she had no fear, but only a great curiosity.
Jad-bal-ja had long had the scent spoor of La in his nostrils, as she had moved with the wind along the jungle trails; and so he had awaited her, his curiosity aroused by the fainter scent spoor of the men who trailed her. Now as she came toward him along the trail, he stepped to one side that she might pass and, like a great cat, rubbed his maned neck against her legs.
La paused and laid a hand upon his head and spoke to him in low tones in the language of the first man—the language of the great apes that was the common language of her people, as it was Tarzan’s language.
Hajellan, leading his men in pursuit of La, rounded a bend in the trail and stopped aghast. He saw a great lion facing him, a lion that bared its fangs now in an angry snarl; and beside the lion, one hand tangled in its thick black mane, stood the white woman.
The woman spoke a single word to the lion in a language that Hajellan did not understand. “Kill!” said La in the language of the great apes.
So accustomed was the high priestess of the Flaming God to command that it did not occur to her that Numa might do other than obey; and so, although she did not know that it was thus that Tarzan had been accustomed to command Jad-bal-ja, she was not surprised when the lion crouched and charged.
Fodil and Dareyem had pushed close behind their companion as he halted, and great was their horror when they saw the lion leap forward. They turned and fled, colliding with the blacks behind them; but Hajellan only stood paralyzed with fright as Jad-bal-ja reared upon his hind feet and seized him, his great jaws crunching through the man’s head and shoulders, cracking his skull like an egg shell. He gave the body a vicious shake and dropped it. Then he turned and looked inquiringly at La.
In the woman’s heart was no more sympathy for her enemies than in the heart of Jad-bal-ja; she only wished to be rid of them. She did not care whether they lived or died, and so she did not urge Jad-bal-ja after those who had escaped. She wondered what the lion would do now that he had made his kill; and knowing that the vicinity of a feeding lion was no safe place, she turned and moved on along the trail. But Jad-bal-ja was no eater of man, not because he had any moral scruples, but because he was young and active and had no difficulty in killing prey that he relished far more than he did the salty flesh of man. Therefore, he left Hajellan lying where he had fallen and followed La along the shadowy jungle trails.
A black man, naked but for a G-string, bearing a message from the Coast for Zveri, paused where two trails crossed. From his left the wind was blowing, and to his sensitive nostrils it bore the faint stench that announced the presence of a lion. Without a moment’s hesitation, the man vanished into the foliage of a tree that overhung the trail. Perhaps Simba was not hungry, perhaps Simba was not hunting; but the black messenger was taking no chances. He was sure that the lion was approaching, and he would wait here where he could see both trails until he discovered which one Simba took.
Watching with more or less indifference because of the safety of his sanctuary, the Negro was ill-prepared for the shock which the sight that presently broke upon his vision induced. Never in the lowest steps of his superstition had he conceived such a scene as he now witnessed, and he blinked his eyes repeatedly to make sure that he was awake; but, no, there could be no mistake. It was indeed a white woman almost naked but for golden ornaments and a soft strip of leopard skin beneath her narrow stomacher—a white woman who walked with the fingers of one hand tangled in the black mane of a great golden lion.
Along the trail they came, and at the crossing they turned to the left into the trail that he had been following. As they disappeared from his view, the black man fingered the fetish that was suspended from a cord about his neck and prayed to Mulungo, the god of his people; and when he again set out toward his destination he took another and more circuitous route.
Often, after darkness had fallen, Tarzan had come to the camp of the conspirators and, perched in a tree above them, listened to Zveri outlining his plans to his companions; so that the ape-man was familiar with what they intended, down to the minutest detail.
Now, knowing that they would not be prepared to strike for some time, he was roaming the jungle far away from the sight and stench of man, enjoying to the full the peace and freedom that were his life. He knew that Nkima should have reached his destination by this time and delivered the message that Tarzan had dispatched by him. He was still puzzled by the strange disappearance of La and piqued by his inability to pick up her trail. He was genuinely grieved by her disappearance, for already he had his plans well formulated to restore her to her throne and punish her enemies but he gave himself over to no futile regrets as he swung through the trees in sheer joy of living, or when hunger overtook him, stalked his prey in the grim and terrible silence of the hunting beast.
Sometimes he thought of the good-looking young American, to whom he had taken a fancy in spite of the fact that be considered him an enemy. Had he known of Colt’s now almost hopeless plight, it is possible that he would have gone to his rescue, but he knew nothing of it.
So, alone and friendless, sunk to the uttermost depths of despair, Wayne Colt stumbled through the jungle in search of Zora Drinov and her abductor. But already he had lost the faint trail; and To-yat, far to his right, lumbered along with his captive safe from pursuit.
Weak from exhaustion and shock, thoroughly terrified now by the hopelessness of her hideous position, Zora had lost consciousness. To-yat feared that she was dead; but he carried her on, nevertheless, that he might at least have the satisfaction of exhibiting her to his tribe as evidence of his prowess and, perhaps, to furnish an excuse for another Dum-Dum. Secure in his might, conscious of few enemies that might with safety to themselves molest him, To-yat did not take the precaution of silence, but wandered on through the jungle heedless of all dangers.
Many were the keen ears and sensitive nostrils that carried the message of his passing to their owners, but to only one did the strange mingling of the scent spoor of the bull ape with that of a she-Mangani suggest a condition worthy of investigation. So as To-yat pursued his careless way, another creature of the jungle, moving silently on swift feet, bore down upon him; and when, from a point of vantage, keen eyes beheld the shaggy bull and the slender, delicate girl, a lip curled in a silent snarl. A moment later To-yat, the king ape, was brought to a snarling, bristling halt as the giant figure of a bronzed Tarmangani dropped lightly into the trail before him, a living threat to his possession of his prize.
The wicked eyes of the bull shot fire and hate. “Go away,” he said. “I am To-yat. Go away or I kill.”
“Put down the she,” demanded Tarzan.
“No,” bellowed To-yat. “She is mine.”
“Put down the she,” repeated Tarzan, “and go your way; or I kill. I am Tarzan of the Apes, Lord of the Jungle!” Tarzan drew the hunting knife of his father and crouched as he advanced toward the bull. To-yat snarled; and seeing that the other meant to give battle, he cast the body of the girl aside that he might not be handicapped. As they circled, each looking for an advantage, there came a sudden, terrific crashing sound in the jungle down wind from them.
Tantor, the elephant, asleep in the security of the depth of the forest, had been suddenly awakened by the growling of the two beasts. Instantly his nostrils caught a familiar scent spoor—the scent spoor of his beloved Tarzan—and his ears told him that he was facing in battle the great Mangani, whose scent was also strong in the nostrils of Tantor.
To the snapping and bending of trees, the great bull rushed through the forest; and as he emerged suddenly, towering above them, To-yat, the king ape, seeing death in those angry eyes and gleaming tusks, turned and fled into the jungle.