In distant Bokhara a fleet of two hundred planes—bombers, scouts, and fighting planes—made available through the greed of American capitalists, were being mobilized for a sudden dash across Persia and Arabia to his base in Abyssinia. With these to support his great native army, he felt that his position would be secure, the malcontents of Egypt would join forces with him and, with Europe embroiled in a war that would prevent any concerted action against him, his dream of empire might be assured and his position made impregnable for all time.
Perhaps it was a mad dream; perhaps Peter Zveri was mad—but, then, what great world conqueror has not been a little mad?
He saw his frontiers pushed toward the south as, little by little, he extended his dorminion, until one day he should rule a great continent—Peter I, Emperor of Africa.
“You seem happy, Comrade Zveri,” said little Antonio Mori.
“Why should I not be, Tony?” demanded the dreamer. “I see success just before us. We should all be happy, but we are going to be very much happier later on.”
“Yes,” said Tony, “when the Philippines are free, I shall be very happy. Do you not think that I should be a very big man back there, then, Comrade Zveri?”
“Yes,” said the Russian, “but you can be a bigger man if you stay here and work for me. How would you like to be a Grand Duke, Tony?”
“A Grand Duke!” exclaimed the Filipino. “I thought there were no more Grand Dukes.”
“But perhaps there may be again.”
“They were wicked men who ground down the working classes,” said Tony.
“To be a Grand Duke who grinds down the rich and takes money from them might not be so bad,” said Peter. “Grand Dukes are very rich and powerful. Would you not like to be rich and powerful, Tony?”
“Well, of course, who would not?”
“Then always do as I tell you, Tony; and some day I shall make you a Grand Duke,” said Zveri.
The camp was filed with activity now at all times, for Zveri had conceived the plan of whipping his native recruits into some semblance of military order and discipline. Romero, Dorsky, and Ivitch having had military experience, the camp was filled with marching men, deploying, charging and assembling, practicing the Manual of Arms, and being instructed in the rudiments of fire discipline.
The day following his conversation with Zveri, Tony was assisting the Mexican, who was sweating over a company of black recruits.
During a period of rest, as the Mexican and Filipino were enjoying a smoke, Tony turned to his companion. “You have travelled much, Comrade,” said the Filipino. “Perhaps you can tell me what sort of uniform a Grand Duke wears.”
“I have heard,” said Romero, “that in Hollywood and New York many of them wear aprons.”
Tony grimaced. “I do not think,” he said, “that I want to be a Grand Duke.”
The blacks in the camp, held sufficiently interested and busy in drills to keep them out of mischief, with plenty of food and with the prospects of fighting and marching still in the future, were a contented and happy lot. Those who had undergone the harrowing experiences of Opar and those other untoward incidents that had upset their equanimity had entirely regained their self confidence, a condition for which Zveri took all the credit to himself, assuming that it was due to his remarkable gift for leadership. And then a runner arrived in camp with a message for him and with a weird story of having seen a white woman hunting in the jungle with a black-maned golden lion. This was sufficient to recall to the blacks the other weird occurrences and to remind them that there were supernatural agencies at work in this territory, that it was peopled by ghosts and demons, and that at any moment some dire calamity might befall them.
But if this story upset the equanimity of the blacks, the message that the runner brought to Zveri precipitated an emotional outbreak in the Russian that bordered closely upon the frenzy of insanity. Blaspheming in a loud voice, he strode back and forth before his tent; nor would he explain to any of his lieutenants the cause of his anger.
And while Zveri fumed, other forces were gathering against him. Through the jungle moved a hundred ebon warriors, their smooth, sleek skin, their rolling muscles and elastic step bespeaking their physical fitness. They were naked but for narrow loin cloths of leopard or lion skin and a few of those ornaments that are dear to the hearts of savages—anklets and arm bands of copper and necklaces of the claws of lions or leopards—while above the head of each floated a white plume. But here the primitiveness of their equipment ceased, for their weapons were the weapons of modern fighting men; high-powered service rifles, revolvers, and bandoleers of cartridges. It was, indeed, a formidable appearing company that swung steadily and silently through the jungle, and upon the shoulder of the black chief who led them rode a little monkey.
At a signal from Tarzan, Tantor stopped and assuming again his customary composure, though still alert to any danger that might threaten his friend, he watched while the ape-man turned and knelt beside the prostrate girl. Tarzan had at first thought her dead, but he soon discovered that she was only in a swoon. Lifting her in his arms, he spoke a half dozen words to the great pachyderm, who turned about and, putting down his head, started off straight into the dense jungle, making a pathway along which Tarzan bore the unconscious girl.
Straight as an arrow moved Tantor, the elephant, to halt at last upon the bank of a considerable river. Beyond this was a spot that Tarzan had in mind to which he wished to convey To-yat’s unfortunate captive, whom he had recognized immediately as the young woman he had seen in the base camp of the conspirators and a cursory examination of whom convinced him was upon the verge of death from starvation, shock, and exposure.
Once again he spoke to Tantor; and the great pachyderm, twining his trunk around their bodies, lifted the two gently to his broad back. Then he waded into the river and set out for the opposite shore. The channel in the center was deep and swift, and Tantor was swept off his feet and carried down stream for a considerable distance before he found footing again, but eventually he won to the opposite bank. Here again he went ahead, making trail, until at last he broke into a broad, well marked game trail.
Now Tarzan took the lead, and Tantor followed. While they moved thus silently toward their destination, Zora Drinov opened her eves. Instantly recollection of her plight filled her consciousness; and then almost simultaneously she realized that her cheek, resting upon the shoulder of her captor, not pressing against a shaggy coat. but against the smooth skin of a human body, and then she turned her head and looked at the profile of the creature that was carrying her.
She thought at first that she was the victim of some strange hallucination of terror; for, of course, she could not measure the time that she had been unconscious, nor recall any of the incidents that had occurred during that period. The last thing that she remembered was that she had been in the arms of a great ape, who was carrying her off to the jungle. She had closed her eyes; and when she opened them again, the ape had been transformed into a handsome demigod of the forest.
She closed her eyes and turned her head so that she faced back over the man’s shoulder. She thought that she would keep her eyes tightly closed for a moment, then open them and turn them stealthily once more toward the face of the creature that was carrying her so lightly along the jungle trail. Perhaps this time he would be an ape again, and then she would know that she was indeed mad, or dreaming. And when she did open her eyes, the sight that met them convinced her that she was experiencing a nightmare; for plodding along the trail directly behind her, was a giant bull elephant.
Tarzan, apprised of her returning consciousness by the movement of her head upon his shoulder, turned his own to look at her and saw her gazing at Tantor in wide-eyed astonishment. Then she turned toward him, and their eyes met.
“Who are you?” she asked in a whisper. “Am I dreaming?” But the ape-man only turned his eyes to the front and made no reply.
Zora thought of struggling to free herself; but realizing that she was very weak and helpless, she at last resigned herself to her fate and let her cheek fall again to the bronzed shoulder of the ape-man.
When Tarzan finally stopped and laid his burden upon the ground, it was in a little clearing through which ran a tiny stream of clear water. Immense trees arched overhead, and through their foliage the great sun dappled the grass beneath them.
As Zora Drinov lay stretched upon the soft turf, she realized for the first time how weak she was; for when she attempted to rise, she found that she could not. As her eyes took in the scene about her, it seemed more than ever like a dream—the great bull elephant standing almost above her and the bronzed figure of an almost naked giant squatting upon his haunches beside the little stream. She saw him fold a great leaf into the shape of a cornucopia and, after filling it with water, rise and come toward her. Without a word he stooped, and putting an arm beneath her shoulders and raising her to a sitting position, he offered her the water from his improvised cup.
She drank deeply, for she was very thirsty. Then, looking up into the handsorne face above her, she voiced her thanks; but when the man did not reply, she thought, naturally, that he did not understand her. When she had satisfied her thirst and he had lowered her gently to the ground again, he swung lightly into a tree and disappeared into the forest. But above her the great elephant stood, as though on guard, his huge body swaying gently to and fro.
The quiet and peace of her surroundings tended to soothe her nerves, but deeply rooted in her mind was the conviction that her situation was most precarious. The man was a mystery to her; and while she knew, of course, that the ape that had stolen her had not been transformed miraculously into a handsome forest god, yet she could not account in any way for his presence or for the disappearance of the ape, except upon the rather extravagant hypothesis that the two had worked together, the ape having stolen her for this man, who was its master. There had been nothing in the man’s attitude to suggest that he intended to harm her, and yet so accustomed was she to gauge all men by the standards of civilized society that she could not conceive that he had other than ulterior designs.
To her analytical mind the man presented a paradox that intrigued her imagination, seeming, as he did, so utterly out of place in this savage African jungle; while at the same time he harmonized perfectly with his surroundings, in which he seemed absolutely at home and assured of himself, a fact that was still further impressed upon her by the presence of the wild bull elephant, to which the man paid no more attention than one would to a lap dog. Had he been unkempt, filthy, and degraded in appearance, she would have catalogued him immediately as one of those social outcasts, usually half demented, who are occasionally found far from the haunts of men, living the life of wild beasts. whose high standards of decency and cleanliness they uniformly fail to observe. But this creature had suggested more the trained athlete in whom cleanliness was a fetish, nor did his well shaped head and intelligent eyes even remotely suggest mental or moral degradation.
And as she pondered him, the man returned, bearing a great load of straight branches, from which the twigs and leaves had been removed. With a celerity and adeptness that bespoke long years of practice, he constructed a shelter upon the bank of the rivulet. He gathered broad leaves to thatch its roof, and leafy branches to enclose it upon three sides, so that it formed a protection against the prevailing winds. He floored it with leaves and small twigs and dry grasses. Then he came and, lifting the girl in his arms, bore her to the rustic bower he had fabricated.
Once again he left her; and when he returned he brought a little fruit, which he fed to her sparingly, for he guessed that she had been long without food and knew that he must not overtax her stomach.
Always he worked in silence; and though no word had passed between them, Zora Drinov felt growing within her consciousness a conviction of his trustworthiness.
The next time that he left her he was gone a considerable time, but still the elephant stood in the clearing, like some titanic sentinel upon guard.
When next the man returned, he brought the carcass of a deer; and then Zora saw him make fire, after the manner of primitive men. As the meat roasted above it, the fragrant aroma came to her nostrils, bringing consciousness of a ravening hungcr. When the meat was cooked, the man came and squatted beside her, cutting small pieces with his keen hunting knife and feeding her as though she had been a helpless baby. He gave her only a little at a time, making her rest often; and while she ate he spoke for the first time, but not to her, nor in any language that she had ever heard. He spoke to the great elephant, and the huge pachyderm wheeled slowly about and entered the jungle, where she could hear the diminishing noise of his passage until it was lost in the distance. Before the meal was over, it was quite dark; and she finished it in the fitful light of the fire that shone redly on the bronzed skin of her companion and shot back from mysterious gray eyes that gave the impression of seeing everything, even her inmost thoughts. Then he brought her a drink of water, after which he squatted down outside her shelter and proceeded to satisfy his own hunger.
Gradually the girl had been lulled to a feeling of security by the seeming solicitude of her strange protector. But now distinct misgivings assailed her, and suddenly she felt a strange new fear of the silent giant in whose power she was; for when he ate she saw that he ate his meat raw, tearing the flesh like a wild beast. When there came the sound of something moving in the jungle just beyond the fire light and he raised his head and looked and there came a low and savage growl of warning from his lips, the girl closed her eyes and buried her face in her arms in sudden terror and revulsion. From the darkness of tne jungle there came an answering growl; but the sound moved on, and presently all was silent again.
It seemed a long time before Zora dared open her eyes again, and when she did she saw that the man had finished his meal and was stretched out on the grass between her and the fire. She was afraid of him, of that she was quite certain; yet, at the same time, she could not deny that his presence there imparted to her a feeling of safety that she had never before felt in the jungle. As she tried to fathom this, she dozed and presently was asleep.
The young sun was already bringing renewed warmth to the jungle when she awoke. The man had replenished the fire and was sitting before it, grilling small fragments of meat. Beside him were some fruits, which he must have gathered since he had awakened. As she watched him, she was still further impressed by his great physical beauty, as well as by a certain marked nobility of bearing that harmonized well with the dignity of his poise and the intelligence of his keen gray eyes. She wished that she had not seen him devour his meat like a—ah, that was it—like a lion. How much like a lion he was, in his strength, and dignity, and majesty, and with all the quiet suggestion of ferocity that pervaded his every act. And so it was that she came to think of him as her lion-man and, while trying to trust him, always fearing him not a little.
Again he fed her and brought her water before he satisfied his own hunger; but before he started to eat, he arose and voiced a long, low call. Then once more he squatted upon his baunches and devoured his food. Although he held it in his strong, brown hands and ate the flesh raw, she saw now that be ate slowly and with the same quiet dignity that marked his every act, so that presently she found him less revolting. Once again she tried to talk with him, addressing him in various languages and several African dialects, but as for any sign he gave that he understood her she might as well have been addressing a dumb brute. Doubtless her disappointment would have been replaced by anger could she have known that she was addressing an English lord, who understood perfectly every word that she uttered, but who, for reasons which he himself best knew, preferred to remain the dumb brute to this woman whom he looked upon as an enemy.
However, it was well for Zora Drinov that he was what he was, for it was the prompting of the English lord and not that of the savage carnivore that had moved him to succor her because she was alone, and helpless, and a woman. The beast in Tarzan would not have attacked her, but would merely have ignored her, letting the law of the jungle take its course as it must with all her creatures.
Shortly after Tarzan had finished his meal, a crashing in the jungle announced the return of Tantor; and when he appeared in the little clearing, the girl realized that the great brute had come in response to the call of the man, and marvelled.
And so the days wore on; and slowly Zora Drinov regained her strength, guarded by night by the silent forest god and by day by the great bull elephant. Her only apprehension now was for the safety of Wayne Colt, who was seldom from her thoughts. Nor was her apprehension groundless, for the young American had fallen upon bad days.
Almost frantic with concern for the safety of Zora, he had exhausted his strength in futile search for her and her abductor, forgetful of himself until hunger and fatigue had taken their toll of his strength. He had awakened at last to the realization that his condition was dangerous; and now when he needed food most, the game that he had formerly found reasonably plentiful seemed to have deserted the country. Even the smaller rodents that had once sufficed to keep him alive were either too wary for him or not present at all. Occasionally he found fruits that he could eat, but they seemed to impart little or no strength to him; and at last he was forced to the conviction that he had reached the end of his endurance and his strength and that nothing short of a miracle could preserve him from death. He was so weak that he could stagger only a few steps at a time and then, sinking to the ground, was forced to lie there for a long time before he could arise again; and always there was the knowledge that eventually he would not arise.
Yet he would not give up. Something more than the urge to live drove him on. He could not die, he must not die while Zora Drinov was in danger. He had found a well beaten trail at last where he was sure that sooner or later he must meet a native hunter, or, perhaps, find his way to the camp of his fellows. He could only crawl now, for he had not the strength to rise; and then suddenly the moment came that he had striven so long to avert—the moment that marked the end, though it came in a form that he had only vaguely anticipated as one of several that might ring the curtain upon his earthly existence.
As he lay in the trail resting before he dragged himself on again, he was suddenly conscious that he was not alone. He had heard no sounds, for doubtless his hearing had been dulled by exhaustion; but he was aware through the medium of that strange sense, the possession of which each of us has felt at some time in his existence, that told him eyes were upon him.
With an effort he raised his head and looked, and there, before him in the trail, stood a great lion, his lips drawn back in an angry snarl, his yellow-green eyes glaring balefully.