TARZAN swung through the trees not far from a jungle trail that led toward the east. Nkima scampered some-tunes ahead sometimes above his master. He was very brave and truculent, for the sanctuary of a bronzed shoulder was always near.
Usha, the wind, was blowing in Tarzan’s face. To his nostrils it brought messages from the jungle ahead. It spoke of Hista, the snake, of Wappi, the antelope, and of Sheeta, the leopard. Faintly from a great distance, it told of water it had passed upon its journey. Thus could Tarzan direct his course and select his camp sites far ahead when he passed through country that was unfamiliar to him.
There came also upon the breath of Usha the pungent odor of Numa, the lion; and a moment later Tarzan heard the angry growl of the king of beasts. Almost simultaneously he caught the scent spoor of man, of a lone Tarmangani.
Tarzan could almost picture the scene that was being enacted somewhere along that trail ahead of him, and he increased his speed; for a white man in this particular district might well be a member of the party that Jane had accompanied; he might know where she was or what fate had befallen her. It would not do to let Numa destroy him; at least not until Tarzan had questioned him.
No considerations of humanity prompted Tarzan of the Apes to hasten to the aid of this unknown man, nor would it have been selfish callousness to the suffering of another that would have left him more or less indifferent but for the thought of Jane. He was a jungle animal, a fellow to the lion; and he knew that the lion must eat, even as he must. If it did not feed upon this man, it would feed upon some other living creature whose life was as precious to it as the man’s was to him; and in the philosophy of the jungle one life is no more valuable than another, unless it be that of one’s self or a friend.
Tarzan knew that the two were not far ahead of him. The odor of Numa told him that the lion was not empty and that therefore he was probably stalking the Tarmangani with no immediate likelihood that he would attack unless provoked.
Then the quiet of the jungle was shattered by a scream of terror, and Tarzan guessed that the lion’s short temper had been aroused. Instantly the ape-man swung forward at terrific speed, and so swiftly he sped through the middle terrace of the forest that even little Nkima had difficulty in keeping pace.
Sborov thought that the lion was charging, but it was not. It was merely keeping its prey in sight, but the angry growl of annoyance was a warning against attempted escape and a threat of what the quarry might expect if it forced the king to exert himself unnecessarily at this hour of the day when heat lay heavy and humid upon the jungle and royalty should be taking its siesta.
But Sborov would have been deaf to all warnings now even had he understood them. He was crazed with terror. His one, his only impulse was to escape; and so he ran on, his legs staggering from exhaustion and fear, his heart pounding in his throat, choking the screams that trembled there unborn.
Now indeed did Numa wax wroth. This pitiful thing was trying to escape him, and it was making him trot when he wished only to loaf along the trail at his ease until he was again ready to kill and feed. He would put an end to it; and that, quickly. He voiced another warning roar as he prepared to charge—a roar that half paralyzed the man.
Thinking the end had come, Sborov fell to his knees, turning so that he faced the lion; and as he did so a strange thing happened, a thing so remarkable that it surprised the lion quite as much as it did Sborov. A white man dropped from above into the trail between them.
Sborov had never seen a man such as this, a bronzed giant, almost naked; a handsome giant with grim, stern features; a giant who faced a lion with as little apparent concern as one might reveal in shooing away an alley cat. He just stood there facing the lion and waiting; and the lion stopped in its tracks, eyeing the intruder but with evidently growing displeasure.
As Sborov looked at the man he realized that he was really not of gigantic proportions, yet he conveyed the impression of great size. Perhaps it was the suggestion of power and majesty in his mien that gave him the appearance of towering over other creatures. He stood, perhaps, a couple of inches over six feet; rounded muscles flowed smoothly beneath clear, bronzed skin; his proportions were as perfect for his kind as were those of the great lion he faced. It occurred to Sborov that these two were very much alike, and he began to be as afraid of the man as of the other beast.
They stood thus facing each other for but a moment; then the lion growled, lashing its tail, and took a step forward. The man growled, and Sborov shuddered. Now, indeed, was he terrified. Above them a little monkey danced up and down upon the limb of a tree, chattering and scolding. He loosed upon the lion a vocabulary of rich invective, but to Sborov it was only the silly chattering of a monkey.
The bronzed giant moved slowly forward to meet the lion; from the mighty cavity of his deep chest rolled savage growls. Numa halted. He glanced quickly from side to side. He shook his head and, holding it upon one side, snarled; then he wheeled about and stalked majestically away without a backward glance. The man had outbluffed the lion.
Suddenly the newcomer wheeled upon Sborov. “Who are you?” he demanded. Had the lion spoken, Sborov would have been little less surprised than he was to hear excellent English fall from lips that had just been voicing the hideous growls of a beast. He was so surprised that he did not reply; then the man repeated the question. This time his tone was peremptory, brooking no delay.
“I am Prince Alexis Sborov.”
“Where are the rest of your party—Lady Greystoke and the others?”
Sborov’s eyes went wide. How did this man know about them? Who could he be?
“I don’t know. They left me alone to die in the jungle.”
“Who left you alone?”
“Only Lady Greystoke, myself, my valet, and the pilot, Brown were left of the original party when they abandoned me.”
“Why did they abandon you?”
“Brown wanted me to die. He did not want me to reach civilization and accuse him of murder.”
Tarzan scrutinized the man closely. There was nothing about him to arouse the ape-man’s admiration or liking. “Whom did he murder?” he asked.
“He killed my wife, because he thought that she could not keep up with the rest of us and would thus prevent Brown’s escape from the jungle. He knew that I would not leave her, and he did not want to lose any of the men—he was afraid to travel alone.”
“Then why did he abandon you?” demanded Tarzan.
Sborov realized the inconsistency of his two statements; but his explanation came quickly, glibly. “He was in love with Lady Greystoke—they ran off together.”
Tarzan’s face darkened, and his fingers moved as though closing upon something—a throat, perhaps. “Which way did they go?” he asked.
“Along this same trail toward the east,” replied Sborov.
“Yesterday, I think, or perhaps the day before. It seems very long that I have been alone in the jungle—I have lost track of time.”
“Where are Tibbs and Annette?”
Again Sborov was astonished. “Who are you?” he asked. “How do you know so much about us?”
Tarzan did not reply. He just stood looking at the man. What was he to do with him? He would delay his search for Jane, yet he could not leave him alone to die, as he most assuredly would, because he believed that he was a friend of Jane. In her note she had given no details of the mishaps that had befallen them. She had only enumerated the members of the party, explained that their ship had crashed and that Princess Sborov had died. He naturally assumed that Jane was a guest of the Sborovs and that therefore the man must be her friend.
“What became of Tibbs and Annette?”
“Annette disappeared,” explained the prince. “We do not know what became of her. She just vanished in thin air. Her footprints led to a point beneath a tree. They stopped there.”
“How long ago was that?”
“I think it was the day before Brown ran away with Lady Greystoke.”
“Tibbs went with them.”
“Why did he take Tibbs and not you?”
“He was not afraid of Tibbs. He knew that I would protect Lady Greystoke and also bring him to justice if we ever reached civilization.”
Tarzan’s level gaze held steadily upon Sborov as he appraised the man. He mistrusted him, but no hint of what was passing in his mind was betrayed by any changing expression of his inscrutable face. He was repelled by Sborov’s face, by his manner, by the suggestion of contradiction and inconsistency in several of his statements; yet he realized that in the latter must lie some germ of fact.
At least the fellow had definitely assured him that he was on Jane’s trail; and convinced him that the girl Nkima had seen with the Kavuru must have been Annette, as Jane must still have been with Brown and Sborov at the time that Nkima had seen the other woman.
“Come,” he said to the man, “we shall go and find Lady Greystoke and Brown.”
“Brown will kill me,” said Sborov. “He has threatened to many times.”
“He will not kill you while I am with you.”
“You do not know him.”
“I do not need to know him,” replied the ape-man; “I know myself.”
“I am too weak to travel fast,” explained Sborov. “If you know this country, you had better take me to some village and then go on after Brown yourself. I have not eaten for a long time. I doubt that I could walk another mile, I am so weak from hunger.”
“Stay here,” directed Tarzan. “I will get food; then we will go on after—Brown.”
Sborov watched the man move off into the forest, a little monkey perched upon one broad shoulder.