THE MORNING MIST floated lazily in the still air, the soul of the dead night clinging reluctantly to earth. A strange hush lay on the jungle, a silence as poignant as a leopard’s scream. It awakened Brown. He moved gingerly in the crotch of the tree into which he had wedged himself the evening before. He was stiff and lame and sore. Every muscle ached. He looked up at Tibbs, a couple of feet above him, and grinned. The Englishman was spread-eagled across two parallel branches to which he was clinging tightly in restless slumber.
“He looks like he was goin’ to be grilled,” mused the pilot. “Poor old Tibbsy.” He spoke the last words half aloud.
Tibbs opened his eyes and looked around. For a moment his expression was surprised and troubled; then he discovered Brown below him, and full consciousness returned.
“My word!” he exclaimed with a shake of his head. “Hi was just drawing ’is Grace’s bawth.”
“You even wait on ’em in your sleep, don’t you, Tibbsy?”
“Well, you see, sir, hits been my life, always; and Hi wouldn’t hask for a better one—peace and orderliness. Hev-erything clean and straight; heverything always in its place. Hand not ’ard work, sir. Hand you’re always treated well—that is, by gentlemen. It’s been my good fortune to be in the service mostly of gentlemen.”
“Like this Sborov guy?” inquired Brown.
“’E was not a gentleman.”
“But he was a prince, wasn’t he? Don’t that make him a gentleman?”
Tibbs scratched his head. “It should but it doesn’t; not always. Hi sometimes think when Hi see a bounder with a title that possibly at some time his mother may have been indiscreet.”
Brown laughed. “I guess there must of been a lot of indiscretion in high places,” he remarked, and then: “How about pullin’ our freight, Tibbsy? We got a long ways to go on a pair of empty stomachs.”
Wearily the two men plodded on through the jungle. All the forces of nature and the laws of chance seemed to have combined against them from the first. Now they were sad, disheartened, almost without hope; yet each tried bravely to keep up the spirits of the other. It was oftentimes a strain, and occasionally one of them voiced the morbid doubts and fears that assailed them both.
“Do you believe in black magic, Tibbsy?” asked Brown.
“Hi ’ave seen some strange things hin my life, sir,” replied the Englishman.
“You know what the old dame come down here to look for, don’t you?”
“Yes, something that would renew youth, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. I know a lot about that. I knew a lot I didn’t tell her. If I had she might not have come, and I sure wanted her to. I wanted to get that formula. Cripes, Tibbsy! It would be worth a million back in civilization. But it’s well guarded. A few men have tried to get it. None of ’em was ever heard of again.”
“Well, we ain’t trying to get it now. We got troubles enough trying to find our way out of this jungle to be bothering with any helixir of life. If we just go along and mind our own business, we’ll be all right.”
“I don’t know about that. I never took much stock in black magic, but it is funny all the things that’s happened to this expedition ever since it started out. Just like somebody or something had put a jinx on it. It started right off the bat with that zero-zero flyin’ weather; then come the forced landin’; then the old dame’s murdered; then Annette disappears; now Lady Greystoke’s gone.
“Do you realize, Tibbsy, that of the six that took off from Croyden there’s only two of us left? It’s just like something was following us, pickin’ off one at a time. It sure gets my goat when I stop to think about it. It’s doggone funny, Tibbsy, that’s what it is.”
“Hi see nothing amusing in it, sir,” objected Tibbs; “but then Hi’ve always ’eard that you Americans had a strange sense of humor.”
“The trouble is that you Englishmen don’t understand English,” explained Brown. “But let’s skip it. The question is, which one of us will be next?”
“Don’t,” begged Tibbs. “That’s just what Hi’ve been trying not to think about.”
Brown turned again and looked back at his companion who was following along a narrow trail. The American grinned. “Wasn’t Lady Greystoke walkin’ behind when it got her?” he reminded.
Tarzan, following the trail toward the east, found Sborov a problem. The man was too exhausted to move faster than a snail’s pace, and even so he was compelled to rest often.
Tarzan was anxious to overtake Brown and Tibbs with whom he believed Jane to be. He would kill Brown. The very thought of the man caused the scar across his forehead to burn red—the scar that Bolgani, the gorilla, had given him years ago in that first Me and death struggle that had taught the boy Tarzan one of the uses of his dead father’s hunting knife and thus set his feet upon the trail that led to the lordship of the jungle.
Ordinarily the life of a strange tarmangani would have weighed as nothing as against a delay in his search for Jane; but Alexis had given the impression that he had been Jane’s friend and protector, and Tarzan could not desert him to the certain fate that would have claimed such as he alone in the jungle.
So the Lord of the Jungle decided to remain with Sborov until he could turn him over to the chief of some friendly tribe for protection and guidance to the nearest outpost of civilization, or place him in the hands of his own Waziri.
Seemingly imbued with many of the psychic characteristics of the wild beasts among which he had been reared, Tarzan often developed instinctive likes or dislikes for individuals on first contact; and seldom did he find it necessary to alter his decisions.
He had formed such a conviction within a few moments after his meeting with Sborov, a conviction which made it doubly distasteful to him to be in the company of the man and waste time befriending him. He mistrusted and disliked him, but for Jane’s sake he would not abandon him. Little Nkima seemed to share his mistrust, for he seldom came near the stranger; and when he did he bared his teeth in a menacing snarl.
Chafing under the delay forced upon him by Sborov’s physical condition, which bordered on complete exhaustion, the ape-man at last swung the surprised Sborov to his shoulder and took to the trees with the agility and speed of a small monkey.
Alexis voiced a cry of remonstrance that carried also a note of fear, but he was helpless to escape the situation into which he had been snatched as though by the hand of Fate. Should he succeed in wriggling from that vise-like grasp, it would only lead to injury in the resultant fall to the ground below. So Alexis shut his eyes tight and hoped for the best.
He knew that they were moving rapidly through the trees; the swift passage of foliage and twigs across his body told him that. He remonstrated with the bronzed savage that was carrying him, but he might as well have sought conversation with the Sphinx. At last he gained sufficient courage to open his eyes; then, indeed, did he gasp in horror; for at that very moment Tarzan leaped out into space to catch a trailing liana and swing to another tree upon his arboreal trail. Fifty feet below the eyes of the thoroughly terrified Sborov lay the hard ground. He screamed aloud, and then he found articulate voice.
“Take me down,” he cried. “Let me walk. You’ll kill us both.” Overcome by terror, he struggled to free himself.
“It will be you who will kill us if you don’t lie still,” warned the ape-man.
“Then take me down.”
“You are too slow,” replied Tarzan. “I cannot be held to the pace of Kota, the tortoise, if I am ever to overtake the man you call Brown. If I take you down I shall have to leave you alone here in the jungle. Would you prefer that?”
Sborov was silent. He was trying to weigh the terrors of one plan against those of the other. All that he could think of was that he wished he were back in Paris, which really didn’t help at all in this emergency.
Suddenly Tarzan came to an abrupt halt on a broad limb. He was listening intently. Sborov saw him sniffing the air. It reminded him of a hound on a scent trail.
“What do those two men look like?” demanded Tarzan.
“Describe them to me, so that I may know Brown when I see him.”
“Tibbs is a small man with thin hair and a pinched face. He is an Englishman with a slight cockney accent. Brown is a big fellow, an American. I suppose he would be called good looking,” added Sborov, grudgingly.
Tarzan dropped to a trail that they had crossed many times as it wound through the jungle, and set Sborov on the ground.
“Follow this trail,” he directed. “I am going on ahead.”
“You are going to leave me alone here in the jungle?” demanded Alexis, fearfully.
“I will come back for you,” replied the ape-man. “You will be safe enough for the short time I shall be gone.”
“But suppose a lion—” commenced Sborov.
“There are no lions about,” interrupted Tarzan. “There is nothing near that will harm you.”
“How do you know?”
“I know. Do as I tell you and follow the trail.”
“But—” Sborov started to expostulate; then he gasped and sighed resignedly, for he was alone. Tarzan had swung into the trees and disappeared.
The ape-man moved swiftly along the scent spoor that had attracted his attention. His sensitive nostrils told him it was the scent of two white men. He sought in vain to detect the spoor of a woman, but there was none—if the two men were Brown and Tibbs, then Jane was no longer with them.
What had become of her? The man’s jaw set grimly. That information he would get from Brown before he killed him.
A human life meant no more to Tarzan of the Apes than that of any other creature. He never took life wantonly, but he could kill a bad man with less compunction than he might feel in taking the life of a bad lion.
Any living thing that harmed his mate or threatened her with harm he could even find a species of grim pleasure in killing, and Sborov had convinced him that Brown meant harm to Jane if he had not already harmed her.
The man’s statement that Jane and Brown had run away together had not carried the conviction that the implication might have provoked, so sure was the Lord of the Jungle of the loyalty of his mate. Her intentions and her voluntary acts he never doubted nor questioned.
What were his thoughts as he swung along the trail of the two unsuspecting men? That inscrutable face gave no suggestion of what passed in the savage mind, but they must have been grim and terrible thoughts of revenge.
Rapidly the scent of his quarry grew stronger as the distance that separated them grew shorter.
Now he went more slowly; and, if possible, even more silently. He moved as soundlessly as his own shadow as he came at last in sight of two men trudging wearily along the trail beneath him.
It was they; he could not mistake them—the small Englishman, the big American. He paid little attention to Tibbs, but his eyes never left the figure of the aviator. Stealthily he stalked, as the lion stalks his prey.
He was quite close above them. Easily now at any moment he could launch himself down upon his victim.
Tibbs mopped the streaming perspiration from his forehead and out of his eyes. “Whew!” he sighed. “Hit all seems so bloody useless. Hit’s like lookin’ for a needle in a hay stack. We won’t never find her anyway. Let’s stop and rest. I’m jolly well done in.”
“I know how you feel, but we got to keep on lookin’ though. We might find her. The more I think about it, the less I think Sborov got away with Lady Greystoke.”
“What’s made you change your mind?” demanded Tibbs. “Hi thought you was sure he had.”
“Well, in the first place, she was armed; and she had the guts to defend herself. He ain’t got no guts at all.”
“’E ’ad enough to murder his poor wife,” objected Tibbs.
“He sneaked up on her in the dark while she was asleep,” sneered Brown. “That didn’t take no guts.”
“But ’ow about Annette?”
Brown shook his head. “I don’t know. I can’t make it out. Of course, there was a good reason for his wanting to kill Annette. She had the evidence against him—she knew too much; and she wasn’t armed.
“But what gets me is the way her footprints disappeared, just like she’d dissolved in thin air. If his footprints had been there too, and gone on, I’d have thought he picked her up and carried her into the jungle to finish her; but hers were all alone.”
They had stopped now while Tibbs rested. The ape-man crouched above them, listening. He missed no word, but what effect they had upon him was not revealed by any change of expression.
“But ’e couldn’t ’ave picked ’er up and carried her hoff and her not scream,” argued Tibbs. “That would have woke some of us.”
“She might have been too scared to scream,” explained Brown. “Annette was awful scared of him.”
“Lady Greystoke wasn’t scared of him. Why didn’t she call for help?”
“Lady Greystoke wasn’t scared of nothing. There was some dame, Tibbs.”
“Hi quite agree with you,” replied the Englishman. “Lady Greystoke was a most extraordinary person. Hi ’opes as how we find her.”
“Yes, and I hope we find Annette. I can’t believe she is dead, somehow.” The note of yearning in the aviator’s voice was not lost on the silent listener above.
“You was rather soft on Annette, wasn’t you?” said Tibbs, sympathetically.
“Plenty,” admitted Brown, “and that louse, Sborov, told her I was tryin’ to make Lady Greystoke. Hell! Can you picture a English noblewoman falling for me?”
“If you’ll pardon my saying so, I can’t,” admitted Tibbs, candidly.
“No more can I. She was a swell dame, but Annette was the only girl I ever seen that had me ga-ga. I’d give—well, all I ain’t got to know for sure what became of her.”
Softly the ape-man dropped to the trail behind the two men.
“I think I know,” he said.
At the sound of his voice they wheeled suddenly and faced him, surprise written large upon the face of each.
“Who the devil are you and where did you come from?” demanded Brown, while Tibbs stood with his lower lip dropped, staring wide-eyed at the strange figure of the ape-man. “And what do you think you know?” concluded the American.
“I think I know how your two women disappeared.”
“Say,” exclaimed Brown, “what are you, anyway? This country’s got me nuts—people disappearing and you jumping out of thin air like a spook. Are you a friend or what?”
“Friend,” replied Tarzan.
“What you runnin’ around undressed for?” demanded Brown. “Ain’t you got no clothes, or ain’t you got no sense?”
“I am Tarzan of the Apes.”
“Yeah? Well, I’m glad to meet you, Tarzan; I’m Napoleon. But spill what you know about Annette—about both the dames. What got ’em? Was it Sborov? But of course you don’t know nothin’ about Sborov.”
“I know about Sborov,” replied Tarzan. “I know about the accident that wrecked your plane. I know the Princess Sborov was murdered. I think I know what happened to Lady Greystoke and Annette.”
Brown looked puzzled. “I don’t know how you got hep to all this, but you know plenty. Now tell me what happened to the two dames.”
“The Kavuru got them. You are in Kavuru country.”
“What are Kavuru?” demanded Brown.
“A tribe of savage white men. They make a practice of stealing women, presumably for use in some religious rite.”
“Where do they hang out?”
“I don’t know. I was looking for their village when I heard about the accident to your ship. I believe I can find it soon. It lies in a very wild country. The Kavuru have secrets they wish to guard; so no one is allowed to approach their village.”
“What secrets?” inquired Brown.
“They are believed to have discovered some sort of an elixir of life, something that will make old people young again.”
Brown whistled. “So that’s it? They were the people we were looking for.”
“You were looking for the Kavuru?” asked Tarzan, incredulously.
“The old dame was looking for the formula for that elixir stuff,” explained Brown, “and so am I, now that she is dead—someone has to carry on, you know,” he added rather lamely. “But say, how did you hear of the accident to the ship? How could you hear about it? We ain’t seen or talked to no one.” Suddenly Brown ceased speaking. His face darkened in anger.
“Sborov!” he exclaimed.
The prince, rounding a bend in the trail, halted when he saw Brown. The American started toward him, menacingly, an oath on his lips.
Sborov turned to run. “Stop him!” he screamed to Tarzan. “You promised you wouldn’t let him harm me.”
The ape-man sprang after Brown and seized him by the arm. “Stop!” he commanded. “I promised the man.”
Brown attempted to wrench himself free. “Let me go, you fool,” he growled. “Mind your own business.” Then he aimed a heavy blow at Tarzan’s jaw with his free hand. The ape-man ducked, and the clenched fist only grazed his cheek. The shadow of a grim smile touched his lips as he lifted the American above his head and shook him; then he tossed him into the thick underbrush that bordered the trail.
“You forgot Waterloo, Napoleon,” he said.
Upon the branch of a tree above, little Nkima danced and chattered; and as Brown was extricating himself with difficulty from the thorny embrace of the bushes, Nkima gathered a ripe and odorous fruit and hurled it at him.
Tibbs looked on in consternation, believing that Brown had made a dangerous enemy in this giant white savage; and when he saw Tarzan step toward the struggling American he anticipated nothing less than death for both of them.
But there was no anger in the breast of the ape-man as he again seized the aviator and lifted him out of the entangling bushes and set him upon his feet in the trail.
“Do not again forget,” he said, quietly, “that I am Tarzan of the Apes or that when I give an order it is to be obeyed.”
Brown looked the ape-man squarely in the eyes for a moment before he spoke. “I know when I’m licked,” he said. “But I still don’t savvy why you wouldn’t let me kill that louse—he sure has it coming to him.”
“Your quarrels are of no importance,” said the ape-man; “but it is important to locate Lady Greystoke.”
“And Annette,” added Brown.
“Yes,” agreed Tarzan. “Also that you three men get back to civilization where you belong. You do not belong in the jungle. The world is full of fools who go places where they do not belong, causing other people worry and trouble.”
“If Hi may make so bold as to say so, sir, Hi quite agree with you,” ventured Tibbs. “Hi shall be jolly well pleased to get hout of this bally old jungle.”
“Then don’t any of you start killing off the others,” advised Tarzan. “The more of you there are the better chance you will have of getting out, and three are none too many. Many times you will find it necessary for some one to stand watch at night; so the more there are the easier it will be for all.”
“Not for mine with that prince guy along!” said Brown, emphatically. “The last time he stood guard he tried to kill me with a hatchet, and he’d have done it if it hadn’t been for old Tibbsy. If you say I don’t kill him, I don’t kill—unless he forces me to it; but I don’t travel with him, and that’s that.”
“We’ll get him back here,” said Tarzan, “and have a talk with him. I think I can promise you he’ll be good. He was in a blue funk when I found him—a lion had been stalking him—and I think he’d promise anything not to be left alone again.”
“Well,” agreed Brown, grudgingly, “get him back and see what he says.”
Tarzan called Sborov’s name aloud several times, but there was no answer.
“’E couldn’t have gotten so very far,” said Tibbs. “’E must ’ear you, sir.”
Tarzan shrugged. “He’ll come back when he gets more afraid of the jungle than he is of Brown.”
“Are we going to sit here waiting for him?” asked the American.
“No,” replied Tarzan. “I am going on to find the Kavuru village. My own people are somewhere to the east. I’ll take you to them. Sborov will most certainly follow and catch up with us after we stop for the night. Come.”