IT WAS almost dusk when Ydeni led his captive through the village of the Kavuru and to the temple of Kavandavanda. By another trail Tarzan was approaching the clearing before the village. He paused and lifted his head.
“What is it?” asked Brown.
“Is ’is ’ighness coming?” inquired Tibbs.
The ape-man shook his head. “We are nearing a village. It is the village of the Kavuru; but nearer still are friends—Waziri.”
“How do you know?” demanded Brown.
Tarzan ignored the question, but motioned for silence; then from his lips came softly the call of the quail—three times he voiced it. For a moment, as he stood listening, there was silence; then once, twice, thrice came the answering call.
Tarzan moved forward again followed by his companions, and a moment later Muviro and Balando came running to drop to their knees before him.
Very briefly and in sorrow Muviro told what had happened. Tarzan listened without comment. No emotion of either sorrow or anger was reflected by his expression.
“Then you think it impossible to gain entrance to the village?” he asked.
“We are too few, Bwana,” replied Muviro, sadly.
“But if Buira still lives, she is there,” Tarzan reminded him, “and your Mem-sahib and another white girl who belongs to this man.” He gestured toward the American. “Much that life holds for us three may be behind the gates of that village, and there is the memory of our slain friends. Would you turn back now, Muviro?”
“Muviro follows where Tarzan leads,” replied the black, simply.
“We will go to the edge of the clearing that you speak of, and there we may make our plans. Come.” The ape-man moved silently along the trail, followed by the others.
As they came to the edge of the clearing, he halted. Brown smothered an exclamation of surprise. “Well! In the name of—. Say, do you see what I see? That’s a ship.”
“I forgot to tell you,” said Muviro. “Two men came in a ship and landed. The Kavuru killed them. You can see their bodies lying beside the ship.”
As Tarzan stood at the edge of the forest beyond the village of the Kavuru it was well for his peace of mind that he did not know what was transpiring in the temple of Kavandavanda on the opposite side of the village, for at that very moment the high priest seized Jane and crushed her to him.
Helpless and hopeless, not knowing which way to turn for help, the girl acted upon what appeared an inspiration. Pushing the man’s lips from hers, she raised her voice in a single piercing cry: “Ogdli!”
Instantly the door of the apartment swung open. Kavandavanda released her and sprang to his feet. Ogdli crossed the threshold and halted. The two men stood glaring at one another. Ogdli did not ask why the girl had summoned him. He appeared to know.
Kavandavanda’s face and neck burned scarlet for a moment; then went deadly white as he strode past Ogdli and out of the room without a word.
The warrior crossed quickly to the girl. “He will kill us both, now,” he said. “We must escape; then you will belong to me.”
“But your vows!” cried Jane, clutching at a straw.
“What are vows to a dead man?” asked Ogdli. “And I am as good as dead now. I shall go and take you with me. I know a secret passage beneath the courtyard and the village. Thus sometimes goes Kavandavanda to search in the forest for secret flowers and roots. When it is dark, we shall go.”
As Kavandavanda strode through the corridors of his palace, his heart black with rage, he met Ydeni coming with his captive.
“What have you there?” he demanded. Ydeni dropped to his knees. “One of those into whose skull a demon has come to dwell. I have brought him to Kavandavanda.”
“Take him away,” growled the high priest, “and lock him up. I will see him in the morning.”
Ydeni rose and led Sborov on through the temple. He took him to the second floor and shoved him into a dark room. It was the room of the two snakes. Next to it was the room of the three snakes. Then Ydeni shot a bolt on the outside of the door and went away and left his prisoner without food or water.
In the next room Ogdli was planning the escape. He knew he could not carry it out until after the temple slept. “I will go away now and hide,” he said, “so that Kavandavanda cannot find me before it is time to go. Later I shall return and get you.”
“You must take Annette, too,” said Jane—“the other girl. Where is she?”
“In the next room. I put her there when Kavandavanda sent us out of this one.”
“You will take her with us?”
“Perhaps,” he replied; but Jane guessed that he had no intention of doing so.
She very much wished to have Annette along, not alone to give her a chance to escape the clutches of the high priest, but because she felt that two of them together would have a better chance of thwarting the designs of Ogdli once they were in the jungle.
“Do not try to escape while I am gone,” cautioned Ogdli. “There is only one way besides the secret passage, and that is across the courtyard. To enter the courtyard would mean certain death.” He opened the door and stepped out into the corridor. Jane watched him close the door, and then she heard a bolt moved into place.
In the room of the two snakes Sborov groped around in the darkness. A lesser darkness came from the night outside through the single window overlooking the courtyard. He went to the window and looked out. Then he heard what seemed to be muffled voices coming from an adjoining chamber. He prowled along the wall until he found a door. He tried it, but it was locked. He continued to fumble with the latch.
In the next room Jane heard him and approached the door after Ogdli left her. The warrior had said that Annette was in the next room; that must be Annette, she thought, trying to return to her.
Jane found that the door was secured by a heavy bolt on her side. She was about to call to Annette when she realized that the girl evidently realized some necessity for silence, else she had called to Jane.
Very cautiously she slipped the bolt a fraction of an inch at a time. Annette was still fumbling with the latch on the opposite side—Jane could hear her.
At last the bolt drew clear and the door swung slowly open. “Annette!” whispered Jane as a figure, dimly visible in the gloom, came slowly into the room.
“Annette is dead,” said a man’s voice. “Brown killed her. He killed Jane, too. Who are you?”
“Alexis!” cried Jane.
“Who are you?” demanded Sborov.
“I am Jane—Lady Greystoke. Don’t you recognize my voice?”
“Yes, but you are dead. Is Kitty with you? My God!” he cried, “you have brought her back to haunt me. Take her away! Take her away!” His voice rose to a shrill scream.
From the door on the opposite side of the apartment came the sound of running, and then Annette’s voice. “Madame! Madame! What is it? What has happened?”
“Who’s that?” demanded Sborov. “I know—it’s Annette. You have all come back to haunt me.”
“Calm yourself, Alexis,” said Jane, soothingly. “Kitty is not here, and Annette and I are both alive.” As she spoke she crossed the room to the door of the chamber in which the French girl was confined; and, feeling for the bolt, drew it.
“Don’t let her in!” screamed Sborov. “Don’t let her in. I’ll tear you to pieces if you do, ghost or no ghost.” He started across the room on a run just as the door swung open and Annette rushed in. At the same moment the door leading into the corridor was pushed open; and the black slave, Medek, entered.
“What’s going on here?” he demanded. “Who let that man in here?”
At sight of Annette, Sborov recoiled, screaming. Then he saw Medek in the dim light of the interior. “Kitty!” he shrieked. “I won’t go with you. Go away!”
Medek started toward him. Sborov turned and fled toward the far end of the room, toward the window looking out upon the courtyard. He paused a moment at the sill and turned wild eyes back toward the shadowy figure pursuing him; then, with a final maniacal scream of terror, he leaped out into the night.
Medek followed him to the window and leaned out; then from his lips broke the same horrid scream that Jane had heard earlier in the day as she was being led from the throne-room of Kavandavanda. From below came the moans of Sborov, who must have been badly injured by the fall from the second story window; but presently these were drowned by the snarls and growls of leopards.
The two girls could hear them converging from all parts of the grounds upon the moaning creature lying out there in the night. Presently the sounds of the leopards rose to a hideous din as they fought over the flesh of their prey. For a few moments the screams of their victim mingled with the savage mouthings of the beasts, but soon they ceased.
Medek turned away from the window. “It is not well to seek escape in that direction,” he said, as he returned to the outer corridor, closing the door behind him.
“How awful, madame,” whimpered Annette.
“Yes,” replied Jane, “but his sufferings were mercifully brief. Perhaps, after all, it is just as well. His mind is gone. Prince Sborov had become a maniac.”
“What a terrible price he paid. But is it not, perhaps, that he deserved it, madame?”
“Who shall say? But we, too, are paying a terrible price for his greed and his wife’s vanity. The thing she sought is here, Annette.”
“What thing, madame? Not the restorer of youth?”
“Yes. Kavandavanda holds the secret, but neither the princess nor any other could have gotten it from him. We should all have met a terrible fate just the same had the entire party succeeded in reaching the village of the Kavuru—the fate that is reserved for you and me.”
“What fate, madame? You frighten me.”
“I do not mean to, but you may as well know the truth. If we do not succeed in escaping we shall be butchered to furnish ingredients for Kavandavanda’s devilish potion that keeps the priests of Kavuru always youthful.”
“S-s-sh, madame!” cautioned Annette, fearfully. “What was that?”
“I don’t know. It sounded as though someone in the corridor had tried to scream.”
“Then there was a thud, as though someone had fallen. Did you hear that?”
“Yes—and now someone is trying the door. They are slipping the bolt.”
“Oh, madame! Some new horror.”
The door swung open and a figure stepped into the room. A voice spoke. “Woman! Are you there?” It was the voice of Ogdli.
“I am here,” said Jane.
“Then come quickly. There is no time to be lost.”
“But how about the slave in the corridor? He will see us go out.”
“The slave is there, but he will not see us. Come!”
“Come, Annette! It is our only chance.”
“The other woman is here?” demanded Ogdli.
“Yes,” replied Jane. “And if I go, she must go.”
“Very well,” snapped the Kavuru, “but hurry.”
The two girls followed the man into the corridor. Across the doorway lay the body of Medek. The dead eyes were staring up at them. Ogdli kicked the black face and gave a short laugh. “He looks, but he does not see.”
The girls shuddered and pressed on behind the warrior. He led them cautiously along dark corridors. At the slightest sound he dragged them into pitchblack rooms along the way until he was sure there was no danger of discovery. Thus, much time was consumed in nerve-wracking suspense.
Ogdli advanced with evident trepidation. It was apparent that now that he had embarked upon this venture he was terrified—the shadow of Kavandavanda’s wrath lay heavy upon him.
The night dragged on, spent mostly in hiding, as the trio made their slow way toward the secret entrance to the tunnel that led out into the jungle.
Once more they crept on after a long period of tense waiting and listening in a dark chamber; then Ogdli spoke in a relieved whipser. “Here we are,” he said. “Through this doorway. The entrance to the tunnel is in this room. Make no noise.”
He pushed the door open cautiously and entered the chamber, the two girls following closely behind him. Instantly hands reached out of the dark and seized them. Jane heard a scuffling and the sound of running feet; then she was dragged out into the corridor. A light was brought from another apartment—a bit of reed burning in a shallow vessel.
Annette was there, close to her, trembling. They were surrounded by five sturdy warriors. In the light of the sputtering cresset the men looked quickly from one to another.
“Where is Ogdli?” demanded a warrior. Then Jane realized that her would-be abductor had vanished.
“I thought you had him,” replied another. “I seized one of the girls.”
“I thought I had him,” spoke up a third.
“And so did I,” said a fourth, “but it was you I had. He must have run for the tunnel. Come, we’ll go after him.”
“No,” objected the first warrior. “It is too late. He has a good start. We could not catch him before he reached the forest.”
“We could not find him there at night,” agreed another. “It will soon be daylight; then we can go after him.”
“We’ll see what Kavandavanda says when we take the women to him,” said the first warrior. “Bring them along.”
Once again the girls were led through the corridors of the temple this time to an apartment adjoining the throne-room. Two warriors stood before the door. When they saw the girls and were told what had happened, one of them knocked on the door. Presently it was opened by a black slave, sleepily rubbing his eyes.
“Who disturbs Kavandavanda at this hour of the night?” he demanded.
“Tell him we have come with the two white girls. He will understand.”
The black turned back into the apartment, but in a few moments he returned.
“Bring your prisoners in,” he said; “Kavandavanda will see you.”
They were led through a small antechamber lighted by a crude cresset to a larger apartment similarly illuminated. Here Kavandavanda received them, lying on a bed covered with leopard skins.
His large eyes fixed themselves upon Jane. “So you thought you could escape?” he asked, a crooked smile twisting his weak lips. “You were going to run off with Ogdli and be his mate, were you? Where is Ogdli?” he demanded suddenly, as he realized that the man was not with the others.
“He escaped—through the tunnel,” reported a warrior.
“He must have thought Kavandavanda a fool,” sneered the high priest. “I knew what was in his mind. There are only six men beside myself who know about the tunnel. Ogdli was one of them; the other five are here.” He was addressing Jane. “I sent these five to wait at the entrance to the tunnel until Ogdli came, for I knew he would come.” He paused and gazed long at Jane; then he turned to the others. “Take this other one back to the room of the three snakes,” he ordered, “and see that she does not escape again.” He indicated Annette with a gesture. “This one I will keep here to question further; there may have been others concerned in the plot. Go!”
Annette cast a despairing look at Jane as she was led from the room, but the other could give her no reassurance nor encouragement. Their position seemed utterly without hope now.
“Good-by, Annette.” That was all.
“May the good God be with us both, madame,” whispered the French girl as the door was closing behind her.
“So,” said Kavandavanda when the others had left, “you were going to run off into the jungle with Ogdli and be his mate? He was going to break his vow because of you!”
The shadow of a sneer curled the girl’s lip. “Perhaps Ogdli thought so,” she said.
“But you were going with him,” Kavandavanda insisted.
“As far as the jungle,” replied Jane; “then I should have found some means to escape him; or, failing that, I should have killed him.”
“Why?” demanded the high priest. “Have you, too, taken a vow?”
“Yes—a vow of fidelity.”
He leaned toward her eagerly. “But you could break it—for love; or, if not for love, for a price.”
She shook her head. “Not for anything.”
“I could break mine. I had thought that I never could, but since I have seen you—” He paused; and then, peremptorily, “if I, Kavandavanda, am willing to break mine, you can break yours. The price you will receive is one for which any woman might be willing to sell her soul—eternal youth, eternal beauty.” Again he paused as though to permit the magnitude of his offer to impress itself upon her.
But again she shook her head. “No, it is out of the question.”
“You spurn Kavandavanda?” His cruel mouth imparted some of its cruelty to his eyes. “Remember that I have the power to destroy you, or to take you without giving anything in return; but I am generous. And do you know why?”
“I cannot imagine.”
“Because I love you. I have never known love before. No living creature has ever affected me as do you. I will keep you here forever; I will make you high priestess; I will keep you young through the ages; I will keep you beautiful. You and I will live forever. We will reach out. With my power to rejuvenate mankind, we shall have the world at our feet. We shall be deities—I, a god; you, a goddess. Look.” He turned to a cabinet built into the wall of the apartment. It was grotesquely carved and painted—human figures, mostly of women; grinning skulls, leopards, snakes, and weird symbolic designs composed the decorations. From his loin-cloth he took a great key, hand wrought, and unlocked the cabinet.
“Look,” he said again. “Come here and look.”
Jane crossed the room and stood beside him at the cabinet. Within it were a number of boxes and jars. One large box, carved and painted similarly to the outside of the cabinet, Kavandavanda took in his hands.
“You see this?” he asked. “Look inside.” He raised the lid revealing a quantity of black pellets about the size of peas. “Do you know what these are?” he demanded.
“I have no idea.”
“These will give eternal youth and beauty to a thousand people. You are free to use them if you say the word. One taken each time that the moon comes full will give you what all mankind has craved since man first trod this earth.” He seized her arm and tried to draw her to him.
With an exclamation of repugnance she sought to pull away, but he held her firmly; then she struck him heavily across the face. Surprised, he relaxed his grasp; and the girl tore herself away and ran from the room. Into the antechamber she ran, seeking to gain the corridor.
With a cry of rage, Kavandavanda pursued her; and just at the doorway leading into the corridor he overtook her. He seized her roughly, tangling his ringers in her hair; and though she fought to extricate herself, he dragged her slowly back toward the inner apartment.