Abraham, the son of Abraham, from the safety of the highest cave, exhorted his people to repel the advance of this strange creature, whose partial nakedness and strange armament filled him with alarm, with the result that when Tarzan came near the base of the cliff the villagers, with much shouting, rolled rocks down the steep declivity in an effort to destroy him.
The Lord of the Jungle looked up at the howling creatures above him. Whatever his emotions his face did not reveal them. Doubtless contempt was predominant, for he read in their reception of him only fear and cowardice.
As naught but curiosity had prompted his visit to this strange village, since he knew that Smith already had quitted it, he remained only long enough for a brief survey of the people and their culture, neither of which was sufficiently attractive to detain him; and then he turned and retraced his steps toward the place on the shore of Chinnereth where he had picked up the northbound spoor of Smith and Lady Barbara and Jezebel.
He made his way in a leisurely manner, stopping beside the lake to quench his thirst and eat from his small store of boar meat; and then he lay down to rest, after the manner of beasts who have fed and are not hurried.
In the village he had quitted Abraham, the son of Abraham, gave thanks to Jehovah for their deliverance from the barbarian, though reserving proper credit to himself for his masterly defense of his flock.
And how fared it with Lady Barbara and Lafayette Smith? Following their recapture they were permitted no second opportunity to escape, as, heavily guarded, they were conducted northward toward the village of Elija, the son of Noah.
The girl was much depressed; and Smith sought to reassure her, though upon what grounds he himself could scarcely explain.
“I cannot believe that they intend to harm us,” he said. “We have done nothing worse than kill one of their goats and that only because we were starving. I can pay them whatever price they name for the animal, and thus they will be recompensed and have no further cause for complaint against us.”
“With what will you pay them?” asked Lady Barbara.
“I have money,” replied Smith.
“Of what good would it be to them?”
“Of what good would it be to them! Why they could buy another goat if they wanted to,” he replied.
“These people know nothing of money,” she said. “It would be worthless to them.”
“I suppose you are right,” he admitted. “I hadn’t thought of that. Well, I could give them my pistol, then.”
“They already have it.”
“But it’s mine,” he exclaimed. “They’ll have to give it back to me.”
She shook her head. “You are not dealing with civilized people guided by the codes and customs of civilization or responsible to the law enforcing agencies with which we are familiar and which, perhaps, are all that keep us civilized.”
“We escaped once,” he ventured; “perhaps we can escape again.”
“That, I think, is our only hope.”
The village of the North Midians, where they presently arrived, was more pretentious than that of the people at the southern end of the valley. While there were many crude huts there were also several of stone, while the entire appearance of the village was more cleanly and prosperous.
Several hundred villagers came to meet the party as soon as it was sighted, and the prisoners noted that there was no evidence of the degeneracy and disease which were such marked characteristics of the South Midians. On the contrary, these people appeared endowed with abundant health, they looked intelligent and, physically, they were a splendid race, many of them being handsome. All were golden haired and blue eyed. That they were descended from the same stock that had produced Abraham, the son of Abraham, and his degraded flock would have appeared impossible, yet such was the fact.
The women and children pushed and jostled one another and the men in their efforts to get close to the prisoners. They jabbered and laughed incessantly, the clothing of the prisoners seeming to arouse the greatest wonder and mirth.
Their language being practically the same as that of the South Midians Lady Barbara had no difficulty in understanding what they were saying, and from scraps of their conversation which she overheard she realized that her worst fears might be realized. However, the crowd offered them no personal injury; and it was apparent that in themselves they were not inherently a cruel people, though their religion and their customs evidently prescribed harsh treatment for enemies who fell into their hands.
Upon arrival in the village Lady Barbara and Smith were separated. She was taken to a hut and put in charge of a young woman, while Smith was confined, under guard of several men, in another.
Lady Barbara’s jailer, far from being ill favored, was quite beautiful, bearing a strong resemblance to Jezebel; and she proved to be quite as loquacious as the men who had captured them.
“You are the strangest looking South Midian I ever saw,” she remarked, “and the man does not look at all like one. Your hair is neither the color of those they keep nor of those they destroy—it is just between, and your garments are such as no one ever saw before.”
“We are not Midians,” said Lady Barbara.
“But that is impossible,” cried the woman. “There are none but Midians in the land of Midian and no way to get in or out. Some say there are people beyond the great cliffs, and some say there are only devils. If you are not a Midian perhaps you are a devil; but then, of course, you are a Midian.”
“We come from a country beyond the cliffs,” Lady Barbara told her, “and all we want is to go back to our own country.”
“I do not think Elija will let you. He will treat you as we always treat South Midians.”
“And how is that?”
“The men are put to death because of their heresy; and the women, if they are good looking, are kept as slaves. But being a slave is not bad. I am a slave. My mother was a slave. She was a South Midian who was captured by my father who owned her. She was very beautiful. After a while the South Midians would have killed her, as you do to all your beautiful women just before their first child is born.
“But we are different. We kill the bad looking ones, both boys and girls, and also any who become subject to the strange demons which afflict the South Midians. Do you have these demons?”
“I am not a Midian, I told you,” said Lady Barbara.
The woman shook her head. “It is true that you do not look like them, but if Elija ever believes you or not you are lost.”
“Why?” asked Lady Barbara.
“Elija is one of those who believe that the world beyond the cliffs is inhabited by demons; so, if you are not a South Midian, you must be a demon; and he would certainly destroy you as he will destroy the man; but for my part I am one of those who say they do not know. Some say that perhaps this world around Midian is inhabited by angels. Are you an angel?”
“I am not a demon,” replied Lady Barbara.
“Then you must be a South Midian or an angel.”
“I am no South Midian,” insisted the English girl.
“Then you are an angel,” reasoned the woman. “And if you are you will have no difficulty in proving it.”
“Just perform a miracle.”
“Oh,” said Lady Barbara.
“Is the man an angel?” demanded the woman.
“He is an American.”
“I never heard of that—is it a kind of angel?”
“Europeans do not call them that.”
“But really I think Elija will say he is a South Midian, and he will be destroyed.”
“Why do your people hate the South Midians so?” asked Lady Barbara.
“They are heretics.”
“They are very religious,” said Lady Barbara; “they pray all the time to Jehovah and they never smile. Why do you think them heretics?”
“They insist that Paul’s hair was black, while we know that it was yellow. They are very wicked, blasphemous people. Once, long before the memory of man, we were all one people; but there were many wicked heretics among us who had black hair and wished to kill all those with yellow hair; so those with yellow hair ran away and came to the north end of the valley. Ever since, the North Midians have killed all those with black hair and the South Midians all those with yellow hair. Do you think Paul had yellow hair?”
“Certainly I do,” said Lady Barbara.
“That will be a point in your favor,” said the woman.
Just then a man came to the door of the hut and sum moned Lady Barbara. “Come with me,” he commanded.
The English girl followed the messenger, and the woman who had been guarding her accompanied them. Before a large stone hut they found Elija surrounded by a number of the older men of the village, while the remainder of the population was grouped in a semi-circle facing them. Lafayette Smith stood before Elija, and Lady Barbara was conducted to the side of the American.
Elija, the Prophet, was a middle aged man of not unprepossessing appearance. He was short and stocky, extremely muscular in build, and his face was adorned with a wealth of blond whiskers. Like the other North Midians he was garbed in a single garment of goat skin, his only ornament being the pistol he had taken from Smith, which he wore on a leather thong that encircled his neck.
“This man,” said Elija, addressing Lady Barbara, “will not talk. He makes noises, but they mean nothing. Why will he not talk?”
“He does not understand the language of the land of Midian,” replied the English girl.
“He must understand it,” insisted Elija; “every one understands it.”
“He is not from Midian,” said Lady Barbara.
“Then he must be a demon,” said Elija.
“Perhaps he is an angel,” suggested Lady Barbara; “he believes that Paul’s hair was yellow.”
This statement precipitated a wordy argument and so impressed Elija and his apostles that they withdrew into the interior of the hut for a secret conference.
“What’s it all about, Lady Barbara?” asked Smith, who, of course, had understood nothing of what had been said.
“You believe Paul’s hair was yellow, don’t you?” she asked.
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Well, I told them you were a firm believer in the yellowness of Paul’s hair.”
“Why did you tell them that?” demanded Smith.
“Because the North Midians prefer blonds,” she replied.
“But who is Paul?”
“Was, you mean. He is dead.”
“Of course I’m sorry to hear that, but who was he?” insisted the American.
“I am afraid you have neglected the scriptures,” she told him.
“Oh, the apostle; but what difference does it make what color his hair was?”
“It doesn’t make any difference,” she explained. “What does make a difference is that you have stated, through me, that you believe he had yellow hair; and that may be the means of saving your life.”
“Of course—the other fellow’s religion is always nonsense; but not to him. You are also suspected of being an angel. Can you imagine!”
“No! Who suspects me?”
“It was I; or at least I suggested it, and I am hoping Elija will now suspect it. If he does we are both safe, provided that, in your celestial capacity, you will intercede for me.”
“You are as good as saved then,” he said, “for inasmuch as I cannot speak their language you can put any worth you wish into my mouth without fear of being called to account.”
“That’s a fact, isn’t it?” she said, laughing. “If our emergency were not so critical I could have a lot of fun, couldn’t I?”
“You seem to find fun in everything,” he replied, admiringly; “even in the face of disaster.”
“Perhaps I am whistling in the dark,” she said.
They talked a great deal while they waited for Elija and the apostles to return, for it helped them to tide over the anxious minutes of nervous strain that slowly dragged into hours. They could hear the chatter and buzz of conversation within the hut, as Elija and his fellows debated, while, outside, the villagers kept up a constant babel of conversation.
“They like to talk,” commented Smith.
“And perhaps you have noticed an idiosyncrasy of the North Midians in this respect?” she asked.
“Lots of people like to talk.”
“I mean that the men gabble more than the women.”
“Perhaps in self-defense.”
“Here they come!” she exclaimed as Elija appeared in the doorway of the hut, fingering the pistol he wore as an ornament.
Darkness was already falling as the Prophet and the twelve apostles filed out to their places in the open. Elija raised his hands in a signal for silence and when quiet had been restored he spoke.
“With the aid of Jehovah,” he said, “we have wrestled with a mighty question. There were some among us who contended that this man is a South Midian, and others that he is an angel. Mighty was the weight of the statement that he believes that Paul had yellow hair, for if such is the turth then indeed he is not a heretic; and if he is no heretic he is not a South Midian, for they, as all the world knows, are heretics. Yet again, it was brought forth that if he is a demon he might still claim that he believed in the yellowness of Paul, in order that he might deceive us.
“How were we to know? We must know lest we, through our ignorance, do sin against one of His angels and bring down the wrath of Jehovah upon our heads.
“But at last I, Elija, the son of Noah, True Prophet of Paul, the son of Jehovah, discovered the truth. The man is no angel! The revelation descended upon me in a burst of glory from Jehovah Himself—the man cannot be an angel because he has no wings!”
There was an immediate burst of “Amens” and “Hallelujahs” from the assembled villagers, while Lady Barbara went cold with dread.
“Therefore,” continued Elija, “he must be either a South Midian or a demon, and in either case he must be destroyed.”
Lady Barbara turned a pale face toward Lafayette Smith—pale even through its coating of tan. Her lip trembled, just a little. It was the first indication of a weaker, feminine emotion that Smith had seen this remarkable girl display.
“What is it?” he asked. “Are they going to harm you?”
“It is you, my dear friend,” she replied. “You must escape.”
“But how?” he asked.
“Oh, I don’t know; I don’t know,” she cried. “There is only one way. You will have to make a break for it—now. It is dark. They will not expect it. I will do something to engage their attention, and then you make a dash for the forest.”
He shook his head. “No,” he said. “We shall go together, or I do not go.”
“Please,” she begged, “or it will be too late.”
Elija had been talking to one of his apostles, and now he raised his voice again so that all might hear. “Lest we have mistaken the divine instructions of Jehovah,” he said, “we shall place this man in the mercy of Jehovah and as Jehovah wills so shall it be. Make ready the grave. If he is indeed an angel he will arise unharmed.”
“Oh, go; please go!” cried Lady Barbara.
“What did he say?” demanded Smith.
“They are going to bury you alive,” she cried.
“And you,” he asked; “what are they going to do to you?”
“I am to be held in slavery.”
With sharpened sticks and instruments of bone and stone a number of men were already engaged in excavating a grave in the center of the village street before the hut of Elija, who stood waiting its completion surrounded by his apostles. The Prophet was still toying with his new found ornament, concerning the purpose and mechanism of which he was wholly ignorant.
Lady Barbara was urging Smith to attempt escape while there was yet an opportunity, and the American was considering the best plan to adopt.
“You will have to come with me,” he said. “I think if we make a sudden break right back through the village toward the cliffs we shall find our best chance for success. There are fewer people congregated on that side.”
From the darkness beyond the village on the forest side a pair of eyes watched the proceedings taking place before the hut of Elija. Slowly, silently the owner of the eyes crept closer until he stood in the shadow of a hut at the edge of the village.
Suddenly Smith, seizing Lady Barbara’s hand, started at a run toward the north side of the village; and so unexpected was his break for liberty that, for a moment, no hand was raised to stay him; but an instant later, at a cry from Elija, the entire band leaped in pursuit, while from the shadow of the hut where he had stood concealed the watcher slipped forward into the village where he stood near the hut of Elija watching the pursuit of the escaped prisoners. He was alone, for the little central compound of the village had emptied as by magic, even the women and children having joined in the chase.
Smith ran swiftly, holding tightly to the girl’s hand; and close on their heels came the leaders of the pursuit. No longer did the village fires light their way; and only darkness loomed ahead, as the moon had not yet risen.
Gradually the American bore to the left, intending to swing in a half circle toward the south. There was yet a chance that they might make good their escape if they could outdistance the nearer of their pursuers until they reached the forest, for their strait gave them both speed and endurance far above normal.
But just as success seemed near they entered a patch of broken lava rock, invisible in the darkness; and Smith stumbled and fell dragging Lady Barbara down with him. Before they could scramble to their feet the leading Midian was upon them.
The American freed himself for a moment and struggled to his feet; and again the fellow sought to seize him, but Smith swung a heavy blow to his chin and felled him.
Brief, however, was this respite, for almost immediately both the American and the English girl were overwhelmed by superior numbers and once again found themselves captives, though Smith fought until he was overpowered, knocking his antagonists to right and left.
Miserably dejected, they were dragged back to the village compound, their last hope gone; and again the Midians gathered around the open grave to witness the torture of their victim.
Smith was conducted to the edge of the excavation, where he was held by two stalwart men, while Elija raised his voice in prayer, and the remainder of the assemblage knelt, bursting forth occasionally with hallelujahs and amens.
When he had concluded his long prayer the Prophet paused. Evidently there was something on his mind, which vexed him. In fact it was the pistol which dangled from the thong about his neck. He was not quite sure of its purpose, and he was about to destroy the only person who might tell him.
To Elija the pistol was quite the most remarkable possession that had ever fallen into his hands, and he was filled with a great curiosity concerning it. It might be, he argued, some magic talisman for averting evil, or, upon the other hand, it might be the charm of a demon or a sorcerer, that would work evil upon him. At that thought he quickly removed the thong from about his neck, but he still held the weapon in his hand.
“What is this?” he demanded, turning to Lady Barbara and exhibiting the pistol.
“It is a weapon,” she said. “Be careful or it will kill some one.”
“How does it kill?” asked Elija.
“What is he saying?” demanded Smith.
“He is asking how the pistol kills,” replied the girl.
A brilliant idea occurred to the American. “Tell him to give it to me, and I will show him,” he said.
But when she translated the offer to Elija he demurred. “He could then kill me with it,” he said, shrewdly.
“He wont give it to you,” the girl told Smith. “He is afraid you want to kill him.”
“I do,” replied the man.
“Tell him,” said Elija, “to explain to me how I may kill some one with it.”
“Repeat my instructions to him very carefully,” said Smith, after Lady Barbara had translated the demand of the prophet. “Tell him how to grasp the pistol,” and when Lady Barbara had done so and Elija held the weapon by the grip in his right hand, “now tell him to place his index finger through the guard, but warn him not to pull the trigger.”
Elija did as he was bid. “Now,” continued Smith, “explain to him that in order to see how the weapon operates he should place one eye to the muzzle and look down the barrel.”
“But I can see nothing,” expostulated Elija when he had done as Lady Barbara directed. “It is quite dark down the little hole.”
“He says it is too dark in the barrel for him to see anything,” repeated Lady Barbara to the American.
“Explain to him that if he pulls the trigger there will be a light in the barrel,” said Smith.
“But that will be murder,” exclaimed the girl.
“It is war,” said Smith, “and in the subsequent confusion we may escape.”
Lady Barbara steeled herself. “You could see nothing because you did not press the little piece of metal beneath your index finger,” she explained to Elija.
“What will that do?” demanded the prophet.
“It will make a light in the little hole,” said Lady Barbara. Elija again placed his eye against the muzzle; and this time he pulled the trigger; and as the report cracked the tense silence of the watching villagers Elija, the son of Noah, pitched forward upon his face.
Instantly Lady Barbara sprang toward Smith, who simultaneously sought to break away from the grip of the men who held him; but they, although astonished at what had occurred, were not to be caught off their guard, and though he struggled desperately they held him.
For an instant there was a hushed silence; and then pandemonium broke loose as the villagers realized that their prophet was dead, slain by the wicked charm of a demon; but at the very outset of their demands for vengeance their attention was distracted by a strange and remarkable figure that sprang from the hut of Elija, stooped and picked up the pistol that had fallen from the hands of the dead man, and leaped to the side of the prisoner struggling with his guards.
This was such a man as none of them had ever seen—a giant white man with a tousled shock of black hair and with grey eyes that sent a shiver through them, so fierce and implacable were they. Naked he was but for a loin cloth of skin, and the muscles that rolled beneath his brown hide were muscles such as they never had seen before.
As the newcomer sprang toward the American one of the men guarding Smith, sensing that an attempt was being made to rescue the prisoner, swung his club in readiness to deal a blow against the strange creature advancing upon him. At the same time the other guard sought to drag Smith from the compound.
The American did not at first recognize Tarzan of the Apes, yet, though he was not aware that the stranger was bent upon his rescue, he sensed that he was an enemy of the Midians, and so struggled to prevent his guard from forcing him away.
Another Midian seized Lady Barbara with the intention of carrying her from the scene, for all the villagers believed that the strange giant was a friend of the prisoners and had come to effect their release.
Smith was successful in tearing himself free from the man who held him, and immediately sprang to the girl’s assistance, felling her captor with a single blow, just as Tarzan levelled the American’s pistol at the guard who was preparing to cudgel him.
The sound of this second shot and the sight of their fellow dropping to the ground, as had Elija, filled the Midians with consternation; and for a moment they fell back from the three, leaving them alone in the center of the compound.
“Quick!” called Tarzan to Smith. “You and the girl get out of here before they recover from their surprise. I will follow you. That way,” he added, pointing toward the south.
As Lafayette Smith and Lady Barbara hurried from the village Tarzan backed slowly after them, keeping the little pistol in full view of the frightened villagers, who, having seen two of their number die beneath its terrifying magic, were loath to approach it too closely.
Until out of range of a thrown club Tarzan continued his slow retreat; then he wheeled and bounded off into the night in pursuit of Lafayette Smith and Lady Barbara Collis.