His two charges were upon the verge of exhaustion, but the ape-man led them on through the night in accordance with a plan he had decided upon. He knew that there were two more whites missing—Jezebel and Danny Patrick—and he wanted to get Lady Barbara and Smith to a place of safety that he might be free to pursue his search for these others.
To Lady Barbara and Smith the journey seemed interminable, yet they made no complaint, for the ape-man had explained the purpose of this forced march to them; and they were even more anxious than he concerning the fate of their friends.
Smith supported the girl as best he could; but his own strength was almost spent, and sometimes his desire to assist her tended more to impede than to aid her. Finally she stumbled and fell; and when Tarzan, striding in advance, heard and returned to them he found Smith vainly endeavoring to lift Lady Barbara.
This was the first intimation the ape-man had received that his charges were upon the verge of exhaustion, for neither had voiced a single complaint; and when he realized it he lifted Lady Barbara in his arms and carried her, while Smith, relieved at least of further anxiety concerning her, was able to keep going, though he moved like an automaton, apparently without conscious volition. Nor may his state be wondered at, when one considers what he had passed through during the preceding three days.
With Lady Barbara, he marvelled at the strength and endurance of the ape-man, which, because of his own weakened state, seemed unbelievable even as he witnessed it.
“It is not much farther,” said Tarzan, guessing that the man needed encouragement.
“You are sure the hunter you told us of has not moved his camp?” asked Lady Barbara.
“He was there day before yesterday,” replied the apeman. “I think we shall find him there tonight.”
“He will take us in?” asked Smith.
“Certainly, just as you would, under similar circumstances, take in anyone who needed assistance,” replied the Lord of the Jungle. “He is an Englishman,” he added, as though that fact in itself were a sufficient answer to their doubts.
They were in a dense forest now, following an ancient game trail; and presently they saw lights flickering ahead.
“That must be the camp,” exclaimed Lady Barbara.
“Yes,” replied Tarzan, and a moment later he called out in a native dialect.
Instantly came an answering voice; and a moment later Tarzan halted upon the edge of the camp, just outside the circle of beast-fires.
Several askaris were on guard, and with them Tarzan conversed for a few moments; then he advanced and lowered Lady Barbara to her feet.
“I have told them not to disturb their bwana,” the apeman explained. “There is another tent that Lady Barbara may occupy, and the headman will arrange to have a shelter thrown up for Smith. You will be perfectly safe here. The men tell me their bwana is Lord Passmore. He will doubtless arrange to get you out to rail head. In the meantime I shall try to locate your friends.”
That was all—the ape-man turned and melted into the black night before they could voice any thanks.
“Why he’s gone!” exclaimed the girl. “I didn’t even thank him.”
“I thought he would remain here until morning,” said Smith. “He must be tired.”
“He seems tireless,” replied Lady Barbara. “He is a superman, if ever there was one.”
“Come,” said the headman, “your tent is over here. The boys are arranging a shelter for the bwana.”
“Good night, Mr. Smith,” said the girl. “I hope you sleep well.”
“Good night, Lady Barbara,” replied Smith. “I hope we wake up sometime.”
And as they prepared for this welcome rest Stabutch and Jezebel were riding through the night, the man completely confused and lost.
Toward morning they drew rein at the edge of a great forest, after riding in wide circles during the greater part of the night. Stabutch was almost exhausted; and Jezebel was but little better off, but she had youth and health to give her the reserve strength that the man had undermined and wasted in dissipation.
“I’ve got to get some sleep,” he said, dismounting.
Jezebel needed no invitation to slip from her saddle for she was stiff and sore from this unusual experience. Stabutch led the animals inside the forest and tied them to a tree. Then he threw himself upon the ground and was almost immediately asleep.
Jezebel sat in silence listening to the regular breathing of the man. “Now would be the time to escape,” she thought. She rose quietly to her feet. How dark it was! Perhaps it would be better to wait until it became light enough to see. She was sure the man would sleep a long time, for it was evident that he was very tired.
She sat down again, listening to the noises of the jungle. They frightened her. Yes, she would wait until it was light; then she would untie the horses, ride one and lead the other away so that the man could not pursue her.
Slowly the minutes crept by. The sky became lighter in the east, over the distant mountains. The horses became restless. She noticed that they stood with ears pricked up and that they looked deeper into the jungle and trembled.
Suddenly there was the sound of crashing in the underbrush. The horses snorted and surged back upon their ropes, both of which broke. The noise awakened Stabutch, who sat up just as the two terrified animals wheeled and bolted. An instant later a lion leaped past the girl and the man, in pursuit of the two fleeing horses.
Stabutch sprang to his feet, his rifle in his hands. “God!” he exclaimed. “This is no place to sleep,” and Jezebel’s opportunity had passed.
The sun was topping the eastern mountains. The day had come. Soon the searchers would be ahorse. Now that he was afoot, Stabutch knew that he must not loiter. However, they must eat, or they would have no strength to proceed; and only by his rifle could they eat.
“Climb into that tree, little one,” he said to Jezebel. “You will be safe there while I go and shoot something for our breakfast. Watch for the lion, and if you see him returning this way shout a warning. I am going farther into the forest to look for game.”
Jezebel climbed into the tree, and Stabutch departed upon the hunt for breakfast. The girl watched for the lion, hoping it would return, for she had determined that she would give no warning to the man if it did.
She was afraid of the Russian because of things he had said to her during that long night ride. Much that he had said she had not understood at all, but she understood enough to know that he was a bad man. But the lion did not return, and presently Jezebel dozed and nearly fell out of the tree.
Stabutch, hunting in the forest, found a water hole not far from where he had left Jezebel; and here he hid behind bushes waiting for some animal to come down to drink. Nor had he long to wait before he saw a creature appear suddenly upon the opposite side of the pool. So quietly had it come that the Russian had not dreamed that a creature stirred within a mile of his post. The most surprising feature of the occurrence, however, was that the animal thus suddenly to step into view was a man.
Stabutch’s evil eyes narrowed. It was the man—the man he had travelled all the way from Moscow to kill. What an opportunity! Fate was indeed kind to him. He would fulfill his mission without danger to himself, and then he would escape with the girl—that wondrous girl! Stabutch had never seen so beautiful a woman in his life, and now he was to possess her—she was to be his.
But first he must attend to the business of the moment. What a pleasant business it was, too. He raised his rifle very cautiously and aimed. Tarzan had halted and turned his head to one side. He could not see the rifle barrel of his enemy because of the bush behind which Stabutch hid and the fact that his eyes were centered on something in another direction.
The Russian realized that he was trembling, and he cursed himself under his breath. The nervous strain was too great. He tensed his muscles in an effort to hold his hands firm and the rifle steady and immovable upon the target. The front sight of the rifle was describing a tiny circle instead of remaining fixed upon that great chest which offered such a splendid target.
But he must fire! The man would not stand there thus forever. The thought hurried Stabutch, and as the sight passed again across the body of the ape-man the Russian squeezed the trigger.
At the sound of the shot Jezebel’s eyes snapped open. “Perhaps the lion returned,” she soliloquized, “or maybe the man has found food. If it were the lion, I hope he missed it.”
Also, as the rifle spoke, the target leaped into the air, seized a low hung branch and disappeared amidst the foliage of the trees above. Stabutch had missed—he should have relaxed his muscles rather than tensed them.
The Russian was terrified. He felt as must one who stands upon the drop with the noose already about his neck. He turned and fled. His cunning mind suggested that he had better not return where the girl was. She was already lost to him, for he could not be burdened with her now in this flight, upon the success of which hung his very life. Accordingly he ran toward the south.
As he rushed headlong through the forest he was already out of breath when he felt a sudden sickening pain in his arm and at the same instant saw the feathered tip of an arrow waving beside him as he ran.
The shaft had pierced his forearm, its tip projecting from the opposite side. Sick with terror Stabutch increased his speed. Somewhere above him was his Nemesis, whom he could neither see nor hear. It was as though a ghostly assassin pursued him on silent wings.
Again an arrow struck him, sinking deep into the triceps of his other arm. With a scream of pain and horror Stabutch halted and, dropping upon his knees, raised his hands in supplication. “Spare me!” he cried. “Spare me! I have never wronged you. If you will spare—”
An arrow, speeding straight, drove through the Russian’s throat. He screamed and clutched at the missile and fell forward on his face.
Jezebel, listening in the tree, heard the agonized shriek of the stricken man; and she shuddered. “The lion got him,” she whispered. “He was wicked. It is the will of Jehovah!”
Tarzan of the Apes dropped lightly from a tree and warily approached the dying man. Stabutch, writhing in agony and terror, rolled over on his side. He saw the ape-man approaching, his bow and arrow ready in his hand, and, dying, reached for the revolver at his hip to complete the work that he had come so far to achieve and for which he was to give his life.
No more had his hand reached the grip of his weapon than the Lord of the Jungle loosed another shaft that drove deep through the chest of the Russian, deep through his heart. Without a sound Leon Stabutch collapsed; and a moment later there rang through the jungle the fierce, uncanny victory cry of the bull ape.
As the savage notes reverberated through the forest Jezebel slid to the ground and fled in terror. She knew not where nor to what fate her flying feet led her. She was obsessed by but a single idea—to escape from the terrors of that lonely spot.