“I CANNOT understand,” said d’Arnot, “why Tarzan went with those two. It is not like him. If ever a man were wary of strangers, it is he.”
“Perhaps they were not strangers,” suggested Helen. “He seemed on the best of terms with the woman. Didn’t you notice how gay and friendly she appeared?”
“Yes,” replied d’Arnot, “I did; but I also noticed Tarzan. Something strange is going on. I do not like it.”
Even as d’Arnot was speaking, Tarzan, swift as Ara, the lightning, wheeled upon Lal Taask before the knife hand struck; and, seizing the man, lifted him above his head, while Atan Thome and Magra shrank back against the wall in stark amazement. They gasped in horror, as Tarzan hurled Lal Taask heavily to the floor.
Tarzan fixed his level gaze upon Atan Thome. “You are next,” he said.
“Wait, Brian Gregory,” begged Thome, backing away from the ape-man and dragging Magra with him. “Let us reason.”
“I do not reason with murderers,” replied Tarzan. “I kill.”
“I only wish to frighten you, not to kill you,” explained Atan Thome, as he continued to edge his way along the wall around the room, holding tightly to Magra’s hand.
“Why?” demanded Tarzan.
“Because you have something I want—a route map to Ashair,” replied Thome.
“I have no map,” said Tarzan, “and once again I tell you that I never heard of Ashair. What is at Ashair that you want?”
“Why quibble, Brian Gregory?” snapped Atan Thome. “You know as well as I do that what we both want in Ashair is The Father of Diamonds. Will you work with me, or shall you continue to lie?”
Tarzan shrugged. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
“All right, you fool,” growled Thome. “If you won’t work with me, you’ll not live to work against me.” He whipped a pistol from a shoulder holster and levelled it at the ape-man. “Take this!”
“You shan’t!” cried Magra, striking the weapon up as Thome pressed the trigger; “you shall not kill Brian Gregory!”
Tarzan could not conceive what impelled this strange woman to intercede in his behalf, nor could Atan Thome, as he cursed her bitterly and dragged her through the doorway into the adjoining room before Tarzan could prevent him.
At the sound of the shot, d’Arnot, on the terrace below, leaped to his feet. “I knew it,” he cried. “I knew there was something wrong.”
Gregory and Helen rose to follow him. “Stay here, Helen,” Gregory commanded; “we don’t know what’s going on up there.’”
“Don’t be silly, Dad,” replied the girl; “I’m coming with you.”
Long experience had taught Gregory that the easiest way to control his daughter was to let her have her own way, inasmuch as she would have it anyway.
D’Arnot was in the upper hall calling Tarzan’s name aloud by the time the Gregorys caught up with him, “I can’t tell which room,” he said.
“We’ll have to try them all,” suggested Helen.
Again d’Arnot called out to Tarzan, and this time the ape-man replied. A moment later the three stepped into the room from which his voice had come to see him trying to open a door in the left hand wall.
“What happened?” demanded d’Arnot, excitedly.
“A fellow tried to shoot me,” explained Tarzan. “The woman who sent me the note struck up his gun; then he dragged her into that room and locked the door.”
“What are you going to do?” asked Gregory.
“I am going to break down the door and go in after him,” replied the ape-man.
“Isn’t that rather dangerous?” asked Gregory. “You say the fellow is armed.”
For answer Tarzan hurled his weight against the door and sent it crashing into the next room. The ape-man leaped across the threshold. The room was vacant. “They’ve gone,” he said.
“Stairs lead from that verandah to the service court in the rear of the hotel,” said d’Arnot. “If we hurry, we might overtake them.”
“No,” said Tarzan; “let them go. We have Lal Taask. We can learn about the others from him.” They turned back to re-enter the room they had just quitted. “We’ll question him, and he’ll answer.” There was a grimness about his tone that, for some reason, made Helen think of a lion.
“If you didn’t kill him,” qualified d’Arnot.
“Evidently I didn’t,” replied the ape-man; “he’s gone!”
“How terribly mysterious!” exclaimed Helen Gregory.
The four returned to their table on the terrace, all but Tarzan a little nervous and excited. Helen Gregory was thrilled. Here were mystery and adventure. She had hoped to find them in Africa, but not quite so far from the interior. Romance was there, too, at her elbow, sipping a cool drink; but she did not know it. Over the rim of his glass d’Arnot inspected her profile for the thousandth time.
“What did the woman look like?” Helen asked Tarzan.
“Taller than you, very black hair, slender, quite handsome,” replied the ape-man.
Helen nodded. “She was sitting at that table at the end of the terrace before you came,” she said. “A very foreign looking man was with her.”
“That must have been Lal Taask,” said Tarzan.
“She was a very striking looking girl,” continued Helen. “Why in the world do you suppose she lured you to that room and then ended up by saving your life?”
Tarzan shrugged. “I know why she lured me to the room, but I don’t understand why she struck up Atan Thome’s hand to save me.”
“What did they want of you?” asked d’Arnot.
“They think I am Brian Gregory, and they want a map of the route to Ashair—The Forbidden City. According to them The Father of Diamonds is there. They say your brother made such a map. Do you know anything about it? Is this safari of yours just for the purpose of finding The Father of Diamonds?” His last query was addressed to Gregory.
“I know nothing about any Father of Diamonds,” replied Gregory. “My only interest is in finding my son.”
“And you have no map?”
“Yes,” said Helen, “we have a very rough map that Brian drew and enclosed in the last letter we received from him. He never suspected that we’d have any use for it, and it was more by way of giving us an idea of where he was than anything else. It may not even be accurate, and it is certainly most sketchy. I kept it, however; and I still have it in my room.”
“When the boy brought you the note,” said d’Arnot, “you had just asked me why I had sent for you.”
“Yes,” said Tarzan.
“I was here in Loango on a special mission and met Monsieur and Ma’moiselle Gregory,” explained d’Arnot. “I became very much interested in their problem; and when they asked me if I knew of any one who might help them find Ashair, I thought immediately of you. I do not mean that I should venture to ask you to accompany them, but I know of no one in Africa better fitted to recommend a suitable man to take charge of their safari.”
That half smile that d’Arnot knew so well, and which was more of the eyes than of the lips, lighted Tarzan’s face momentarily. “I understand, Paul,” he said. “I will take charge of their safari.”
“But that is such an imposition,” exclaimed Helen. “We could never ask you to do that.”
“I think it will be interesting,” said Tarzan—“since I have met Magra and Lal Taask and Atan Thome. I should like to meet them again. I think if I remain with you our paths shall cross.”
“I have no doubt of it,” said Gregory.
“Have you made any preparations?” asked Tarzan.
“Our safari is being gathered in Bonga,” replied Gregory; “and I had tentatively employed a white hunter named Wolff to take charge of it, but of course now—”
“If he will come along as a hunter, we can use him,” said Tarzan.
“He is coming to the hotel in the morning. We can talk with him then. I know nothing about him, other than that he had some rather good references.”
Behind Wong Feng’s shop is a heavily curtained room. A red lacquer Buddha rests in a little shrine. There are some excellent bronzes, a couple of priceless screens, a few good vases; the rest is a hodge podge of papier-mache, cheap cloisonne, and soapstone. The furniture is of teak, falling apart after the manner of Chinese furniture. Heavy hangings cover the only window, and the air is thick with incense—sticky, cloying. Atan Thome is there and Magra. The man is coldly, quietly furious.
“Why did you do it?” he demanded. “Why did you strike up my gun?”
“Because,” commenced Magra; then she stopped.
“‘Because!’ ‘Because!’” he mimicked. “The eternal feminine. But you know what I do to traitors!” He wheeled on her suddenly. “Do you love Gregory?”
“Perhaps,” she replied, “but that is my own affair. What concerns us now is getting to Ashair and getting The Father of Diamonds. The Gregorys are going there. That means they haven’t the diamond, and that they do have a map. You know that Brian made a map. You saw him. We must get it, and I have a plan. Listen!” She came and leaned close to Thome and whispered rapidly.
The man listened intently, his face lighting with approval. “Splendid, my dear,” he exclaimed. “Lal Taask shall do it tomorrow, if he has recovered sufficiently. Wong Feng’s working on him now. But if that fails, we still have Wolff.”
“If he lands the job,” said Magra. “Let’s have a look at Lal Taask.”
They stepped into a small bedroom adjoining the room in which they had been talking. A Chinese was brewing something in a kettle over an oil lamp. Lal Taask lay on a narrow cot. He looked up as the two entered.
“How are you feeling?” asked Atan Thome.
“Better, Master,” replied the man.
“Him all light mollow,” assured Wong Feng.
“How in the world did you escape?” asked Magra.
“I just pretended to be unconscious,” replied Lal Taask, “and when they went into the next room, I crawled into a closet and hid. After dark I managed to get down into the back court and come here. I thought I was going to die though. I can almost believe that man when he says he’s not Brian Gregory, unless he’s developed an awful lot of strength since we saw him last.”
“He’s Brian Gregory all right,” said Thome.
Wong poured a cupful of the concoction he had brewed and handed it to Lal Taask. “Dlink!” he said.
Lal Taask took a sip, made a wry face, and spat it out. “I can’t drink that nasty stuff,” he said. “What’s in it?—dead cats?”
“Only li’l bit dead cat,” said Wong. “You dlink!”
“No,” said Lal Taask; “I’d just as soon die.”
“Drink it,” said Atan Thome.
Like a whipped cur, Lal Taask raised the cup to his lips and, gagging and choking, drained it.