IN the light of early morning, after a night of terror, Atan Thome and Lal Taask started to retrace their steps along the precarious pathway they had so laboriously risked the day before.
“I am glad, master, that you decided to turn back,” said Lal Taask.
“Without porters and askaris, it would be madness to attempt to force our way into The Forbidden City,” growled Thorne. “We’ll return to Bonga and enlist a strong force of men who fear no taboos.”
“If we live to get to Bonga,” said Lal Taask.
“Cowards invite death,” snapped Thorne.
“After last night, who would not be a coward in this damnable country?” demanded Taask. “You saw it, didn’t you? You heard that voice?”
“Yes,” admitted Thorne. “What was it?”
“I don’t know.”
“It was evil,” said Taask. “It breathed of the grave and of Hell. Men cannot prevail against the forces of another world.”
“Rot!” ejaculated Thorne. “It has some rational and mundane explanation, if we only knew.”
“But we don’t know. I do not care to know. I shall never return here, if Allah permits me to escape alive.”
“Then you will get no share of the diamond,” threatened Atan Thome.
“I shall be content with my life,” replied Lal Taask.
The two men succeeded in negotiating the return trip in safety, and stood again at last upon level ground near the mouth of the gorge. Lal Taask breathed a sigh of relief, and his spirits rose; but Atan Thome was moody and irritable. He had built his hopes so high that to be turned back at what he believed to be the threshold of success plunged him into despondency. With bowed head, he led the way back over the rough terrain toward their last camp at the edge of the forest.
As they were passing through one of the numerous ravines, they were suddenly confronted by a dozen white warriors who leaped from behind great lava boulders and barred their way. They were stalwart men, wearing white plumes and short tunics on the breasts and backs of which were woven a conventionalized bird. They were armed with spears and knives which hung in scabbards at their hips.
The leader spoke to Thorne in a strange tongue; but when he discovered that neither could understand the other, he gave an order to his men who herded Thorne and Taask down the ravine to the river, where lay such a craft as may have floated on the Nile in the days of the Pharaohs. It was an open galley, manned by twenty slaves chained to the thwarts.
At the points of spears, Thorne and Taask were herded aboard; and when file last of the warriors had stepped across the gunwale, the boat put off and started up stream.
Atan Thome broke into laughter; and Lal Taask looked at him in surprise, as did the warriors near him.
“Why do you laugh, master?” asked Lal Taask, fearfully.
“I laugh,” cried Thorne, “because after all I shall reach The Forbidden City.”
As Helen came from her shelter early in the morning, she saw d’Arnot sitting beside the embers of the dying beast fire; and she joined him.
“Sentry duty?” she asked.
He nodded. “Yes,” he said; “I have been doing sentry duty and a lot of thinking.”
“About what, for instance?” she asked.
“About you—us; and what we are going to do,” he replied.
“I talked with Father last night, just before I went to bed,” she said; “and he has decided to return to Bonga and organize a safari. He doesn’t dare go on without Tar-zan.”
“He is wise,” said d’Arnot. “Your life is too precious to risk further.” He hesitated, embarrassed. “You don’t know what it means to me, Helen. I know that this is no time to speak of love; but you must have seen—haven’t you?”
“Et tu, Brute!” exclaimed the girl.
“What do you mean?” he demanded.
“Lieutenant Lavac also thinks he is in love with me. Can’t you see, Paul, that it is just because I am practically the only girl available—poor Magra was so much in love with Tarzan.”
“That is not true with me,” he said. “I do not believe it is the explanation as far as Lavac is concerned. He is a fine fellow. I can’t blame him for falling in love with you. No, Helen, I’m quite sure of myself. You see, I have taken to losing my appetite and looking at the moon.” He laughed. “Those are certain symptoms, you know. Pretty soon I shall take to writing poetry.”
“You’re a dear,” she said. “I’m glad you have a sense of humor. I’m afraid the poor lieutenant hasn’t, but then maybe he hasn’t had as much experience as you.”
“There should be an S.P.C.L.,” he said.
“Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Lovers.”
“Idiot. Wait until you get back where there are lots of girls; then—” She stopped as she glanced across his shoulder. Her face went white, and her eyes were wide with terror.
“Helen! What is it?” he demanded.
“Oh, Paul—the apes have come back!”
D’Arnot turned to see the great beasts lumbering along the trail; then he shouted for Gregory and Lavac. “Name of a name!” he cried an instant later. “Tarzan and Magra are with them!”
“They are prisoners!” exclaimed Helen.
“Non,” said d’Arnot; “Tarzan is leading the apes! Was there ever such a man?”
“I’m faint with relief,” said Helen. “I never expected to see them again. I’d given them up for lost, especially Magra. It is like seeing a ghost. Why, we even knew the minute that she died last night—when the drumming stopped.”
Tarzan and Magra were greeted enthusiastically, and Magra had to tell her story of adventure and rescue. “I know it seems incredible,” she added; “but here we are, and here are the apes. If you don’t believe me, ask them.”
“What are them beggars hangin’ ’round for?” demanded Wolff. “We ought to give ’em a few rounds for luck. They got it comin’ to ’em for stealin’ Magra.”
“They are my people,” said Tarzan; “they are obeying orders. You shall not harm them.”
“They may be your people,” grumbled Wolff; “but they ain’t mine, me not bein’ no monkey.”
“They are going along with us,” said Tarzan to Gregory. “If you’ll all keep away from them and do not touch them, they won’t harm you; and they may be helpful to us in many ways. You see, this species of anthropoid ape is highly intelligent. They have developed at least the rudiments of co-operation, the lack of which among the lower orders has permitted man to reign supreme over other animals which might easily have exterminated him. They are ferocious fighters, when aroused; and, most important of all, they will obey me. They will be a protection against both beasts and men. I’ll send them away now to hunt in the vicinity; but when I call, they’ll come.”
“Why, he talks to them!” exclaimed Helen, as Tarzan walked over and spoke to Ungo.
“Of course he does,” said d’Arnot. “Their language was the first he ever learned.”
“You should have seen him fight with that great bull,” said Magra. “I was almost afraid of him afterward.”
That night, after they had made camp, Lavac came and sat on a log beside Helen. “There is a full moon,” he said.
“Yes,” she replied; “I’d noticed it. I shall never see a full moon again without hearing the throbbing of that awful drum and thinking of what Magra went through.”
“It should bring happier thoughts to you,” he said, “as it does to me—thoughts of love. The full moon is for love.”
“It is also for lunacy,” she suggested.
“I wish you could love me,” he said. “Why don’t you? Is it because of d’Arnot? Be careful with him. He is notorious for his conquests.”
The girl was disgusted. How different this from d’Arnot’s praise of his rival. “Please don’t speak of it again,” she said. “I don’t love you, and that’s that.” Then she got up and walked away, joining d’Arnot near the fire. Lavac remained where he was, brooding and furious.
Lavac was not the only member of the party to whom the full moon suggested love. It found Wolff recipient, also. His colossal egotism did not permit him to doubt that eventually he would break down Magra’s resistance, and that she would fall into his arms. Being an egotist, he always seized upon the wrong thing to say to her, as he did when he caught her alone that evening.
“What do you see in that damn monkey-man?” was his opening sally in the game of love. “He ain’t got nothin’ but a G string to his name. Look at me! I got £2000 and a half interest in the biggest diamond in the world.”
“I am looking at you,” replied Magra. “Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I don’t like you. You know, Wolff, there must be a lot of different words to describe a person like you; but I don’t know any of them that are bad enough to fit you. I wouldn’t have you if you owned the father and mother of diamonds, both, and were the last man on Earth into the bargain. Now, don’t ever mention this subject to me again, or I’ll tell the ‘monkey-man’ on you; and he’ll probably break you in two and forget to put you back together again. You know, he isn’t in love with you either.”
“You think you’re too good for me, do you?” growled Wolff. “Well, I’ll show you. I’ll get you; and I’ll get your dirty monkey-man, too.”
“Don’t let him see you doing it,” laughed Magra.
“I ain’t afraid of him,” boasted Wolff.
“Say, you wouldn’t even dare stab Tarzan in the back. You know, I saw you running away when that ape grabbed me. No, Wolff, you don’t scare me worth a cent. Everybody in this camp has your number, and I know just what sort of a yellow double-crosser you are.”