WOLFF was genuinely terrified. The weird occurrences, the raid on the camp, the show of force by the Asharians had all contributed to impress him with the grave dangers and the futility of the venture. His desire to live outweighed his avarice, and The Father of Diamonds was forgotten in his anxiety to escape what he believed to be the certain fate of the party if it sought to enter The Forbidden City of Ashair.
When, at last, the camp slept, he awoke Mbuli. “Are you and your people going to stay here and be killed or forced into slavery?” he demanded.
“My people are afraid,” replied the headman, “but what are we to do? We are afraid to stay here, and we are afraid to run away from the great Bwana Tarzan.”
“You will never see that monkey-man again,” Wolff assured the black. “He and the frog eater will be killed by the Asharians, who will then come back and either kill all of us or take us with them as slaves. How would you like to be chained to a galley all the rest of your life?”
“I would not like it, bwana,” replied Mbuli.
“Then listen to me. The girl here is in danger. I got to save her; so I orders you and your boys to take us back to Bonga. How many do you think will come with you?”
“Good! Now get busy. Have ’em get their packs together, but see that they don’t make no noise. When everything’s ready, you take a couple of boys and get the girl. Don’t let her make no noise.”
After a night of sleeplessness and terrified apprehension for the future, Helen’s attention was attracted by a slight noise in the forest behind the camp where her captors had halted for the night. Dawn was breaking, its ghastly light relieving the darkness that had enveloped the little ravine and revealing to the girl’s astonished eyes the figures of great apes and men stealing stealthily upon the camp.
At first she was terrified by this new menace; then she recognized Tarzan and almost simultaneously saw d’Arnot behind him; and hope, that she had thought dead, welled strong within her, so that she could scarcely restrain a cry of relief as she realized that rescue was at hand; then an Asharian awoke and saw the danger. With a shout that aroused the others, he leaped to his feet; and, guessing that an attempt was being made to rescue the captive, he seized her and dragged her, struggling, toward the galley.
With a shout of encouragement to her, d’Arnot sprang forward in pursuit while two warriors engaged Tarzan, and Thetan and the apes fell upon the others. The warrior who was carrying Helen off was almost at the galley. He shouted to the slaves to make ready to put off the moment he was aboard, but d’Arnot was pressing him so closely he was compelled to turn and defend himself. D’Arnot faced him with drawn pistol as the man raised his spear. Behind d’Arnot, another warrior, who had escaped the apes, was running to the aid of his fellow.
The Frenchman could not fire at the warrior facing him without endangering Helen, and he did not know that another was approaching from behind.
What takes so long to tell occupied but a few seconds of time, for as the warrior was about to cast his spear, Helen, realizing d’Arnot’s predicament, threw herself to one side, exposing her captor; and d’Arnot fired.
Tarzan, Thetan, and the apes had disposed of the remainder of the Asharians, with the exception of the one who was threatening d’Arnot from behind. The ape-man saw his friend’s danger, but he was too far away to reach the warrior who was threatening him, before the man should drive his spear into d’Arnot’s back. Helen realized the danger, and cried a warning to the Frenchman. D’Arnot swung about, his pistol ready; and pressed the trigger, but the hammer fell futilely upon an imperfect cap; then Tarzan launched his spear. His target was far beyond the range of any spear but that of the Lord of the Jungle. With all of his great strength, backed by the weight of his body, he cast the weapon; and, as the Asharian was lunging at d’Arnot, it passed through his body, piercing his heart. As the man fell dead at d’Arnot’s feet, Helen went suddenly weak. She would have fallen had not d’Arnot taken her in his arms.
“Whew!” exclaimed Thetan. “That was a close call, but what a cast! In all my life I have never seen one that could compare with it.”
“In all your life,” said d’Arnot, “you have never seen such a man as Tarzan of the Apes.”
Tarzan had passed them and reached the galley, where the slaves sat bewildered, not knowing what to do; then he called the apes and ordered them into the galley among the terrified slaves.
“They won’t harm you,” Tarzan assured them, and when Helen, d’Arnot and Thetan were aboard, he directed the slaves to row them down river to the Gregory camp.
D’Arnot sat in the stern with his arm around Helen, who evinced no inclination to resent the familiarity. On the contrary, she seemed quite content.
“I thought I had lost you, darling,” he whispered.
She made no reply, other than to snuggle closer and sigh happily, which, to d’Arnot, was at least an acceptance of his love, if not an avowal of her own. He was content to leave the matter as it stood.
Gregory, Lavac, and Ogabi were standing by the river when the galley rounded a bend and came within sight.
“The Asharians are returning!” cried Gregory. “We’d better get into the forest and hide. We three haven’t a chance against them.”
“Wait!” said Lavac. “That boat’s full of apes.”
“By George! So it is,” exclaimed Gregory.
“And there is Bwana Tarzan,” exclaimed Ogabi.
A few moments later the boat touched shore; and as the apes poured out, Gregory took his daughter in his arms. “Thank God, you’ve found her,” he said to Tarzan; “but now we have some bad news for you.”
“What now?” demanded d’Arnot.
“Magra and Wolff deserted with all the men and equipment last night,” said Gregory.
“Oh, I can’t believe that Magra would have done a thing like that,” exclaimed Helen.
Gregory shook his head. “Don’t forget,” he reminded her, “that she was in cahoots with Thorne.”
“Any way,” said Lavac, “she’s gone.”
“What are we to do now?” demanded Gregory. “It looks like the end of the trail to me.”
“On the way down,” said Tarzan, “I questioned some of the galley slaves. They tell me that a white man is held prisoner in the temple of The Father of Diamonds at Ashair. It may be your son. I have talked with Thetan; and he believes it may be possible that the King of Thobos will receive us kindly and even help in the rescue of your son, if there is any possibility that it may be accomplished. Under the circumstances, it may be well to go to Thobos. We have a galley, and by entering the lake after dark we should be able to pass Ashair safely.”
“I should like to do that,” said Gregory, “but I can’t ask the rest of you to risk your lives further for me. Had I had any idea that we were to encounter such dangers, I should never have started out without a strong force of white men.”
“I’ll go with you,” said d’Arnot.
“And I,” said Lavac.
“Where Bwana Tarzan goes, I go,” said Ogabi.
“Then we all go,” said the ape-man.
An exhausted warrior stumbled into the presence of Atka, Queen of Ashair. “We were camped for the night in the ravine below the tunnel,” he reported. “We had with us a girl whom we had captured in the camp of the strangers. At dawn we were attacked by three men and a band of apes. One of the men was a Thobotian. The leader was a naked white warrior. In the beginning of the fight, I was knocked senseless. I knew nothing more until I regained consciousness and found myself alone with the dead. The galley was gone. I think they must have thought me dead.”
“Which way did they go?” demanded Atka.
“That I do not know,” replied the warrior, “but it is probable that they went back down stream to their camp.”
The Queen turned to a noble standing near the throne. “Man six galleys,” she ordered, “and bring me those people, dead or alive! They shall taste the anger of Brulor!”