AS JANE reached the foot of the ladder leading down into the dark interior of the kivalike structure in the village of the Kavuru her ears caught a faint sound as of someone or something moving at no great distance from her.
Instantly she froze to silent immobility, listening. She thought that she heard the sound of breathing. Dim light from the opening above relieved the darkness immediately about her, and she knew that she must be revealed to whatever was in the room with her. Then a voice spoke, spoke in English with a familiar accent.
“Oh, madame! It is you? They got you, too?”
“Annette! You are here? Then it was not the prince who took you away?”
“No, madame. It was a terrible white man who held me powerless by some black magic. I could not cry out for help. I could not resist. I simply went to him, and he took me up into the trees and carried me away.”
“One of them took me in the same way, Annette. They possess a hypnotic power beyond anything that I had ever dreamed might be possible. Have they harmed you, Annette?”
“I have only been terribly frightened,” replied the girl, “because I don’t know what they intend to do with me.”
Jane’s eyes had become accustomed to the gloom of the dark chamber. Now she could discern more of the details of the interior. She saw a circular room with a litter of dry grasses and leaves on the hard dirt floor. Against one wall Annette was sitting on a little pallet of these same leaves and grasses that she had evidently scraped together. There was no one else, nothing else, in the room.
“What do you suppose they are going to do with us?” asked Jane. “Haven’t they given you any clew at all?”
“None, madame, absolutely none. Nor you? They have told you nothing?”
“The man who captured me was named Ogdli. He told me that much and that he was taking me to some one called Kavandavanda, who, I gathered, is their chief. When I asked more questions he threatened to cut my tongue out, saying that Kavandavanda did not need my tongue. They are most unpleasant people.”
“Ah, madame, that does not describe them—they are terrifying. If only Monsieur Brown was here. You have seen him lately, madame? He is well?”
“Quite well, Annette, in body; but his heart was sick. He was worrying about you.”
“I think he loves me very much, madame.”
“I am sure of it, Annette.”
“And I love him. It is terrible to have this happen now when we might have been so happy. Now we never shall be. I shall never see him again. I have that feeling, madame. It is what you call a—a premonition. I shall die here in this awful village—soon.”
“Nonsense, Annette! You mustn’t say such things; you mustn’t even think them. What we should be thinking about is escape—and nothing else.”
“Escape? What chance have we, madame?”
“I saw no guard at the entrance to this hole when they brought me in,” explained Jane; “and if there is none posted at night we can certainly get to the roof. From there on will depend upon what obstacles we find in our way, but it will be worth trying.”
“Whatever you say, madame.”
“Tonight then, Annette.” “S-sh, madame! Some one is coming.”
Footsteps sounded plainly on the roof above them now, and then the opening through which they had entered was darkened by the form of a man.
“Come up!” he commanded; “both of you.”
Jane sighed. “Our poor little plan,” she bemoaned.
“What difference does it make?” asked Annette. “It would not have succeeded anyway.”
“We shall have to try something else later,” insisted the other, as she started to ascend the ladder.
“It will fail, too,” prophesied Annette gloomily. “We shall die here—both of us—tonight, perhaps.”
As they stepped out onto the roof Jane recognized the warrior as the one who had captured her. “Now what, Ogdli?” she asked. “Are you going to set us free?”
“Be still,” growled the Kavuru. “You talk too much. Kavandavanda has sent for you. Do not talk too much to Kavandavanda.”
He took hold of her arm to urge her along—a soft, smooth, sun-tanned arm. Suddenly he stopped and wheeled her about until she faced him. A new fire burned in his eyes. “I never saw you before,” he said, in a low voice. “I never saw you before.” It was an almost inaudible whisper.
Jane bared her teeth in a flashing smile. “Look at my teeth,” she said. “You will soon be wearing them; then you will have four rows.”
“I do not want your teeth, woman,” growled Ogdli huskily. “You have cast a spell on me; I, who have foresworn women, am bewitched by a woman.”
Jane thought quickly. The change in the man had come so suddenly, and his infatuation was so apparent that for an instant it only frightened her; then she saw in it possibilities that might be turned to the advantage of herself and Annette.
“Ogdli,” she whispered softly, “you can help me, and no one need ever know. Hide us until tonight. Tell Kavandavanda that you could not find us, that we must have escaped; then come back after dark and let us out of the village. Tomorrow you can come out to look for us; and perhaps, Ogdli, you will find me—find me waiting for you in the forest.” Her words, her tones, were provocative.
The man shook his head as though to rid his brain of an unwelcome thought; he passed a palm across his eyes as one who would push aside a veil.
“No!” he almost shouted; then he seized her roughly and dragged her along. “I will take you to Kavandavanda. After that you will bewitch me no more.”
“Why are you afraid of me, Ogdli?” she asked. “I am only a woman.”
“That is why I am afraid of you. You see no women here. There are none, other than those who are brought for Kavandavanda; and they are here but briefly. I am a priest. We are all priests. Women would contaminate us. We are not allowed to have them. If we were to weaken and succumb to their wiles, we should live in torment forever after death; and if Kavandavanda found it out, we should die quickly and horribly.”
“What is he saying, madame?” asked Annette. “What are you talking about?”
“It is preposterous, Annette,” replied Jane; “but Ogdli has developed a sudden infatuation for me. I tried to play upon it in order to tempt Mm to let us escape—and meet me in the forest tomorrow. It offered hope.”
“Oh, madame! You would not!”
“Of course not; but all is fair in love and war, and this is both. If we ever get into the forest, Annette, it will just be too bad for Ogdli if he can’t find us.”
“And what does he say to it?”
“Thumbs down. He is dragging me off to Kavandavanda as fast as he can, so that temptation may be removed from his path.”
“All our hopes are dashed, madame,” said Annette, woefully.
“Not entirely, if I know men,” replied Jane. “Ogdli will not so easily escape his infatuation. When he thinks he has lost me, it will tear at his vitals; then anything may happen.”
The Kavuru was leading the two girls along the main street toward the rear of the village. Confronting them was a heavy gate across the bottom of a narrow cleft in the cliff that towered ominously above the village.
Ogdli opened the gate and herded them through into the narrow, rocky cleft, beyond which they could see what appeared to be an open valley; but when they reached the far end of the cleft they found themselves in a box canyon entirely surrounded by lofty cliffs.
A small stream of clear water wound down through the canyon and out through the cleft and the village where it was entirely bridged over at the outer gate as well as in the cleft leading into the canyon.
The floor of the canyon appeared extremely fertile, supporting numerous large trees and growing crops. In the small fields Jane saw men laboring beneath the watchful eyes of Kavuru warriors. At first she paid little heed to the workers in the fields, as Ogdli led her and Annette toward a massive pile of buildings standing in the center of the canyon, but presently her attention was attracted to one of the laborers who was irrigating a small patch of Kaffir corn.
Suddenly he threw down the crude wooden hoe he was using and stood upon his head in the mud. “I am a tree,” he screamed in the Bukena dialect, “and they have planted me upside down. Turn me over, put my roots in the ground, irrigate me, and I will grow to the moon.”
The Kavuru warrior who was guarding the workers in the vicinity stepped up to the man and struck him a sharp blow across the shins with the haft of his spear. “Get down and go to work,” he growled.
The worker cried out in pain; but he immediately came to his feet, picked up his hoe, and continued to work as though there had been no interruption.
A little farther on another worker, looking up and catching sight of the two white girls, rushed toward them. Before the guard could interfere he was close to Jane. “I am the king of the world,” he whispered; “but don’t tell them. They would kill me if they knew, but they can’t know because I tell everyone not to tell them.”
Ogdli leaped at the fellow and struck him over the head with his spear just as the guard arrived to drag him back to his work.
“They are all bewitched,” explained Ogdli. “Demons have entered their heads and taken possession of their brains; but it is well to have them around, as they frighten away other evil spirits. We keep them and take care of them. If they die a natural death, the demons die with them; if we were to kill them the demons would escape from their heads and might enter ours. As it is, they can’t get out in any other way.”
“And these workers are all madmen?” asked Jane.
“Each has a demon in his head, but that doesn’t keep them from working for us. Kavandavanda is very wise; he knows how to use everything and everybody.”
Now they had arrived before closed gates in the wall surrounding the building that they had seen when they first entered the canyon. Two Kavuru warriors stood on guard at the entrance to Kavandavanda’s stronghold, but at the approach of Ogdli and his prisoners they opened the gates and admitted them.
Between the outer wall and the buildings was an open space corresponding to the ballium of a medieval castle. In it grew a few large trees, a few clumps of bamboo, and patches of brush and weeds. It was ill-kept and unsightly. The buildings themselves were partially of unbaked brick and partially of bamboo and thatch, a combination which produced a pleasing texture, enhancing the general effect of the low, rambling buildings that seemed to have been put together at different times and according to no predetermined plan, the whole achieving an unstudied disharmony that was most effective.
As they crossed to the entrance to what appeared to be the main building, a leopard rose from a patch of weeds, bared its fangs at them, and slunk away toward a clump of bamboo. Then another and another of the treacherous beasts, disturbed by their passage, moved sinuously out of their path.
Annette, her eyes wide with fright, pressed close to Jane. “I am so afraid!” she said.
“They’re ugly looking brutes,” agreed Jane. “I wouldn’t imagine this to be a very safe place. Perhaps that is why there are no people here.”
“Only the guards at the entrance ahead of us,” said Annette. “Ask Ogdli if the leopards are dangerous.”
“Very,” replied the Kavuru in reply to the question that Jane put to him.
“Then why are they allowed to run at large?” demanded Jane.
“They do not bother us much in the day time, partially because they are fairly well fed, partially because only armed men cross this court yard, and partially because they are, after all, cowardly beasts that prefer to sneak upon their prey in the dark. But it is after dark that they best serve the purpose of Kavandavanda. You may be sure that no one escapes from the temple by night.”
“And that is all that they are kept for?” asked the girl.
“That is not all,” replied Ogdli. Jane waited for him to continue, but he remained silent.
“What else, then?” she asked.
He gazed at her for a moment before he replied. There was a light in his eyes that appeared strange to Jane, for it seemed to reflect something that was almost compassion. He shook his head. “I cannot tell,” he said; “but you will know soon enough another reason that the leopards are here in the outer court.”
They were almost at the entrance when a weird, wailing scream broke the stillness that seemed to brood like an evil thing above the temple of Kavandavanda. The sound seemed to come either from the interior of the mass of buildings or from beyond them—sinister, horrible.
Instantly it was answered by the snarls and growls of leopards that appeared suddenly from amongst the weeds, the brush, or the bamboo and bounded off to disappear around the ends of the buildings.
“Something called to them,” whispered Annette, shuddering.
“Yes,” said Jane, “something unclean—that was the impression conveyed to me.”
At the entrance there were two more guards to whom Ogdli spoke briefly; then they were admitted. As they passed the portal and came into the interior they heard muffled screams and growls and snarls as of many leopards fighting, and to the accompaniment of this savage chorus the two girls were conducted through the dim rooms and corridors of the temple of Kavandavanda.
Kavandavanda! Who, or what, was he? To what mysterious fate was he summoning them? Such were the questions constantly recurring in the thoughts of the girls. Jane felt that they would soon find answers, and she anticipated only the worst. There seemed to be no hope of escape from whatever fate lay in store for them.
That one hope that had given her strength to carry on through danger-fraught situations many times in the past was denied her now, for she felt that Tarzan must be wholly ignorant of her whereabouts. How could he know where, in the vast expanse of the African wilderness, the ship had crashed? He would be searching for her—she knew that; for he must have long since received her cablegram, but he could never find her—at least, not in time. She must depend wholly upon her own resources, and these were pitifully meager. At present there was only the frail straw of Ogdli’s seeming infatuation. This she must nurse. But how? Perhaps when he had delivered her to Kavandavanda he would return to the village and she would never see him again; then even the single straw to which her hope clung in the deluge of dangers that threatened to engulf her would be snatched from her.
“Ogdli,” she said, suddenly, “do you live here in the temple or back in the village?”
“I live where Kavandavanda commands,” he replied. “Sometimes in the village, again in the temple.”
“And now! Where do you live now?”
“In the village.”
Jane mused. Ogdli would be of no good to her unless he were in the temple. “You have lived here all your life, Ogdli?”
“I do not remember. Perhaps a hundred rains have come and gone, perhaps two hundred; I have lost count. It makes no difference, for I shall be here forever—unless I am killed. I shall never die otherwise.”
Jane looked at him in astonishment. Was he another maniac? Were they all maniacs in this terrible city? But she determined to humor him.
“Then if you have been here so long,” she said, “you must be on very friendly terms with Kavandavanda. If you asked him a favor he’d grant it.”
“Perhaps,” he agreed, “but one must be careful what one asks of Kavandavanda.”
“Ask him if you can remain in the temple,” suggested the girl.
“Why?” demanded Ogdli, suspiciously.
“Because you are my only friend here, and I am afraid without you.”
The man’s brows knit into an angry scowl. “You are trying to bewitch me again,” he growled.
“You have bewitched yourself, Ogdli,” she sighed; “and you have bewitched me. Do not be angry with me. Neither of us could help it.” Her beautiful eyes looked up at him appealingly, seemingly on the verge of tears.
“Do not look at me like that,” he cried, huskily; and then once more she saw the same look in his eyes that she had noticed before they left the village.
She laid a hand upon his bare arm. “You will ask him?” she whispered. It was more a statement than a question.
He turned away roughly and continued on in silence, but on Jane’s lips was a smile of satisfaction. Intuition told her that she had won. But what would she do with her success? Its implications terrified her. Then she gave a mental shrug. By her wits she must turn the circumstance to her advantage without paying the price—she was every inch a woman.
As they passed through the temple corridors and apartments, Jane saw a number of black men—fat, soft, oily looking fellows that reminded her of the guardians of a sultan’s harem. They seemed to personify cruelty, greed, and craft. She instinctively shrank from them if they passed close. These, she assumed, were the servants of Kavandavanda. What then was Kavandavanda like?
She was soon to know.