As the little expedition of sailors toiled through the dense jungle searchin_or signs of Jane Porter, the futility of their venture became more and mor_pparent, but the grief of the old man and the hopeless eyes of the youn_nglishman prevented the kind hearted D'Arnot from turning back.
He thought that there might be a bare possibility of finding her body, or th_emains of it, for he was positive that she had been devoured by some beast o_rey. He deployed his men into a skirmish line from the point where Esmerald_ad been found, and in this extended formation they pushed their way, sweatin_nd panting, through the tangled vines and creepers. It was slow work. Noo_ound them but a few miles inland. They halted for a brief rest then, an_fter pushing on for a short distance further one of the men discovered _ell-marked trail.
It was an old elephant track, and D'Arnot after consulting with Professo_orter and Clayton decided to follow it.
The path wound through the jungle in a northeasterly direction, and along i_he column moved in single file.
Lieutenant D'Arnot was in the lead and moving at a quick pace, for the trai_as comparatively open. Immediately behind him came Professor Porter, but a_e could not keep pace with the younger man D'Arnot was a hundred yards i_dvance when suddenly a half dozen black warriors arose about him.
D'Arnot gave a warning shout to his column as the blacks closed on him, bu_efore he could draw his revolver he had been pinioned and dragged into th_ungle.
His cry had alarmed the sailors and a dozen of them sprang forward pas_rofessor Porter, running up the trail to their officer's aid.
They did not know the cause of his outcry, only that it was a warning o_anger ahead. They had rushed past the spot where D'Arnot had been seized whe_ spear hurled from the jungle transfixed one of the men, and then a volley o_rrows fell among them.
Raising their rifles they fired into the underbrush in the direction fro_hich the missiles had come.
By this time the balance of the party had come up, and volley after volley wa_ired toward the concealed foe. It was these shots that Tarzan and Jane Porte_ad heard.
Lieutenant Charpentier, who had been bringing up the rear of the column, no_ame running to the scene, and on hearing the details of the ambush ordere_he men to follow him, and plunged into the tangled vegetation.
In an instant they were in a hand-to-hand fight with some fifty black warrior_f Mbonga's village. Arrows and bullets flew thick and fast.
Queer African knives and French gun butts mingled for a moment in savage an_loody duels, but soon the natives fled into the jungle, leaving the Frenchme_o count their losses.
Four of the twenty were dead, a dozen others were wounded, and Lieutenan_'Arnot was missing. Night was falling rapidly, and their predicament wa_endered doubly worse when they could not even find the elephant trail whic_hey had been following.
There was but one thing to do, make camp where they were until daylight.
Lieutenant Charpentier ordered a clearing made and a circular abatis o_nderbrush constructed about the camp.
This work was not completed until long after dark, the men building a hug_ire in the center of the clearing to give them light to work by.
When all was safe as possible against attack of wild beasts and savage men, Lieutenant Charpentier placed sentries about the little camp and the tired an_ungry men threw themselves upon the ground to sleep.
The groans of the wounded, mingled with the roaring and growling of the grea_easts which the noise and firelight had attracted, kept sleep, except in it_ost fitful form, from the tired eyes. It was a sad and hungry party that la_hrough the long night praying for dawn.
The blacks who had seized D'Arnot had not waited to participate in the figh_hich followed, but instead had dragged their prisoner a little way throug_he jungle and then struck the trail further on beyond the scene of th_ighting in which their fellows were engaged.
They hurried him along, the sounds of battle growing fainter and fainter a_hey drew away from the contestants until there suddenly broke upon D'Arnot'_ision a good-sized clearing at one end of which stood a thatched an_alisaded village.
It was now dusk, but the watchers at the gate saw the approaching trio an_istinguished one as a prisoner ere they reached the portals.
A cry went up within the palisade. A great throng of women and children rushe_ut to meet the party.
And then began for the French officer the most terrifying experience which ma_an encounter upon earth—the reception of a white prisoner into a village o_frican cannibals.
To add to the fiendishness of their cruel savagery was the poignant memory o_till crueler barbarities practiced upon them and theirs by the white officer_f that arch hypocrite, Leopold II of Belgium, because of whose atrocitie_hey had fled the Congo Free State—a pitiful remnant of what once had been _ighty tribe.
They fell upon D'Arnot tooth and nail, beating him with sticks and stones an_earing at him with claw-like hands. Every vestige of clothing was torn fro_im, and the merciless blows fell upon his bare and quivering flesh. But no_nce did the Frenchman cry out in pain. He breathed a silent prayer that he b_uickly delivered from his torture.
But the death he prayed for was not to be so easily had. Soon the warrior_eat the women away from their prisoner. He was to be saved for nobler spor_han this, and the first wave of their passion having subsided they contente_hemselves with crying out taunts and insults and spitting upon him.
Presently they reached the center of the village. There D'Arnot was boun_ecurely to the great post from which no live man had ever been released.
A number of the women scattered to their several huts to fetch pots and water, while others built a row of fires on which portions of the feast were to b_oiled while the balance would be slowly dried in strips for future use, a_hey expected the other warriors to return with many prisoners. Th_estivities were delayed awaiting the return of the warriors who had remaine_o engage in the skirmish with the white men, so that it was quite late whe_ll were in the village, and the dance of death commenced to circle around th_oomed officer.
Half fainting from pain and exhaustion, D'Arnot watched from beneath half- closed lids what seemed but the vagary of delirium, or some horrid nightmar_rom which he must soon awake.
The bestial faces, daubed with color—the huge mouths and flabby hangin_ips—the yellow teeth, sharp filed—the rolling, demon eyes—the shining nake_odies—the cruel spears. Surely no such creatures really existed upon earth—h_ust indeed be dreaming.
The savage, whirling bodies circled nearer. Now a spear sprang forth an_ouched his arm. The sharp pain and the feel of hot, trickling blood assure_im of the awful reality of his hopeless position.
Another spear and then another touched him. He closed his eyes and held hi_eeth firm set—he would not cry out.
He was a soldier of France, and he would teach these beasts how an officer an_ gentleman died.
Tarzan of the Apes needed no interpreter to translate the story of thos_istant shots. With Jane Porter's kisses still warm upon his lips he wa_winging with incredible rapidity through the forest trees straight toward th_illage of Mbonga.
He was not interested in the location of the encounter, for he judged tha_hat would soon be over. Those who were killed he could not aid, those wh_scaped would not need his assistance.
It was to those who had neither been killed or escaped that he hastened. An_e knew that he would find them by the great post in the center of Mbong_illage.
Many times had Tarzan seen Mbonga's black raiding parties return from th_orthward with prisoners, and always were the same scenes enacted about tha_rim stake, beneath the flaring light of many fires.
He knew, too, that they seldom lost much time before consummating the fiendis_urpose of their captures. He doubted that he would arrive in time to do mor_han avenge.
On he sped. Night had fallen and he traveled high along the upper terrac_here the gorgeous tropic moon lighted the dizzy pathway through the gentl_ndulating branches of the tree tops.
Presently he caught the reflection of a distant blaze. It lay to the right o_is path. It must be the light from the camp fire the two men had built befor_hey were attacked—Tarzan knew nothing of the presence of the sailors.
So sure was Tarzan of his jungle knowledge that he did not turn from hi_ourse, but passed the glare at a distance of a half mile. It was the cam_ire of the Frenchmen.
In a few minutes more Tarzan swung into the trees above Mbonga's village. Ah, he was not quite too late! Or, was he? He could not tell. The figure at th_take was very still, yet the black warriors were but pricking it.
Tarzan knew their customs. The death blow had not been struck. He could tel_lmost to a minute how far the dance had gone.
In another instant Mbonga's knife would sever one of the victim's ears—tha_ould mark the beginning of the end, for very shortly after only a writhin_ass of mutilated flesh would remain.
There would still be life in it, but death then would be the only charity i_raved.
The stake stood forty feet from the nearest tree. Tarzan coiled his rope. The_here rose suddenly above the fiendish cries of the dancing demons the awfu_hallenge of the ape-man.
The dancers halted as though turned to stone.
The rope sped with singing whir high above the heads of the blacks. It wa_uite invisible in the flaring lights of the camp fires.
D'Arnot opened his eyes. A huge black, standing directly before him, lunge_ackward as though felled by an invisible hand.
Struggling and shrieking, his body, rolling from side to side, moved quickl_oward the shadows beneath the trees.
The blacks, their eyes protruding in horror, watched spellbound.
Once beneath the trees, the body rose straight into the air, and as i_isappeared into the foliage above, the terrified negroes, screaming wit_right, broke into a mad race for the village gate.
D'Arnot was left alone.
He was a brave man, but he had felt the short hairs bristle upon the nape o_is neck when that uncanny cry rose upon the air.
As the writhing body of the black soared, as though by unearthly power, int_he dense foliage of the forest, D'Arnot felt an icy shiver run along hi_pine, as though death had risen from a dark grave and laid a cold and clamm_inger on his flesh.
As D'Arnot watched the spot where the body had entered the tree he heard th_ounds of movement there.
The branches swayed as though under the weight of a man's body—there was _rash and the black came sprawling to earth again,—to lie very quietly wher_e had fallen.
Immediately after him came a white body, but this one alighted erect.
D'Arnot saw a clean-limbed young giant emerge from the shadows into th_irelight and come quickly toward him.
What could it mean? Who could it be? Some new creature of torture an_estruction, doubtless.
D'Arnot waited. His eyes never left the face of the advancing man. Nor did th_ther's frank, clear eyes waver beneath D'Arnot's fixed gaze.
D'Arnot was reassured, but still without much hope, though he felt that tha_ace could not mask a cruel heart.
Without a word Tarzan of the Apes cut the bonds which held the Frenchman. Wea_rom suffering and loss of blood, he would have fallen but for the strong ar_hat caught him.
He felt himself lifted from the ground. There was a sensation as of flying, and then he lost consciousness.