When Tarzan of the Apes realized that he was in the grip of the great jaws o_ crocodile he did not, as an ordinary man might have done, give up all hop_nd resign himself to his fate.
Instead, he filled his lungs with air before the huge reptile dragged hi_eneath the surface, and then, with all the might of his great muscles, fough_itterly for freedom. But out of his native element the ape-man was to_reatly handicapped to do more than excite the monster to greater speed as i_ragged its prey swiftly through the water.
Tarzan's lungs were bursting for a breath of pure fresh air. He knew that h_ould survive but a moment more, and in the last paroxysm of his suffering h_id what he could to avenge his own death.
His body trailed out beside the slimy carcass of his captor, and into th_ough armour the ape-man attempted to plunge his stone knife as he was born_o the creature's horrid den.
His efforts but served to accelerate the speed of the crocodile, and just a_he ape-man realized that he had reached the limit of his endurance he fel_is body dragged to a muddy bed and his nostrils rise above the water'_urface. All about him was the blackness of the pit—the silence of the grave.
For a moment Tarzan of the Apes lay gasping for breath upon the slimy, evil- smelling bed to which the animal had borne him. Close at his side he coul_eel the cold, hard plates of the creatures coat rising and falling as thoug_ith spasmodic efforts to breathe.
For several minutes the two lay thus, and then a sudden convulsion of th_iant carcass at the man's side, a tremor, and a stiffening brought Tarzan t_is knees beside the crocodile. To his utter amazement he found that the beas_as dead. The slim knife had found a vulnerable spot in the scaly armour.
Staggering to his feet, the ape-man groped about the reeking, oozy den. H_ound that he was imprisoned in a subterranean chamber amply large enough t_ave accommodated a dozen or more of the huge animals such as the one that ha_ragged him thither.
He realized that he was in the creature's hidden nest far under the bank o_he stream, and that doubtless the only means of ingress or egress lay throug_he submerged opening through which the crocodile had brought him.
His first thought, of course, was of escape, but that he could make his way t_he surface of the river beyond and then to the shore seemed highl_mprobable. There might be turns and windings in the neck of the passage, or, most to be feared, he might meet another of the slimy inhabitants of th_etreat upon his journey outward.
Even should he reach the river in safety, there was still the danger of hi_eing again attacked before he could effect a safe landing. Still there was n_lternative, and, filling his lungs with the close and reeking air of th_hamber, Tarzan of the Apes dived into the dark and watery hole which he coul_ot see but had felt out and found with his feet and legs.
The leg which had been held within the jaws of the crocodile was badl_acerated, but the bone had not been broken, nor were the muscles or tendon_ufficiently injured to render it useless. It gave him excruciating pain, tha_as all.
But Tarzan of the Apes was accustomed to pain, and gave it no further though_hen he found that the use of his legs was not greatly impaired by the shar_eeth of the monster.
Rapidly he crawled and swam through the passage which inclined downward an_inally upward to open at last into the river bottom but a few feet from th_hore line. As the ape-man reached the surface he saw the heads of two grea_rocodiles but a short distance from him. They were making rapidly in hi_irection, and with a superhuman effort the man struck out for the overhangin_ranches of a near-by tree.
Nor was he a moment too soon, for scarcely had he drawn himself to the safet_f the limb than two gaping mouths snapped venomously below him. For a fe_inutes Tarzan rested in the tree that had proved the means of his salvation.
His eyes scanned the river as far down-stream as the tortuous channel woul_ermit, but there was no sign of the Russian or his dugout.
When he had rested and bound up his wounded leg he started on in pursuit o_he drifting canoe. He found himself upon the opposite of the river to that a_hich he had entered the stream, but as his quarry was upon the bosom of th_ater it made little difference to the ape-man upon which side he took up th_ursuit.
To his intense chagrin he soon found that his leg was more badly injured tha_e had thought, and that its condition seriously impeded his progress. It wa_nly with the greatest difficulty that he could proceed faster than a wal_pon the ground, and in the trees he discovered that it not only impeded hi_rogress, but rendered travelling distinctly dangerous.
From the old negress, Tambudza, Tarzan had gathered a suggestion that no_illed his mind with doubts and misgivings. When the old woman had told him o_he child's death she had also added that the white woman, though grief- stricken, had confided to her that the baby was not hers.
Tarzan could see no reason for believing that Jane could have found i_dvisable to deny her identity or that of the child; the only explanation tha_e could put upon the matter was that, after all, the white woman who ha_ccompanied his son and the Swede into the jungle fastness of the interior ha_ot been Jane at all.
The more he gave thought to the problem, the more firmly convinced he becam_hat his son was dead and his wife still safe in London, and in ignorance o_he terrible fate that had overtaken her first-born.
After all, then, his interpretation of Rokoff's sinister taunt had bee_rroneous, and he had been bearing the burden of a double apprehensio_eedlessly—at least so thought the ape-man. From this belief he garnered som_light surcease from the numbing grief that the death of his little son ha_hrust upon him.
And such a death! Even the savage beast that was the real Tarzan, inured t_he sufferings and horrors of the grim jungle, shuddered as he contemplate_he hideous fate that had overtaken the innocent child.
As he made his way painfully towards the coast, he let his mind dwell s_onstantly upon the frightful crimes which the Russian had perpetrated agains_is loved ones that the great scar upon his forehead stood out almos_ontinuously in the vivid scarlet that marked the man's most relentless an_estial moods of rage. At times he startled even himself and sent the lesse_reatures of the wild jungle scampering to their hiding places as involuntar_oars and growls rumbled from his throat.
Could he but lay his hand upon the Russian!
Twice upon the way to the coast bellicose natives ran threateningly from thei_illages to bar his further progress, but when the awful cry of the bull-ap_hundered upon their affrighted ears, and the great white giant charge_ellowing upon them, they had turned and fled into the bush, nor venture_hence until he had safely passed.
Though his progress seemed tantalizingly slow to the ape-man whose idea o_peed had been gained by such standards as the lesser apes attain, he made, a_ matter of fact, almost as rapid progress as the drifting canoe that bor_okoff on ahead of him, so that he came to the bay and within sight of th_cean just after darkness had fallen upon the same day that Jane Clayton an_he Russian ended their flights from the interior.
The darkness lowered so heavily upon the black river and the encircling jungl_hat Tarzan, even with eyes accustomed to much use after dark, could make ou_othing a few yards from him. His idea was to search the shore that night fo_igns of the Russian and the woman who he was certain must have precede_okoff down the Ugambi. That the Kincaid or other ship lay at anchor but _undred yards from him he did not dream, for no light showed on board th_teamer.
Even as he commenced his search his attention was suddenly attracted by _oise that he had not at first perceived—the stealthy dip of paddles in th_ater some distance from the shore, and about opposite the point at which h_tood. Motionless as a statue he stood listening to the faint sound.
Presently it ceased, to be followed by a shuffling noise that the ape-man'_rained ears could interpret as resulting from but a single cause—the scrapin_f leather-shod feet upon the rounds of a ship's monkey-ladder. And yet, a_ar as he could see, there was no ship there—nor might there be one within _housand miles.
As he stood thus, peering out into the darkness of the cloud-enshrouded night, there came to him from across the water, like a slap in the face, so sudde_nd unexpected was it, the sharp staccato of an exchange of shots and then th_cream of a woman.
Wounded though he was, and with the memory of his recent horrible experienc_till strong upon him, Tarzan of the Apes did not hesitate as the notes o_hat frightened cry rose shrill and piercing upon the still night air. With _ound he cleared the intervening bush—there was a splash as the water close_bout him—and then, with powerful strokes, he swam out into the impenetrabl_ight with no guide save the memory of an illusive cry, and for company th_ideous denizens of an equatorial river.
The boat that had attracted Jane's attention as she stood guard upon the dec_f the Kincaid had been perceived by Rokoff upon one bank and Mugambi and th_orde upon the other. The cries of the Russian had brought the dugout first t_im, and then, after a conference, it had been turned toward the Kincaid, bu_efore ever it covered half the distance between the shore and the steamer _ifle had spoken from the latter's deck and one of the sailors in the bow o_he canoe had crumpled and fallen into the water.
After that they went more slowly, and presently, when Jane's rifle had foun_nother member of the party, the canoe withdrew to the shore, where it lay a_ong as daylight lasted.
The savage, snarling pack upon the opposite shore had been directed in thei_ursuit by the black warrior, Mugambi, chief of the Wagambi. Only he kne_hich might be foe and which friend of their lost master.
Could they have reached either the canoe or the Kincaid they would have mad_hort work of any whom they found there, but the gulf of black wate_ntervening shut them off from farther advance as effectually as though it ha_een the broad ocean that separated them from their prey.
Mugambi knew something of the occurrences which had led up to the landing o_arzan upon Jungle Island and the pursuit of the whites up the Ugambi. He kne_hat his savage master sought his wife and child who had been stolen by th_icked white man whom they had followed far into the interior and now back t_he sea.
He believed also that this same man had killed the great white giant whom h_ad come to respect and love as he had never loved the greatest chiefs of hi_wn people. And so in the wild breast of Mugambi burned an iron resolve to wi_o the side of the wicked one and wreak vengeance upon him for the murder o_he ape-man.
But when he saw the canoe come down the river and take in Rokoff, when he sa_t make for the Kincaid, he realized that only by possessing himself of _anoe could he hope to transport the beasts of the pack within strikin_istance of the enemy.
So it happened that even before Jane Clayton fired the first shot int_okoff's canoe the beasts of Tarzan had disappeared into the jungle.
After the Russian and his party, which consisted of Paulvitch and the severa_en he had left upon the Kincaid to attend to the matter of coaling, ha_etreated before her fire, Jane realized that it would be but a temporar_espite from their attentions which she had gained, and with the convictio_ame a determination to make a bold and final stroke for freedom from th_enacing threat of Rokoff's evil purpose.
With this idea in view she opened negotiations with the two sailors she ha_mprisoned in the forecastle, and having forced their consent to her plans, upon pain of death should they attempt disloyalty, she released them just a_arkness closed about the ship.
With ready revolver to compel obedience, she let them up one by one, searchin_hem carefully for concealed weapons as they stood with hands elevated abov_heir heads. Once satisfied that they were unarmed, she set them to wor_utting the cable which held the Kincaid to her anchorage, for her bold pla_as nothing less than to set the steamer adrift and float with her out int_he open sea, there to trust to the mercy of the elements, which she wa_onfident would be no more merciless than Nikolas Rokoff should he agai_apture her.
There was, too, the chance that the Kincaid might be sighted by some passin_hip, and as she was well stocked with provisions and water—the men ha_ssured her of this fact—and as the season of storm was well over, she ha_very reason to hope for the eventual success of her plan.
The night was deeply overcast, heavy clouds riding low above the jungle an_he water—only to the west, where the broad ocean spread beyond the river'_outh, was there a suggestion of lessening gloom.
It was a perfect night for the purposes of the work in hand.
Her enemies could not see the activity aboard the ship nor mark her course a_he swift current bore her outward into the ocean. Before daylight broke th_bb-tide would have carried the Kincaid well into the Benguela current whic_lows northward along the coast of Africa, and, as a south wind wa_revailing, Jane hoped to be out of sight of the mouth of the Ugambi befor_okoff could become aware of the departure of the steamer.
Standing over the labouring seamen, the young woman breathed a sigh of relie_s the last strand of the cable parted and she knew that the vessel was on it_ay out of the maw of the savage Ugambi.
With her two prisoners still beneath the coercing influence of her rifle, sh_rdered them upon deck with the intention of again imprisoning them in th_orecastle; but at length she permitted herself to be influenced by thei_romises of loyalty and the arguments which they put forth that they could b_f service to her, and permitted them to remain above.
For a few minutes the Kincaid drifted rapidly with the current, and then, wit_ grinding jar, she stopped in midstream. The ship had run upon a low-lyin_ar that splits the channel about a quarter of a mile from the sea.
For a moment she hung there, and then, swinging round until her bow pointe_oward the shore, she broke adrift once more.
At the same instant, just as Jane Clayton was congratulating herself that th_hip was once more free, there fell upon her ears from a point up the rive_bout where the Kincaid had been anchored the rattle of musketry and a woman'_cream—shrill, piercing, fear-laden.
The sailors heard the shots with certain conviction that they announced th_oming of their employer, and as they had no relish for the plan that woul_onsign them to the deck of a drifting derelict, they whispered together _urried plan to overcome the young woman and hail Rokoff and their companion_o their rescue.
It seemed that fate would play into their hands, for with the reports of th_uns Jane Clayton's attention had been distracted from her unwillin_ssistants, and instead of keeping one eye upon them as she had intende_oing, she ran to the bow of the Kincaid to peer through the darkness towar_he source of the disturbance upon the river's bosom.
Seeing that she was off her guard, the two sailors crept stealthily upon he_rom behind.
The scraping upon the deck of the shoes of one of them startled the girl to _udden appreciation of her danger, but the warning had come too late.
As she turned, both men leaped upon her and bore her to the deck, and as sh_ent down beneath them she saw, outlined against the lesser gloom of th_cean, the figure of another man clamber over the side of the Kincaid.
After all her pains her heroic struggle for freedom had failed. With a stifle_ob she gave up the unequal battle.