"Magnifique!" ejaculated the Countess de Coude, beneath her breath.
"Eh?" questioned the count, turning toward his young wife. "What is it that i_agnificent?" and the count bent his eyes in various directions in quest o_he object of her admiration.
"Oh, nothing at all, my dear," replied the countess, a slight flus_omentarily coloring her already pink cheek. "I was but recalling wit_dmiration those stupendous skyscrapers, as they call them, of New York," an_he fair countess settled herself more comfortably in her steamer chair, an_esumed the magazine which "nothing at all" had caused her to let fall upo_er lap.
Her husband again buried himself in his book, but not without a mil_onderment that three days out from New York his countess should suddenly hav_ealized an admiration for the very buildings she had but recentl_haracterized as horrid.
Presently the count put down his book. "It is very tiresome, Olga," he said.
"I think that I shall hunt up some others who may be equally bored, and see i_e cannot find enough for a game of cards."
"You are not very gallant, my husband," replied the young woman, smiling, "bu_s I am equally bored I can forgive you. Go and play at your tiresome ol_ards, then, if you will."
When he had gone she let her eyes wander slyly to the figure of a tall youn_an stretched lazily in a chair not far distant.
"MAGNIFIQUE!" she breathed once more.
The Countess Olga de Coude was twenty. Her husband forty. She was a ver_aithful and loyal wife, but as she had had nothing whatever to do with th_election of a husband, it is not at all unlikely that she was not wildly an_assionately in love with the one that fate and her titled Russian father ha_elected for her. However, simply because she was surprised into a tin_xclamation of approval at sight of a splendid young stranger it must not b_nferred therefrom that her thoughts were in any way disloyal to her spouse.
She merely admired, as she might have admired a particularly fine specimen o_ny species. Furthermore, the young man was unquestionably good to look at.
As her furtive glance rested upon his profile he rose to leave the deck. Th_ountess de Coude beckoned to a passing steward. "Who is that gentleman?" sh_sked.
"He is booked, madam, as Monsieur Tarzan, of Africa," replied the steward.
"Rather a large estate," thought the girl, but now her interest was stil_urther aroused.
As Tarzan walked slowly toward the smoking-room he came unexpectedly upon tw_en whispering excitedly just without. He would have vouchsafed them not eve_ passing thought but for the strangely guilty glance that one of them shot i_is direction. They reminded Tarzan of melodramatic villains he had seen a_he theaters in Paris. Both were very dark, and this, in connection with th_hrugs and stealthy glances that accompanied their palpable intriguing, len_till greater force to the similarity.
Tarzan entered the smoking-room, and sought a chair a little apart from th_thers who were there. He felt in no mood for conversation, and as he sippe_is absinth he let his mind run rather sorrowfully over the past few weeks o_is life. Time and again he had wondered if he had acted wisely in renouncin_is birthright to a man to whom he owed nothing. It is true that he like_layton, but—ah, but that was not the question. It was not for William Ceci_layton, Lord Greystoke, that he had denied his birth. It was for the woma_hom both he and Clayton had loved, and whom a strange freak of fate had give_o Clayton instead of to him.
That she loved him made the thing doubly difficult to bear, yet he knew tha_e could have done nothing less than he did do that night within the littl_ailway station in the far Wisconsin woods. To him her happiness was the firs_onsideration of all, and his brief experience with civilization and civilize_en had taught him that without money and position life to most of them wa_nendurable.
Jane Porter had been born to both, and had Tarzan taken them away from he_uture husband it would doubtless have plunged her into a life of misery an_orture. That she would have spurned Clayton once he had been stripped of bot_is title and his estates never for once occurred to Tarzan, for he credite_o others the same honest loyalty that was so inherent a quality in himself.
Nor, in this instance, had he erred. Could any one thing have further boun_ane Porter to her promise to Clayton it would have been in the nature of som_uch misfortune as this overtaking him.
Tarzan's thoughts drifted from the past to the future. He tried to loo_orward with pleasurable sensations to his return to the jungle of his birt_nd boyhood; the cruel, fierce jungle in which he had spent twenty of hi_wenty-two years. But who or what of all the myriad jungle life would there b_o welcome his return? Not one. Only Tantor, the elephant, could he cal_riend. The others would hunt him or flee from him as had been their way i_he past.
Not even the apes of his own tribe would extend the hand of fellowship to him.
If civilization had done nothing else for Tarzan of the Apes, it had to som_xtent taught him to crave the society of his own kind, and to feel wit_enuine pleasure the congenial warmth of companionship. And in the same rati_ad it made any other life distasteful to him. It was difficult to imagine _orld without a friend—without a living thing who spoke the new tongues whic_arzan had learned to love so well. And so it was that Tarzan looked wit_ittle relish upon the future he had mapped out for himself.
As he sat musing over his cigarette his eyes fell upon a mirror before him, and in it he saw reflected a table at which four men sat at cards. Presentl_ne of them rose to leave, and then another approached, and Tarzan could se_hat he courteously offered to fill the vacant chair, that the game might no_e interrupted. He was the smaller of the two whom Tarzan had seen whisperin_ust outside the smoking-room.
It was this fact that aroused a faint spark of interest in Tarzan, and so a_e speculated upon the future he watched in the mirror the reflection of th_layers at the table behind him. Aside from the man who had but just entere_he game Tarzan knew the name of but one of the other players. It was he wh_at opposite the new player, Count Raoul de Coude, whom at over-attentiv_teward had pointed out as one of the celebrities of the passage, describin_im as a man high in the official family of the French minister of war.
Suddenly Tarzan's attention was riveted upon the picture in the glass. Th_ther swarthy plotter had entered, and was standing behind the count's chair.
Tarzan saw him turn and glance furtively about the room, but his eyes did no_est for a sufficient time upon the mirror to note the reflection of Tarzan'_atchful eyes. Stealthily the man withdrew something from his pocket. Tarza_ould not discern what the object was, for the man's hand covered it.
Slowly the hand approached the count, and then, very deftly, the thing tha_as in it was transferred to the count's pocket. The man remained standin_here he could watch the Frenchman's cards. Tarzan was puzzled, but he was al_ttention now, nor did he permit another detail of the incident to escape him.
The play went on for some ten minutes after this, until the count won _onsiderable wager from him who had last joined the game, and then Tarzan sa_he fellow back of the count's chair nod his head to his confederate.
Instantly the player arose and pointed a finger at the count.
"Had I known that monsieur was a professional card sharp I had not been s_eady to be drawn into the game," he said.
Instantly the count and the two other players were upon their feet.
De Coude's face went white.
"What do you mean, sir?" he cried. "Do you know to whom you speak?"
"I know that I speak, for the last time, to one who cheats at cards," replie_he fellow.
The count leaned across the table, and struck the man full in the mouth wit_is open palm, and then the others closed in between them.
"There is some mistake, sir," cried one of the other players. "Why, this i_ount de Coude, of France." "If I am mistaken," said the accuser, "I shal_ladly apologize; but before I do so first let monsieur le count explain th_xtra cards which I saw him drop into his side pocket."
And then the man whom Tarzan had seen drop them there turned to sneak from th_oom, but to his annoyance he found the exit barred by a tall, gray-eye_tranger.
"Pardon," said the man brusquely, attempting to pass to one side.
"Wait," said Tarzan.
"But why, monsieur?" exclaimed the other petulantly. "Permit me to pass, monsieur."
"Wait," said Tarzan. "I think that there is a matter in here that you ma_oubtless be able to explain."
The fellow had lost his temper by this time, and with a low oath seized Tarza_o push him to one side. The ape-man but smiled as he twisted the big fello_bout and, grasping him by the collar of his coat, escorted him back to th_able, struggling, cursing, and striking in futile remonstrance. It wa_ikolas Rokoff's first experience with the muscles that had brought thei_avage owner victorious through encounters with Numa, the lion, and Terkoz, the great bull ape.
The man who had accused De Coude, and the two others who had been playing, stood looking expectantly at the count. Several other passengers had draw_oward the scene of the altercation, and all awaited the denouement.
"The fellow is crazy," said the count. "Gentlemen, I implore that one of yo_earch me."
"The accusation is ridiculous." This from one of the players.
"You have but to slip your hand in the count's coat pocket and you will se_hat the accusation is quite serious," insisted the accuser. And then, as th_thers still hesitated to do so: "Come, I shall do it myself if no othe_ill," and he stepped forward toward the count.
"No, monsieur," said De Coude. "I will submit to a search only at the hands o_ gentleman."
"It is unnecessary to search the count. The cards are in his pocket. I mysel_aw them placed there."
All turned in surprise toward this new speaker, to behold a very well-buil_oung man urging a resisting captive toward them by the scruff of his neck.
"It is a conspiracy," cried De Coude angrily. "There are no cards in my coat,"
and with that he ran his hand into his pocket. As he did so tense silenc_eigned in the little group. The count went dead white, and then very slowl_e withdrew his hand, and in it were three cards.
He looked at them in mute and horrified surprise, and slowly the red o_ortification suffused his face. Expressions of pity and contempt tinged th_eatures of those who looked on at the death of a man's honor.
"It is a conspiracy, monsieur." It was the gray-eyed stranger who spoke.
"Gentlemen," he continued, "monsieur le count did not know that those card_ere in his pocket. They were placed there without his knowledge as he sat a_lay. From where I sat in that chair yonder I saw the reflection of it all i_he mirror before me. This person whom I just intercepted in an effort t_scape placed the cards in the count's pocket."
De Coude had glanced from Tarzan to the man in his grasp.
"MON DIEU, Nikolas!" he cried. "You?"
Then he turned to his accuser, and eyed him intently for a moment.
"And you, monsieur, I did not recognize you without your beard. It quit_isguises you, Paulvitch. I see it all now. It is quite clear, gentlemen."
"What shall we do with them, monsieur?" asked Tarzan. "Turn them over to th_aptain?"
"No, my friend," said the count hastily. "It is a personal matter, and I be_hat you will let it drop. It is sufficient that I have been exonerated fro_he charge. The less we have to do with such fellows, the better. But, monsieur, how can I thank you for the great kindness you have done me? Permi_e to offer you my card, and should the time come when I may serve you, remember that I am yours to command."
Tarzan had released Rokoff, who, with his confederate, Paulvitch, had hastene_rom the smoking-room. Just as he was leaving, Rokoff turned to Tarzan.
"Monsieur will have ample opportunity to regret his interference in th_ffairs of others."
Tarzan smiled, and then, bowing to the count, handed him his own card.
The count read:
M. JEAN C. TARZAN
"Monsieur Tarzan," he said, "may indeed wish that he had never
befriended me, for I can assure him that he has won the enmity of
two of the most unmitigated scoundrels in all Europe. Avoid them,
monsieur, by all means."
"I have had more awe-inspiring enemies, my dear count," replied
Tarzan with a quiet smile, "yet I am still alive and unworried. I
think that neither of these two will ever find the means to harm
"Let us hope not, monsieur," said De Coude; "but yet it will do no
harm to be on the alert, and to know that you have made at least
one enemy today who never forgets and never forgives, and in
whose malignant brain there are always hatching new atrocities to
perpetrate upon those who have thwarted or offended him. To say
that Nikolas Rokoff is a devil would be to place a wanton affront
upon his satanic majesty."
That night as Tarzan entered his cabin he found a folded note upon the floo_hat had evidently been pushed beneath the door. He opened it and read:
Doubtless you did not realize the gravity of your offense, or
you would not have done the thing you did today. I am willing to
believe that you acted in ignorance and without any intention to
offend a stranger. For this reason I shall gladly permit you to
offer an apology, and on receiving your assurances that you will
not again interfere in affairs that do not concern you, I shall
drop the matter.
Otherwise—but I am sure that you will see the wisdom of
adopting the course I suggest.
Tarzan permitted a grim smile to play about his lips for a moment, then h_romptly dropped the matter from his mind, and went to bed.
In a nearby cabin the Countess de Coude was speaking to her husband.
"Why so grave, my dear Raoul?" she asked. "You have been as glum as could b_ll evening. What worries you?"
"Olga, Nikolas is on board. Did you know it?"
"Nikolas!" she exclaimed. "But it is impossible, Raoul. It cannot be. Nikola_s under arrest in Germany."
"So I thought myself until I saw him today—him and that other arch scoundrel, Paulvitch. Olga, I cannot endure his persecution much longer. No, not even fo_ou. Sooner or later I shall turn him over to the authorities. In fact, I a_alf minded to explain all to the captain before we land. On a French liner i_ere an easy matter, Olga, permanently to settle this Nemesis of ours."
"Oh, no, Raoul!" cried the countess, sinking to her knees before him as he sa_ith bowed head upon a divan. "Do not do that. Remember your promise to me.
Tell me, Raoul, that you will not do that. Do not even threaten him, Raoul."
De Coude took his wife's hands in his, and gazed upon her pale and trouble_ountenance for some time before he spoke, as though he would wrest from thos_eautiful eyes the real reason which prompted her to shield this man.
"Let it be as you wish, Olga," he said at length. "I cannot understand. He ha_orfeited all claim upon your love, loyalty, or respect. He is a menace t_our life and honor, and the life and honor of your husband. I trust you ma_ever regret championing him."
"I do not champion him, Raoul," she interrupted vehemently. "I believe that _ate him as much as you do, but—Oh, Raoul, blood is thicker than water."
"I should today have liked to sample the consistency of his," growled De Coud_rimly. "The two deliberately attempted to besmirch my honor, Olga," and the_e told her of all that had happened in the smoking-room. "Had it not been fo_his utter stranger, they had succeeded, for who would have accepted m_nsupported word against the damning evidence of those cards hidden on m_erson? I had almost begun to doubt myself when this Monsieur Tarzan dragge_our precious Nikolas before us, and explained the whole cowardl_ransaction."
"Monsieur Tarzan?" asked the countess, in evident surprise.
"Yes. Do you know him, Olga?"
"I have seen him. A steward pointed him out to me."
"I did not know that he was a celebrity," said the count.
Olga de Coude changed the subject. She discovered suddenly that she might fin_t difficult to explain just why the steward had pointed out the handsom_onsieur Tarzan to her. Perhaps she flushed the least little bit, for was no_he count, her husband, gazing at her with a strangely quizzical expression.
"Ah," she thought, "a guilty conscience is a most suspicious thing."