As Tarzan walked down the wild canon beneath the brilliant African moon th_all of the jungle was strong upon him. The solitude and the savage freedo_illed his heart with life and buoyancy. Again he was Tarzan of the Apes—ever_ense alert against the chance of surprise by some jungle enemy—yet treadin_ightly and with head erect, in proud consciousness of his might.
The nocturnal sounds of the mountains were new to him, yet they fell upon hi_ars like the soft voice of a half-forgotten love. Many he intuitivel_ensed—ah, there was one that was familiar indeed; the distant coughing o_heeta, the leopard; but there was a strange note in the final wail which mad_im doubt. It was a panther he heard.
Presently a new sound—a soft, stealthy sound—obtruded itself among the others.
No human ears other than the ape-man's would have detected it. At first he di_ot translate it, but finally he realized that it came from the bare feet of _umber of human beings. They were behind him, and they were coming toward hi_uietly. He was being stalked.
In a flash he knew why he had been left in that little valley by Gernois; bu_here had been a hitch in the arrangements—the men had come too late. Close_nd closer came the footsteps. Tarzan halted and faced them, his rifle read_n his hand. Now he caught a fleeting glimpse of a white burnoose. He calle_loud in French, asking what they would of him. His reply was the flash of _ong gun, and with the sound of the shot Tarzan of the Apes plunged forwar_pon his face.
The Arabs did not rush out immediately; instead, they waited to be sure tha_heir victim did not rise. Then they came rapidly from their concealment, an_ent over him. It was soon apparent that he was not dead. One of the men pu_he muzzle of his gun to the back of Tarzan's head to finish him, but anothe_aved him aside. "If we bring him alive the reward is to be greater,"
explained the latter. So they bound his hands and feet, and, picking him up, placed him on the shoulders of four of their number. Then the march wa_esumed toward the desert. When they had come out of the mountains they turne_oward the south, and about daylight came to the spot where their horses stoo_n care of two of their number.
From here on their progress was more rapid. Tarzan, who had regaine_onsciousness, was tied to a spare horse, which they evidently had brought fo_he purpose. His wound was but a slight scratch, which had furrowed the fles_cross his temple. It had stopped bleeding, but the dried and clotted bloo_meared his face and clothing. He had said no word since he had fallen int_he hands of these Arabs, nor had they addressed him other than to issue a fe_rief commands to him when the horses had been reached.
For six hours they rode rapidly across the burning desert, avoiding the oase_ear which their way led. About noon they came to a DOUAR of about twent_ents. Here they halted, and as one of the Arabs was releasing the alfa-gras_opes which bound him to his mount they were surrounded by a mob of men, women, and children. Many of the tribe, and more especially the women, appeared to take delight in heaping insults upon the prisoner, and some ha_ven gone so far as to throw stones at him and strike him with sticks, when a_ld sheik appeared and drove them away.
"Ali-ben-Ahmed tells me," he said, "that this man sat alone in the mountain_nd slew EL ADREA. What the business of the stranger who sent us after him ma_e, I know not, and what he may do with this man when we turn him over to him, I care not; but the prisoner is a brave man, and while he is in our hands h_hall be treated with the respect that be due one who hunts THE LORD WITH TH_ARGE HEAD alone and by night—and slays him."
Tarzan had heard of the respect in which Arabs held a lion-killer, and he wa_ot sorry that chance had played into his hands thus favorably to relieve hi_f the petty tortures of the tribe. Shortly after this he was taken to a goat- skin tent upon the upper side of the DOUAR. There he was fed, and then, securely bound, was left lying on a piece of native carpet, alone in the tent.
He could see a guard sitting before the door of his frail prison, but when h_ttempted to force the stout bonds that held him he realized that any extr_recaution on the part of his captors was quite unnecessary; not even hi_iant muscles could part those numerous strands.
Just before dusk several men approached the tent where he lay, and entered it.
All were in Arab dress, but presently one of the number advanced to Tarzan'_ide, and as he let the folds of cloth that had hidden the lower half of hi_ace fall away the ape-man saw the malevolent features of Nikolas Rokoff.
There was a nasty smile on the bearded lips. "Ah, Monsieur Tarzan," he said,
"this is indeed a pleasure. But why do you not rise and greet your guest?"
Then, with an ugly oath, "Get up, you dog!" and, drawing back his booted foot, he kicked Tarzan heavily in the side. "And here is another, and another, an_nother," he continued, as he kicked Tarzan about the face and side. "One fo_ach of the injuries you have done me."
The ape-man made no reply—he did not even deign to look upon the Russian agai_fter the first glance of recognition. Finally the sheik, who had bee_tanding a mute and frowning witness of the cowardly attack, intervened.
"Stop!" he commanded. "Kill him if you will, but I will see no brave ma_ubjected to such indignities in my presence. I have half a mind to turn hi_oose, that I may see how long you would kick him then."
This threat put a sudden end to Rokoff's brutality, for he had no craving t_ee Tarzan loosed from his bonds while he was within reach of those powerfu_ands.
"Very well," he replied to the Arab; "I shall kill him presently."
"Not within the precincts of my DOUAR," returned the sheik. "When he leave_ere he leaves alive. What you do with him in the desert is none of m_oncern, but I shall not have the blood of a Frenchman on the hands of m_ribe on account of another man's quarrel—they would send soldiers here an_ill many of my people, and burn our tents and drive away our flocks."
"As you say," growled Rokoff. "I'll take him out into the desert below th_OUAR, and dispatch him."
"You will take him a day's ride from my country," said the sheik, firmly, "an_ome of my children shall follow you to see that you do not disobe_e—otherwise there may be two dead Frenchmen in the desert."
Rokoff shrugged. "Then I shall have to wait until the morrow—it is alread_ark."
"As you will," said the sheik. "But by an hour after dawn you must be gon_rom my DOUAR. I have little liking for unbelievers, and none at all for _oward."
Rokoff would have made some kind of retort, but he checked himself, for h_ealized that it would require but little excuse for the old man to turn upo_im. Together they left the tent. At the door Rokoff could not resist th_emptation to turn and fling a parting taunt at Tarzan. "Sleep well, monsieur," he said, "and do not forget to pray well, for when you die tomorro_t will be in such agony that you will be unable to pray for blaspheming."
No one had bothered to bring Tarzan either food or water since noon, an_onsequently he suffered considerably from thirst. He wondered if it would b_orth while to ask his guard for water, but after making two or three request_ithout receiving any response, he decided that it would not.
Far up in the mountains he heard a lion roar. How much safer one was, h_oliloquized, in the haunts of wild beasts than in the haunts of men. Never i_ll his jungle life had he been more relentlessly tracked down than in th_ast few months of his experience among civilized men. Never had he been an_earer death.
Again the lion roared. It sounded a little nearer. Tarzan felt the old, wil_mpulse to reply with the challenge of his kind. His kind? He had almos_orgotten that he was a man and not an ape. He tugged at his bonds. God, if h_ould but get them near those strong teeth of his. He felt a wild wave o_adness sweep over him as his efforts to regain his liberty met with failure.
Numa was roaring almost continually now. It was quite evident that he wa_oming down into the desert to hunt. It was the roar of a hungry lion. Tarza_nvied him, for he was free. No one would tie him with ropes and slaughter hi_ike a sheep. It was that which galled the ape-man. He did not fear to die, no—it was the humiliation of defeat before death, without even a chance t_attle for his life.
It must be near midnight, thought Tarzan. He had several hours to live.
Possibly he would yet find a way to take Rokoff with him on the long journey.
He could hear the savage lord of the desert quite close by now. Possibly h_ought his meat from among the penned animals within the DOUAR.
For a long time silence reigned, then Tarzan's trained ears caught the soun_f a stealthily moving body. It came from the side of the tent nearest th_ountains—the back. Nearer and nearer it came. He waited, listening intently, for it to pass. For a time there was silence without, such a terrible silenc_hat Tarzan was surprised that he did not hear the breathing of the animal h_elt sure must be crouching close to the back wall of his tent.
There! It is moving again. Closer it creeps. Tarzan turns his head in th_irection of the sound. It is very dark within the tent. Slowly the back rise_rom the ground, forced up by the head and shoulders of a body that looks al_lack in the semi-darkness. Beyond is a faint glimpse of the dimly starli_esert. A grim smile plays about Tarzan's lips. At least Rokoff will b_heated. How mad he will be! And death will be more merciful than he coul_ave hoped for at the hands of the Russian.
Now the back of the tent drops into place, and all is darkness again—whateve_t is is inside the tent with him. He hears it creeping close to him—now it i_eside him. He closes his eyes and waits for the mighty paw. Upon his upturne_ace falls the gentle touch of a soft hand groping in the dark, and then _irl's voice in a scarcely audible whisper pronounces his name.
"Yes, it is I," he whispers in reply. "But in the name of Heaven who are you?"
"The Ouled-Nail of Sisi Aissa," came the answer. While she spoke Tarzan coul_eel her working about his bonds. Occasionally the cold steel of a knif_ouched his flesh. A moment later he was free.
"Come!" she whispered.
On hands and knees he followed her out of the tent by the way she had come.
She continued crawling thus flat to the ground until she reached a littl_atch of shrub. There she halted until he gained her side. For a moment h_ooked at her before he spoke.
"I cannot understand," he said at last. "Why are you here? How did you kno_hat I was a prisoner in that tent? How does it happen that it is you who hav_aved me?"
She smiled. "I have come a long way tonight," she said, "and we have a lon_ay to go before we shall be out of danger. Come; I shall tell you all abou_s we go."
Together they rose and set off across the desert in the direction of th_ountains.
"I was not quite sure that I should ever reach you," she said at last. "E_DREA is abroad tonight, and after I left the horses I think he winded me an_as following—I was terribly frightened."
"What a brave girl," he said. "And you ran all that risk for a stranger—a_lien—an unbeliever?"
She drew herself up very proudly.
"I am the daughter of the Sheik Kabour ben Saden," she answered. "I should b_o fit daughter of his if I would not risk my life to save that of the man wh_aved mine while he yet thought that I was but a common Ouled-Nail."
"Nevertheless," he insisted, "you are a very brave girl. But how did you kno_hat I was a prisoner back there?"
"Achmet-din-Taieb, who is my cousin on my father's side, was visiting som_riends who belong to the tribe that captured you. He was at the DOUAR whe_ou were brought in. When he reached home he was telling us about the bi_renchman who had been captured by Ali-ben-Ahmed for another Frenchman wh_ished to kill him. From the description I knew that it must be you. My fathe_as away. I tried to persuade some of the men to come and save you, but the_ould not do it, saying: `Let the unbelievers kill one another if they wish.
It is none of our affair, and if we go and interfere with Ali-ben-Ahmed'_lans we shall only stir up a fight with our own people.'
"So when it was dark I came alone, riding one horse and leading another fo_ou. They are tethered not far from here. By morning we shall be within m_ather's DOUAR. He should be there himself by now—then let them come and tr_o take Kadour ben Saden's friend."
For a few moments they walked on in silence.
"We should be near the horses," she said. "It is strange that I do not se_hem here."
Then a moment later she stopped, with a little cry of consternation.
"They are gone!" she exclaimed. "It is here that I tethered them."
Tarzan stooped to examine the ground. He found that a large shrub had bee_orn up by the roots. Then he found something else. There was a wry smile o_is face as he rose and turned toward the girl.
"EL ADREA has been here. From the signs, though, I rather think that his pre_scaped him. With a little start they would be safe enough from him in th_pen."
There was nothing to do but continue on foot. The way led them across a lo_pur of the mountains, but the girl knew the trail as well as she did he_other's face. They walked in easy, swinging strides, Tarzan keeping a hand'_readth behind the girl's shoulder, that she might set the pace, and thus b_ess fatigued. As they walked they talked, occasionally stopping to listen fo_ounds of pursuit.
It was now a beautiful, moonlit night. The air was crisp and invigorating.
Behind them lay the interminable vista of the desert, dotted here and ther_ith an occasional oasis. The date palms of the little fertile spot they ha_ust left, and the circle of goatskin tents, stood out in sharp relief agains_he yellow sand—a phantom paradise upon a phantom sea. Before them rose th_rim and silent mountains. Tarzan's blood leaped in his veins. This was life!
He looked down upon the girl beside him—a daughter of the desert walkin_cross the face of a dead world with a son of the jungle. He smiled at th_hought. He wished that he had had a sister, and that she had been like thi_irl. What a bully chum she would have been!
They had entered the mountains now, and were progressing more slowly, for th_rail was steeper and very rocky.
For a few minutes they had been silent. The girl was wondering if they woul_each her father's DOUAR before the pursuit had overtaken them. Tarzan wa_ishing that they might walk on thus forever. If the girl were only a man the_ight. He longed for a friend who loved the same wild life that he loved. H_ad learned to crave companionship, but it was his misfortune that most of th_en he knew preferred immaculate linen and their clubs to nakedness and th_ungle. It was, of course, difficult to understand, yet it was very eviden_hat they did.
The two had just turned a projecting rock around which the trail ran when the_ere brought to a sudden stop. There, before them, directly in the middle o_he path, stood Numa, EL ADREA, the black lion. His green eyes looked ver_icked, and he bared his teeth, and lashed his bay-black sides with his angr_ail. Then he roared—the fearsome, terror-inspiring roar of the hungry lio_hich is also angry.
"Your knife," said Tarzan to the girl, extending his hand. She slipped th_ilt of the weapon into his waiting palm. As his fingers closed upon it h_rew her back and pushed her behind him. "Walk back to the desert as rapidl_s you can. If you hear me call you will know that all is well, and you ma_eturn."
"It is useless," she replied, resignedly. "This is the end."
"Do as I tell you," he commanded. "Quickly! He is about to charge." The gir_ropped back a few paces, where she stood watching for the terrible sight tha_he knew she should soon witness.
The lion was advancing slowly toward Tarzan, his nose to the ground, like _hallenging bull, his tail extended now and quivering as though with intens_xcitement.
The ape-man stood, half crouching, the long Arab knife glistening in th_oonlight. Behind him the tense figure of the girl, motionless as a carve_tatue. She leaned slightly forward, her lips parted, her eyes wide. Her onl_onscious thought was wonder at the bravery of the man who dared face with _uny knife the lord with the large head. A man of her own blood would hav_nelt in prayer and gone down beneath those awful fangs without resistance. I_ither case the result would be the same—it was inevitable; but she could no_epress a thrill of admiration as her eyes rested upon the heroic figur_efore her. Not a tremor in the whole giant frame—his attitude as menacing an_efiant as that of EL ADREA himself.
The lion was quite close to him now—but a few paces intervened—he crouched, and then, with a deafening roar, he sprang.