For a month Tarzan was a regular and very welcome devotee at the shrine of th_eautiful Countess de Coude. Often he met other members of the select littl_oterie that dropped in for tea of an afternoon. More often Olga found device_hat would give her an hour of Tarzan alone.
For a time she had been frightened by what Nikolas had insinuated. She had no_hought of this big, young man as anything more than friend, but with th_uggestion implanted by the evil words of her brother she had grown t_peculate much upon the strange force which seemed to attract her toward th_ray-eyed stranger. She did not wish to love him, nor did she wish his love.
She was much younger than her husband, and without having realized it she ha_een craving the haven of a friendship with one nearer her own age. Twenty i_hy in exchanging confidences with forty. Tarzan was but two years her senior.
He could understand her, she felt. Then he was clean and honorable an_hivalrous. She was not afraid of him. That she could trust him she had fel_nstinctively from the first.
From a distance Rokoff had watched this growing intimacy with malicious glee.
Ever since he had learned that Tarzan knew that he was a Russian spy there ha_een added to his hatred for the ape-man a great fear that he would expos_im. He was but waiting now until the moment was propitious for a maste_troke. He wanted to rid himself forever of Tarzan, and at the same time rea_n ample revenge for the humiliations and defeats that he had suffered at hi_ands.
Tarzan was nearer to contentment than he had been since the peace an_ranquility of his jungle had been broken in upon by the advent of th_arooned Porter party. He enjoyed the pleasant social intercourse with Olga'_riends, while the friendship which had sprung up between the fair countes_nd himself was a source of never-ending delight. It broke in upon an_ispersed his gloomy thoughts, and served as a balm to his lacerated heart.
Sometimes D'Arnot accompanied him on his visits to the De Coude home, for h_ad long known both Olga and the count. Occasionally De Coude dropped in, bu_he multitudinous affairs of his official position and the never-endin_emands of politics kept him from home usually until late at night.
Rokoff spied upon Tarzan almost constantly, waiting for the time that h_hould call at the De Coude palace at night, but in this he was doomed t_isappointment. On several occasions Tarzan accompanied the countess to he_ome after the opera, but he invariably left her at the entrance—much to th_isgust of the lady's devoted brother.
Finding that it seemed impossible to trap Tarzan through any voluntary act o_is own, Rokoff and Paulvitch put their heads together to hatch a plan tha_ould trap the ape-man in all the circumstantial evidence of a compromisin_osition.
For days they watched the papers as well as the movements of De Coude an_arzan. At length they were rewarded. A morning paper made brief mention of _moker that was to be given on the following evening by the German minister.
De Coude's name was among those of the invited guests. If he attended thi_eant that he would be absent from his home until after midnight.
On the night of the banquet Paulvitch waited at the curb before the residenc_f the German minister, where he could scan the face of each guest tha_rrived. He had not long to wait before De Coude descended from his car an_assed him. That was enough. Paulvitch hastened back to his quarters, wher_okoff awaited him. There they waited until after eleven, then Paulvitch too_own the receiver of their telephone. He called a number.
"The apartments of Lieutenant D'Arnot?" he asked, when he had obtained hi_onnection.
"A message for Monsieur Tarzan, if he will be so kind as to step to th_elephone."
For a minute there was silence.
"Ah, yes, monsieur, this is Francois—in the service of the Countess de Coude.
Possibly monsieur does poor Francois the honor to recall him—yes?
"Yes, monsieur. I have a message, an urgent message from the countess. Sh_sks that you hasten to her at once—she is in trouble, monsieur.
"No, monsieur, poor Francois does not know. Shall I tell madame that monsieu_ill be here shortly?
"Thank you, monsieur. The good God will bless you."
Paulvitch hung up the receiver and turned to grin at Rokoff.
"It will take him thirty minutes to get there. If you reach the Germa_inister's in fifteen, De Coude should arrive at his home in about forty-fiv_inutes. It all depends upon whether the fool will remain fifteen minute_fter he finds that a trick has been played upon him; but unless I am mistake_lga will be loath to let him go in so short a time as that. Here is the not_or De Coude. Hasten!"
Paulvitch lost no time in reaching the German minister's. At the door h_anded the note to a footman. "This is for the Count de Coude. It is ver_rgent. You must see that it is placed in his hands at once," and he dropped _iece of silver into the willing hand of the servant. Then he returned to hi_uarters.
A moment later De Coude was apologizing to his host as he tore open th_nvelope. What he read left his face white and his hand trembling.
MONSIEUR LE COUNT DE COUDE:
One who wishes to save the honor of your name takes this means to
warn you that the sanctity of your home is this minute in jeopardy.
A certain man who for months has been a constant visitor there
during your absence is now with your wife. If you go at once to
your countess' boudoir you will find them together.
Twenty minutes after Paulvitch had called Tarzan, Rokoff obtained a connectio_ith Olga's private line. Her maid answered the telephone which was in th_ountess' boudoir.
"But madame has retired," said the maid, in answer to Rokoff's request t_peak with her.
"This is a very urgent message for the countess' ears alone," replied Rokoff.
"Tell her that she must arise and slip something about her and come to th_elephone. I shall call up again in five minutes." Then he hung up hi_eceiver. A moment later Paulvitch entered.
"The count has the message?" asked Rokoff.
"He should be on his way to his home by now," replied Paulvitch.
"Good! My lady will be sitting in her boudoir, very much in negligee, abou_ow. In a minute the faithful Jacques will escort Monsieur Tarzan into he_resence without announcing him. It will take a few minutes for explanations.
Olga will look very alluring in the filmy creation that is her night-dress, and the clinging robe which but half conceals the charms that the former doe_ot conceal at all. Olga will be surprised, but not displeased.
"If there is a drop of red blood in the man the count will break in upon _ery pretty love scene in about fifteen minutes from now. I think we hav_lanned marvelously, my dear Alexis. Let us go out and drink to the very goo_ealth of Monsieur Tarzan in some of old Plancon's unparalleled absinth; no_orgetting that the Count de Coude is one of the best swordsmen in Paris, an_y far the best shot in all France."
When Tarzan reached Olga's, Jacques was awaiting him at the entrance.
"This way, Monsieur," he said, and led the way up the broad, marble staircase.
In another moment he had opened a door, and, drawing aside a heavy curtain, obsequiously bowed Tarzan into a dimly lighted apartment. Then Jacque_anished.
Across the room from him Tarzan saw Olga seated before a little desk on whic_tood her telephone. She was tapping impatiently upon the polished surface o_he desk. She had not heard him enter.
"Olga," he said, "what is wrong?"
She turned toward him with a little cry of alarm.
"Jean!" she cried. "What are you doing here? Who admitted you? What does i_ean?"
Tarzan was thunderstruck, but in an instant he realized a part of the truth.
"Then you did not send for me, Olga?"
"Send for you at this time of night? MON DIEU! Jean, do you think that I a_uite mad?"
"Francois telephoned me to come at once; that you were in trouble and wante_e."
"Francois? Who in the world is Francois?"
"He said that he was in your service. He spoke as though I should recall th_act."
"There is no one by that name in my employ. Some one has played a joke upo_ou, Jean," and Olga laughed.
"I fear that it may be a most sinister `joke,' Olga," he replied. "There i_ore back of it than humor."
"What do you mean? You do not think that—"
"Where is the count?" he interrupted.
"At the German ambassador's."
"This is another move by your estimable brother. Tomorrow the count will hea_f it. He will question the servants. Everything will point to—to what Rokof_ishes the count to think."
"The scoundrel!" cried Olga. She had arisen, and come close to Tarzan, wher_he stood looking up into his face. She was very frightened. In her eyes wa_n expression that the hunter sees in those of a poor, terrifie_oe—puzzled—questioning. She trembled, and to steady herself raised her hand_o his broad shoulders. "What shall we do, Jean?" she whispered. "It i_errible. Tomorrow all Paris will read of it—he will see to that."
Her look, her attitude, her words were eloquent of the age-old appeal o_efenseless woman to her natural protector—man. Tarzan took one of the war_ittle hands that lay on his breast in his own strong one. The act was quit_nvoluntary, and almost equally so was the instinct of protection that threw _heltering arm around the girl's shoulders.
The result was electrical. Never before had he been so close to her. I_tartled guilt they looked suddenly into each other's eyes, and where Olga d_oude should have been strong she was weak, for she crept closer into th_an's arms, and clasped her own about his neck. And Tarzan of the Apes? H_ook the panting figure into his mighty arms, and covered the hot lips wit_isses.
Raoul de Coude made hurried excuses to his host after he had read the not_anded him by the ambassador's butler. Never afterward could he recall th_ature of the excuses he made. Everything was quite a blur to him up to th_ime that he stood on the threshold of his own home. Then he became very cool, moving quietly and with caution. For some inexplicable reason Jacques had th_oor open before he was halfway to the steps. It did not strike him at th_ime as being unusual, though afterward he remarked it.
Very softly he tiptoed up the stairs and along the gallery to the door of hi_ife's boudoir. In his hand was a heavy walking stick—in his heart, murder.
Olga was the first to see him. With a horrified shriek she tore herself fro_arzan's arms, and the ape-man turned just in time to ward with his arm _errific blow that De Coude had aimed at his head. Once, twice, three time_he heavy stick fell with lightning rapidity, and each blow aided in th_ransition of the ape-man back to the primordial.
With the low, guttural snarl of the bull ape he sprang for the Frenchman. Th_reat stick was torn from his grasp and broken in two as though it had bee_atchwood, to be flung aside as the now infuriated beast charged for hi_dversary's throat. Olga de Coude stood a horrified spectator of the terribl_cene which ensued during the next brief moment, then she sprang to wher_arzan was murdering her husband—choking the life from him—shaking him as _errier might shake a rat.
Frantically she tore at his great hands. "Mother of God!" she cried. "You ar_illing him, you are killing him! Oh, Jean, you are killing my husband!"
Tarzan was deaf with rage. Suddenly he hurled the body to the floor, and, placing his foot upon the upturned breast, raised his head. Then through th_alace of the Count de Coude rang the awesome challenge of the bull ape tha_as made a kill. From cellar to attic the horrid sound searched out th_ervants, and left them blanched and trembling. The woman in the room sank t_er knees beside the body of her husband, and prayed.
Slowly the red mist faded from before Tarzan's eyes. Things began to tak_orm—he was regaining the perspective of civilized man. His eyes fell upon th_igure of the kneeling woman. "Olga," he whispered. She looked up, expectin_o see the maniacal light of murder in the eyes above her. Instead she sa_orrow and contrition.
"Oh, Jean!" she cried. "See what you have done. He was my husband. I love_im, and you have killed him."
Very gently Tarzan raised the limp form of the Count de Coude and bore it to _ouch. Then he put his ear to the man's breast.
"Some brandy, Olga," he said.
She brought it, and together they forced it between his lips. Presently _aint gasp came from the white lips. The head turned, and De Coude groaned.
"He will not die," said Tarzan. "Thank God!"
"Why did you do it, Jean?" she asked.
"I do not know. He struck me, and I went mad. I have seen the apes of my trib_o the same thing. I have never told you my story, Olga. It would have bee_etter had you known it—this might not have happened. I never saw my father.
The only mother I knew was a ferocious she-ape. Until I was fifteen I ha_ever seen a human being. I was twenty before I saw a white man. A little mor_han a year ago I was a naked beast of prey in an African jungle.
"Do not judge me too harshly. Two years is too short a time in which t_ttempt to work the change in an individual that it has taken countless age_o accomplish in the white race."
"I do not judge at all, Jean. The fault is mine. You must go now—he must no_ind you here when he regains consciousness. Good-by."
It was a sorrowful Tarzan who walked with bowed head from the palace of th_ount de Coude.
Once outside his thoughts took definite shape, to the end that twenty minute_ater he entered a police station not far from the Rue Maule. Here he soo_ound one of the officers with whom he had had the encounter several week_revious. The policeman was genuinely glad to see again the man who had s_oughly handled him. After a moment of conversation Tarzan asked if he ha_ver heard of Nikolas Rokoff or Alexis Paulvitch.
"Very often, indeed, monsieur. Each has a police record, and while there i_othing charged against them now, we make it a point to know pretty well wher_hey may be found should the occasion demand. It is only the same precautio_hat we take with every known criminal. Why does monsieur ask?"
"They are known to me," replied Tarzan. "I wish to see Monsieur Rokoff on _ittle matter of business. If you can direct me to his lodgings I shal_ppreciate it."
A few minutes later he bade the policeman adieu, and, with a slip of paper i_is pocket bearing a certain address in a semirespectable quarter, he walke_riskly toward the nearest taxi stand.
Rokoff and Paulvitch had returned to their rooms, and were sitting talkin_ver the probable outcome of the evening's events. They had telephoned to th_ffices of two of the morning papers from which they momentarily expecte_epresentatives to hear the first report of the scandal that was to sti_ocial Paris on the morrow.
A heavy step sounded on the stairway. "Ah, but these newspaper men ar_rompt," exclaimed Rokoff, and as a knock fell upon the door of their room:
The smile of welcome froze upon the Russian's face as he looked into the hard, gray eyes of his visitor.
"Name of a name!" he shouted, springing to his feet, "What brings you here!"
"Sit down!" said Tarzan, so low that the men could barely catch the words, bu_n a tone that brought Rokoff to his chair, and kept Paulvitch in his.
"You know what has brought me here," he continued, in the same low tone. "I_hould be to kill you, but because you are Olga de Coude's brother I shall no_o that—now.
"I shall give you a chance for your lives. Paulvitch does not count much—he i_erely a stupid, foolish little tool, and so I shall not kill him so long as _ermit you to live. Before I leave you two alive in this room you will hav_one two things. The first will be to write a full confession of you_onnection with tonight's plot—and sign it.
"The second will be to promise me upon pain of death that you will permit n_ord of this affair to get into the newspapers. If you do not do both, neithe_f you will be alive when I pass next through that doorway. Do yo_nderstand?" And, without waiting for a reply: "Make haste; there is in_efore you, and paper and a pen."
Rokoff assumed a truculent air, attempting by bravado to show how little h_eared Tarzan's threats. An instant later he felt the ape-man's steel finger_t his throat, and Paulvitch, who attempted to dodge them and reach the door, was lifted completely off the floor, and hurled senseless into a corner. Whe_okoff commenced to blacken about the face Tarzan released his hold and shove_he fellow back into his chair. After a moment of coughing Rokoff sat sullenl_laring at the man standing opposite him. Presently Paulvitch came to himself, and limped painfully back to his chair at Tarzan's command.
"Now write," said the ape-man. "If it is necessary to handle you again I shal_ot be so lenient."
Rokoff picked up a pen and commenced to write.
"See that you omit no detail, and that you mention every name," cautione_arzan.
Presently there was a knock at the door. "Enter," said Tarzan.
A dapper young man came in. "I am from the MATIN," he announced. "I understan_hat Monsieur Rokoff has a story for me."
"Then you are mistaken, monsieur," replied Tarzan. "You have no story fo_ublication, have you, my dear Nikolas."
Rokoff looked up from his writing with an ugly scowl upon his face.
"No," he growled, "I have no story for publication—now."
"Nor ever, my dear Nikolas," and the reporter did not see the nasty light i_he ape-man's eye; but Nikolas Rokoff did.
"Nor ever," he repeated hastily.
"It is too bad that monsieur has been troubled," said Tarzan, turning to th_ewspaper man. "I bid monsieur good evening," and he bowed the dapper youn_an out of the room, and closed the door in his face.
An hour later Tarzan, with a rather bulky manuscript in his coat pocket, turned at the door leading from Rokoff's room.
"Were I you I should leave France," he said, "for sooner or later I shall fin_n excuse to kill you that will not in any way compromise your sister."