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Chapter 9 Tarzan and the Tarzan Twins with Jad-bal-ja the Golden Lion by Edgar Rice Burroughs

As the new day broke, Gulm and the lesser priests finished their meager breakfast and set forth again upon the march to the new temple site that Blk had discovered and toward which he had been guiding them.

With the passing of the hours since the disappearance of Kla, Gulm had had time to consider Ulp's story more carefully and he found that with sober reflection, certain vague suspicions insisted upon obtruding themselves upon his thoughts. Perhaps this may partially have been due to his dislike of Ulp as well as to the fact that the occurrence had upset all his plans for perpetuation in a new location the age-old rituals and ceremonials of his cult, which depended primarily upon the existence of a ruling high priestess whose word would be law to the lesser priests—and a white priestess would awe them.

In emulation of Cadj, the dead high priest, who had ruled Opar through La, he had proposed ruling the new city that he was about to found through the new La.

The Flaming God or, perhaps, and this he was more inclined to believe, a lying Ulp had set all his plans at naught. The more he gave thought to the matter the less probable it seemed that The Flaming God would appear in person to a lesser priest rather than to Gulm himself, and so it was a surly, suspicious Gulm that led his followers upon the trail set by Blk.

The Tarzan twins, tired though they were, did not dare to stop for a long rest until they had put more distance between themselves and the sun worshippers and so, their hunger satisfied, they set out again in the direction toward which, they believed, lay the open veldt and the home of Tarzan.

Gretchen, though very tired, fought bravely to keep pace with the boys that she might not prove a burden to them, but it was necessary for one or both of them to steady and help her through the trees with the result that their progress was slow—so slow that both Dick and Doc soon realized that if the sun worshippers were pursuing them, their chances for escape were hopeless.

"Gee," said Doc, "this old jungle must be as large as the whole state of New York. It seems to me as though we ought to be coming to the end of it pretty soon."

"Are you sure you are going in the right direction?" asked Gretchen.

Doc shook his head.

"That is just the trouble," he admitted. "We think we are going in the right direction, but we do not know for sure."

"You see," explained Dick, "we came into the jungle with Tarzan and neither of us paid any attention to direction. Then Tarzan went away and that terrible storm came and the first thing we knew we were all turned around and were not very sure of any directions, except up and down."

"And then," said Doc, "I am pretty sure that when we are going through the trees it is impossible for us to go in a straight line, and as more than half of the time we never see the sun, even when it is shining, there is nothing to guide us."

"You could probably get out all right if it were not for me," said Gretchen.

"Don't say that," said Dick, gallantly. "On the contrary, we might starve to death before we found the way out if it were not for you."

"I am glad that I can be of some help," said Gretchen, "but I know what boys think of girls—I have two brothers."

"Well," said Doc, candidly, "I never did think a girl was much good for anything like this, but I sure have changed my mind now. Why, you are just like a boy the way you climb and everything."

"And you know so much about the jungle, too," said Dick. "I am awfully glad we found you."

"You are not half as glad as I am," said Gretchen. "It makes me frightened all over every time I think of Gulm and the others and the terrible things they talked of and the horrible plans they were making against the time that their new temple could be built."

"What were they going to make you do then?" asked Doc.

The girl shuddered.

"I know that those creatures offer human beings in sacrifices to their god," she said, "and I, as their high priestess, was to have made the offering—"

"They were going to make you kill people?" demanded Doc in an awestruck voice.

The girl nodded.

"What horrible creatures!" exclaimed Doc.

For a time now they moved on in silence and always it became more and more apparent to the boys that the girl had almost reached the limit of her endurance. She could not stand the ordeal much longer.

"Here is another game trail," said Dick, who was in the lead. "It is running in the same general direction that we are going. I think that we should go down to the ground and take it easy for a while."

"We can make much better time on the ground," said Doc.

"And just as soon as we think it's safe, we can find a good place to hide and get some rest," added Dick, in approval.

"Whatever you say," said Gretchen, wearily as they made their way downward.

The boys assisted her to the ground and the three moved off along the broad, well-marked trail which wound among the jungle growth ahead.

All three of them found that the change was restful and with their increased speed their spirits rose—they were quite as happy as though they were going in the right direction, which they were not, for Doc had been right when he said that they could not move through the trees in a straight line. They had made a great circle and when they came down into the game trail, they moved off into the direction from which they had come.

But such is the confidence of youth that they even laughed occasionally as they plodded, chatting, through the leafy aisles of the forest.

Blk, a few paces in advance of Gulm and the lesser priests, stopped abruptly, raising a warning hand. Gulm listened, straining his ears until they appeared almost to prick up like those of a beast. Plainly to his ears, though faintly, came the sound of voices and a few notes of laughter.

Turning quickly, Gulm gave a signal to the others and as if by magic, the twenty frightful men melted into the surrounding brush.

Dick stopped and looked back at Doc, who had fallen behind.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Gathering some of this grass to fasten my spear head tighter," replied Doc. "It has come loose. Go ahead, I'll catch up."

"Don't get too far behind," said Dick.

Without looking back again, being absorbed in making their way, Dick and Gretchen started off again along the trail, while Doc followed behind winding the tough, fibrous jungle grass securely about the split end of his spear shaft into which the spear was fitted.

Occupied with his work, he walked more slowly than he realized, falling farther and farther behind his companions.

Dick and Gretchen plodded steadily onward. Perhaps they were encouraged and elated because the easy going seemed to presage an early release from the forbidding gloom of the jungle.

Dick recalled that Tarzan and Doc had entered the jungle with the golden lion upon just such a trail, and because he hoped so much he was willing to believe that this was, indeed, the same trail that they had traversed once before with the ape man and Jad-bal-ja.

"Do you know," he said to Gretchen, "that this is about the first time since we were lost that I have felt really certain that we are on the right trail and that our troubles are about over?"

"I hope you are right," said Gretchen, and then she voiced a little cry of terror and turned and seized his arm.

"Oh, Dick, look!" she cried, and at the same moment the twenty terrible men rose from the underbrush all about them.

Blk seized Dick and disarmed him, while another grasped Gretchen and tore her away from her companion.

Down the trail behind them, Doc heard Gretchen's cry and the guttural voices of the gorilla-men. "Dick!" he cried, "Oh, Dick!" and started at a run along the trail in pursuit of them.

Dick thought quickly. He realized that they were helpless prisoners and that if Doc was permitted to run into the ambush no good could be accomplished by it, since he, too, would be immediately taken prisoner and disarmed.

"Go back, Doc! Go back! The sun worshippers have got us. You can help us better if they do not catch you, too. Take to the trees."

"Quick," cried Gulm to his fellows. "There are more of them. Go and catch them."

Instantly a half dozen of the lesser priests started at a run along the trail in the direction from which Doc's voice had come. One of them, fleeter than his fellows, caught a glimpse of Doc as he swung into the lower branches of an overhanging tree, and ape-like the priest followed.

Doc, already close to physical exhaustion, fled as rapidly as he could, but at each backward glance he realized that the powerful gorilla-man was overhauling him.

It would soon all be over. In another moment the creature would be upon him, either to strike him down with his heavy cudgel or to take him back a prisoner and a prospective sacrifice.

Like a cornered beast, Doc turned at bay. He stood in the branches of a great tree, his feet firmly planted upon the rough bark of two mighty limbs, his back against the huge hole.

The gnarled man was swinging toward him. The little, red-rimmed, close-set eyes were glaring through the matted hair that covered the bestial face. The thick lips were parted, revealing fighting fangs, only a trifle less formidable than those of a gorilla, and from the creature's throat rumbled low, growling sounds meant to intimidate his victim.

Doc whipped an arrow from his quiver and fitted it to his bow. The gorilla-man, sensing his intentions, voiced a challenging roar and swung his cudgel as though to hurl it at his foe, but his gesture of defense came too late.

The bow string twanged and the shaft sped straight to its mark.

With a loud blood-curdling scream, the lesser priest grasped the feathered tip of the arrow where it protruded from his breast, and toppled a moment upon the great bough to which he had leaped and then, slumping into sudden collapse, lunged head foremost to the ground below.

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