Chapter 24 - Lost Treasure
When the expedition returned, following their fruitless endeavor to succor D'Arnot, Captain Dufranne was anxious to steam away as quickly as possible, and all save Jane had acquiesced.
"No," she said, determinedly, "I shall not go, nor should you, for there are two friends in that jungle who will come out of it some day expecting to find us awaiting them.
"Your officer, Captain Dufranne, is one of them, and the forest man who has saved the lives of every member of my father's party is the other.
"He left me at the edge of the jungle two days ago to hasten to the aid of my father and Mr. Clayton, as he thought, and he has stayed to rescue Lieutenant D'Arnot; of that you may be sure.
"Had he been too late to be of service to the lieutenant he would have been back before now--the fact that he is not back is sufficient proof to me that he is delayed because Lieutenant D'Arnot is wounded, or he has had to follow his captors further than the village which your sailors attacked."
"But poor D'Arnot's uniform and all his belongings were found in that village, Miss Porter," argued the captain, "and the natives showed great excitement when questioned as to the white man's fate."
"Yes, Captain, but they did not admit that he was dead and as for his clothes and accouterments being in their possession--why more civilized peoples than these poor savage negroes strip their prisoners of every article of value whether they intend killing them or not.
"Even the soldiers of my own dear South looted not only the living but the dead. It is strong circumstantial evidence, I will admit, but it is not positive proof."
"Possibly your forest man, himself was captured or killed by the savages," suggested Captain Dufranne.
The girl laughed.
"You do not know him," she replied, a little thrill of pride setting her nerves a-tingle at the thought that she spoke of her own.
"I admit that he would be worth waiting for, this superman of yours," laughed the captain. "I most certainly should like to see him."
"Then wait for him, my dear captain," urged the girl, "for I intend doing so."
The Frenchman would have been a very much surprised man could he have interpreted the true meaning of the girl's words.
They had been walking from the beach toward the cabin as they talked, and now they joined a little group sitting on camp stools in the shade of a great tree beside the cabin.
Professor Porter was there, and Mr. Philander and Clayton, with Lieutenant Charpentier and two of his brother officers, while Esmeralda hovered in the background, ever and anon venturing opinions and comments with the freedom of an old and much-indulged family servant.
The officers arose and saluted as their superior approached, and Clayton surrendered his camp stool to Jane.
"We were just discussing poor Paul's fate," said Captain Dufranne. "Miss Porter insists that we have no absolute proof of his death--nor have we. And on the other hand she maintains that the continued absence of your omnipotent jungle friend indicates that D'Arnot is still in need of his services, either because he is wounded, or still is a prisoner in a more distant native village."
"It has been suggested," ventured Lieutenant Charpentier, "that the wild man may have been a member of the tribe of blacks who attacked our party--that he was hastening to aid THEM--his own people."
Jane shot a quick glance at Clayton.
"It seems vastly more reasonable," said Professor Porter.
"I do not agree with you," objected Mr. Philander. "He had ample opportunity to harm us himself, or to lead his people against us. Instead, during our long residence here, he has been uniformly consistent in his role of protector and provider."
"That is true," interjected Clayton, "yet we must not overlook the fact that except for himself the only human beings within hundreds of miles are savage cannibals. He was armed precisely as are they, which indicates that he has maintained relations of some nature with them, and the fact that he is but one against possibly thousands suggests that these relations could scarcely have been other than friendly."
"It seems improbable then that he is not connected with them," remarked the captain; "possibly a member of this tribe."
"Otherwise," added another of the officers, "how could he have lived a sufficient length of time among the savage denizens of the jungle, brute and human, to have become proficient in woodcraft, or in the use of African weapons."
"You are judging him according to your own standards, gentlemen," said Jane. "An ordinary white man such as any of you--pardon me, I did not mean just that--rather, a white man above the ordinary in physique and intelligence could never, I grant you, have lived a year alone and naked in this tropical jungle; but this man not only surpasses the average white man in strength and agility, but as far transcends our trained athletes and `strong men' as they surpass a day-old babe; and his courage and ferocity in battle are those of the wild beast."
"He has certainly won a loyal champion, Miss Porter," said Captain Dufranne, laughing. "I am sure that there be none of us here but would willingly face death a hundred times in its most terrifying forms to deserve the tributes of one even half so loyal--or so beautiful."
"You would not wonder that I defend him," said the girl, "could you have seen him as I saw him, battling in my behalf with that huge hairy brute.
"Could you have seen him charge the monster as a bull might charge a grizzly--absolutely without sign of fear or hesitation--you would have believed him more than human.
"Could you have seen those mighty muscles knotting under the brown skin--could you have seen them force back those awful fangs--you too would have thought him invincible.
"And could you have seen the chivalrous treatment which he accorded a strange girl of a strange race, you would feel the same absolute confidence in him that I feel."
"You have won your suit, my fair pleader," cried the captain. "This court finds the defendant not guilty, and the cruiser shall wait a few days longer that he may have an opportunity to come and thank the divine Portia."
"For the Lord's sake honey," cried Esmeralda. "You all don't mean to tell ME that you're going to stay right here in this here land of carnivable animals when you all got the opportunity to escapade on that boat? Don't you tell me THAT, honey."
"Why, Esmeralda! You should be ashamed of yourself," cried Jane. "Is this any way to show your gratitude to the man who saved your life twice?"
"Well, Miss Jane, that's all jest as you say; but that there forest man never did save us to stay here. He done save us so we all could get AWAY from here. I expect he be mighty peevish when he find we ain't got no more sense than to stay right here after he done give us the chance to get away.
"I hoped I'd never have to sleep in this here geological garden another night and listen to all them lonesome noises that come out of that jumble after dark."
"I don't blame you a bit, Esmeralda," said Clayton, "and you certainly did hit it off right when you called them `lonesome' noises. I never have been able to find the right word for them but that's it, don't you know, lonesome noises."
"You and Esmeralda had better go and live on the cruiser," said Jane, in fine scorn. "What would you think if you HAD to live all of your life in that jungle as our forest man has done?"
"I'm afraid I'd be a blooming bounder as a wild man," laughed Clayton, ruefully. "Those noises at night make the hair on my head bristle. I suppose that I should be ashamed to admit it, but it's the truth."
"I don't know about that," said Lieutenant Charpentier. "I never thought much about fear and that sort of thing--never tried to determine whether I was a coward or brave man; but the other night as we lay in the jungle there after poor D'Arnot was taken, and those jungle noises rose and fell around us I began to think that I was a coward indeed. It was not the roaring and growling of the big beasts that affected me so much as it was the stealthy noises--the ones that you heard suddenly close by and then listened vainly for a repetition of--the unaccountable sounds as of a great body moving almost noiselessly, and the knowledge that you didn't KNOW how close it was, or whether it were creeping closer after you ceased to hear it? It was those noises--and the eyes.
"MON DIEU! I shall see them in the dark forever--the eyes that you see, and those that you don't see, but feel--ah, they are the worst."
All were silent for a moment, and then Jane spoke.
"And he is out there," she said, in an awe-hushed whisper. "Those eyes will be glaring at him to-night, and at your comrade Lieutenant D'Arnot. Can you leave them, gentlemen, without at least rendering them the passive succor which remaining here a few days longer might insure them?"
"Tut, tut, child," said Professor Porter. "Captain Dufranne is willing to remain, and for my part I am perfectly willing, perfectly willing--as I always have been to humor your childish whims."
"We can utilize the morrow in recovering the chest, Professor," suggested Mr. Philander.
"Quite so, quite so, Mr. Philander, I had almost forgotten the treasure," exclaimed Professor Porter. "Possibly we can borrow some men from Captain Dufranne to assist us, and one of the prisoners to point out the location of the chest."
"Most assuredly, my dear Professor, we are all yours to command," said the captain.
And so it was arranged that on the next day Lieutenant Charpentier was to take a detail of ten men, and one of the mutineers of the Arrow as a guide, and unearth the treasure; and that the cruiser would remain for a full week in the little harbor. At the end of that time it was to be assumed that D'Arnot was truly dead, and that the forest man would not return while they remained. Then the two vessels were to leave with all the party.
Professor Porter did not accompany the treasure-seekers on the following day, but when he saw them returning empty-handed toward noon, he hastened forward to meet them --his usual preoccupied indifference entirely vanished, and in its place a nervous and excited manner.
"Where is the treasure?" he cried to Clayton, while yet a hundred feet separated them.
Clayton shook his head.
"Gone," he said, as he neared the professor.
"Gone! It cannot be. Who could have taken it?" cried Professor Porter.
"God only knows, Professor," replied Clayton. "We might have thought the fellow who guided us was lying about the location, but his surprise and consternation on finding no chest beneath the body of the murdered Snipes were too real to be feigned. And then our spades showed us that SOMETHING had been buried beneath the corpse, for a hole had been there and it had been filled with loose earth."
"But who could have taken it?" repeated Professor Porter.
"Suspicion might naturally fall on the men of the cruiser," said Lieutenant Charpentier, "but for the fact that sub-lieutenant Janviers here assures me that no men have had shore leave--that none has been on shore since we anchored here except under command of an officer. I do not know that you would suspect our men, but I am glad that there is now no chance for suspicion to fall on them," he concluded.
"It would never have occurred to me to suspect the men to whom we owe so much," replied Professor Porter, graciously. "I would as soon suspect my dear Clayton here, or Mr. Philander."
The Frenchmen smiled, both officers and sailors. It was plain to see that a burden had been lifted from their minds.
"The treasure has been gone for some time," continued Clayton. "In fact the body fell apart as we lifted it, which indicates that whoever removed the treasure did so while the corpse was still fresh, for it was intact when we first uncovered it."
"There must have been several in the party," said Jane, who had joined them. "You remember that it took four men to carry it."
"By jove!" cried Clayton. "That's right. It must have been done by a party of blacks. Probably one of them saw the men bury the chest and then returned immediately after with a party of his friends, and carried it off."
"Speculation is futile," said Professor Porter sadly. "The chest is gone. We shall never see it again, nor the treasure that was in it."
Only Jane knew what the loss meant to her father, and none there knew what it meant to her.
Six days later Captain Dufranne announced that they would sail early on the morrow.
Jane would have begged for a further reprieve, had it not been that she too had begun to believe that her forest lover would return no more.
In spite of herself she began to entertain doubts and fears. The reasonableness of the arguments of these disinterested French officers commenced to convince her against her will.
That he was a cannibal she would not believe, but that he was an adopted member of some savage tribe at length seemed possible to her.
She would not admit that he could be dead. It was impossible to believe that that perfect body, so filled with triumphant life, could ever cease to harbor the vital spark--as soon believe that immortality were dust.
As Jane permitted herself to harbor these thoughts, others equally unwelcome forced themselves upon her.
If he belonged to some savage tribe he had a savage wife --a dozen of them perhaps--and wild, half-caste children. The girl shuddered, and when they told her that the cruiser would sail on the morrow she was almost glad.
It was she, though, who suggested that arms, ammunition, supplies and comforts be left behind in the cabin, ostensibly for that intangible personality who had signed himself Tarzan of the Apes, and for D'Arnot should he still be living, but really, she hoped, for her forest god--even though his feet should prove of clay.
And at the last minute she left a message for him, to be transmitted by Tarzan of the Apes.
She was the last to leave the cabin, returning on some trivial pretext after the others had started for the boat.
She kneeled down beside the bed in which she had spent so many nights, and offered up a prayer for the safety of her primeval man, and crushing his locket to her lips she murmured:
"I love you, and because I love you I believe in you. But if I did not believe, still should I love. Had you come back for me, and had there been no other way, I would have gone into the jungle with you--forever."