A man of about forty, well built and with strong, regular features, stepped out, and paying the chauffeur dismissed him.
A moment later the passenger was entering the library of the old home.
"Ah, Mr. Canler!" exclaimed an old man, rising to greet him.
"Good evening, my dear Professor," cried the man, extending a cordial hand.
"Who admitted you?" asked the professor.
"Then she will acquaint Jane with the fact that you are here," said the old man.
"No, Professor," replied Canler, "for I came primarily to see you."
"Ah, I am honored," said Professor Porter.
"Professor," continued Robert Canler, with great deliberation, as though carefully weighing his words, "I have come this evening to speak with you about Jane."
"You know my aspirations, and you have been generous enough to approve my suit."
Professor Archimedes Q. Porter fidgeted in his armchair. The subject always made him uncomfortable. He could not understand why. Canler was a splendid match.
"But Jane," continued Canler, "I cannot understand her. She puts me off first on one ground and then another. I have always the feeling that she breathes a sigh of relief every time I bid her good-by."
"Tut, tut," said Professor Porter. "Tut, tut, Mr. Canler. Jane is a most obedient daughter. She will do precisely as I tell her."
"Then I can still count on your support?" asked Canler, a tone of relief marking his voice.
"Certainly, sir; certainly, sir," exclaimed Professor Porter. "How could you doubt it?"
"There is young Clayton, you know," suggested Canler. "He has been hanging about for months. I don't know that Jane cares for him; but beside his title they say he has inherited a very considerable estate from his father, and it might not be strange,--if he finally won her, unless--" and Canler paused.
"Tut--tut, Mr. Canler; unless--what?"
"Unless, you see fit to request that Jane and I be married at once," said Canler, slowly and distinctly.
"I have already suggested to Jane that it would be desirable," said Professor Porter sadly, "for we can no longer afford to keep up this house, and live as her associations demand."
"What was her reply?" asked Canler.
"She said she was not ready to marry anyone yet," replied Professor Porter, "and that we could go and live upon the farm in northern Wisconsin which her mother left her.
"It is a little more than self-supporting. The tenants have always made a living from it, and been able to send Jane a trifle beside, each year. She is planning on our going up there the first of the week. Philander and Mr. Clayton have already gone to get things in readiness for us."
"Clayton has gone there?" exclaimed Canler, visibly chagrined. "Why was I not told? I would gladly have gone and seen that every comfort was provided."
"Jane feels that we are already too much in your debt, Mr. Canler," said Professor Porter.
Canler was about to reply, when the sound of footsteps came from the hall without, and Jane entered the room.
"Oh, I beg your pardon!" she exclaimed, pausing on the threshold. "I thought you were alone, papa."
"It is only I, Jane," said Canler, who had risen, "won't you come in and join the family group? We were just speaking of you."
"Thank you," said Jane, entering and taking the chair Canler placed for her. "I only wanted to tell papa that Tobey is coming down from the college tomorrow to pack his books. I want you to be sure, papa, to indicate all that you can do without until fall. Please don't carry this entire library to Wisconsin, as you would have carried it to Africa, if I had not put my foot down."
"Was Tobey here?" asked Professor Porter.
"Yes, I just left him. He and Esmeralda are exchanging religious experiences on the back porch now."
"Tut, tut, I must see him at once!" cried the professor. "Excuse me just a moment, children," and the old man hastened from the room.
As soon as he was out of earshot Canler turned to Jane.
"See here, Jane," he said bluntly. "How long is this thing going on like this? You haven't refused to marry me, but you haven't promised either. I want to get the license tomorrow, so that we can be married quietly before you leave for Wisconsin. I don't care for any fuss or feathers, and I'm sure you don't either."
The girl turned cold, but she held her head bravely.
"Your father wishes it, you know," added Canler.
"Yes, I know."
She spoke scarcely above a whisper.
"Do you realize that you are buying me, Mr. Canler?" she said finally, and in a cold, level voice. "Buying me for a few paltry dollars? Of course you do, Robert Canler, and the hope of just such a contingency was in your mind when you loaned papa the money for that hair-brained escapade, which but for a most mysterious circumstance would have been surprisingly successful.
"But you, Mr. Canler, would have been the most surprised. You had no idea that the venture would succeed. You are too good a businessman for that. And you are too good a businessman to loan money for buried treasure seeking, or to loan money without security--unless you had some special object in view.
"You knew that without security you had a greater hold on the honor of the Porters than with it. You knew the one best way to force me to marry you, without seeming to force me.
"You have never mentioned the loan. In any other man I should have thought that the prompting of a magnanimous and noble character. But you are deep, Mr. Robert Canler. I know you better than you think I know you.
"I shall certainly marry you if there is no other way, but let us understand each other once and for all."
While she spoke Robert Canler had alternately flushed and paled, and when she ceased speaking he arose, and with a cynical smile upon his strong face, said:
"You surprise me, Jane. I thought you had more self-control --more pride. Of course you are right. I am buying you, and I knew that you knew it, but I thought you would prefer to pretend that it was otherwise. I should have thought your self respect and your Porter pride would have shrunk from admitting, even to yourself, that you were a bought woman. But have it your own way, dear girl," he added lightly. "I am going to have you, and that is all that interests me."
Without a word the girl turned and left the room.
Jane was not married before she left with her father and Esmeralda for her little Wisconsin farm, and as she coldly bid Robert Canler goodby as her train pulled out, he called to her that he would join them in a week or two.
At their destination they were met by Clayton and Mr. Philander in a huge touring car belonging to the former, and quickly whirled away through the dense northern woods toward the little farm which the girl had not visited before since childhood.
The farmhouse, which stood on a little elevation some hundred yards from the tenant house, had undergone a complete transformation during the three weeks that Clayton and Mr. Philander had been there.
The former had imported a small army of carpenters and plasterers, plumbers and painters from a distant city, and what had been but a dilapidated shell when they reached it was now a cosy little two-story house filled with every modern convenience procurable in so short a time.
"Why, Mr. Clayton, what have you done?" cried Jane Porter, her heart sinking within her as she realized the probable size of the expenditure that had been made.
"S-sh," cautioned Clayton. "Don't let your father guess. If you don't tell him he will never notice, and I simply couldn't think of him living in the terrible squalor and sordidness which Mr. Philander and I found. It was so little when I would like to do so much, Jane. For his sake, please, never mention it."
"But you know that we can't repay you," cried the girl. "Why do you want to put me under such terrible obligations?"
"Don't, Jane," said Clayton sadly. "If it had been just you, believe me, I wouldn't have done it, for I knew from the start that it would only hurt me in your eyes, but I couldn't think of that dear old man living in the hole we found here. Won't you please believe that I did it just for him and give me that little crumb of pleasure at least?"
"I do believe you, Mr. Clayton," said the girl, "because I know you are big enough and generous enough to have done it just for him--and, oh Cecil, I wish I might repay you as you deserve--as you would wish."
"Why can't you, Jane?"
"Because I love another."
"But you are going to marry him. He told me as much before I left Baltimore."
The girl winced.
"I do not love him," she said, almost proudly.
"Is it because of the money, Jane?"
"Then am I so much less desirable than Canler? I have money enough, and far more, for every need," he said bitterly.
"I do not love you, Cecil," she said, "but I respect you. If I must disgrace myself by such a bargain with any man, I prefer that it be one I already despise. I should loathe the man to whom I sold myself without love, whomsoever he might be. You will be happier," she concluded, "alone--with my respect and friendship, than with me and my contempt."
He did not press the matter further, but if ever a man had murder in his heart it was William Cecil Clayton, Lord Greystoke, when, a week later, Robert Canler drew up before the farmhouse in his purring six cylinder.
A week passed; a tense, uneventful, but uncomfortable week for all the inmates of the little Wisconsin farmhouse.
Canler was insistent that Jane marry him at once.
At length she gave in from sheer loathing of the continued and hateful importuning.
It was agreed that on the morrow Canler was to drive to town and bring back the license and a minister.
Clayton had wanted to leave as soon as the plan was announced, but the girl's tired, hopeless look kept him. He could not desert her.
Something might happen yet, he tried to console himself by thinking. And in his heart, he knew that it would require but a tiny spark to turn his hatred for Canler into the blood lust of the killer.
Early the next morning Canler set out for town.
In the east smoke could be seen lying low over the forest, for a fire had been raging for a week not far from them, but the wind still lay in the west and no danger threatened them.
About noon Jane started off for a walk. She would not let Clayton accompany her. She wanted to be alone, she said, and he respected her wishes.
In the house Professor Porter and Mr. Philander were immersed in an absorbing discussion of some weighty scientific problem. Esmeralda dozed in the kitchen, and Clayton, heavy-eyed after a sleepless night, threw himself down upon the couch in the living room and soon dropped into a fitful slumber.
To the east the black smoke clouds rose higher into the heavens, suddenly they eddied, and then commenced to drift rapidly toward the west.
On and on they came. The inmates of the tenant house were gone, for it was market day, and none was there to see the rapid approach of the fiery demon.
Soon the flames had spanned the road to the south and cut off Canler's return. A little fluctuation of the wind now carried the path of the forest fire to the north, then blew back and the flames nearly stood still as though held in leash by some master hand.
Suddenly, out of the northeast, a great black car came careening down the road.
With a jolt it stopped before the cottage, and a black-haired giant leaped out to run up onto the porch. Without a pause he rushed into the house. On the couch lay Clayton. The man started in surprise, but with a bound was at the side of the sleeping man.
Shaking him roughly by the shoulder, he cried:
"My God, Clayton, are you all mad here? Don't you know you are nearly surrounded by fire? Where is Miss Porter?"
Clayton sprang to his feet. He did not recognize the man, but he understood the words and was upon the veranda in a bound.
"Scott!" he cried, and then, dashing back into the house, "Jane! Jane! where are you?"
In an instant Esmeralda, Professor Porter and Mr. Philander had joined the two men.
"Where is Miss Jane?" cried Clayton, seizing Esmeralda by the shoulders and shaking her roughly.
"Oh, Gaberelle, Mister Clayton, she done gone for a walk."
"Hasn't she come back yet?" and, without waiting for a reply, Clayton dashed out into the yard, followed by the others. "Which way did she go?" cried the black-haired giant of Esmeralda.
"Down that road," cried the frightened woman, pointing toward the south where a mighty wall of roaring flames shut out the view.
"Put these people in the other car," shouted the stranger to Clayton. "I saw one as I drove up--and get them out of here by the north road.
"Leave my car here. If I find Miss Porter we shall need it. If I don't, no one will need it. Do as I say," as Clayton hesitated, and then they saw the lithe figure bound away cross the clearing toward the northwest where the forest still stood, untouched by flame.
In each rose the unaccountable feeling that a great responsibility had been raised from their shoulders; a kind of implicit confidence in the power of the stranger to save Jane if she could be saved.
"Who was that?" asked Professor Porter.
"I do not know," replied Clayton. "He called me by name and he knew Jane, for he asked for her. And he called Esmeralda by name."
"There was something most startlingly familiar about him," exclaimed Mr. Philander, "And yet, bless me, I know I never saw him before."
"Tut, tut!" cried Professor Porter. "Most remarkable! Who could it have been, and why do I feel that Jane is safe, now that he has set out in search of her?"
"I can't tell you, Professor," said Clayton soberly, "but I know I have the same uncanny feeling."
"But come," he cried, "we must get out of here ourselves, or we shall be shut off," and the party hastened toward Clayton's car.
When Jane turned to retrace her steps homeward, she was alarmed to note how near the smoke of the forest fire seemed, and as she hastened onward her alarm became almost a panic when she perceived that the rushing flames were rapidly forcing their way between herself and the cottage.
At length she was compelled to turn into the dense thicket and attempt to force her way to the west in an effort to circle around the flames and reach the house.
In a short time the futility of her attempt became apparent and then her one hope lay in retracing her steps to the road and flying for her life to the south toward the town.
The twenty minutes that it took her to regain the road was all that had been needed to cut off her retreat as effectually as her advance had been cut off before.
A short run down the road brought her to a horrified stand, for there before her was another wall of flame. An arm of the main conflagration had shot out a half mile south of its parent to embrace this tiny strip of road in its implacable clutches.
Jane knew that it was useless again to attempt to force her way through the undergrowth.
She had tried it once, and failed. Now she realized that it would be but a matter of minutes ere the whole space between the north and the south would be a seething mass of billowing flames.
Calmly the girl kneeled down in the dust of the roadway and prayed for strength to meet her fate bravely, and for the delivery of her father and her friends from death.
Suddenly she heard her name being called aloud through the forest:
"Jane! Jane Porter!" It rang strong and clear, but in a strange voice.
"Here!" she called in reply. "Here! In the roadway!"
Then through the branches of the trees she saw a figure swinging with the speed of a squirrel.
A veering of the wind blew a cloud of smoke about them and she could no longer see the man who was speeding toward her, but suddenly she felt a great arm about her. Then she was lifted up, and she felt the rushing of the wind and the occasional brush of a branch as she was borne along.
She opened her eyes.
Far below her lay the undergrowth and the hard earth.
About her was the waving foliage of the forest.
From tree to tree swung the giant figure which bore her, and it seemed to Jane that she was living over in a dream the experience that had been hers in that far African jungle.
Oh, if it were but the same man who had borne her so swiftly through the tangled verdure on that other day! but that was impossible! Yet who else in all the world was there with the strength and agility to do what this man was now doing?
She stole a sudden glance at the face close to hers, and then she gave a little frightened gasp. It was he!
"My forest man!" she murmured, "No, I must be delerious!"
"Yes, your man, Jane Porter. Your savage, primeval man come out of the jungle to claim his mate--the woman who ran away from him," he added almost fiercely.
"I did not run away," she whispered. "I would only consent to leave when they had waited a week for you to return."
They had come to a point beyond the fire now, and he had turned back to the clearing.
Side by side they were walking toward the cottage. The wind had changed once more and the fire was burning back upon itself--another hour like that and it would be burned out.
"Why did you not return?" she asked.
"I was nursing D'Arnot. He was badly wounded."
"Ah, I knew it!" she exclaimed.
"They said you had gone to join the blacks--that they were your people."
"But you did not believe them, Jane?"
"No;--what shall I call you?" she asked. "What is your name?"
"I was Tarzan of the Apes when you first knew me," he said.
"Tarzan of the Apes!" she cried--"and that was your note I answered when I left?"
"Yes, whose did you think it was?"
"I did not know; only that it could not be yours, for Tarzan of the Apes had written in English, and you could not understand a word of any language."
Again he laughed.
"It is a long story, but it was I who wrote what I could not speak--and now D'Arnot has made matters worse by teaching me to speak French instead of English.
"Come," he added, "jump into my car, we must overtake your father, they are only a little way ahead."
As they drove along, he said:
"Then when you said in your note to Tarzan of the Apes that you loved another--you might have meant me?"
"I might have," she answered, simply.
"But in Baltimore--Oh, how I have searched for you--they told me you would possibly be married by now. That a man named Canler had come up here to wed you. Is that true?"
"Do you love him?"
"Do you love me?"
She buried her face in her hands.
"I am promised to another. I cannot answer you, Tarzan of the Apes," she cried.
"You have answered. Now, tell me why you would marry one you do not love."
"My father owes him money."
Suddenly there came back to Tarzan the memory of the letter he had read--and the name Robert Canler and the hinted trouble which he had been unable to understand then.
"If your father had not lost the treasure you would not feel forced to keep your promise to this man Canler?"
"I could ask him to release me."
"And if he refused?"
"I have given my promise."
He was silent for a moment. The car was plunging along the uneven road at a reckless pace, for the fire showed threateningly at their right, and another change of the wind might sweep it on with raging fury across this one avenue of escape.
Finally they passed the danger point, and Tarzan reduced their speed.
"Suppose I should ask him?" ventured Tarzan.
"He would scarcely accede to the demand of a stranger," said the girl. "Especially one who wanted me himself."
"Terkoz did," said Tarzan, grimly.
Jane shuddered and looked fearfully up at the giant figure beside her, for she knew that he meant the great anthropoid he had killed in her defense.
"This is not the African jungle," she said. "You are no longer a savage beast. You are a gentleman, and gentlemen do not kill in cold blood."
"I am still a wild beast at heart," he said, in a low voice, as though to himself.
Again they were silent for a time.
"Jane," said the man, at length, "if you were free, would you marry me?"
She did not reply at once, but he waited patiently.
The girl was trying to collect her thoughts.
What did she know of this strange creature at her side? What did he know of himself? Who was he? Who, his parents?
Why, his very name echoed his mysterious origin and his savage life.
He had no name. Could she be happy with this jungle waif? Could she find anything in common with a husband whose life had been spent in the tree tops of an African wilderness, frolicking and fighting with fierce anthropoids; tearing his food from the quivering flank of fresh-killed prey, sinking his strong teeth into raw flesh, and tearing away his portion while his mates growled and fought about him for their share?
Could he ever rise to her social sphere? Could she bear to think of sinking to his? Would either be happy in such a horrible misalliance?
"You do not answer," he said. "Do you shrink from wounding me?"
"I do not know what answer to make," said Jane sadly. "I do not know my own mind."
"You do not love me, then?" he asked, in a level tone.
"Do not ask me. You will be happier without me. You were never meant for the formal restrictions and conventionalities of society--civilization would become irksome to you, and in a little while you would long for the freedom of your old life--a life to which I am as totally unfitted as you to mine."
"I think I understand you," he replied quietly. "I shall not urge you, for I would rather see you happy than to be happy myself. I see now that you could not be happy with--an ape."
There was just the faintest tinge of bitterness in his voice.
"Don't," she remonstrated. "Don't say that. You do not understand."
But before she could go on a sudden turn in the road brought them into the midst of a little hamlet.
Before them stood Clayton's car surrounded by the party he had brought from the cottage.
Next chapter: Chapter 28 -- Conclusion