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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Land Of Mystery - Chapter 25. Ziffak's Blow
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The Land Of Mystery - Chapter 25. Ziffak's Blow Post by :CoachLarry Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Sylvester Ellis Date :July 2011 Read :523

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The Land Of Mystery - Chapter 25. Ziffak's Blow

CHAPTER XXV. ZIFFAK'S BLOW

Ziffak, head chieftain of the Murhapas, was a shrewder and more far-seeing man than even his white friends suspected.

He had been the first to observe the significant glances of Fred Ashman at the hanging curtains, as he was the first to detect the presence of his beloved niece behind them.

Although King Haffgo saw not the smile which flitted over the face of his daughter, when her eyes met those of the young American, yet Ziffak observed it, and he could not have translated it wrongly had he wished to do so.

An intimation has been given of the nature of the quarrel between Ziffak and his royal brother. The latter was so infuriated that he declared that every one of the white men should die. Ziffak reminded him of his pledge that they should be safe for two days, a pledge that he had repeated in their presence.

But in his hot anger, Ziffak said, he would break that pledge. One of the explorers had dared to look upon the face of Ariel and smile. Had he detected her returning it, he would have driven his javelin through her body as she stood beside him.

Ziffak gave no hint of what he had observed.

The head chieftain was not afraid to brave his brother to his face; but he wisely forbore carrying the quarrel beyond the point of reconciliation. He told his brother that he was so beside himself that he forgot he was a Murhapa who never broke his word. But if the king insisted, he would see that the white men took their departure before the rising of the morrow's sun.

King Haffgo consented that if that was done, he would permit them to go in peace. It was Ziffak's hope that his brother, after his anger had time to cool, would modify his last declaration still further and allow them to stay their two days, that led him to qualify his remark about the necessity of their withdrawing that night.

The same cunning which stood the head chieftain so well during this stormy interview remained with him to the end. While he and his brother were wrangling, Ariel stood mute and with bowed head. She durst not speak, but withdrew only a minute or two before her parent.

Ziffak was still warmly attached to Ashman, and was willing to risk his life in his behalf. Knowing that Waggaman and Burkhardt had had much to do with stirring the resentment of the king, he was angry enough to slay both of them.

When the most peculiar situation is considered, however, it is hardly safe to believe the head chieftain was ready to go to the length of helping to bring about a meeting between the lovers.

He understood his niece well enough to know that despite the fury of her parent, she would brave a good deal to exchange words with the handsome stranger that had made such an impression on his heart.

So long as this young man remained in Ziffak's house, so long was it impossible for such meeting to take place; but, when Ashman sprang up and announced his intention of taking a stroll, Ziffak believed that it was with the intention of trying to see Ariel. That is to say, he suspected what really came to pass, though it was not in the mind of the youth.

Ashman had not been gone long, when Ziffak made an excuse to withdraw, saying he meant to find out, if he could, where Waggaman and Burkhardt were hiding. He counselled the Professor and the New Englander to stay where they were until his return, which he promised should not be long deferred.

Neither Grimcke nor Long dreamt of the object of their dusky friend in leaving, and as the mother of the Murhapa reappeared about that time and started a fire, with a view of preparing their evening meal, they concluded that the best thing for them was to follow the advice of the brave fellow.

The instant Ziffak was on the outside of his own house, he became as alert as a cat scenting a mouse. He held his ponderous javelin with its poisoned tip in his right hand, and he looked keenly about in the gathering gloom.

A warrior stopped in front of him and made a respectful inquiry about the white men. Ziffak uttered such an angry reply and raised his weapon so menacingly that the native skurried away in terror of his life.

All at once the keen black eyes caught sight of a small, petite figure as it vanished in the darkness. He smiled, for he recognized Ariel on her way to the upper end of the village. He knew on the instant what _that meant.

Then the penetrating gaze outlined the figure of a man, sneaking like a wild animal, down the river bank. He was seen only faintly, but he was equally sure of _his identity. It was Burkhardt, one of the hated white men that had poisoned the mind of his brother and caused him to forget he was a Murhapa, whose word should be sacred.

An exultant gleam came into the dusky face, as he stole forward in the same direction that the convict took. The action of the miscreant showed that he was following some prey, and who was it as likely to be as the white man that was abroad and was held in such detestation by the scoundrel?

Burkhardt, in one respect, acted precisely as did his intended victim. The latter was so absorbed in his own delicious thoughts, that, after that hurried glance around him, he did not once again look to the rear. So Burkhardt, never once dreaming that he was under surveillance, kept his gloating eyes fixed on the shadowy figure in front, without looking to see that while the man was hunting the tiger another tiger was not hunting him.

Being a slight distance to the rear of the convict, Ziffak could not see the form in front of him with equal distinctness, but the faint glimpse which he caught was all he needed.

Thus the strange procession passed up the western bank of the calmly flowing Xingu. Fred Ashman moving slowly and lost in reverie, Burkhardt prowling like a wild beast behind him, with Ziffak clinging to the heels of the wretch as if he were his very shadow.

The moon, which gave but faint light at the beginning, increased in power as the minutes passed. Ziffak fell back, so that if Burkhardt should look around, he would not recognize though he might see him.

But the ruffian did not turn his head: he was too intent on the fearful task before him.

Suddenly he stopped. Instantly Ziffak crouched down into the smallest possible space and clutched his javelin. The increasing moonlight showed that he had passed beyond the upper end of the village and was watching the lovers on the fringe of the forest beyond.

A movement on the part of Burkhardt, as if he were making preparation to fire his rifle, caused Ziffak to move swiftly and silently forward until he was within twenty paces. Then he paused, for he was close enough.

The change of position on the part of the pursuer enabled him to catch the outlines of the lovers, so absorbed in each other's presence that they forgot to keep within the sheltering shadow of the trees.

Burkhardt could ask for no better opportunity than that which was now before him. He knew the inextinguishable hatred of King Haffgo for this white man, and no greater favor could be done the ruler than to slay him.

Sinking on one knee, he carefully brought his gun to a level. The gleam of the moonlight on the barrel insured unerring aim.

But a moment before it was perfected, Ashman stepped forward and seized the hand of his adored one. This caused such a change of the relative situation of the two that the weapon could not be fired without endangering the life of the maiden.

That would never do, and waiting a moment in the hope that another charge would take place, Burkhardt began stealthily moving to the right to secure the advantage. A few steps up the slope were all that was required, when he again knelt on one knee and pointed his rifle at the unsuspicious American.

It was but an instant before that Ariel caught sight of the crouching figure and was transfixed with terror. The moonlight enabled her to identify the person, who was aiming his gun either at her or her companion.

Before she could speak, and at the moment Ashman turned his head, a giant figure was seen to rise as if out of the very earth, directly behind the miscreant. He held his prodigious javelin poised over his bead. He was seen to make a sudden onward movement and then the weapon vanished.

Speeding toward the couple with such amazing velocity it was invisible; but, ere the crouching convict could press the trigger of his rifle, he was seen to sprawl forward, his gun flying from his grasp. The terrible javelin had gone entirely through his body as though it were tissue paper, and pinned him like an impaled insect to the earth!

"The scoundrel!" exclaimed Ashman, who was just too late to anticipate their friend.

"It is Ziffak who has saved us!" gasped Ariel, shrinking against the side of her lover.

The herculean chieftain towered aloft in more imposing proportions than ever as he strode toward the startled couple. Whether he was advancing to regain his weapon, or whether he meant to join them could not be known; for, before he reached the body of the assassin, he abruptly stopped and looked in the direction of the village.

He had caught an ominous sound: it was that made by the discharge of firearms!

"Great heaven!" exclaimed Ashman; "they have attacked my friends in Ziffak's house; I must go to their help; dearest Ariel, what will become of you?" added the distracted lover.

"Leave me alone," she replied, becoming calm again; "I can return home."

"Well, then, good-bye! It may be for the last time," he impulsively added, catching her, his one arm clasped about her yielding form and drawing her to him. Then, while she only faintly resisted, he kissed her passionately, as a lover kisses the queen of his heart when he believes he is bidding her farewell forever.

Suddenly, Ashman felt both of the willowy arms about his own neck, and she returned his caresses with a fervor equal to his own.

"Heaven bless and keep you!" he murmured; "I now have everything to live for! I shall fight hard, for it is not the life of my friends or my own that it is at stake! It is _you_! It is YOU!"

The startled Ziffak had paused but an instant, when he read aright the meaning of the sounds of guns from the village. The explorers had been attacked by the Murhapas. King Haffgo must have given the order. He had violated his pledge for the first time in his life. Great was his provocation!

The bosom of the giant heaved with indignation. He stood glaring like a lion at the keepers who are torturing his mate to death, while he is barred within the cage and cannot rush to her help.

Then, wheeling about, he broke into a run straight for his home, whence came the shots that left no doubt that Professor Grimcke, Jared Long, and perchance their servants were fighting for their lives.

The chieftain had not far to go, and half the distance was passed, when he paused as suddenly as he had started. A new and startling decision had formed itself in his mind.

Again he wheeled and dashed toward the spot where he had left the lovers a minute before.

They saw him coming, and Ashman released his beloved and started to join the chieftain, who he suspected had come for him.

"Back!" he commanded, waving his immense arms; "neither of you must go to the village!"

"But what shall we do?" asked Ariel, pausing in front of the excited giant.

"Flee at once! Delay not a moment! If you do not, Haffgo will slay both of you! They are searching for Ariel! They suspect she is with you! They will soon know it and death awaits each!"

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