Tarzan the Untamed/Chapter XI
Tarzan of the Apes, returning from a successful hunt, with thebody of Bara, the deer, across one sleek, brown shoulder, pausedin the branches of a great tree at the edge of a clearing and gazedruefully at two figures walking from the river to the boma-encircledhut a short distance away.
The ape-man shook his tousled head and sighed. His eyes wanderedtoward the west and his thoughts to the far-away cabin by theland-locked harbor of the great water that washed the beach of hisboyhood home--to the cabin of his long-dead father to which thememories and treasures of a happy childhood lured him. Since theloss of his mate, a great longing had possessed him to return tothe haunts of his youth--to the untracked jungle wilderness wherehe had lived the life he loved best long before man had invadedthe precincts of his wild stamping grounds. There he hoped in arenewal of the old life under the old conditions to win surceasefrom sorrow and perhaps some measure of forgetfulness.
But the little cabin and the land-locked harbor were many long,weary marches away, and he was handicapped by the duty which hefelt he owed to the two figures walking in the clearing before him.One was a young man in a worn and ragged uniform of the British RoyalAir Forces, the other, a young woman in the even more disreputableremnants of what once had been trim riding togs.
A freak of fate had thrown these three radically different typestogether. One was a savage, almost naked beast-man, one an Englisharmy officer, and the woman, she whom the ape-man knew and hatedas a German spy.
How he was to get rid of them Tarzan could not imagine unlesshe accompanied them upon the weary march back to the east coast,a march that would necessitate his once more retracing the long,weary way he already had covered towards his goal, yet what elsecould be done? These two had neither the strength, endurance, norjungle-craft to accompany him through the unknown country to thewest, nor did he wish them with him. The man he might have tolerated,but he could not even consider the presence of the girl in thefar-off cabin, which had in a way become sacred to him throughits memories, without a growl or anger rising to his lips. Thereremained, then, but the one way, since he could not desert them.He must move by slow and irksome marches back to the east coast,or at least to the first white settlement in that direction.
He had, it is true, contemplated leaving the girl to her fate butthat was before she had been instrumental in saving him from tortureand death at the hands of the black Wamabos. He chafed under theobligation she had put upon him, but no less did he acknowledgeit and as he watched the two, the rueful expression upon his facewas lightened by a smile as he thought of the helplessness of them.What a puny thing, indeed, was man! How ill equipped to combat thesavage forces of nature and of nature's jungle. Why, even the tinybalu of the tribe of Go-lat, the great ape, was better fitted tosurvive than these, for a balu could at least escape the numerouscreatures that menaced its existence, while with the possibleexception of Kota, the tortoise, none moved so slowly as did helplessand feeble man.
Without him these two doubtless would starve in the midst of plenty,should they by some miracle escape the other forces of destructionwhich constantly threatened them. That morning Tarzan had broughtthem fruit, nuts, and plantain, and now he was bringing them theflesh of his kill, while the best that they might do was to fetchwater from the river. Even now, as they walked across the clearingtoward the boma, they were in utter ignorance of the presenceof Tarzan near them. They did not know that his sharp eyes werewatching them, nor that other eyes less friendly were glaring atthem from a clump of bushes close beside the boma entrance. Theydid not know these things, but Tarzan did. No more than they couldhe see the creature crouching in the concealment of the foliage, yethe knew that it was there and what it was and what its intentions,precisely as well as though it had been lying in the open.
A slight movement of the leaves at the top of a single stem hadapprised him of the presence of a creature there, for the movementwas not that imparted by the wind. It came from pressure at thebottom of the stem which communicates a different movement to theleaves than does the wind passing among them, as anyone who haslived his lifetime in the jungle well knows, and the same wind thatpassed through the foliage of the bush brought to the ape-man'ssensitive nostrils indisputable evidence of the fact that Sheeta,the panther, waited there for the two returning from the river.
They had covered half the distance to the boma entrance when Tarzancalled to them to stop. They looked in surprise in the directionfrom which his voice had come to see him drop lightly to the groundand advance toward them.
"Come slowly toward me," he called to them. "Do not run for if yourun Sheeta will charge."
They did as he bid, their faces filled with questioning wonderment.
"What do you mean?" asked the young Englishman. "Who is Sheeta?"but for answer the ape-man suddenly hurled the carcass of Bara, thedeer, to the ground and leaped quickly toward them, his eyes uponsomething in their rear; and then it was that the two turned andlearned the identity of Sheeta, for behind them was a devil-facedcat charging rapidly toward them.
Sheeta with rising anger and suspicion had seen the ape-man leapfrom the tree and approach the quarry. His life's experiences backedby instinct told him that the Tarmangani was about to rob him ofhis prey and as Sheeta was hungry, he had no intention of beingthus easily deprived of the flesh he already considered his own.
The girl stifled an involuntary scream as she saw the proximityof the fanged fury bearing down upon them. She shrank close to theman and clung to him and all unarmed and defenseless as he was, theEnglishman pushed her behind him and shielding her with his body,stood squarely in the face of the panther's charge. Tarzan notedthe act, and though accustomed as he was to acts of courage, heexperienced a thrill from the hopeless and futile bravery of theman.
The charging panther moved rapidly, and the distance which separatedthe bush in which he had concealed himself from the objects of hisdesire was not great. In the time that one might understandinglyread a dozen words the strong-limbed cat could have covered theentire distance and made his kill, yet if Sheeta was quick, quicktoo was Tarzan. The English lieutenant saw the ape-man flash by himlike the wind. He saw the great cat veer in his charge as thoughto elude the naked savage rushing to meet him, as it was evidentlySheeta's intention to make good his kill before attempting toprotect it from Tarzan.
Lieutenant Smith-Oldwick saw these things and then with increasingwonder he saw the ape-man swerve, too, and leap for the spotted catas a football player leaps for a runner. He saw the strong, brownarms encircling the body of the carnivore, the left arm in frontof the beast's left shoulder and the right arm behind his rightforeleg, and with the impact the two together rolling over and overupon the turf. He heard the snarls and growls of bestial combat,and it was with a feeling of no little horror that he realized thatthe sounds coming from the human throat of the battling man couldscarce be distinguished from those of the panther.
The first momentary shock of terror over, the girl released hergrasp upon the Englishman's arm. "Cannot we do something?" sheasked. "Cannot we help him before the beast kills him?"
The Englishman looked upon the ground for some missile with whichto attack the panther and then the girl uttered an exclamation andstarted at a run toward the hut. "Wait there," she called over hershoulder. "I will fetch the spear that he left me."
Smith-Oldwick saw the raking talons of the panther searching forthe flesh of the man and the man on his part straining every muscleand using every artifice to keep his body out of range of them. Themuscles of his arms knotted under the brown hide. The veins stoodout upon his neck and forehead as with ever-increasing power hestrove to crush the life from the great cat. The ape-man's teethwere fastened in the back of Sheeta's neck and now he succeededin encircling the beast's torso with his legs which he crossed andlocked beneath the cat's belly. Leaping and snarling, Sheeta soughtto dislodge the ape-man's hold upon him. He hurled himself uponthe ground and rolled over and over. He reared upon his hind legsand threw himself backwards but always the savage creature uponhis back clung tenaciously to him, and always the mighty brown armscrushed tighter and tighter about his chest.
And then the girl, panting from her quick run, returned with theshort spear Tarzan had left her as her sole weapon of protection.She did not wait to hand it to the Englishman who ran forward toreceive it, but brushed past him and leaped into close quartersbeside the growling, tumbling mass of yellow fur and smooth brownhide. Several times she attempted to press the point home intothe cat's body, but on both occasions the fear of endangering theape-man caused her to desist, but at last the two lay motionlessfor a moment as the carnivore sought a moment's rest from thestrenuous exertions of battle, and then it was that Bertha Kircherpressed the point of the spear to the tawny side and drove it deepinto the savage heart.
Tarzan rose from the dead body of Sheeta and shook himself afterthe manner of beasts that are entirely clothed with hair. Likemany other of his traits and mannerisms this was the result ofenvironment rather than heredity or reversion, and even though hewas outwardly a man, the Englishman and the girl were both impressedwith the naturalness of the act. It was as though Numa, emergingfrom a fight, had shaken himself to straighten his rumpled mane andcoat, and yet, too, there was something uncanny about it as therehad been when the savage growls and hideous snarls issued fromthose clean-cut lips.
Tarzan looked at the girl, a quizzical expression upon his face.Again had she placed him under obligations to her, and Tarzan ofthe Apes did not wish to be obligated to a German spy; yet in hishonest heart he could not but admit a certain admiration for hercourage, a trait which always greatly impressed the ape-man, hehimself the personification of courage.
"Here is the kill," he said, picking the carcass of Bara from theground. "You will want to cook your portion, I presume, but Tarzandoes not spoil his meat with fire."
They followed him to the boma where he cut several pieces of meatfrom the carcass for them, retaining a joint for himself. Theyoung lieutenant prepared a fire, and the girl presided over theprimitive culinary rights of their simple meal. As she worked somelittle way apart from them, the lieutenant and the ape-man watchedher.
"She is wonderful. Is she not?" murmured Smith-Oldwick.
"She is a German and a spy," replied Tarzan.
The Englishman turned quickly upon him. "What do you mean?" hecried.
"I mean what I say," replied the ape-man. "She is a German and aspy."
"I do not believe it!" exclaimed the aviator.
"You do not have to," Tarzan assured him. "It is nothing to mewhat you believe. I saw her in conference with the Boche generaland his staff at the camp near Taveta. They all knew her and calledher by name and she handed him a paper. The next time I saw hershe was inside the British lines in disguise, and again I saw herbearing word to a German officer at Wilhelmstal. She is a Germanand a spy, but she is a woman and therefore I cannot destroy her."
"You really believe that what you say is true?" asked the younglieutenant. "My God! I cannot believe it. She is so sweet and braveand good."
The ape-man shrugged his shoulders. "She is brave," he said, "buteven Pamba, the rat, must have some good quality, but she is whatI have told you and therefore I hate her and you should hate her."
Lieutenant Harold Percy Smith-Oldwick buried his face in his hands."God forgive me," he said at last. "I cannot hate her."
The ape-man cast a contemptuous look at his companion and arose."Tarzan goes again to hunt," he said. "You have enough food fortwo days. By that time he will return."
The two watched him until he had disappeared in the foliage of thetrees at the further side of the clearing.
When he had gone the girl felt a vague sense of apprehension thatshe never experienced when Tarzan was present. The invisible menaceslurking in the grim jungle seemed more real and much more imminentnow that the ape-man was no longer near. While he had been theretalking with them, the little thatched hut and its surroundingthorn boma had seemed as safe a place as the world might afford.She wished that he had remained--two days seemed an eternity incontemplation-two days of constant fear, two days, every moment ofwhich would be fraught with danger. She turned toward her companion.
"I wish that he had remained," she said. "I always feel so muchsafer when he is near. He is very grim and very terrible, and yetI feel safer with him than with any man I ever have known. He seemsto dislike me and yet I know that he would let no harm befall me.I cannot understand him."
"Neither do I understand him," replied the Englishman; "but I knowthis much--our presence here is interfering with his plans. He wouldlike to be rid of us, and I half imagine that he rather hopes tofind when he returns that we have succumbed to one of the dangerswhich must always confront us in this savage land.
"I think that we should try to return to the white settlements. Thisman does not want us here, nor is it reasonable to assume that wecould long survive in such a savage wilderness. I have traveled andhunted in several parts of Africa, but never have I seen or heardof any single locality so overrun with savage beasts and dangerousnatives. If we set out for the east coast at once we would be inbut little more danger than we are here, and if we could survivea day's march, I believe that we will find the means of reachingthe coast in a few hours, for my plane must still be in the sameplace that I landed just before the blacks captured me. Of coursethere is no one here who could operate it nor is there any reasonwhy they should have destroyed it. As a matter of fact, the nativeswould be so fearful and suspicious of so strange and incomprehensiblea thing that the chances are they would not dare approach it. Yes,it must be where I left it and all ready to carry us safely to thesettlements."
"But we cannot leave," said the girl, "until he returns. We couldnot go away like that without thanking him or bidding him farewell.We are under too great obligations to him."
The man looked at her in silence for a moment. He wondered ifshe knew how Tarzan felt toward her and then he himself began tospeculate upon the truth of the ape-man's charges. The longer helooked at the girl, the less easy was it to entertain the thoughtthat she was an enemy spy. He was upon the point of askingher point-blank but he could not bring himself to do so, finallydetermining to wait until time and longer acquaintance should revealthe truth or falsity of the accusation.
"I believe," he said as though there had been no pause in theirconversation, "that the man would be more than glad to find usgone when he returns. It is not necessary to jeopardize our livesfor two more days in order that we may thank him, however muchwe may appreciate his services to us. You have more than balancedyour obligations to him and from what he told me I feel that youespecially should not remain here longer."
The girl looked up at him in astonishment. "What do you mean?" sheasked.
"I do not like to tell," said the Englishman, digging nervously atthe turf with the point of a stick, "but you have my word that hewould rather you were not here."
"Tell me what he said," she insisted, "I have a right to know."
Lieutenant Smith-Oldwick squared his shoulders and raised his eyesto those of the girl. "He said that he hated you," he blurted. "Hehas only aided you at all from a sense of duty because you are awoman."
The girl paled and then flushed. "I will be ready to go," she said,"in just a moment. We had better take some of this meat with us.There is no telling when we will be able to get more."
And so the two set out down the river toward the south. The mancarried the short spear that Tarzan had left with the girl, whileshe was entirely unarmed except for a stick she had picked up fromamong those left after the building of the hut. Before departingshe had insisted that the man leave a note for Tarzan thanking himfor his care of them and bidding him goodbye. This they left pinnedto the inside wall of the hut with a little sliver of wood.
It was necessary that they be constantly on the alert since theynever knew what might confront them at the next turn of the windingjungle trail or what might lie concealed in the tangled bushes ateither side. There was also the ever-present danger of meeting someof Numabo's black warriors and as the village lay directly in theirline of march, there was the necessity for making a wide detourbefore they reached it in order to pass around it without beingdiscovered.
"I am not so much afraid of the native blacks," said the girl, "asI am of Usanga and his people. He and his men were all attachedto a German native regiment. They brought me along with them whenthey deserted, either with the intention of holding me ransom orselling me into the harem of one of the black sultans of the north.Usanga is much more to be feared than Numabo for he has had theadvantage of European military training and is armed with more orless modern weapons and ammunition."
"It is lucky for me," remarked the Englishman, "that it was theignorant Numabo who discovered and captured me rather than theworldly wise Usanga. He would have felt less fear of the giantflying machine and would have known only too well how to wreck it."
"Let us pray that the black sergeant has not discovered it," saidthe girl.
They made their way to a point which they guessed was about a mileabove the village, then they turned into the trackless tangle ofundergrowth to the east. So dense was the verdure at many pointsthat it was with the utmost difficulty they wormed their way through,sometimes on hands and knees and again by clambering over numerousfallen tree trunks. Interwoven with dead limbs and living brancheswere the tough and ropelike creepers which formed a tangled networkacross their path.
South of them in an open meadowland a number of black warriors weregathered about an object which elicited much wondering comment. Theblacks were clothed in fragments of what had once been uniforms ofa native German command. They were a most unlovely band and chiefamong them in authority and repulsiveness was the black sergeantUsanga. The object of their interest was a British aeroplane.
Immediately after the Englishman had been brought to Numabo's villageUsanga had gone out in search of the plane, prompted partially bycuriosity and partially by an intention to destroy it, but when hehad found it, some new thought had deterred him from carrying outhis design. The thing represented considerable value as he wellknew and it had occurred to him that in some way he might turn hisprize to profit. Every day he had returned to it, and while atfirst it had filled him with considerable awe, he eventually cameto look upon it with the accustomed eye of a proprietor, so thathe now clambered into the fuselage and even advanced so far as towish that he might learn to operate it.
What a feat it would be indeed to fly like a bird far above thehighest tree top! How it would fill his less favored companionswith awe and admiration! If Usanga could but fly, so great would bethe respect of all the tribesmen throughout the scattered villagesof the great interior, they would look upon him as little less thana god.
Usanga rubbed his palms together and smacked his thick lips. Thenindeed, would he be very rich, for all the villages would paytribute to him and he could even have as many as a dozen wives.With that thought, however, came a mental picture of Naratu, theblack termagant, who ruled him with an iron hand. Usanga made awry face and tried to forget the extra dozen wives, but the lure ofthe idea remained and appealed so strongly to him that he presentlyfound himself reasoning most logically that a god would not be muchof a god with less than twenty-four wives.
He fingered the instruments and the control, half hoping and halffearing that he would alight upon the combination that would putthe machine in flight. Often had he watched the British air-mensoaring above the German lines and it looked so simple he was quitesure that he could do it himself if there was somebody who couldbut once show him how. There was, of course, always the hope thatthe white man who came in the machine and who had escaped fromNumabo's village might fall into Usanga's hands and then indeedwould he be able to learn how to fly. It was in this hope thatUsanga spent so much time in the vicinity of the plane, reasoningas he did that eventually the white man would return in search ofit.
And at last he was rewarded, for upon this very day after he hadquit the machine and entered the jungle with his warriors, he heardvoices to the north and when he and his men had hidden in the densefoliage upon either side of the trail, Usanga was presently filledwith elation by the appearance of the British officer and the whitegirl whom the black sergeant had coveted and who had escaped him.
The Negro could scarce restrain a shout of elation, for he had nothoped that fate would be so kind as to throw these two whom he mostdesired into his power at the same time.
As the two came down the trail all unconscious of impending danger,the man was explaining that they must be very close to the pointat which the plane had landed. Their entire attention was centeredon the trail directly ahead of them, as they momentarily expectedit to break into the meadowland where they were sure they wouldsee the plane that would spell life and liberty for them.
The trail was broad, and they were walking side by side so that ata sharp turn the park-like clearing was revealed to them simultaneouslywith the outlines of the machine they sought.
Exclamations of relief and delight broke from their lips, and atthe same instant Usanga and his black warriors rose from the bushesall about them.