Tarzan the Untamed/Chapter XVII
Dropping to the ground once more he picked up the trail of the girland her captors, which he followed easily along what appeared tobe a well-beaten trail. It was not long before he came to a smallstream, where he quenched his thirst, and thereafter he saw thatthe trail followed in the general direction of the stream, whichran southwesterly. Here and there were cross trails and otherswhich joined the main avenue, and always upon each of them were thetracks and scent of the great cats, of Numa, the lion, and Sheeta,the panther.
With the exception of a few small rodents there appeared to be noother wild life on the surface of the valley. There was no indicationof Bara, the deer, or Horta, the boar, or of Gorgo, the buffalo,Buto, Tantor, or Duro. Histah, the snake, was there. He saw him inthe trees in greater numbers than he ever had seen Histah before;and once beside a reedy pool he caught a scent that could havebelonged to none other than Gimla the crocodile, but upon none ofthese did the Tarmangani care to feed.
And so, as he craved meat, he turned his attention to the birdsabove him. His assailants of the night before had not disarmedhim. Either in the darkness and the rush of the charging lions thehuman foe had overlooked him or else they had considered him dead;but whatever the reason he still retained his weapons--his spearand his long knife, his bow and arrows, and his grass rope.
Fitting a shaft to his bow Tarzan awaited an opportunity to bringdown one of the larger birds, and when the opportunity finallypresented itself he drove the arrow straight to its mark. As thegaily plumaged creature fluttered to earth its companions and thelittle monkeys set up a most terrific chorus of wails and screamingprotests. The whole forest became suddenly a babel of hoarse screamsand shrill shrieks.
Tarzan would not have been surprised had one or two birds in theimmediate vicinity given voice to terror as they fled, but that thewhole life of the jungle should set up so weird a protest filledhim with disgust. It was an angry face that he turned up towardthe monkeys and the birds as there suddenly stirred within him asavage inclination to voice his displeasure and his answer to whathe considered their challenge. And so it was that there broke uponthis jungle for the first time Tarzan's hideous scream of victoryand challenge.
The effect upon the creatures above him was instantaneous. Wherebefore the air had trembled to the din of their voices, now uttersilence reigned and a moment later the ape-man was alone with hispuny kill.
The silence following so closely the previous tumult carrieda sinister impression to the ape-man, which still further arousedhis anger. Picking the bird from where it had fallen he withdrewhis arrow from the body and returned it to his quiver. Then withhis knife he quickly and deftly removed the skin and featherstogether. He ate angrily, growling as though actually menaced bya near-by foe, and perhaps, too, his growls were partially inducedby the fact that he did not care for the flesh of birds. Betterthis, however, than nothing and from what his senses had told himthere was no flesh in the vicinity such as he was accustomed toand cared most for. How he would have enjoyed a juicy haunch fromPacco, the zebra, or a steak from the loin of Gorgo, the buffalo!The very thought made his mouth water and increased his resentmentagainst this unnatural forest that harbored no such deliciousquarry.
He had but partially consumed his kill when he suddenly becameaware of a movement in the brush at no great distance from himand downwind, and a moment later his nostrils picked up the scentof Numa from the opposite direction, and then upon either side hecaught the fall of padded feet and the brushing of bodies againstleafy branches. The ape-man smiled. What stupid creature did theythink him, to be surprised by such clumsy stalkers? Gradually thesounds and scents indicated that lions were moving upon him fromall directions, that he was in the center of a steadily convergingcircle of beasts. Evidently they were so sure of their prey thatthey were making no effort toward stealth, for he heard twigs crackbeneath their feet, and the brushing of their bodies against thevegetation through which they forced their way.
He wondered what could have brought them. It seemed unreasonableto believe that the cries of the birds and the monkeys shouldhave summoned them, and yet, if not, it was indeed a remarkablecoincidence. His judgment told him that the death of a single birdin this forest which teemed with birds could scarce be of sufficientmoment to warrant that which followed. Yet even in the face of reasonand past experience he found that the whole affair perplexed him.
He stood in the center of the trail awaiting the coming of the lionsand wondering what would be the method of their attack or if theywould indeed attack. Presently a maned lion came into view alongthe trail below him. At sight of him the lion halted. The beast wassimilar to those that had attacked him earlier in the day, a triflelarger and a trifle darker than the lions of his native jungles,but neither so large nor so black as Numa of the pit.
Presently he distinguished the outlines of other lions in thesurrounding brush and among the trees. Each of them halted as itcame within sight of the ape-man and there they stood regardinghim in silence. Tarzan wondered how long it would be before theycharged and while he waited he resumed his feeding, though withevery sense constantly alert.
One by one the lions lay down, but always their faces were towardhim and their eyes upon him. There had been no growling and noroaring--just the quiet drawing of the silent circle about him.It was all so entirely foreign to anything that Tarzan ever beforehad seen lions do that it irritated him so that presently, havingfinished his repast, he fell to making insulting remarks to firstone and then another of the lions, after the habit he had learnedfrom the apes of his childhood.
"Dango, eater of carrion," he called them, and he compared them mostunfavorably with Histah, the snake, the most loathed and repulsivecreature of the jungle. Finally he threw handfuls of earth at themand bits of broken twigs, and then the lions growled and baredtheir fangs, but none of them advanced.
"Cowards," Tarzan taunted them. "Numa with a heart of Bara, thedeer." He told them who he was, and after the manner of the junglefolk he boasted as to the horrible things he would do to them, butthe lions only lay and watched him.
It must have been a half hour after their coming that Tarzan caughtin the distance along the trail the sound of footsteps approaching.They were the footsteps of a creature who walked upon two legs,and though Tarzan could catch no scent spoor from that directionhe knew that a man was approaching. Nor had he long to wait beforehis judgment was confirmed by the appearance of a man who haltedin the trail directly behind the first lion that Tarzan had seen.
At sight of the newcomer the ape-man realized that here was onesimilar to those who had given off the unfamiliar scent spoor thathe had detected the previous night, and he saw that not only inthe matter of scent did the man differ from other human beings withwhom Tarzan was familiar.
The fellow was strongly built with skin of a leathery appearance,like parchment yellowed with age. His hair, which was coal blackand three or four inches in length, grew out stiffly at right anglesto his scalp. His eyes were close set and the irises densely blackand very small, so that the white of the eyeball showed aroundthem. The man's face was smooth except for a few straggly hairs onhis chin and upper lip. The nose was aquiline and fine, but thehair grew so far down on the forehead as to suggest a very lowand brutal type. The upper lip was short and fine while the lowerlip was rather heavy and inclined to be pendulous, the chin beingequally weak. Altogether the face carried the suggestion of aonce strong and handsome countenance entirely altered by physicalviolence or by degraded habits and thoughts. The man's arms werelong, though not abnormally so, while his legs were short, thoughstraight.
He was clothed in tight-fitting nether garments and a loose,sleeveless tunic that fell just below his hips, while his feetwere shod in soft-soled sandals, the wrappings of which extendedhalfway to his knees, closely resembling a modern spiral militarylegging. He carried a short, heavy spear, and at his side swunga weapon that at first so astonished the ape-man that he couldscarcely believe the evidence of his senses--a heavy saber ina leather-covered scabbard. The man's tunic appeared to have beenfabricated upon a loom--it was certainly not made of skins, whilethe garments that covered his legs were quite as evidently madefrom the hides of rodents.
Tarzan noted the utter unconcern with which the man approached thelions, and the equal indifference of Numa to him. The fellow pausedfor a moment as though appraising the ape-man and then pushed onpast the lions, brushing against the tawny hide as he passed himin the trail.
About twenty feet from Tarzan the man stopped, addressing the formerin a strange jargon, no syllable of which was intelligible to theTarmangani. His gestures indicated numerous references to the lionssurrounding them, and once he touched his spear with the forefingerof his left hand and twice he struck the saber at his hip.
While he spoke Tarzan studied the fellow closely, with the resultthat there fastened itself upon his mind a strange conviction--thatthe man who addressed him was what might only be described as arational maniac. As the thought came to the ape-man he could notbut smile, so paradoxical the description seemed. Yet a closerstudy of the man's features, carriage, and the contour of his headcarried almost incontrovertibly the assurance that he was insane,while the tones of his voice and his gestures resembled those ofa sane and intelligent mortal.
Presently the man had concluded his speech and appeared to be waitingquestioningly Tarzan's reply. The ape-man spoke to the other firstin the language of the great apes, but he soon saw that the wordscarried no conviction to his listener. Then with equal futilityhe tried several native dialects but to none of these did the manrespond.
By this time Tarzan began to lose patience. He had wasted sufficienttime by the road, and as he had never depended much upon speech inthe accomplishment of his ends, he now raised his spear and advancedtoward the other. This, evidently, was a language common to both,for instantly the fellow raised his own weapon and at the same timea low call broke from his lips, a call which instantly brought toaction every lion in the hitherto silent circle. A volley of roarsshattered the silence of the forest and simultaneously lions spranginto view upon all sides as they closed in rapidly upon theirquarry. The man who had called them stepped back, his teeth baredin a mirthless grin.
It was then that Tarzan first noticed that the fellow's upper canineswere unusually long and exceedingly sharp. It was just a flashingglimpse he got of them as he leaped agilely from the ground and, tothe consternation of both the lions and their master, disappearedin the foliage of the lower terrace, flinging back over his shoulderas he swung rapidly away: "I am Tarzan of the Apes; mighty hunter;mighty fighter! None in the jungle more powerful, none more cunningthan Tarzan!"
A short distance beyond the point at which they had surrounded him,Tarzan came to the trail again and sought for the spoor of BerthaKircher and Lieutenant Smith-Oldwick. He found them quickly andcontinued upon his search for the two. The spoor lay directly alongthe trail for another half-mile when the way suddenly debouchedfrom the forest into open land and there broke upon the astonishedview of the ape-man the domes and minarets of a walled city.
Directly before him in the wall nearest him Tarzan saw a low-archedgateway to which a well-beaten trail led from that which he hadbeen following. In the open space between the forest and the citywalls, quantities of garden stuff was growing, while before himat his feet, in an open man-made ditch, ran a stream of water! Theplants in the garden were laid out in well-spaced, symmetrical rowsand appeared to have been given excellent attention and cultivation.Tiny streams were trickling between the rows from the main ditchbefore him and at some distance to his right he could see peopleat work among the plants.
The city wall appeared to be about thirty feet in height, itsplastered expanse unbroken except by occasional embrasures. Beyondthe wall rose the domes of several structures and numerous minaretsdotted the sky line of the city. The largest and central domeappeared to be gilded, while others were red, or blue, or yellow.The architecture of the wall itself was of uncompromising simplicity.It was of a cream shade and appeared to be plastered and painted.At its base was a line of well-tended shrubs and at some distancetowards its eastern extremity it was vine covered to the top.
As he stood in the shadow of the trail, his keen eyes taking in everydetail of the picture before him, he became aware of the approachof a party in his rear and there was borne to him the scent of theman and the lions whom he had so readily escaped. Taking to thetrees Tarzan moved a short distance to the west and, finding acomfortable crotch at the edge of the forest where he could watchthe trail leading through the gardens to the city gate, he awaitedthe return of his would-be captors. And soon they came--the strangeman followed by the pack of great lions. Like dogs they moved alongbehind him down the trail among the gardens to the gate.
Here the man struck upon the panels of the door with the butt ofhis spear, and when it opened in response to his signal he passedin with his lions. Beyond the open door Tarzan, from his distantperch, caught but a fleeting glimpse of life within the city, justenough to indicate that there were other human creatures who abodethere, and then the door closed.
Through that door he knew that the girl and the man whom he soughtto succor had been taken into the city. What fate lay in storefor them or whether already it had been meted out to them he couldnot even guess, nor where, within that forbidding wall, they wereincarcerated he could not know. But of one thing he was assured:that if he were to aid them he could not do it from outside thewall. He must gain entrance to the city first, nor did he doubt,that once within, his keen senses would eventually reveal thewhereabouts of those whom he sought.
The low sun was casting long shadows across the gardens when Tarzansaw the workers returning from the eastern field. A man came first,and as he came he lowered little gates along the large ditch ofrunning water, shutting off the streams that had run between the rowsof growing plants; and behind him came other men carrying burdensof fresh vegetables in great woven baskets upon their shoulders.Tarzan had not realized that there had been so many men working inthe field, but now as he sat there at the close of the day he sawa procession filing in from the east, bearing the tools and theproduce back into the city.
And then, to gain a better view, the ape-man ascended to the topmostbranches of a tall tree where he overlooked the nearer wall. Fromthis point of vantage he saw that the city was long and narrow, andthat while the outer walls formed a perfect rectangle, the streetswithin were winding. Toward the center of the city there appearedto be a low, white building around which the larger edifices ofthe city had been built, and here, in the fast-waning light, Tarzanthought that between two buildings he caught the glint of water,but of that he was not sure. His experience of the centers ofcivilization naturally inclined him to believe that this centralarea was a plaza about which the larger buildings were groupedand that there would be the most logical place to search first forBertha Kircher and her companion.
And then the sun went down and darkness quickly enveloped thecity--a darkness that was accentuated for the ape-man rather thanrelieved by the artificial lights which immediately appeared inmany of the windows visible to him.
Tarzan had noticed that the roofs of most of the buildings wereflat, the few exceptions being those of what he imagined to be themore pretentious public structures. How this city had come to existin this forgotten part of unexplored Africa the ape-man could notconceive. Better than another, he realized something of the unsolvedsecrets of the Great Dark Continent, enormous areas of which haveas yet been untouched by the foot of civilized man. Yet he couldscarce believe that a city of this size and apparently thus wellconstructed could have existed for the generations that it musthave been there, without intercourse with the outer world. Eventhough it was surrounded by a trackless desert waste, as he knewit to be, he could not conceive that generation after generationof men could be born and die there without attempting to solve themysteries of the world beyond the confines of their little valley.
And yet, here was the city surrounded by tilled land and filledwith people!
With the coming of night there arose throughout the jungle the criesof the great cats, the voice of Numa blended with that of Sheeta,and the thunderous roars of the great males reverberated throughthe forest until the earth trembled, and from within the city camethe answering roars of other lions.
A simple plan for gaining entrance to the city had occurred toTarzan, and now that darkness had fallen he set about to put itinto effect. Its success hinged entirely upon the strength of thevines he had seen surmounting the wall toward the east. In thisdirection he made his way, while from out of the forest about himthe cries of the flesh-eaters increased in volume and ferocity. Aquarter of a mile intervened between the forest and the city wall--aquarter of a mile of cultivated land unrelieved by a single tree.Tarzan of the Apes realized his limitations and so he knew thatit would undoubtedly spell death for him to be caught in the openspace by one of the great black lions of the forest if, as he hadalready surmised, Numa of the pit was a specimen of the forest lionof the valley.
He must, therefore, depend entirely upon his cunning and his speed,and upon the chance that the vine would sustain his weight.
He moved through the middle terrace, where the way is alwayseasiest, until he reached a point opposite the vine-clad portionof the wall, and there he waited, listening and scenting, until hemight assure himself that there was no Numa within his immediatevicinity, or, at least, none that sought him. And when he was quitesure that there was no lion close by in the forest, and none inthe clearing between himself and the wall, he dropped lightly tothe ground and moved stealthily out into the open.
The rising moon, just topping the eastern cliffs, cast its brightrays upon the long stretch of open garden beneath the wall. And, too,it picked out in clear relief for any curious eyes that chanced tobe cast in that direction, the figure of the giant ape-man movingacross the clearing. It was only chance, of course, that a greatlion hunting at the edge of the forest saw the figure of the manhalfway between the forest and the wall. Suddenly there broke uponTarzan's ears a menacing sound. It was not the roar of a hungrylion, but the roar of a lion in rage, and, as he glanced back inthe direction from which the sound came, he saw a huge beast movingout from the shadow of the forest toward him.
Even in the moonlight and at a distance Tarzan saw that the lionwas huge; that it was indeed another of the black-maned monsterssimilar to Numa of the pit. For an instant he was impelled to turnand fight, but at the same time the thought of the helpless girlimprisoned in the city flashed through his brain and, without aninstant's hesitation, Tarzan of the Apes wheeled and ran for thewall. Then it was that Numa charged.
Numa, the lion, can run swiftly for a short distance, but he lacksendurance. For the period of an ordinary charge he can cover theground with greater rapidity possibly than any other creature inthe world. Tarzan, on the other hand, could run at great speed forlong distances, though never as rapidly as Numa when the lattercharged.
The question of his fate, then, rested upon whether, with his starthe could elude Numa for a few seconds; and, if so, if the lion wouldthen have sufficient stamina remaining to pursue him at a reducedgait for the balance of the distance to the wall.
Never before, perhaps, was staged a more thrilling race, and yet itwas run with only the moon and stars to see. Alone and in silencethe two beasts sped across the moonlit clearing. Numa gained withappalling rapidity upon the fleeing man, yet at every bound Tarzanwas nearer to the vine-clad wall. Once the ape-man glanced back.Numa was so close upon him that it seemed inevitable that at thenext bound he should drag him down; so close was he that the ape-mandrew his knife as he ran, that he might at least give a good accountof himself in the last moments of his life.
But Numa had reached the limit of his speed and endurance. Graduallyhe dropped behind but he did not give up the pursuit, and now Tarzanrealized how much hinged upon the strength of the untested vines.
If, at the inception of the race, only Goro and the stars had lookeddown upon the contestants, such was not the case at its finish,since from an embrasure near the summit of the wall two close-setblack eyes peered down upon the two. Tarzan was a dozen yardsahead of Numa when he reached the wall. There was no time to stopand institute a search for sturdy stems and safe handholds. Hisfate was in the hands of chance and with the realization he gave afinal spurt and running catlike up the side of the wall among thevines, sought with his hands for something that would sustain hisweight. Below him Numa leaped also.