Tarzan the Untamed/Chapter XVIII
As the lions swarmed over her protectors, Bertha Kircher shrankback in the cave in a momentary paralysis of fright super-induced,perhaps, by the long days of terrific nerve strain which she hadundergone.
Mingled with the roars of the lions had been the voices of men,and presently out of the confusion and turmoil she felt the nearpresence of a human being, and then hands reached forth and seizedher. It was dark and she could see but little, nor any sign of theEnglish officer or the ape-man. The man who seized her kept thelions from her with what appeared to be a stout spear, the haft ofwhich he used to beat off the beasts. The fellow dragged her fromthe cavern the while he shouted what appeared to be commands andwarnings to the lions.
Once out upon the light sands of the bottom of the gorge objectsbecame more distinguishable, and then she saw that there wereother men in the party and that two half led and half carried thestumbling figure of a third, whom she guessed must be Smith-Oldwick.
For a time the lions made frenzied efforts to reach the two captivesbut always the men with them succeeded in beating them off. Thefellows seemed utterly unafraid of the great beasts leaping andsnarling about them, handling them much the same as one might handlea pack of obstreperous dogs. Along the bed of the old watercoursethat once ran through the gorge they made their way, and as thefirst faint lightening of the eastern horizon presaged the comingdawn, they paused for a moment upon the edge of a declivity, whichappeared to the girl in the strange light of the waning night as avast, bottomless pit; but, as their captors resumed their way andthe light of the new day became stronger, she saw that they weremoving downward toward a dense forest.
Once beneath the over-arching trees all was again Cimmerian darkness,nor was the gloom relieved until the sun finally arose beyond theeastern cliffs, when she saw that they were following what appearedto be a broad and well-beaten game trail through a forest of greattrees. The ground was unusually dry for an African forest andthe underbrush, while heavily foliaged, was not nearly so rankand impenetrable as that which she had been accustomed to findin similar woods. It was as though the trees and the bushes grewin a waterless country, nor was there the musty odor of decayingvegetation or the myriads of tiny insects such as are bred in dampplaces.
As they proceeded and the sun rose higher, the voices of thearboreal jungle life rose in discordant notes and loud chatteringabout them. Innumerable monkeys scolded and screamed in the branchesoverhead, while harsh-voiced birds of brilliant plumage dartedhither and thither. She noticed presently that their captors oftencast apprehensive glances in the direction of the birds and onnumerous occasions seemed to be addressing the winged denizens ofthe forest.
One incident made a marked impression on her. The man who immediatelypreceded her was a fellow of powerful build, yet, when a brilliantlycolored parrot swooped downward toward him, he dropped upon his kneesand covering his face with his arms bent forward until his headtouched the ground. Some of the others looked at him and laughednervously. Presently the man glanced upward and seeing that thebird had gone, rose to his feet and continued along the trail.
It was at this brief halt that Smith-Oldwick was brought to herside by the men who had been supporting him. He had been ratherbadly mauled by one of the lions; but was now able to walk alone,though he was extremely weak from shock and loss of blood.
"Pretty mess, what?" he remarked with a wry smile, indicating hisbloody and disheveled state.
"It is terrible," said the girl. "I hope you are not suffering."
"Not as much as I should have expected," he replied, "but I feelas weak as a fool. What sort of creatures are these beggars, anyway?"
"I don't know," she replied, "there is something terribly uncannyabout their appearance."
The man regarded one of their captors closely for a moment andthen, turning to the girl asked, "Did you ever visit a madhouse?"
She looked up at him in quick understanding and with a horrifiedexpression in her eyes. "That's it!" she cried.
"They have all the earmarks," he said. "Whites of the eyes showingall around the irises, hair growing stiffly erect from the scalpand low down upon the forehead--even their mannerisms and theircarriage are those of maniacs."
The girl shuddered.
"Another thing about them," continued the Englishman, "that doesn'tappear normal is that they are afraid of parrots and utterly fearlessof lions."
"Yes," said the girl; "and did you notice that the birds seem utterlyfearless of them--really seem to hold them in contempt? Have youany idea what language they speak?"
'No," said the man, "I have been trying to figure that out. It's notlike any of the few native dialects of which I have any knowledge."
"It doesn't sound at all like the native language," said the girl,"but there is something familiar about it. You know, every now andthen I feel that I am just on the verge of understanding what theyare saying, or at least that somewhere I have heard their tonguebefore, but final recognition always eludes me."
"I doubt if you ever heard their language spoken," said the man."These people must have lived in this out-of-the-way valley forages and even if they had retained the original language of theirancestors without change, which is doubtful, it must be some tonguethat is no longer spoken in the outer world."
At one point where a stream of water crossed the trail the partyhalted while the lions and the men drank. They motioned to theircaptors to drink too, and as Bertha Kircher and Smith-Oldwick,lying prone upon the ground drank from the clear, cool water of therivulet, they were suddenly startled by the thunderous roar of alion a short distance ahead of them. Instantly the lions with themset up a hideous response, moving restlessly to and fro with theireyes always either turned in the direction from which the roar hadcome or toward their masters, against whom the tawny beasts slunk.The men loosened the sabers in their scabbards, the weapons thathad aroused Smith-Oldwick's curiosity as they had Tarzan's, andgrasped their spears more firmly.
Evidently there were lions and lions, and while they evinced nofear of the beasts which accompanied them, it was quite evidentthat the voice of the newcomer had an entirely different effectupon them, although the men seemed less terrified than the lions.Neither, however, showed any indication of an inclination to flee;on the contrary the entire party advanced along the trail in thedirection of the menacing roars, and presently there appeared inthe center of the path a black lion of gigantic proportions. ToSmith-Oldwick and the girl he appeared to be the same lion thatthey had encountered at the plane and from which Tarzan had rescuedthem. But it was not Numa of the pit, although he resembled himclosely.
The black beast stood directly in the center of the trail lashinghis tail and growling menacingly at the advancing party. The menurged on their own beasts, who growled and whined but hesitatedto charge. Evidently becoming impatient, and in full consciousnessof his might the intruder raised his tail stiffly erect and shotforward. Several of the defending lions made a half-hearted attempt toobstruct his passage, but they might as well have placed themselvesin the path of an express train, as hurling them aside the greatbeast leaped straight for one of the men. A dozen spears werelaunched at him and a dozen sabers leaped from their scabbards;gleaming, razor-edged weapons they were, but for the instant renderedfutile by the terrific speed of the charging beast.
Two of the spears entering his body but served to further enragehim as, with demoniacal roars, he sprang upon the hapless man hehad singled out for his prey. Scarcely pausing in his charge heseized the fellow by the shoulder and, turning quickly at rightangles, leaped into the concealing foliage that flanked the trail,and was gone, bearing his victim with him.
So quickly had the whole occurrence transpired that the formationof the little party was scarcely altered. There had been noopportunity for flight, even if it had been contemplated; and nowthat the lion was gone with his prey the men made no move to pursuehim. They paused only long enough to recall the two or three oftheir lions that had scattered and then resumed the march alongthe trail.
"Might be an everyday occurrence from all the effect it has onthem," remarked Smith-Oldwick to the girl.
"Yes," she said. "They seem to be neither surprised nor disconcerted,and evidently they are quite sure that the lion, having got whathe came for, will not molest them further."
"I had thought," said the Englishman, "that the lions of the Wamabocountry were about the most ferocious in existence, but they areregular tabby cats by comparison with these big black fellows.Did you ever see anything more utterly fearless or more terriblyirresistible than that charge?"
For a while, as they walked side by side, their thoughts andconversation centered upon this latest experience, until the trailemerging from the forest opened to their view a walled city and anarea of cultivated land. Neither could suppress an exclamation ofsurprise.
"Why, that wall is a regular engineering job," exclaimed Smith-Oldwick
"And look at the domes and minarets of the city beyond," cried thegirl. "There must be a civilized people beyond that wall. Possiblywe are fortunate to have fallen into their hands."
Smith-Oldwick shrugged his shoulders. "I hope so," he said, "thoughI am not at all sure about people who travel about with lions andare afraid of parrots. There must be something wrong with them."
The party followed the trail across the field to an arched gatewaywhich opened at the summons of one of their captors, who beat uponthe heavy wooden panels with his spear. Beyond, the gate openedinto a narrow street which seemed but a continuation of the jungletrail leading from the forest. Buildings on either hand adjoinedthe wall and fronted the narrow, winding street, which was onlyvisible for a short distance ahead. The houses were practicallyall two-storied structures, the upper stories flush with the streetwhile the walls of the first story were set back some ten feet,a series of simple columns and arches supporting the front of thesecond story and forming an arcade on either side of the narrowthoroughfare.
The pathway in the center of the street was unpaved, but the floorsof the arcades were cut stone of various shapes and sizes but allcarefully fitted and laid without mortar. These floors gave evidenceof great antiquity, there being a distinct depression down thecenter as though the stone had been worn away by the passage ofcountless sandaled feet during the ages that it had lain there.
There were few people astir at this early hour, and these were ofthe same type as their captors. At first those whom they saw wereonly men, but as they went deeper into the city they came upon afew naked children playing in the soft dust of the roadway. Manythey passed showed the greatest surprise and curiosity in theprisoners, and often made inquiries of the guards, which the twoassumed must have been in relation to themselves, while othersappeared not to notice them at all.
"I wish we could understand their bally language," exclaimedSmith-Oldwick.
"Yes," said the girl, "I would like to ask them what they are goingto do with us."
"That would be interesting," said the man. "I have been doingconsiderable wondering along that line myself."
"I don't like the way their canine teeth are filed," said the girl."It's too suggestive of some of the cannibals I have seen."
"You don't really believe they are cannibals, do you?" asked theman. "You don't think white people are ever cannibals, do you?"
"Are these people white?" asked the girl.
"They're not Negroes, that's certain," rejoined the man. "Theirskin is yellow, but yet it doesn't resemble the Chinese exactly,nor are any of their features Chinese."
It was at this juncture that they caught their first glimpse of anative woman. She was similar in most respects to the men thoughher stature was smaller and her figure more symmetrical. Her facewas more repulsive than that of the men, possibly because of the factthat she was a woman, which rather accentuated the idiosyncrasiesof eyes, pendulous lip, pointed tusks and stiff, low-growing hair.The latter was longer than that of the men and much heavier. Ithung about her shoulders and was confined by a colored bit of somelacy fabric. Her single garment appeared to be nothing more thana filmy scarf which was wound tightly around her body from belowher naked breasts, being caught up some way at the bottom near herankles. Bits of shiny metal resembling gold, ornamented both theheaddress and the skirt. Otherwise the woman was entirely withoutjewelry. Her bare arms were slender and shapely and her hands andfeet well proportioned and symmetrical.
She came close to the party as they passed her, jabbering to theguards who paid no attention to her. The prisoners had an opportunityto observe her closely as she followed at their side for a shortdistance.
"The figure of a houri," remarked Smith-Oldwick, "with the face ofan imbecile."
The street they followed was intersected at irregular intervals bycrossroads which, as they glanced down them, proved to be equallyas tortuous as that through which they were being conducted. Thehouses varied but little in design. Occasionally there were bitsof color, or some attempt at other architectural ornamentation.Through open windows and doors they could see that the walls ofthe houses were very thick and that all apertures were quite small,as though the people had built against extreme heat, which theyrealized must have been necessary in this valley buried deep in anAfrican desert.
Ahead they occasionally caught glimpses of larger structures, andas they approached them, came upon what was evidently a part ofthe business section of the city. There were numerous small shopsand bazaars interspersed among the residences, and over the doorsof these were signs painted in characters strongly suggesting Greekorigin and yet it was not Greek as both the Englishman and the girlknew.
Smith-Oldwick was by this time beginning to feel more acutely thepain of his wounds and the consequent weakness that was greatlyaggravated by loss of blood. He staggered now occasionally and thegirl, seeing his plight, offered him her arm.
"No," he expostulated, "you have passed through too much yourselfto have any extra burden imposed upon you." But though he made avaliant effort to keep up with their captors he occasionally lagged,and upon one such occasion the guards for the first time showedany disposition toward brutality.
It was a big fellow who walked at Smith-Oldwick's left. Severaltimes he took hold of the Englishman's arm and pushed him forwardnot ungently, but when the captive lagged again and again thefellow suddenly, and certainly with no just provocation, flew intoa perfect frenzy of rage. He leaped upon the wounded man, strikinghim viciously with his fists and, bearing him to the ground, graspedhis throat in his left hand while with his right he drew his longsharp saber. Screaming terribly he waved the blade above his head.
The others stopped and turned to look upon the encounter with noparticular show of interest. It was as though one of the party hadpaused to readjust a sandal and the others merely waited until hewas ready to march on again.
But if their captors were indifferent, Bertha Kircher was not. Theclose-set blazing eyes, the snarling fanged face, and the frightfulscreams filled her with horror, while the brutal and wanton attackupon the wounded man aroused within her the spirit of protectionfor the weak that is inherent in all women. Forgetful of everythingother than that a weak and defenseless man was being brutally murderedbefore her eyes, the girl cast aside discretion and, rushing toSmith-Oldwick's assistance, seized the uplifted sword arm of theshrieking creature upon the prostrate Englishman.
Clinging desperately to the fellow she surged backward with all herweight and strength with the result that she overbalanced him andsent him sprawling to the pavement upon his back. In his effortsto save himself he relaxed his grasp upon the grip of his saberwhich had no sooner fallen to the ground than it was seized upon bythe girl. Standing erect beside the prostrate form of the Englishofficer Bertha Kircher, the razor-edged weapon grasped firmly inher hand, faced their captors.
She was a brave figure; even her soiled and torn riding togs anddisheveled hair detracted nothing from her appearance. The creatureshe had felled scrambled quickly to his feet and in the instanthis whole demeanor changed. From demoniacal rage he became suddenlyconvulsed with hysterical laughter although it was a question inthe girl's mind as to which was the more terrifying. His companionsstood looking on with vacuous grins upon their countenances, whilehe from whom the girl had wrested the weapon leaped up and downshrieking with laughter. If Bertha Kircher had needed furtherevidence to assure her that they were in the hands of a mentallyderanged people the man's present actions would have been sufficientto convince her. The sudden uncontrolled rage and now the equallyuncontrolled and mirthless laughter but emphasized the facialattributes of idiocy.
Suddenly realizing how helpless she was in the event any one of themen should seek to overpower her, and moved by a sudden revulsionof feeling that brought on almost a nausea of disgust, the girlhurled the weapon upon the ground at the feet of the laughing maniacand, turning, kneeled beside the Englishman.
"It was wonderful of you," he said, "but you shouldn't have doneit. Don't antagonize them: I believe that they are all mad and youknow they say that one should always humor a madman."
She shook her head. "I couldn't see him kill you," she said.
A sudden light sprang to the man's eyes as he reached out a hand andgrasped the girl's fingers. "Do you care a little now?" he asked."Can't you tell me that you do--just a bit?"
She did not withdraw her hand from his but she shook her headsadly. "Please don't," she said. "I am sorry that I can only likeyou very much."
The light died from his eyes and his fingers relaxed their grasp onhers. "Please forgive me," he murmured. "I intended waiting untilwe got out of this mess and you were safe among your own people.It must have been the shock or something like that, and seeing youdefending me as you did. Anyway, I couldn't help it and really itdoesn't make much difference what I say now, does it?"
"What do you mean?" she asked quickly.
He shrugged and smiled ruefully. "I will never leave this cityalive," he said. "I wouldn't mention it except that I realize thatyou must know it as well as I. I was pretty badly torn up by thelion and this fellow here has about finished me. There might besome hope if we were among civilized people, but here with thesefrightful creatures what care could we get even if they werefriendly?"
Bertha Kircher knew that he spoke the truth, and yet she could notbring herself to an admission that Smith-Oldwick would die. Shewas very fond of him, in fact her great regret was that she didnot love him, but she knew that she did not.
It seemed to her that it could be such an easy thing for any girlto love Lieutenant Harold Percy Smith-Oldwick--an English officerand a gentleman, the scion of an old family and himself a man ofample means, young, good-looking and affable. What more could agirl ask for than to have such a man love her and that she possessedSmith-Oldwick's love there was no doubt in Bertha Kircher's mind.
She sighed, and then, laying her hand impulsively on his forehead,she whispered, "Do not give up hope, though. Try to live for mysake and for your sake I will try to love you."
It was as though new life had suddenly been injected into theman's veins. His face lightened instantly and with strength thathe himself did not know he possessed he rose slowly to his feet,albeit somewhat unsteadily. The girl helped him and supported himafter he had arisen.
For the moment they had been entirely unconscious of theirsurroundings and now as she looked at their captors she saw thatthey had fallen again into their almost habitual manner of stolidindifference, and at a gesture from one of them the march wasresumed as though no untoward incident had occurred.
Bertha Kircher experienced a sudden reaction from the momentaryexaltation of her recent promise to the Englishman. She knew thatshe had spoken more for him than for herself but now that it wasover she realized, as she had realized the moment before she hadspoken, that it was unlikely she would ever care for him the wayhe wished. But what had she promised? Only that she would try tolove him. "And now?" she asked herself.
She realized that there might be little hope of their ever returningto civilization. Even if these people should prove friendly andwilling to let them depart in peace, how were they to find theirway back to the coast? With Tarzan dead, as she fully believed himafter having seen his body lying lifeless at the mouth of the cavewhen she had been dragged forth by her captor, there seemed nopower at their command which could guide them safely.
The two had scarcely mentioned the ape-man since their capture, foreach realized fully what his loss meant to them. They had comparednotes relative to those few exciting moments of the final attackand capture and had found that they agreed perfectly upon all thathad occurred. Smith-Oldwick had even seen the lion leap upon Tarzanat the instant that the former was awakened by the roars of thecharging beasts, and though the night had been dark, he had beenable to see that the body of the savage ape-man had never movedfrom the instant that it had come down beneath the beast.
And so, if at other times within the past few weeks Bertha Kircherhad felt that her situation was particularly hopeless, she was nowready to admit that hope was absolutely extinct.
The streets were beginning to fill with the strange men and womenof this strange city. Sometimes individuals would notice themand seem to take a great interest in them, and again others wouldpass with vacant stares, seemingly unconscious of their immediatesurroundings and paying no attention whatsoever to the prisoners.Once they heard hideous screams up a side street, and looking theysaw a man in the throes of a demoniacal outburst of rage, similarto that which they had witnessed in the recent attack uponSmith-Oldwick. This creature was venting his insane rage upon achild which he repeatedly struck and bit, pausing only long enoughto shriek at frequent intervals. Finally, just before they passedout of sight the creature raised the limp body of the child highabove his head and cast it down with all his strength upon thepavement, and then, wheeling and screaming madly at the top of hislungs, he dashed headlong up the winding street.
Two women and several men had stood looking on at the cruel attack.They were at too great a distance for the Europeans to know whethertheir facial expressions portrayed pity or rage, but be that as itmay, none offered to interfere.
A few yards farther on a hideous hag leaned from a second storywindow where she laughed and jibbered and made horrid grimaces atall who passed her. Others went their ways apparently attending towhatever duties called them, as soberly as the inhabitants of anycivilized community.
"God," muttered Smith-Oldwick, "what an awful place!"
The girl turned suddenly toward him. "You still have your pistol?"she asked him.
"Yes," he replied. "I tucked it inside my shirt. They did notsearch me and it was too dark for them to see whether I carried anyweapons or not. So I hid it in the hope that I might get throughwith it."
She moved closer to him and took hold of his hand. "Save onecartridge for me, please?" she begged.
Smith-Oldwick looked down at her and blinked his eyes very rapidly.An unfamiliar and disconcerting moisture had come into them. Hehad realized, of course, how bad a plight was theirs but somehowit had seemed to affect him only: it did not seem possible thatanyone could harm this sweet and beautiful girl.
And that she should have to be destroyed--destroyed by him! Itwas too hideous: it was unbelievable, unthinkable! If he had beenfilled with apprehension before, he was doubly perturbed now.
"I don't believe I could do it, Bertha," he said.
"Not even to save me from something worse?" she asked.
He shook his head dismally. "I could never do it," he replied.
The street that they were following suddenly opened upon a wideavenue, and before them spread a broad and beautiful lagoon, thequiet surface of which mirrored the clear cerulean of the sky. Herethe aspect of all their surroundings changed. The buildings werehigher and much more pretentious in design and ornamentation.The street itself was paved in mosaics of barbaric but stunninglybeautiful design. In the ornamentation of the buildings there wasconsiderable color and a great deal of what appeared to be goldleaf. In all the decorations there was utilized in various ways theconventional figure of the parrot, and, to a lesser extent, thatof the lion and the monkey.
Their captors led them along the pavement beside the lagoon for ashort distance and then through an arched doorway into one of thebuildings facing the avenue. Here, directly within the entrancewas a large room furnished with massive benches and tables, many ofwhich were elaborately hand carved with the figures of the inevitableparrot, the lion, or the monkey, the parrot always predominating.
Behind one of the tables sat a man who differed in no way that thecaptives could discover from those who accompanied them. Beforethis person the party halted, and one of the men who had broughtthem made what seemed to be an oral report. Whether they werebefore a judge, a military officer, or a civil dignitary they couldnot know, but evidently he was a man of authority, for, afterlistening to whatever recital was being made to him the whilehe closely scrutinized the two captives, he made a single futileattempt to converse with them and then issued some curt orders tohim who had made the report.
Almost immediately two of the men approached Bertha Kircher andsignaled her to accompany them. Smith-Oldwick started to follow herbut was intercepted by one of their guards. The girl stopped thenand turned back, at the same time looking at the man at the tableand making signs with her hands, indicating, as best she could,that she wished Smith-Oldwick to remain with her, but the fellowonly shook his head negatively and motioned to the guards to removeher. The Englishman again attempted to follow but was restrained.He was too weak and helpless even to make an attempt to enforcehis wishes. He thought of the pistol inside his shirt and then ofthe futility of attempting to overcome an entire city with the fewrounds of ammunition left to him.
So far, with the single exception of the attack made upon him, theyhad no reason to believe that they might not receive fair treatmentfrom their captors, and so he reasoned that it might be wiser toavoid antagonizing them until such a time as he became thoroughlyconvinced that their intentions were entirely hostile. He saw thegirl led from the building and just before she disappeared fromhis view she turned and waved her hand to him:
"Good luck!" she cried, and was gone.
The lions that had entered the building with the party had, duringtheir examination by the man at the table, been driven from theapartment through a doorway behind him. Toward this same doorwaytwo of the men now led Smith-Oldwick. He found himself in a longcorridor from the sides of which other doorways opened, presumablyinto other apartments of the building. At the far end of the corridorhe saw a heavy grating beyond which appeared an open courtyard.Into this courtyard the prisoner was conducted, and as he enteredit with the two guards he found himself in an opening which wasbounded by the inner walls of the building. It was in the natureof a garden in which a number of trees and flowering shrubs grew.Beneath several of the trees were benches and there was a benchalong the south wall, but what aroused his most immediate attentionwas the fact that the lions who had assisted in their capture andwho had accompanied them upon the return to the city, lay sprawledabout upon the ground or wandered restlessly to and fro.
Just inside the gate his guard halted. The two men exchanged a fewwords and then turned and reentered the corridor. The Englishmanwas horror-stricken as the full realization of his terrible plightforced itself upon his tired brain. He turned and seized the gratingin an attempt to open it and gain the safety of the corridor, buthe found it securely locked against his every effort, and then hecalled aloud to the retreating figure of the men within. The onlyreply he received was a high-pitched, mirthless laugh, and thenthe two passed through the doorway at the far end of the corridorand he was alone with the lions.