Tarzan the Untamed/Chapter XXI
As Smith-Oldwick realized that he was alone and practically defenselessin an enclosure filled with great lions he was, in his weakenedcondition, almost in a state verging upon hysterical terror.Clinging to the grating for support he dared not turn his head inthe direction of the beasts behind him. He felt his knees givingweakly beneath him. Something within his head spun rapidly around.He became very dizzy and nauseated and then suddenly all wentblack before his eyes as his limp body collapsed at the foot ofthe grating.
How long he lay there unconscious he never knew; but as reasonslowly reasserted itself in his semi-conscious state he was awarethat he lay in a cool bed upon the whitest of linen in a brightand cheery room, and that upon one side close to him was an openwindow, the delicate hangings of which were fluttering in a softsummer breeze which blew in from a sun-kissed orchard of ripeningfruit which he could see without--an old orchard in which soft,green grass grew between the laden trees, and where the sun filteredthrough the foliage; and upon the dappled greensward a little childwas playing with a frolicsome puppy.
"God," thought the man, "what a horrible nightmare I have passedthrough!" and then he felt a hand stroking his brow and cheek--acool and gentle hand that smoothed away his troubled recollections.For a long minute Smith-Oldwick lay in utter peace and contentuntil gradually there was forced upon his sensibilities the factthat the hand had become rough, and that it was no longer cool buthot and moist; and suddenly he opened his eyes and looked up intothe face of a huge lion.
Lieutenant Harold Percy Smith-Oldwick was not only an Englishgentleman and an officer in name, he was also what these implied--abrave man; but when he realized that the sweet picture he had lookedupon was but the figment of a dream, and that in reality he stilllay where he had fallen at the foot of the grating with a lionstanding over him licking his face, the tears sprang to his eyesand ran down his cheeks. Never, he thought, had an unkind fateplayed so cruel a joke upon a human being.
For some time he lay feigning death while the lion, having ceasedto lick him, sniffed about his body. There are some things than whichdeath is to be preferred; and there came at last to the Englishmanthe realization that it would be better to die swiftly than tolie in this horrible predicament until his mind broke beneath thestrain and he went mad.
And so, deliberately and without haste, he rose, clinging to thegrating for support. At his first move the lion growled, but afterthat he paid no further attention to the man, and when at lastSmith-Oldwick had regained his feet the lion moved indifferentlyaway. Then it was that the man turned and looked about the enclosure.
Sprawled beneath the shade of the trees and lying upon the long benchbeside the south wall the great beasts rested, with the exceptionof two or three who moved restlessly about. It was these that theman feared and yet when two more of them had passed him by he beganto feel reassured, recalling the fact that they were accustomed tothe presence of man.
And yet he dared not move from the grating. As the man examined hissurroundings he noted that the branches of one of the trees nearthe further wall spread close beneath an open window. If he couldreach that tree and had strength to do so, he could easily climbout upon the branch and escape, at least, from the enclosure of thelions. But in order to reach the tree he must pass the full lengthof the enclosure, and at the very bole of the tree itself two lionslay sprawled out in slumber.
For half an hour the man stood gazing longingly at this seemingavenue of escape, and at last, with a muttered oath, he straightenedup and throwing back his shoulders in a gesture of defiance, hewalked slowly and deliberately down the center of the courtyard.One of the prowling lions turned from the side wall and movedtoward the center directly in the man's path, but Smith-Oldwick wascommitted to what he considered his one chance, for even temporarysafety, and so he kept on, ignoring the presence of the beast. Thelion slouched to his side and sniffed him and then, growling, hebared his teeth.
Smith-Oldwick drew the pistol from his shirt. "If he has made uphis mind to kill me," he thought. "I can't see that it will makeany difference in the long run whether I infuriate him or not. Thebeggar can't kill me any deader in one mood than another."
But with the man's movement in withdrawing the weapon from his shirtthe lion's attitude suddenly altered and though he still growledhe turned and sprang away, and then at last the Englishman stoodalmost at the foot of the tree that was his goal, and between himand safety sprawled a sleeping lion.
Above him was a limb that ordinarily he could have leaped for andreached with ease; but weak from his wounds and loss of blood hedoubted his ability to do so now. There was even a question as towhether he would be able to ascend the tree at all. There was justone chance: the lowest branch left the bole within easy reach of aman standing on the ground close to the tree's stem, but to reacha position where the branch would be accessible he must step overthe body of a lion. Taking a deep breath he placed one foot betweenthe sprawled legs of the beast and gingerly raised the other to plantit upon the opposite side of the tawny body. "What," he thought,"if the beggar should happen to wake now?" The suggestion sent ashudder through his frame but he did not hesitate or withdraw hisfoot. Gingerly he planted it beyond the lion, threw his weightforward upon it and cautiously brought his other foot to the sideof the first. He had passed and the lion had not awakened.
Smith-Oldwick was weak from loss of blood and the hardships he hadundergone, but the realization of his situation impelled him to ashow of agility and energy which he probably could scarcely haveequaled when in possession of his normal strength. With his lifedepending upon the success of his efforts, he swung himself quicklyto the lower branches of the tree and scrambled upward out of reachof possible harm from the lions below--though the sudden movementin the branches above them awakened both the sleeping beasts. Theanimals raised their heads and looked questioningly up for a momentand then lay back again to resume their broken slumber.
So easily had the Englishman succeeded thus far that he suddenlybegan to question as to whether he had at any time been in realdanger. The lions, as he knew, were accustomed to the presence ofmen, but yet they were still lions and he was free to admit thathe breathed more easily now that he was safe above their clutches.
Before him lay the open window he had seen from the ground. Hewas now on a level with it and could see an apparently unoccupiedchamber beyond, and toward this he made his way along a stoutbranch that swung beneath the opening. It was not a difficult featto reach the window, and a moment later he drew himself over thesill and dropped into the room.
He found himself in a rather spacious apartment, the floor of whichwas covered with rugs of barbaric design, while the few pieces offurniture were of a similar type to that which he had seen in theroom on the first floor into which he and Bertha Kircher had beenushered at the conclusion of their journey. At one end of the roomwas what appeared to be a curtained alcove, the heavy hangings ofwhich completely hid the interior. In the wall opposite the windowand near the alcove was a closed door, apparently the only exitfrom the room.
He could see, in the waning light without, that the close of theday was fast approaching, and he hesitated while he deliberated theadvisability of waiting until darkness had fallen, or of immediatelysearching for some means of escape from the building and the city.He at last decided that it would do no harm to investigate beyondthe room, that he might have some idea as how best to plan hisescape after dark. To this end he crossed the room toward the doorbut he had taken only a few steps when the hangings before thealcove separated and the figure of a woman appeared in the opening.
She was young and beautifully formed; the single drapery wound aroundher body from below her breasts left no detail of her symmetricalproportions unrevealed, but her face was the face of an imbecile.At sight of her Smith-Oldwick halted, momentarily expecting thathis presence would elicit screams for help from her. On the contraryshe came toward him smiling, and when she was close her slender,shapely fingers touched the sleeve of his torn blouse as a curiouschild might handle a new toy, and still with the same smile sheexamined him from head to foot, taking in, in childish wonderment,every detail of his apparel.
Presently she spoke to him in a soft, well-modulated voice whichcontrasted sharply with her facial appearance. The voice and thegirlish figure harmonized perfectly and seemed to belong to eachother, while the head and face were those of another creature.Smith-Oldwick could understand no word of what she said, butnevertheless he spoke to her in his own cultured tone, the effectof which upon her was evidently most gratifying, for before herealized her intentions or could prevent her she had thrown botharms about his neck and was kissing him with the utmost abandon.
The man tried to free himself from her rather surprising attentions,but she only clung more tightly to him, and suddenly, as he recalledthat he had always heard that one must humor the mentally deficient,and at the same time seeing in her a possible agency of escape, hedosed his eyes and returned her embraces.
It was at this juncture that the door opened and a man entered.With the sound from the first movement of the latch, Smith-Oldwickopened his eyes, but though he endeavored to disengage himselffrom the girl he realized that the newcomer had seen their rathercompromising position. The girl, whose back was toward the door,seemed at first not to realize that someone had entered, but whenshe did she turned quickly and as her eyes fell upon the man whoseterrible face was now distorted with an expression of hideous rageshe turned, screaming, and fled toward the alcove. The Englishman,flushed and embarrassed, stood where she had left him. With thesudden realization of the futility of attempting an explanation,came that of the menacing appearance of the man, whom he nowrecognized as the official who had received them in the room below.The fellow's face, livid with insane rage and, possibly, jealousy,was twitching violently, accentuating the maniacal expression thatit habitually wore.
For a moment he seemed paralyzed by anger, and then with a loudshriek that rose into an uncanny wail, he drew his curved saberand sprang toward the Englishman. To Smith-Oldwick there seemedno possible hope of escaping the keen-edged weapon in the hands ofthe infuriated man, and though he felt assured that it would drawdown upon him an equally sudden and possibly more terrible death,he did the only thing that remained for him to do--drew his pistoland fired straight for the heart of the oncoming man. Without evenso much as a groan the fellow lunged forward upon the floor atSmith-Oldwick's feet--killed instantly with a bullet through theheart. For several seconds the silence of the tomb reigned in theapartment.
The Englishman, standing over the prostrate figure of the deadman, watched the door with drawn weapon, expecting momentarily tohear the rush of feet of those whom he was sure would immediatelyinvestigate the report of the pistol. But no sounds came from belowto indicate that anyone there had heard the explosion, and presentlythe man's attention was distracted from the door to the alcove,between the hangings of which the face of the girl appeared. Theeyes were widely dilated and the lower jaw dropped in an expressionof surprise and awe.
The girl's gaze was riveted upon the figure upon the floor, andpresently she crept stealthily into the room and tiptoed towardthe corpse. She appeared as though constantly poised for flight,and when she had come to within two or three feet of the body shestopped and, looking up at Smith-Oldwick, voiced some interrogationwhich he could not, of course, understand. Then she came close tothe side of the dead man and kneeling upon the floor felt gingerlyof the body.
Presently she shook the corpse by the shoulder, and then with ashow of strength which her tenderly girlish form belied, she turnedthe body over on its back. If she had been in doubt before, oneglance at the hideous features set in death must have convincedher that life was extinct, and with the realization there brokefrom her lips peal after peal of mad, maniacal laughter as with herlittle hands she beat upon the upturned face and breast of the deadman. It was a gruesome sight from which the Englishman involuntarilydrew back-a gruesome, disgusting sight such as, he realized, mightnever be witnessed outside a madhouse or this frightful city.
In the midst of her frenzied rejoicing at the death of the man,and Smith-Oldwick could attribute her actions to no other cause,she suddenly desisted from her futile attacks upon the insensateflesh and, leaping to her feet, ran quickly to the door, whereshe shot a wooden bolt into its socket, thus securing them frominterference from without. Then she returned to the center of theroom and spoke rapidly to the Englishman, gesturing occasionallytoward the body of the slain man. When he could not understand,she presently became provoked and in a sudden hysteria of madnessshe rushed forward as though to strike the Englishman. Smith-Oldwickdropped back a few steps and leveled his pistol upon her. Mad thoughshe must have been, she evidently was not so mad but what she hadconnected the loud report, the diminutive weapon, and the suddendeath of the man in whose house she dwelt, for she instantly desistedand quite as suddenly as it had come upon her, her homicidal mooddeparted.
Again the vacuous, imbecile smile took possession of her features,and her voice, dropping its harshness, resumed the soft, well-modulatedtones with which she had first addressed him. Now she attempted bysigns to indicate her wishes, and motioning Smith-Oldwick to followher she went to the hangings and opening them disclosed the alcove.It was rather more than an alcove, being a fair-sized room heavywith rugs and hangings and soft, pillowed couches. Turning at theentrance she pointed to the corpse upon the floor of the outerroom, and then crossing the alcove she raised some draperies whichcovered a couch and fell to the floor upon all sides, disclosingan opening beneath the furniture.
To this opening she pointed and then again to the corpse, indicatingplainly to the Englishman that it was her desire that the body behidden here. But if he had been in doubt, she essayed to dispel itby grasping his sleeve and urging him in the direction of the bodywhich the two of them then lifted and half carried and half draggedinto the alcove. At first they encountered some difficulty whenthey endeavored to force the body of the man into the small spaceshe had selected for it, but eventually they succeeded in doingso. Smith-Oldwick was again impressed by the fiendish brutality ofthe girl. In the center of the room lay a blood-stained rug whichthe girl quickly gathered up and draped over a piece of furniturein such a way that the stain was hidden. By rearranging the otherrugs and by bringing one from the alcove she restored the room toorder so no outward indication of the tragedy so recently enactedthere was apparent.
These things attended to, and the hangings draped once more aboutthe couch that they might hide the gruesome thing beneath, the girlonce more threw her arms about the Englishman's neck and dragged himtoward the soft and luxurious pillows above the dead man. Acutelyconscious of the horror of his position, filled with loathing,disgust, and an outraged sense of decency, Smith-Oldwick was alsoacutely alive to the demands of self-preservation. He felt thathe was warranted in buying his life at almost any price; but therewas a point at which his finer nature rebelled.
It was at this juncture that a loud knock sounded upon the door ofthe outer room. Springing from the couch, the girl seized the manby the arm and dragged him after her to the wall close by the headof the couch. Here she drew back one of the hangings, revealing alittle niche behind, into which she shoved the Englishman and droppedthe hangings before him, effectually hiding him from observationfrom the rooms beyond.
He heard her cross the alcove to the door of the outer room, andheard the bolt withdrawn followed by the voice of a man mingledwith that of the girl. The tones of both seemed rational so thathe might have been listening to an ordinary conversation in someforeign tongue. Yet with the gruesome experiences of the day behindhim, he could not but momentarily expect some insane outbreak frombeyond the hangings.
He was aware from the sounds that the two had entered the alcove,and, prompted by a desire to know what manner of man he mightnext have to contend with, he slightly parted the heavy folds thathid the two from his view and looking out saw them sitting on thecouch with their arms about each other, the girl with the sameexpressionless smile upon her face that she had vouchsafed him.He found he could so arrange the hangings that a very narrow slitbetween two of them permitted him to watch the actions of those inthe alcove without revealing himself or increasing his liabilityof detection.
He saw the girl lavishing her kisses upon the newcomer, a muchyounger man than he whom Smith-Oldwick had dispatched. Presentlythe girl disengaged herself from the embrace of her lover as thoughstruck by a sudden memory. Her brows puckered as in labored thoughtand then with a startled expression, she threw a glance backwardtoward the hidden niche where the Englishman stood, after which shewhispered rapidly to her companion, occasionally jerking her headin the direction of the niche and on several occasions making amove with one hand and forefinger, which Smith-Oldwick could notmistake as other than an attempt to describe his pistol and itsuse.
It was evident then to him that she was betraying him, and withoutfurther loss of time he turned his back toward the hangings andcommenced a rapid examination of his hiding place. In the alcovethe man and the girl whispered, and then cautiously and with greatstealth, the man rose and drew his curved saber. On tiptoe heapproached the hangings, the girl creeping at his side. Neitherspoke now, nor was there any sound in the room as the girl sprangforward and with outstretched arm and pointing finger indicateda point upon the curtain at the height of a man's breast. Thenshe stepped to one side, and her companion, raising his blade toa horizontal position, lunged suddenly forward and with the fullweight of his body and his right arm, drove the sharp point throughthe hangings and into the niche behind for its full length.
Bertha Kircher, finding her struggles futile and realizing that shemust conserve her strength for some chance opportunity of escape,desisted from her efforts to break from the grasp of Prince Metakas the fellow fled with her through the dimly lighted corridorsof the palace. Through many chambers the prince fled, bearing hisprize. It was evident to the girl that, though her captor was theking's son, he was not above capture and punishment for his deeds,as otherwise he would not have shown such evident anxiety to escapewith her, as well as from the results of his act.
From the fact that he was constantly turning affrighted eyes behindthem, and glancing suspiciously into every nook and corner thatthey passed, she guessed that the prince's punishment might be bothspeedy and terrible were he caught.
She knew from their route that they must have doubled back severaltimes although she had quite lost all sense of direction; but shedid not know that the prince was as equally confused as she, andthat really he was running in an aimless, erratic manner, hopingthat he might stumble eventually upon a place of refuge.
Nor is it to be wondered at that this offspring of maniacs shouldhave difficulty in orienting himself in the winding mazes of apalace designed by maniacs for a maniac king. Now a corridor turnedgradually and almost imperceptibly in a new direction, again onedoubled back upon and crossed itself; here the floor rose graduallyto the level of another story, or again there might be a spiralstairway down which the mad prince rushed dizzily with his burden.Upon what floor they were or in what part of the palace even Metakhad no idea until, halting abruptly at a closed door, he pushedit open to step into a brilliantly lighted chamber filled withwarriors, at one end of which sat the king upon a great throne;beside this, to the girl's surprise, she saw another throne wherewas seated a huge lioness, recalling to her the words of Xanilawhich, at the time, had made no impression on her: "But he had manyother queens, nor were they all human."
At sight of Metak and the girl, the king rose from his throne andstarted across the chamber, all semblance of royalty vanishing inthe maniac's uncontrollable passion. And as he came he shriekedorders and commands at the top of his voice. No sooner had Metak sounwarily opened the door to this hornets' nest than he immediatelywithdrew and, turning, fled again in a new direction. But nowa hundred men were close upon his heels, laughing, shrieking, andpossibly cursing. He dodged hither and thither, distancing them forseveral minutes until, at the bottom of a long runway that inclinedsteeply downward from a higher level, he burst into a subterraneanapartment lighted by many flares.
In the center of the room was a pool of considerable size, thelevel of the water being but a few inches below the floor. Thosebehind the fleeing prince and his captive entered the chamber intime to see Metak leap into the water with the girl and disappearbeneath the surface taking his captive with him, nor, though theywaited excitedly around the rim of the pool, did either of the twoagain emerge.
When Smith-Oldwick turned to investigate his hiding place, hishands, groping upon the rear wall, immediately came in contact withthe wooden panels of a door and a bolt such as that which securedthe door of the outer room. Cautiously and silently drawing thewooden bar he pushed gently against the panel to find that the doorswung easily and noiselessly outward into utter darkness. Movingcarefully and feeling forward for each step he passed out of theniche, closing the door behind him.
Peeling about, he discovered that he was in a narrow corridor whichhe followed cautiously for a few yards to be brought up suddenlyby what appeared to be a ladder across the passageway. He felt ofthe obstruction carefully with his hands until he was assured thatit was indeed a ladder and that a solid wall was just beyond it,ending the corridor. Therefore, as he could not go forward and asthe ladder ended at the floor upon which he stood, and as he didnot care to retrace his steps, there was no alternative but to climbupward, and this he did, his pistol ready in a side pocket of hisblouse.
He had ascended but two or three rungs when his head came suddenlyand painfully in contact with a hard surface above him. Gropingabout with one hand over his head he discovered that the obstacleseemed to be the covering to a trap door in the ceiling which,with a little effort, he succeeded in raising a couple of inches,revealing through the cracks the stars of a clear African night.
With a sigh of relief, but with unabated caution, he gently slidthe trapdoor to one side far enough to permit him to raise hiseyes above the level of the roof. A quick glance assured him thatthere was none near enough to observe his movements, nor, in fact,as far as he could see, was anyone in sight.
Drawing himself quickly through the aperture he replaced the coverand endeavored to regain his bearings. Directly to the south of himthe low roof he stood upon adjoined a much loftier portion of thebuilding, which rose several stories above his head. A few yardsto the west he could see the flickering light of the flares of awinding street, and toward this he made his way.
From the edge of the roof he looked down upon the night life ofthe mad city. He saw men and women and children and lions, and ofall that he saw it was quite evident to him that only the lions weresane. With the aid of the stars he easily picked out the points ofthe compass, and following carefully in his memory the steps thathad led him into the city and to the roof upon which he now stood,he knew that the thoroughfare upon which he looked was the samealong which he and Bertha Kircher had been led as prisoners earlierin the day.
If he could reach this he might be able to pass undetected in theshadows of the arcade to the city gate. He had already given up asfutile the thought of seeking out the girl and attempting to succorher, for he knew that alone and with the few remaining rounds ofammunition he possessed, he could do nothing against this city-fullof armed men. That he could live to cross the lion-infested forestbeyond the city was doubtful, and having, by some miracle, won tothe desert beyond, his fate would be certainly sealed; but yet hewas consumed with but one desire--to leave behind him as far aspossible this horrid city of maniacs.
He saw that the roofs rose to the same level as that upon whichhe stood unbroken to the north to the next street intersection.Directly below him was a flare. To reach the pavement in safetyit was necessary that he find as dark a portion of the avenue aspossible. And so he sought along the edge of the roofs for a placewhere he might descend in comparative concealment.
He had proceeded some little way beyond a point where the street curvedabruptly to the east before he discovered a location sufficientlyto his liking. But even here he was compelled to wait a considerabletime for a satisfactory moment for his descent, which he haddecided to make down one of the pillars of the arcade. Each timehe prepared to lower himself over the edge of the roofs, footstepsapproaching in one direction or another deterred him until at lasthe had almost come to the conclusion that he would have to waitfor the entire city to sleep before continuing his flight.
But finally came a moment which he felt propitious and thoughwith inward qualms, it was with outward calm that he commenced thedescent to the street below.
When at last he stood beneath the arcade he was congratulatinghimself upon the success that had attended his efforts up to thispoint when, at a slight sound behind him, he turned to see a tallfigure in the yellow tunic of a warrior confronting him.