He was sitting up now and presently he regarded his nakedness in evident surprise. He picked up the loincloth that had been cut from his body. Then he looked all about him on the ground—his eyes dull, stupid, wondering. He found his weapons and picking them up examined them. For a long time he sat fingering them and looking at them, his brows puckered in thought. The knife, the spear, the bow and arrows he went over time and time again.
He looked out upon the jungle scene before him and the expression of bewilderment on his face but increased. He half-rose, remaining upon his knees. A startled rodent scurried across the clearing. At sight of it the man seized his bow and fitted an arrow, but the animal was gone before he could loose his shaft. Still kneeling, the bewildered expression upon his countenance deepening, he gazed in mute astonishment upon the weapon he held so familiarly in his hand. He arose, gathered up his spear and knife and the balance of his arrows and started off into the jungle.
A hundred yards from his shelter he came upon a lion feeding upon the carcass of its kill that it had dragged into the bushes beside the wide elephant trail along which the man made his way. The lion growled ominously. The man halted, listening intently. He was still bewildered; but only for an instant did he remain motionless in the trail. With the spring of a panther he gained the low swinging limb of the nearest tree. There he squatted for a few minutes. He could see Numa the lion feeding upon the carcass of some animal—what the animal had been he could not determine. After a while the man dropped silently from the tree and went off into the jungle in the opposite direction from that he had at first chanced upon. He was naked, but he did not know it. His diamonds were gone, but he would not have known a diamond had he seen one. Uhha had left him, but he did not miss her, for he knew not that she ever had existed.
Blindly and yet well, his muscles reacted to every demand made upon them in the name of the first law of nature. He had not known why he leaped to a tree at the sound of Numa’s growl, nor could he have told why he walked in the opposite direction when he saw where Numa lay up with his kill. He did not know that his hand leaped to a weapon at each new sound or movement in the jungle about him.
Uhha had defeated her own ends. Esteban Miranda was not being punished for his sins for the very excellent reason that he was conscious of no sins nor of any existence. Uhha had killed his objective mind. His brain was but a storehouse of memories that would never again be raised above the threshold of consciousness. When acted upon by the proper force they stimulated the nerves that controlled his muscles, with results seemingly identical with those that would have followed had he been able to reason. An emergency beyond his experience would, consequently, have found him helpless, though ignorant of his helplessness. It was almost as though a dead man walked through the jungle. Sometimes he moved along in silence, again he babbled childishly in Spanish, or, perhaps, quoted whole pages of Shakespeare in English.
Could Uhha have seen him now, even she, savage little cannibal, might have felt remorse at the horror of her handiwork, which was rendered even more horrible because its miserable object was totally unconscious of it; but Uhha was not there to see, nor any other mortal; and the poor clay that once had been a man moved on aimlessly through the jungle, killing and eating when the right nerves were excited, sleeping, talking, walking as though he lived as other men live; and thus, watching him from afar, we see him disappear amidst the riotous foliage of a jungle trail.
The Princess Janzara of Veltopismakus did not purchase the slave of Zoanthrohago. Her father, the king, would not permit it, and so, very angry, she walked from the apartment where she had come to examine the captive and when she had passed into the next room and was out of her royal sire’s range of vision, she turned and made a face in his direction, at which all her warriors and the two hand-maidens laughed.
“Fool!” she whispered in the direction of her unconscious father. “I shall own the slave yet and kill him, too, if I mind.” The warriors and the hand-maidens nodded their heads approvingly.
King Elkomoelhago arose languidly from his chair. “Take it to the quarries,” he said, indicating Tarzan with a motion of his thumb, “but tell the officer in charge that it is the king’s wish that it be not overworked, nor injured,” and as the ape-man was led away through one doorway, the king quitted the chamber by another, his six courtiers bowing in the strange, Minunian way until he was gone. Then one of them tiptoed quickly to the doorway through which Elkomoelhago had disappeared, flattened himself against the wall beside the door and listened for a moment. Apparently satisfied, he cautiously insinuated his head beyond the doorframe until he could view the chamber adjoining with one eye, then he turned back toward his fellows.
“The old half-wit has gone,” he announced, though in a whisper that would have been inaudible beyond the chamber in which it was breathed, for even in Minimi they have learned that the walls have ears, though they express it differently, saying, instead: Trust not too far the loyalty of even the stones of your chamber.
“Saw you ever a creature endowed with such inordinate vanity!” exclaimed one.
“He believes that he is wiser than, not any man, but all men combined,” said another. “Sometimes I feel that I can abide his arrogance no longer.”
“But you will, Gefasto,” said Gofoloso. “To be Chief of Warriors of Veltopismakus is too rich a berth to be lightly thrown aside.”
“When one might simultaneously throw away one’s life at the same time,” added Torndali, Chief of Quarries.
“But the colossal effrontery of the man!” ejaculated another, Makahago, Chief of Buildings. “He has had no more to do with Zoanthrohago’s success than have I and yet he claims the successes all for himself and blames the failures upon Zoanthrohago.”
“The glory of Veltopismakus is threatened by his egotism,” cried Throwaldo, Chief of Agriculture. “He has chosen us as his advisers, six princes, whose knowledge of their several departments should be greater than that of any other individuals and whose combined knowledge of the needs of Veltopismakus and the affairs of state should form a bulwark against the egregious errors that he is constantly committing; but never will he heed our advice. To offer it he considers a usurpation of his royal prerogatives, to urge it, little short of treason. To question his judgment spells ruin. Of what good are we to Veltopismakus? What must the people of the state think of us?”
“It is well known what they think of us,” snapped Gofoloso. “They say that we were chosen, not for what we know, but for what we do not know. Nor can you blame them. I, a breeder of diadets, master of ten thousand slaves who till the soil and raise a half of all the food that the city consumes, am chosen Chief of Chiefs, filling an office for which I have no liking and no training, while Throwaldo, who scarce knows the top of a vegetable from its roots, is Chief of Agriculture. Makahago worked the quarry slaves for a hundred moons and is made Chief of Buildings, while Torndali, who is acclaimed the greatest builder of our time, is Chief of Quarries. Gefasto and Vestako, alone, are masters of their bureaus. Vestako the king chose wisely as Chief of the Royal Dome, that his royal comfort and security might be assured; but in Gefasto behold his greatest blunder! He elevated a gay young pleasure-seeker to the command of the army of Veltopismakus and discovered in his new Chief of Warriors as great a military genius as Veltopismakus has ever produced.”
Gefasto bowed his acknowledgment of the compliment.
“Had it not been for Gefasto the Trohanadalmakusians would have trapped us fairly the other day,” continued Gofoloso.
“I advised the king against pushing the assault,” interjected Gefasto, “as soon as it became evident that we had failed to surprise them. We should have withdrawn. It was only after we had advanced and I was free from him that I could direct the affair without interference, and then, as you saw, I quickly extricated our troops and withdrew them with as little loss of men and prestige as possible.”
“It was nobly done, Gefasto,” said Torndali. “The troops worship you. They would like a king who led them in battle as you might lead them.”
“And let them have their wine as of old,” interjected Makahago.
“We would all rally around a king who permitted us the innocent pleasure of our wine,” said Gofoloso: “What say you, Vestako?”
The Chief of the Royal Dome, the king’s major-domo, who had remained silent throughout the arraignment of his master, shook his head.
“It is not wise to speak treason now,” he said.
The three looked sharply at him and glanced quickly at one another.
“Who has spoken treason, Vestako?” demanded Gofoloso.
“You have all come too close to it for safety,” said the oily Vestako. He spoke in a much louder voice than the others had spoken, as though, far from being fearful of being overheard, he rather hoped that he would be. “Elkomoelhago has been good to us. He has heaped honors and riches upon us. We are very powerful. He is a wise ruler. Who are we to question the wisdom of his acts?”
The others looked uneasily about. Gofoloso laughed nervously. “You were ever slow to appreciate a joke, my good Vestako.” he said. “Could you not see that we were hoaxing you?”
“I could not,” replied Vestako; “but the king has a fine sense of humor. I will repeat the joke to him and if he laughs then I shall laugh, too, for I shall know that it was indeed a joke. But I wonder upon whom it will be!”
“Oh, Vestako, do not repeat what we have said—not to the king. He might not understand. We are good friends and it was said only among friends.” Gofoloso was evidently perturbed in spirit—he spoke rapidly. “By the way, my good Vestako, I just happened to recall that the other day you admired one of my slaves. I have intended giving him to you. If you will accept him he is yours.”
“I admire a hundred of your slaves,” said Vestako, softly.
“They are yours, Vestako,” said Gofoloso. “Come with me now and select them. It is a pleasure to make my friend so trifling a present.”
Vestako looked steadily at the other four. They shifted uneasily in momentary silence, which was broken by Throwaldo, Chief of Agriculture. “If Vestako would accept a hundred of my poor slaves I should be overwhelmed with delight,” he said.
“I hope they will be slaves of the white tunic,” said Vestako.
“They will,” said Throwaldo.
“I cannot be outdone in generosity,” said Torndali; “you must accept a hundred slaves from me.”
“And from me!” cried Makahago, Chief of Buildings.
“If you will send them to my head slave at my quarters before the Sun enters the Warriors’ Corridor I shall be overwhelmed with gratitude,” said Vestako, rubbing his palms and smiling unctuously. Then he looked quickly and meaningly at Gefasto, Chief of Warriors of Veltopismakus.
“Best can I show my friendship for the noble Vestako,” said Gefasto, unsmiling, “by assuring him that I shall, if possible, prevent my warriors from slipping a dagger between his ribs. Should aught of harm befall me, however, I fear that I cannot be responsible for the acts of these men, who, I am told, love me.” For a moment longer he stood looking straight into the eyes of Vestako, then he turned upon his heel and strode from the room.
Of the six men who composed the Royal Council, Gefasto and Gofoloso were the most fearless, though even they flattered the vain and arrogant Elkomoelhago, whose despotic powers rendered him a most dangerous enemy. Custom and inherent loyalty to the royal family, in addition to that most potent of human instrumentalities—self-interest, held them, to the service of their king, but so long had they been plotting against him and so rife was discontent throughout the city, that each now felt that he might become bolder with impunity.
Torndali, Makahago and Throwaldo having been chosen by the king for their supposed pliability and having, unlike Gefasto and Gofoloso, justified his expectations, counted for little one way or another. Like the majority of the Veltopismakusian nobles under the reign of Elkomoelhago they had become corrupt, and self-interest guided their every act and thought. Gefasto did not trust them, for he knew that they could be bought even while professing their virtue, and Gefasto had taken to the study of men since his success with the warriors of his city—a success that was fully as much a surprise to him as to others—and his knowledge of the mounting restlessness of the people had implanted in the fertile soil of a virile brain the idea that Veltopismakus was ripe for a new dynasty.
Vestako he knew for a self-acknowledged and shameless bribe-taker. He did not believe that there was an honest hair in the man’s head, but he had been surprised at the veiled threat of exposure he had used to mulct his fellows.
“Low indeed have fallen the fortunes of Veltopismakus,” he said to Gofoloso as the two walked along the Warriors’ Corridor after quitting the council chamber of the king.
“As exemplified by—?” queried the Chief of Chiefs.
“By Vestako’s infamy. He cares neither for king nor for people. For slaves or gold he would betray either, and Vestako is typical of the majority of us. No longer is friendship sacred, for even from Throwaldo he exacted the toll of his silence, and Throwaldo has ever been accounted his best friend.”
“What has brought us to such a pass, Gefasto?” asked
Gofoloso, thoughtfully. “Some attribute it to one cause and some to another, and though there should be no man in Velopismakus better able than myself to answer my own question, I confess that I am at a loss. There are many theories, but I doubt me the right one has yet been expounded.”
“If one should ask me, Gofoloso, and you have asked me, I should say to him as I am about to say to you that the trouble with Veltopismakus is too much peace. Prosperity follows peace—prosperity and plenty of idle time. Time must be occupied. Who would occupy it in labor, even the labor of preparing one’s self to defend one’s peace and prosperity, when it may so easily be occupied in the pursuit of pleasure? The material prosperity that has followed peace has given us the means to gratify our every whim. We have become satiated with the things we looked upon in the days of yesterday as luxuries to be sparingly enjoyed upon rare occasion. Consequently we have been forced to invent new whims to be gratified and you may rest assured that these have become more and more extravagant and exaggerated in form and idea until even our wondrous prosperity has been taxed to meet the demands of our appetites.
“Extravagance reigns supreme. It rests, like a malign incubus, upon the king and his government. To mend its inroads upon the treasury, the burden of the incubus is shifted from the back of the government to the back of the people in the form of outrageous taxes which no man can meet honestly and have sufficient remaining wherewith to indulge his appetites, and so by one means or another, he passes the burden on to those less fortunate or less shrewd.”
“But the heaviest taxation falls upon the rich,” Gofoloso reminded him.
“In theory, but not in fact,” replied Gefasto. “It is true that the rich pay the bulk of the taxes into the treasury of the king, but first they collect it from the poor in higher prices and other forms of extortion, in the proportion of two jetaks for every one that they pay to the tax collector. The cost of collecting this tax added to the loss in revenue to the government by the abolition of wine and the cost of preventing the unscrupulous from making and selling wine illicitly would, if turned back into the coffers of the government, reduce our taxes so materially that they would fall as a burden upon none.”’
“And that, you think, would solve our problems and restore happiness to Veltopismakus?” asked Gofoloso.
“No,” replied his fellow prince. “We must have war. As we have found that there is no enduring happiness in peace or virtue, let us have a little war and a little sin. A pudding that is all of one ingredient is nauseating—it must be seasoned, it must be spiced, and before we can enjoy the eating of it to the fullest we must be forced to strive for it. War and work, the two most distasteful things in the world, are, nevertheless, the most essential to the happiness and the existence of a people. Peace reduces the necessity for labor, and induces slothfulness. War compels labor, that her ravages may be effaced. Peace turns us into fat worms. War makes men of us.”
“War and wine, then, would restore Veltopismakus to her former pride and happiness, you think?” laughed Gofoloso. “What a firebrand you have become since you came to the command of all the warriors of our city!”
“You misunderstand me, Gofoloso,” said Gefasto, patiently. “War and wine alone will accomplish nothing but our ruin. I have no quarrel with peace or virtue or temperance. My quarrel is with the misguided theorists who think that peace alone, or virtue alone, or temperance alone will make a strong, a virile, a contented nation. They must be mixed with war and wine and sin and a great measure of hard work—especially hard work—and with nothing but peace and prosperity there is little necessity for hard work, and only the exceptional man works hard when he does not have to.
“But come, you must hasten to deliver the hundred slaves to Vestako before the Sun enters the Warriors’ Corridor, or he will tell your little joke to Elkomoelhago.”
Gofoloso smiled ruefully. “Some day he shall pay for these hundred slaves,” he said, “and the price will be very high.”
“If his master falls,” said Gefasto.
“When his master falls!” Gofoloso corrected.
The Chief of Warriors shrugged his shoulders, but he smiled contentedly, and he was still smiling after his friend had turned into an intersecting corridor and gone his way.