There were the pride and bearing of royalty in the mien of this mighty beast; and to add to his impressiveness were his great size, his yellow, almost golden, coat, and his great black mane. When he had drunk his fill, he lifted his massive head and voiced a roar, as is the habit of lions when they have fed and drunk; and the earth shook to his thunderous voice, and a hush fell upon the jungle.
Now he should have sought his lair and slept, to go forth again at night and kill; but he did not do so. He did not do at all what might have been expected of a lion under similar circumstances. He raised his head and sniffed the air, and then he put his nose to the ground and moved to and fro like a hunting dog searching for a game scent. Finally he halted and voiced a low roar; then, with head raised, he moved off along a trail that led toward the north. The hyenas were glad to see him go; so were the jackals, who wished that the hyenas would go also. Ska, the vulture, circling above; wished that they would all leave.
At about the same time, many marches to the north, three angry, wounded shiftas viewed their dead comrades and cursed the fate that had led them upon the trail of the strange white giant; then they stripped the clothing and weapons from their dead fellows and rode away, loudly vowing vengeance should they ever again come upon the author of their discomfiture and secretly hoping that they never would. They hoped that they were done with him, but they were not.
Shortly after he had entered the forest, Tarzan swung to an overhanging branch beneath which his mount was passing and let the animal go its way. The ape-man was angry; the shiftas had frightened away his dinner. That they had sought to kill him annoyed him far less than the fact that they had spoiled his hunting. Now he must commence his search for meat all over again, but when he had filled his belly he would look into this matter of shiftas. Of this he was certain.
Tarzan had considered the gastronomic potentialities of the bandit’s horse, but had discarded the idea. On several occasions in the past he had been forced to eat horse meat, but he had not liked it. Although he was hungry, he was far from famished; and so he preferred to hunt again until he found flesh more palatable, nor was it long before he had made his kill and eaten.
Satisfied, he lay up for a while in the crotch of a tree, but not for long. His active mind was considering the matter of the shiftas. Here was something that should be looked into. If the band were on the march, he need not concern himself about them; but if they were permanently located in this district, that was a different matter; for Tarzan expected to be here for some time; and it was well to know the nature, the number, and the location of all enemies. Furthermore, he felt that he could not let them escape without some additional punishment for the inconvenience they had caused him.
Returning to the river, Tarzan crossed it and took up the plain trail of the shiftas. It led him up and down across some low hills and then down into the narrow valley of the stream that he had crossed farther up. Here the floor of the valley was forested, the river winding through the wood. Into this wood the trail led.
It was almost dark now; the brief equatorial twilight was rapidly fading into the night; the nocturnal life of the forest and the hills was awakening; from down among the deepening shadows of the valley came the coughing grunts of a hunting lion. Tarzan sniffed the warm air rising from the valley toward the mountains; it carried with it the odors of a camp and the scent spoor of man. He raised his head, and from his deep chest rumbled a full-throated roar. Tarzan of the Apes was hunting too.
In the gathering shadows he stood then erect and silent, a lonely figure standing in solitary grandeur upon that desolate hillside. Swiftly the silent night enveloped him; his figure merged with the darkness that made hill and valley, river and forest one. Not until then did Tarzan move; then he stepped down on silent feet toward the forest. Now was every sense alert, for now the great cats would be hunting. Often his sensitive nostrils quivered as they searched the air; no slightest sound escaped his keen ears.
As he advanced, the man scent became stronger, guiding his steps. Nearer and nearer sounded the deep cough of the lion; but of Numa Tarzan had little fear at present, knowing that the great cat, being up wind, could not be aware of his presence. Doubtless Numa had heard the ape-man’s roar, but he could not know that its author was approaching him.
Tarzan had estimated the lion’s distance down the valley and the distance that lay between himself and the forest and had guessed that he would reach the trees before their paths crossed. He was not hunting for Numa, the lion, and with the natural caution of the wild beasts, he would avoid an encounter. It was not food either that he hunted, for his belly was full, but man, the archenemy of all created things.
It was difficult for Tarzan to think of himself as a man, and his psychology was more often that of the wild beast than the human, nor was he particularly proud of his species. While he appreciated the intellectual superiority of man over other creatures, he harbored contempt for him because he had wasted the greater part of his inheritance. To Tarzan, as to many other created things, contentment is the highest ultimate goal of achievement, and health and culture the principal avenues along which man may approach this goal. With scorn the ape-man viewed the overwhelming majority of mankind which was wanting in either one essential or the other, when not wanting in both. He saw the greed, the selfishness, the cowardice, and the cruelty of man; and, in view of man’s vaunted mentality, he knew that these characteristics placed man upon a lower spiritual scale than the beasts, while barring him eternally from the goal of contentment.
So now, as he sought the lair of the man-things, it was not in the spirit of one who seeks his own kind but of a beast which reconnoiters the position of an enemy. The mingled odors of a camp grew stronger in his nostrils, the scents of horses and men and food and smoke. To you or to me, alone in a savage wilderness, engulfed in darkness, cognizant of the near approach of a hunting lion, these odors would have been most welcome; but Tarzan’s reaction to them was that of the wild beast that knows man only as an enemy—his snarling muscles tensed as he smothered a low growl.
As, Tarzan reached the edge of the forest the lion was but a short distance to his right and approaching, so the apeman took to the trees, through which he swung silently toward the camp of the shiftas. Numa heard him then and roared, and the men in the camp threw more wood upon the beast fire.
To a tree overlooking the camp, Tarzan made his way. Below him he saw a band of some twenty men with their horses and equipment. A rude boma of branches and brush had been erected about the camp site as a partial protection against wild beasts, but more dependence was evidently placed upon the fire which they kept burning in the center of the camp.
In a single quick glance the ape-man took in the details of the scene below him, and then his eyes came to rest upon the only one that aroused either interest or curiosity, a white man who lay securely bound a short distance from the fire.
Ordinarily, Tarzan was no more concerned by the fate of a white man than by that of a black man or any other created thing to which he was not bound by ties of friendship; the life of a man meant less to Tarzan of the Apes than the life of an ape. But in this instance there were two factors that made the life of the captive a matter of interest to the lord of the jungle. First, and probably predominant, was his desire to be further avenged upon the shiftas for their wanton attack upon him, which had frightened away his intended kill; the second was curiosity, for the white man that lay bound below him was different from any that he had seen before, at least in so far as his apparel was concerned.
His only garment appeared to be a habergeon made up of ivory discs that partially overlay one another, unless certain ankle, wrist, neck, and head ornaments might have been considered to possess such utilitarian properties as to entitle them to a similar classification. Except for these, his arms and legs were naked. His head rested upon the ground with the face turned away from Tarzan so that the ape-man could not see his features but only that his hair was heavy and black.
As he watched the camp, seeking for some suggestion as to how he might most annoy or inconvenience the bandits, it occurred to Tarzan that a just reprisal would consist in taking from them something that they wanted, just as they had deprived him of the buck he had desired. Evidently they wished the prisoner very much or they would not have gone to the trouble of securing him so carefully; so this fact decided Tarzan to steal the white man from them. Perhaps curiosity also had a considerable part in inducing this decision, for the strange apparel of the prisoner had aroused within the ape-man a desire to know more concerning him.
To accomplish his design, he decided to wait until the camp slept; and settling himself comfortably in a crotch of the tree, he prepared to keep his vigil with the tireless patience of the hunting beast he was. As he watched, he saw several of the shiftas attempt to communicate with their prisoner; but it was evident that neither understood the other.
Tarzan was familiar with the language spoken by the Kafichos and Gallas, and the questions that they put to their prisoner aroused his curiosity still further. There was one question that they asked him in many different ways, in several dialects, and in signs which the captive either did not understand or pretended not to. Tarzan was inclined to believe that the latter was true, for the sign language was such that it could scarcely be misunderstood. They were asking him the way to a place where there was much ivory and gold, but they got no information from him.
“The pig understands us well enough,” growled one of the shiftas; “he is just pretending that he does not.”
“If he won’t tell us, what is the use of carrying him around with us and feeding him?” demanded another. “We might as well kill him now.”
“We will let him think it over tonight,” replied one who was evidently the leader, “and if he still refuses to speak in the morning, we will kill him then.”
This decision they attempted to transmit to the prisoner both by words and signs, and then they squatted about the fire and discussed the occurrences of the day and their plans for the future. The principal topic of their conversation was the strange white giant who had slain three of their number and escaped upon one of their horses; and after this had been debated thoroughly and in detail for some time, and the three survivors of the encounter had boasted severally of their deeds of valor, they withdrew to the rude shelters they had constructed and left the night to Tarzan, Numa, and a single sentry.
The silent watcher among the shadows of the tree waited on in patience until the camp should be sunk in deepest slumber and, waiting, planned the stroke that was to rob the shiftas of their prey and satisfy his own desire for revenge. As he patiently bided his time, there came strongly to his nostrils the scent spoor of Numa, the lion; and he guessed that the carnivore, attracted by the presence of the horses, was coming to investigate the camp. That he would enter it, he doubted, for the sentry was keeping the fire blazing brightly; and Numa seldom dares the fearful mystery of flames unless goaded by extreme hunger.
At last the ape-man felt that the time had come when he might translate his plan into action; all but the sentry were wrapped in slumber, and even he was dozing beside the fire. As noiselessly as the shadow of a shadow Tarzan descended from the tree, keeping well in the shadow cast by the beast fire.
For a moment he stood in silence, listening. He heard the breathing of Numa in the darkness beyond the circle of firelight, and knew that the king of beasts was near and watching. Then he looked from behind the great bole of the tree and saw that the sentry’s back was still turned toward him. Silently he moved into the open; stealthily, on soundless feet, he crept toward the unsuspecting bandit. He saw the matchlock across the fellow’s knees; and for it he had respect, as have all jungle animals that have been hunted.
Closer and closer he came to his prey. At last he crouched directly behind him. There must be no noise, no outcry. Tarzan waited. Beyond the rim of fire waited Numa, expectant, for he saw that very gradually the flames were diminishing. A bronzed hand shot quickly forward, fingers of steel gripped the brown throat of the sentry almost at the instant that a knife was driven from below his left shoulder blade into his heart. The sentry was dead without knowing that death threatened him, a merciful ending.
Tarzan withdrew the knife from the limp body and wiped the blade upon the once white robe of his victim; then he moved softly toward the prisoner who was lying in the open. For him, they had not bothered to build a shelter. As he made his way toward the man, Tarzan passed close to two of the shelters in which lay members of the band; but he made no noise that might awaken them. When he approached the captive more closely, he saw in the diminishing light of the fire that the man’s eyes were open and that he was regarding Tarzan with level, though questioning, gaze. The ape-man put a finger to his lips to enjoin silence, and then he came and knelt beside the man and cut the thongs that secured his wrists and ankles; then he helped him to his feet, for the thongs had been drawn tightly, and his legs were numb.
For a moment he waited while the stranger tested his feet and moved them rapidly in an effort to restore circulation; then he beckoned him to follow, and all would have been well but for Numa, the lion. At this moment, either to voice his anger against the flames or to terrify the horses into a stampede, he elected to voice a thunderous roar.
So close was the lion that the sudden shattering of the deep silence of the night startled every sleeper to wakefulness. A dozen men seized their matchlocks and leaped from their shelters. In the waning light of the fire they saw no lion; but they saw their liberated captive, and they saw Tarzan of the Apes standing beside him.
Among those who ran from the shelters was the least seriously wounded of Tarzan’s victims of the afternoon. Instantly recognizing the bronzed white giant, he shouted loudly to his companions, “It is he! It is the white demon who killed our friends today.”
“Kill him!” screamed another.
“Kill them both!” cried the leader of the shiftas.
Completely surrounding the two white men, the shiftas advanced upon them; but they dared not fire because of fear that they might wound one of their own comrades. Nor could Tarzan loose an arrow nor cast a spear, for he had left all his weapons except his rope and his knife hidden in the tree above the camp that he might move with the utmost freedom and in silence while seeking to liberate the captive.
One of the bandits, more courageous, probably because less intelligent, than his fellows, rushed to close quarters with musket clubbed. It was his undoing. The man-beast crouched, growling; and, as the other was almost upon him, charged. The musket butt, hurtling through the air to strike him down, he dodged; and then he seized the weapon and wrenched it from the shifta’s grasp as though it had been a toy in a child’s hands.
Tossing the matchlock at the feet of his companion, Tarzan laid hold upon the rash Galla, spun him around, and held him as a shield against the weapons of his fellows. But despite this reverse the other shiftas gave no indication of giving up the battle. They saw before them two men practically defenseless, and now with redoubled shouts they pushed closer.
Two of them rushed in behind the ape-man, for it was he they feared the more; but they were to learn that their former prisoner might not be considered lightly. He had picked up the musket that Tarzan had cast aside and, grasping it close to the muzzle, was using it as a club. The heavy butt struck the foremost bandit heavily upon the side of the head, dropping him like a felled ox; and as it swung again, the second bandit leaped back barely in time to avoid a similar fate.
A quick backward glance assured Tarzan that his companion was proving himself a worthy ally, but it was evident that they could not hope to hold out long against the superior numbers pitted against them. Their only hope, he believed, lay in making a sudden, concerted rush through the thin line of foemen surrounding them, and he sought to convey his plan to the man standing back to back with him; but though he spoke to him in English and in the several continental languages with which the ape-man was familiar the only reply he received was in a language that he himself had never before heard.
What was he to do? They must go together, and both must understand the purpose animating Tarzan. But how was that possible if they could not communicate with one another? Tarzan turned and touched the other lightly on the shoulder; then he jerked his thumb in the direction he intended going and beckoned with a nod of his head.
Instantly the man nodded his understanding and wheeled about as Tarzan started to charge, still bearing the struggling shifta in his grasp; but the shiftas were determined not to let these two escape; and while they could not fire for fear of killing their comrade, they stood their ground with clubbed muskets and with spears; so that the outcome looked dark indeed for the lord of the jungle and his companion.
Using the man in his grasp as a flail, Tarzan sought to mow down those standing between him and liberty; but there were many of them, and presently they succeeded in dragging their comrade from the clutches of the ape-man. Now it seemed that the situation of the two whites was hopeless, for there was no longer anything to prevent the bandits using their matchlocks to advantage. The shiftas were in such a transport of rage that nothing less than the extermination of these two foes would satisfy them; but Tarzan and the other pressed on so closely that the muskets were useless against them for the moment; though presently some of the shiJtas withdrew a little to one side where they might have free use of their weapons.
One fellow in particular was well placed to fire without endangering any of his fellows, and raising his matchlock to his shoulder he took careful aim at Tarzan.