“Where are the shes and the balus?” he asked, tersely. “Call them.”
The women and the children must have heard the command, but they did not emerge from their hiding places. The warriors moved about uneasily, evidently torn by the conflicting emotions of fear of the creature who had issued the order, and reluctance to fulfil his commands.
“Call them,” he repeated, “or go and fetch them.” But at last one of the warriors mustered the courage to address him.
“This village has already furnished one woman within the moon,” he said. “It is the turn of another village.”
“Silence!” roared the gorilla-man, advancing threateningly toward him. “You are a rash Gomangani to threaten the will of a Bolgani, I speak with the voice of Numa, the Emperor; obey or die.”
Trembling, the black turned and called the women and children, but none responded to his summons. The Bolgani gestured impatiently.
“Go and fetch them,” he demanded. And the blacks, cringing, moved sullenly across the compound toward the hiding places of their women and children. Presently they returned, dragging them with them, by the arms sometimes, but usually by the hair. Although they had seemed loath to give them up, they showed no gentleness toward them, nor any indication of affection. Their attitude toward them, however, was presently explained to Tarzan by the next words of the warrior who had spoken previously.
“Great Bolgani,” he said, addressing the gorilla-man, “if Numa takes always from this village, there will soon be not enough women for the warriors here, and there will be too few children, and in a little time there will be none of us left.”
“What of that?” growled the gorilla-man. “There are already too many Gomangani in the world. For what other purpose were you created than to serve Numa, the Emperor, and his chosen people, the Bolgani?” As he spoke he was examining the women and children, pinching their flesh and pounding upon their chests and backs. Presently he returned to a comparatively young woman, straddling whose hip was a small child.
“This one will do,” he said, snatching the child from its mother and hurling it roughly across the compound, where it lay against the face of the palisade, moaning pitifully, and perchance broken and dying. The poor, stupid mother, apparently more beast than human, stood for a moment trembling in dumb anguish, and then she started to rush forward to her child. But the gorilla-man seized her with one of his great hands and hurled her to the ground. Simultaneously there arose from the silent foliage above them the fierce and terrible scream of the challenging bull ape. In terror the simple blacks cast aifrighted glances upward, while the gorilla-man raised his hideous face in snarling anger toward the author of the bestial cry.
Swaying upon a leafy bough they beheld such a creature as none of them had ever looked upon before—a white man, a Tarmangani, with hide as hairless as the body of Histah, the snake. In the instant that they looked they saw the spear hand of the stranger drive forward, and the shaft, speeding with the swiftness of thought, bury itself in the breast of the Bolgani. With a single scream of rage and pain, the gorilla-man crumbled to the earth, where he struggled spasmodically for a moment and then lay still, in death.
The ape-man held no great love for the Gomangani as a race, but inherent in his English brain and heart was the spirit of fair play, which prompted him to spontaneous espousal of the cause of the weak. On the other hand Bolgani was his hereditary enemy. His first battle had been with Bolganil and his first kill.
The poor blacks were still standing in stupefied wonderment when he dropped from the tree to the ground among them. They stepped back in terror, and simultaneously they raised their spears menacingly against him.
“I am a friend,” he said. “I am Tarzan of the Apes. Lower your spears.” And then he turned and withdrew his own weapon from the carcass of Bolgani. “Who is this creature, that may come into your village and slay your balus and steal your shes? Who is he, that you dare not drive your spears through him?”
“He is one of the great Bolgani,” said the warrior, who seemed to be spokesman, and the leader in the village. “He is one of the chosen people of Numa, the Emperor, and when Numa learns that he has been killed in our village we shall all die for what you have done.”
“Who is Numa?” demanded the ape-man, to whom Numa, in the language of the great apes, meant only lion.
“Numa is the Emperor,” replied the black, “who lives with the Bolgani in the Palace of Diamonds.”
He did not express himself in just these words, for the meager language of the great apes, even though amplified by the higher intelligence and greater development of the Oparians, is still primitive in the extreme. What he had really said was more nearly “Numa, the king of kings, who lives in the king’s hut of glittering stones,” which carried to the ape-man’s mind the faithful impression of the fact. Numa, evidently, was the name adopted by the king of the Bolgani, and the title emperor, indicated merely his preeminence among the chiefs.
The instant that Bolgani had fallen the bereaved mother rushed forward and gathered her injured infant into her arms. She squatted now against the palisade, cuddling it to her breast, and crooning softly to pacify its cries, which Tarzan suddenly discovered were more the result of fright than injury. At first the mother had been frightened when he had attempted to examine the child, drawing away and baring her fighting fangs, much after the manner of a wild beast. But presently there had seemed to come to her dull brain a realization that this creature had saved her from Bolgani, that he had permitted her to recover her infant and that he was making no effort to harm either of them. Convinced at last that the child was only bruised, Tarzan turned again toward the warriors, who were talking together in an excited little group a few paces away. As they saw him advancing, they spread into a semi-circle and stood facing him.
“The Bolgani will send and slay us all,” they said, “when they learn what has happened in our village, unless we can take to them the creature that cast the spear. Therefore, Tarmangani, you shall go with us to the Palace of Diamonds, and there we shall give you over to the Bolgani and perhaps Numa will forgive us.”
The ape-man smiled. What kind of creature did the simple blacks think him, to believe that he would permit himself to be easily led into the avenging hands of Numa, the Emperor of the Bolgani. Although he was fully aware of the risk that he had taken in entering the village, he knew too that because he was Tarzan of the Apes there was a greater chance that he would be able to escape than that they could hold him. He had faced savage spearmen before and knew precisely what to expect in the event of hostilities. He preferred, however, to make peace with these people, for it had been in his mind to find some means of questioning them the moment that he had discovered their village hidden away in this wild forest.
“Wait,” he said, therefore. “Would you betray a friend who enters your village to protect you from an enemy?”
“We will not slay you, Tarmangani. We will take you to the Bolgani for Numa, the Emperor.”
“But that would amount to the same thing,” returned Tarzan, “for you well know that Numa, the Emperor, will have me slain.”
“That we cannot help,” replied the spokesman. “If we could save you we would, but when the Bolgani discover what has happened in our village, it is we who must suffer, unless, perhaps, they are satisfied to punish you instead.”
“But why need they know that the Bolgani has been slain in your village?” asked Tarzan.
“Will they not see his body next time they come?” asked the spokesman.
“Not if you remove his body,” replied Tarzan.
The blacks scratched their heads. Into their dull, ignorant minds had crept no such suggestion of a solution of their problem. What the stranger said was true. None but they and he knew that Bolgani had been slain within their palisade. To remove the body, then, would be to remove all suspicion from their village. But where were they to take it? They put the question to Tarzan.
“I will dispose of him for you,” replied the Tarmangani. “Answer my questions truthfully and I will promise to take him away and dispose of him in such a manner that no one will know how he died, or where.”
“What are your questions?” asked the spokesman.
“I am a stranger in your country. I am lost here,” replied the ape-man. “And I would find a way out of the valley in that direction.” And he pointed toward the southeast.
The black shook his head. “There may be a way out of the valley in that direction,” he said, “but what lies beyond no man knows; nor do I know whether there be a way out or whether there be anything beyond. It is said that all is fire beyond the mountain, and no one dares to go and see. As for myself, I have never been far from my village—at most only a day’s march to hunt for game for the Bolgani, and to gather fruit and nuts and plantains for them. If there is a way out I do not know, nor would any man dare take it if there were.”
“Does no one ever leave the valley?” asked Tarzan.
“I know not what others do,” replied the spokesman, “but those of this village never leave the valley.”
“What lies in that direction?” asked Tarzan, pointing toward Opar.
“I do not know,” replied the black, “only that sometimes the Bolgani come from that way, bringing with them strange creatures; little men with white skins and much hair, with short, crooked legs and long arms, and sometimes white shes, who do not look at all like the strange little Tarmangani. But where they get them I do not know, nor do they ever tell us. Are these all the questions that you wish to ask?”
“Yes, that is all,” replied Tarzan, seeing that he could gain no information whatsoever from these ignorant villagers. Realizing that he must find his own way out of the valley, and knowing that he could do so much more quickly and safely if he was alone, he decided to sound the blacks in relation to a plan that had entered his mind.
“If I take the Bolgani away, so that the others will not know that he was slain in your village, will you treat me as a friend?” he asked.
“Yes,” replied the spokesman.
“Then,” said Tarzan, “will you keep here for me my white she until I return again to your village? You can hide her in one of your huts if a Bolgani comes, and no one need ever know that she is among you. What do you say?”
The blacks looked around. “We do not see her,” said the spokesman. “Where is she?”
“If you will promise to protect her and hide her, I will bring her here,” replied the ape-man.
“I will not harm her,” said the head man, “but I do not know about the others.”
Tarzan turned toward the others who were clustered about, listening. “I am going to bring my mate into your village,” he said, “and you are going to hide her, and feed her, and protect her until I return. I shall take away the body of Bolgani, so that no suspicion shall fall upon you, and when I come back I shall expect to find my mate safe and unharmed.”
He had thought it best to describe La as his mate, since thus they might understand that she was under his protection, and if they felt either gratitude or fear toward him, La would be safer. Raising his face toward the tree where she was hidden, he called to La to descend, and a moment later she clambered down to the lower branches of one of the trees in the compound and dropped into Tarzan’s arms.
“This is she,” he said to the assembled blacks, “guard her well and hide her from the Bolgani. If, upon my return, I find that any harm has befallen her, I shall take word to the Bolgani that it was you who did this,” and he pointed to the corpse of the gorilla-man.
La turned appealingly toward him, fear showing in her eyes. “You are not going to leave me here?” she asked.
“Temporarily only,” replied Tarzan. “These poor people are afraid that if the death of this creature is traced to their village they shall all suffer the wrath of his fellows, and so I have promised that I will remove the evidence in such a way as to direct suspicion elsewhere. If they are sufficiently high in the scale of evolution to harbor sentiments of gratitude, which I doubt, they will feel obligated to me for having slain this beast, as well as for preventing suspicion falling upon them. For these reasons they should protect you, but to make assurance doubly sure I have appealed also to their fear of the Bolgani—a characteristic which I know they possess. I am sure that you will be as safe here as with me until I return, otherwise I would not leave you. But alone I can travel much faster, and while I am gone I intend to find a way out of this valley, then I shall return for you and together we may make our escape easily, or at least with greater assurance of success than were we to blunder slowly about together.”
“You will come back?” she asked, a note of fear, longing, and appeal in her voice.
“I will come back,” he replied, and then turning to the blacks: “Clear out one of these huts for my mate, and see that she is not molested, and that she is furnished with food and water. And remember what I said, upon her safety your lives depend.”
Stooping, Tarzan lifted the dead gorilla-man to his shoulder, and the simple blacks marveled at his prowess. Of great physical strength themselves, there was not one of them but would have staggered under the weight of Bolgani, yet this strange Tarmangani walked easily beneath his burden, and when they had opened the gate in the palisade he trotted down the jungle trail as though he carried nothing but his own frame. A moment later he disappeared at a turn and was swallowed by the forest.
La turned to the blacks: “Prepare my hut,” she said, for she was very tired and longed to rest. They eyed her askance and whispered among themselves. It was evident to her that there was a difference of opinion among them, and presently from snatches of conversation which she overheard she realized that while some of the blacks were in favor of obeying Tarzan’s injunctions implicitly, there were others who objected strenuously and who wished to rid their village of her, lest she be discovered there by the Bolgani, and the villagers be punished accordingly.
“It would be better,” she heard one of the blacks say, “to turn her over to the Bolgani at once and tell them that we saw her mate slay the messenger of Numa. We will say that we tried to capture the Tarmangani but that he escaped, and that we were only able to seize his mate. Thus will we win the favor of Numa, and perhaps then he will not take so many of our women and children.”
“But the Tarmangani is great,” replied one of the others. “He is more powerful even than Bolgani. He would make a terrible enemy, and, as the chances are that the Bolgani would not believe us we should then have not only them but the Tarmangani to fear.”
“You are right,” cried La, “the Tarmangani is great. Far better will it be for you to have him for friend than enemy. Single-handed he grapples with Numa, the lion, and slays him. You saw with what ease he lifted the body of the mighty Bolgani to his shoulder. You saw him trot lightly down the jungle trail beneath his burden. With equal ease will he carry the corpse through the trees of the forest, far above the ground. In all the world there is no other like him, no other like Tarzan of the Apes. If you are wise, Gomangani, you will have Tarzan for a friend.”
The blacks listened to her, their dull faces revealing nothing of what was passing in their stupid brains. For a few moments they stood thus in silence, the hulking, ignorant blacks upon one side, the slender, beautiful white woman upon the other. Then La spoke.
“Go,” she cried imperiously, “and prepare my hut.” It was the High Priestess of the Flaming God; La, the queen of Opar, addressing slaves. Her regal mien, her commanding tones, wrought an instant change in the villagers, and La knew then that Tarzan was right in his assumption that they could be moved only through fear, for now they turned quickly, cowering like whipped dogs, and hastened to a nearby hut, which they quickly prepared for her, fetching fresh leaves and grasses for its floor, and fruit and nuts and plantains for her meal.
When all was ready, La clambered up the rope and through the circular opening in the floor of the hanging hut, which she found large and airy, and now reasonably clean. She drew the rope up after her and threw herself upon the soft bed they had prepared for her, and soon the gentle swaying of the swinging hut, the soft murmur of the leaves above her, the voices of the birds and insects cornbined with her own physical exhaustion to lull her into deep slumber.