Tarzan and the Leopard Men

Chapter 3

Dead Men Who Spoke

Edgar Rice Burroughs


AS the girl fired, Golato voiced a cry of pain, wheeled and dashed from the tent, his left hand grasping his right arm above the elbow. Then Kali Bwana arose and dressed, strapping a cartridge belt, with its holster and gun, about her hips. There could be no more thought of sleep that night, for even though Golato might be hors de combat there were others to be feared almost as much as he.

She lighted a lantern and, seated in a camp-chair with her rifle across her knees, prepared to spend the remainder of the night in wakeful watching; but if she anticipated any further molestation she was agreeably disappointed. The night dragged its interminable length until outraged Nature could be no longer denied, and presently the girl dozed in her chair.

When she awoke the new sun was an hour old. The storm had passed leaving only mud and soggy canvas in its wake to mark its passage across the camp. The girl stepped to the flap of her tent and called to her boy to prepare her bath and her breakfast. She saw the porters preparing the loads. She saw Golato, his arm roughly bandaged and supported in a crude sling. She saw her boy and called to him again, this time peremptorily; but he ignored her summons and went on with the roping of a pack. Then she crossed over to him, her eyes flashing.

“You heard me call you, Imba,” she said. “Why did you not come and prepare my bath and my breakfast?”

The fellow, a middle-aged man of sullen demeanor, scowled and hung his head. Golato, surly and glowering, looked on. The other members of the safari had stopped their work and were watching, and among them all there was not a friendly eye.

“Answer me, Imba,” commanded the girl. “Why do you refuse to obey me?”

“Golato is headman,” was the surly rejoinder. “He gives orders. Imba obey Golato.”

“Imba obeys me,” snapped Kali Bwana. “Golato is no longer headman.” She drew her gun from its bolster and let the muzzle drop on Imba. “Get my bath ready. Last night it was dark. I could not see well, so I only shot Golato in the arm. This morning I can see to shoot straighter. Now move!”

Imba cast an imploring glance in the direction of Golato, but the ex-headman gave him no encouragement. Here was a new Kali Bwana, bringing new conditions, to which Golato’s slow mind had not yet adapted itself. Imba moved sheepishly toward the tent of his mistress. The other natives muttered in low tones among themselves.

Kali Bwana had found herself, but it was too late. The seeds of discontent and mutiny were too deeply sown; they had already germinated, and although she might wrest a fleeting victory the end could bring only defeat. She had the satisfaction, however, of seeing Imba prepare her bath and, later, her breakfast; but while she was eating the latter she saw her porters up-loading, preparatory to departure, although her own tent had not been struck, nor had she given any orders for marching.

“What is the meaning of this?” she demanded, walking quickly to where the men were gathered. She did not address Golato, but another who had been his lieutenant and whom she had intended appointing headman in his place.

“We are going back,” replied the man.

“You cannot go back and leave me alone,” she insisted.

“You may come with us,” said the native. “But you will have to look after yourself,” he added.

“You shall not do anything of the sort,” cried the girl, thoroughly exasperated. “You agreed to accompany me wherever I went. Put down your loads, and wait until you get marching orders from me.”

As the men hesitated she drew her revolver. It was then that Golato interfered. He approached her with the askaris, their rifles ready. “Shut up, woman,” he snarled, “and get back to your tent. We are going back to our own country. If you had been good to Golato this would not have happened; but you were not, and this is your punishment. If you try to stop us these men will kill you. You may come with us, but you will give no orders. Golato is master now.”

“I shall not go with you, and if you desert me here you know what your punishment will be when I get back to railhead and report the matter to the commissioner.”

“You will never get back,” replied Golato sullenly. Then he turned to the waiting porters and gave the command to march.

It was with sinking heart that the girl saw the party file from camp and disappear in the forest. She might have followed, but pride had a great deal to do with crystallizing her decision not to. Likewise, her judgment assured her that she would be far from safe with this sullen, mutinous band at whose head was as great a menace to her personal safety as she might find in all Africa. Again, there was the pertinacity of purpose that had kept her forging ahead upon her hopeless mission long after mature judgment and convinced her of its futility. Perhaps it was no more than ordinary stubbornness; but whatever it was it held her to what she conceived to be her duty, even though it led to what she now knew must be almost certain death.

Wearily she turned back toward her tent and the single load of provisions they had left behind for her sustenance. What was she to do? She could not go on, and she would not go back. There was but an single alternative. She must remain here, establishing a permanent camp as best she could, and await the remotely possible relief party that might come after long, long months.

She was confident that her safari could not return to civilization without her and not arouse comment and investigation; and when investigation was made some one at least among all those ignorant porters would divulge the truth. Then there would be a searching party organized unless Golato succeeded with his lying tongue in convincing them that she was already dead. There was a faint hope, however, and to that she would cling. If, perchance, she could cling to life also during the long wait she might be saved at the last.

Taking stock of the provisions that the men had left behind for her, she found that she had enough upon which to subsist for a month, provided that she exercised scrupulous economy in their use. If game proved plentiful and her hunting was successful, this time might be indefinitely prolonged. Starvation, however, was not the only menace that she apprehended nor the most dreaded. There were prowling carnivores against which she had little defense to offer. There was the possibility of discovery by unfriendly natives. There was always the danger (and this she dreaded most) of being stricken by one of the deadly jungle fevers.

She tried to put such thoughts from her mind, and to do so she occupied herself putting her camp in order, dragging everything perishable into her tent and, finally, commencing the construction of a crude boma as a protection against the prowlers of the night. The work was fatiguing, necessitating frequent rests, during which she wrote in her diary, to which she confided nothing of the fears that assailed her, fears that she dreaded admitting, even to herself. Instead, she confined herself to a narration of the events of the past few days since she had written. Thus she occupied her time as Fate marshalled the forces that were presently to drag her into a situation more horrible than any that she could possibly have conceived.

 

As the four, clothed in the leopard skins of their order, closed upon Orando there flashed to the mind of the son of the chief a vision of the mutilated corpse of his murdered friend; and in that mental picture he saw a prophecy of his own fate; but he did not flinch. He was a warrior, with a duty to perform. These were the murderers of his comrade, the enemies of his people. He would die, of that he was certain; but first he would avenge Nyamwegi. The enemy should feel the weight of the wrath of a Utenga fighting-man.

The four Leopard Men were almost upon him as he launched his spear. With a scream one of the foemen dropped, pierced by the sharp tip of the Utenga’s weapon. Fortunate it was for Orando that the methods of the Leopard Men prescribed the use of their improvised steel claws as weapons in preference to spears or arrows, which they resorted to only in extremities or when faced by superior numbers. The flesh for their unholy rites must die beneath their leopard claws, or it was useless for religious purposes. Maddened by fanaticism, they risked death to secure the coveted trophies. To this Orando owed the slender chance he had to overcome his antagonists. But at best the respite from death could be but brief.

The remaining three pressed closer, preparing for the lethal charge in simulation of the carnivore they personified. Silence enveloped the jungle, as though Nature awaited with bated breath the consummation of this savage tragedy. Suddenly the quiet was shattered by the scream of a monkey in a tree overhanging the clearing. The sound came from behind Orando. He saw two opponents who were facing him dart startled glances beyond him. He heard a scream that forced his attention rearward in a brief glance, and what he saw brought the sudden joy of an unexpected reprieve from death. In the grasp of his muzimo, the third of the surviving Leopard Men was struggling impotently against death.

Then Orando wheeled again to face his remaining enemies, while, from behind him, came savage growls that stiffened the hairs upon his scalp. What new force had been thus suddenly injected into the grim scene? He could not guess, nor could he again risk even a brief backward glance. His whole attention was now required by the hideous creatures sneaking toward him, their curved, steel talons opened, claw-like, to seize him.

The action that is so long in the telling occupied but a few seconds of actual time. A shriek mingled with the growls that Orando had heard. The Leopard Men leaped swiftly toward him. A figure brushed past him from the rear and, with a savage growl, leaped upon the foremost Leopard Man. It was Orando’s muzimo. The heart of the warrior missed a beat as he realized that those beast-like sounds had issued from the throat of his namesake. But if the fact perturbed Orando it utterly demoralized the fourth antagonist who had been advancing upon him, with the result that the fellow wheeled and bolted for the jungle, leaving the sole survivor of his companions to his fate.

Orando was free now to come to the aid of his muzimo, who was engaged with the larger of the two younger Leopard Men; but he quickly realized that his muzimo required no aid. In a grip of steel he held the two clawed hands, while his free hand grasped the throat of his antagonist. Slowly but as inexorably as Fate he was choking the life from the struggling man. Gradually his victim’s efforts grew weaker, until suddenly, with a convulsive shudder, the body went limp. Then he cast it aside. For a moment he stood gazing at it, a puzzled expression upon his face; and then, apparently mechanically, he advanced slowly to its side and placed a foot upon it. The reaction was instantaneous and remarkable. Doubt and hesitation were suddenly swept from the noble features of the giant to be replaced by an expression of savage exultation as he lifted his face to the heavens and gave voice to a cry so awesome that Orando felt his knees tremble beneath him.

The Utenga had heard that cry before, far in the depths of the forest, and knew it for what it was; the victory cry of the bull ape. But why was his muzimo voicing the cry of a beast? Here was something that puzzled Orando quite as much as had the materialization of this ancestral spirit. There had never been any doubt in his mind as to the existence of muzimos. Everyone possessed a muzimo, but there were certain attributes that all men attributed to muzimos, and all these were human attributes. Never in his life had Orando heard it even vaguely hinted that muzimos growled like Simba, the lion, or screamed as the bull apes scream when they have made a kill. He was troubled and puzzled. Could it be that his muzimo was also the muzimo of some dead lion and departed ape? And if such were the case might it not be possible that, when actuated by the spirit of the lion or the ape, instead of by that of Orando’s ancestor, he would become a menace instead of a blessing?

Suspiciously, now, Orando watched his companion, noting with relief the transition of the savage facial expression to that of quiet dignity that normally marked his mien. He saw the little monkey that had fled to the trees during the battle return to the shoulder of the muzimo, and considering this an accurate gauge of the latter’s temper he approached, though with some trepidation.

“Muzimo,” he ventured timidly, “you came in time and saved the life of Orando. It is yours.”

The white was silent. He seemed to be considering this statement. The strange, half bewildered expression returned to his eyes.

“Now I remember,” he said presently. “You saved my life. That was a long time ago.”

“It was this morning, Muzimo.”

The white man shook his head and passed a palm across his brow.

“This morning,” he repeated thoughtfully. “Yes, and we were going to hunt. I am hungry. Let us hunt.”

“Shall we not follow the one who escaped?” demanded Orando. “We were going to track the Leopard Men to their village, that my father, the chief, might lead the Utengas against it.”

“First let us speak with the dead men,” said Muzimo. “We shall see what they have to tell us.”

“You can speak with the dead?” Orando’s voice trembled at the suggestion.

“The dead do not speak with words,” explained Muzimo; “but nevertheless they often have stories to tell. We shall see. This one,” he continued, after a brief inspection of the corpse of the man he had killed last, “is the larger of the two young men. There lies the tall thin man, and yonder, with your spear through his heart, is he who limped, an old man with a crippled leg. These three, then, have told us that he who escaped is the smaller of the two young men.”

Now, more carefully, he examined each of the corpses, noting their weapons and their ornaments, dumping the contents of their pouches upon the ground. These he scanned carefully, paying particular attention to the amulets, of the dead men. In a large package carried by the crippled old man, he found parts of a human body.

“There is no doubt now but that these were the killers of Nyamwegi,” said Orando; “for these are the same parts that were removed from his body.”

“There was never any doubt,” asserted Muzimo confidently. “The dead men did not have to tell me that.”

“What have they told you, Muzimo?”

“Their filed teeth have told me that they are eaters of men; their amulets and the contents of their pouches have told me that their village lies upon the banks of a large river. They are fishermen; and they fear Gimla, the crocodile, more than they fear aught else. The hooks in their pouches tell me the one their amulets the other. From their ornaments and weapons, by the cicatrices upon their foreheads and chins I know their tribe and the country it inhabits. I do not need to follow the young warrior; his friends have told me where he is going. Now we may hunt. Later we can go to the village of the Leopard Men.”

“Even as I prayed today before setting out from the village, you have protected me from danger,” observed Orando, “and now, if you bring the animals near to me and give me meat, all of my prayer will have been fulfilled.”

“The animals go where they will,” responded Muzimo. “I cannot lead them to you, but I can lead you to them; and when you are near, then, perhaps, I can frighten them toward you. Come.”

He turned backward along the trail down which they had followed the Leopard Men and fell into an easy trot, while Orando followed, his eyes upon the broad shoulders of his muzimo and the spirit of Nyamwegi, perched upon one of them. Thus they continued silently for a half hour, when Muzimo halted.

“Move forward slowly and cautiously,” he directed. “The scent spoor of Wappi, the antelope, has grown strong in my nostrils. I go ahead through the trees to get upon the other side of him. When he catches my scent he will move away from me toward you. Be ready.”

Scarcely had Muzimo ceased speaking before he disappeared amidst the overhanging foliage of the forest, leaving Orando filled with wonder and admiration, with which was combined overweening pride in his possession of a muzimo such as no other man might boast. He hoped that the hunting would be quickly concluded that he might return to the village of Tumbai and bask in the admiration and envy of his fellows as he nonchalantly paraded his new and wondrous acquisition before their eyes. It was something, of course, to be a chief’s son, just as it was something to be a chief or a witch-doctor; but to possess a muzimo that one might see and talk to and hunt with—ah, that was glory transcending any that might befall mortal man.

Suddenly Orando’s gloating thoughts were interrupted by a slight sound of something approaching along the trail from the direction in which he was moving. Just the suggestion of a sound it was, but to the ears of the jungle hunter it was sufficient. You or I could not have heard it; nor, hearing it, could we have interpreted it; but to Orando it bore a message as clear to his ears as is the message of a printed page to our eyes. It told him that a hoofed animal was approaching him, walking quickly, though not yet in full flight. A turn in the trail just ahead of him concealed him from the view of the approaching animal. Orando grasped his spear more firmly, and stepped behind the bole of a small tree that partially hid him from the sight of any creature coming toward him. There he stood, motionless as a bronze statue, knowing that motion and scent are the two most potent stimuli to fear in the lower orders. What wind there was moved from the unseen animal toward the man, precluding the possibility of his scent reaching the nostrils of the hunted; and as long as Orando did not move, the animal, he knew, would come fearlessly until it was close enough to catch his scent, which would be well within spear range.

A moment later there came into view one of those rarest of African animals, an okapi. Orando had never before seen one of them, for they ranged much farther to the west than the Watenga country. He noted the giraffe-like markings on the hind quarters and forelegs; but the short neck deceived him, and he still thought that it was an antelope. He was all excitement now, for here was real meat and plenty of it, the animal being larger than an ordinary cow. The blood raced through the hunter’s veins, but outwardly he was calm. There must be no bungling now; every movement must be perfectly timed—a step out into the trail and, simultaneously, the casting of the spear, the two motions blending into each other as though there was but one.

At that instant the okapi wheeled to flee. Orando had not moved, there had been no disturbing sound audible to the ears of the man; yet something had frightened the quarry just a fraction of a second too soon. Orando was disgusted. He leaped into the trail to cast his spear, in the futile hope that it might yet bring down his prey; and as he raised his arm he witnessed a scene that left him gaping in astonishment.

From the trees above the okapi, a creature launched itself onto the back of the terrified animal. It was Muzimo. From his throat rumbled a low growl. Orando stood spellbound. He saw the okapi stumble and falter beneath the weight of the savage man-beast. Before it could recover itself a hand shot out and grasped it by the muzzle. Then steel thews wrenched the head suddenly about, so that the vertebrae of the neck snapped. An instant later a keen knife had severed the jugular, and as the blood gushed from the carcass Orando heard again the victory cry of the bull-ape. Faintly, from afar, came the answering challenge of a lion.

“Let us eat,” said Muzimo, as he carved generous portions from the quivering carcass of his kill.

“Yes, let us eat,” agreed Orando.

Muzimo grunted as he tossed a piece of the meat to the native. Then he squatted on his haunches and tore at his portion with his strong, white teeth. Cooking fires were for the effete, not for this savage jungle god whose mores harked back through the ages to the days before men had mastered the art of making fire.

Orando hesitated. He preferred his meat cooked, but he dreaded losing face in the presence of his muzimo. He deliberated for but a second; then he approached Muzimo with the intention of squatting down beside him to eat. The forest god looked up, his teeth buried in the flesh from which he was tearing a piece. A sudden, savage light blazed in his eyes. A low growl rumbled warningly in his throat. Orando had seen lions disturbed at their kills. The analogy was perfect. The warrior withdrew and squatted at a distance. Thus the two finished their meal in a silence broken only by the occasional low growls of the white.


Tarzan and the Leopard Men - Contents    |     Chapter 4 - Sobito, the Witch-Doctor


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