In the Crucible of Danger

Chapter 23

Converging Trails

Edgar Rice Burroughs


EARLY the next morning they started for the river, but they had not gone far when the wind veered into the north, and Tarzan halted. His delicate nostrils questioned the tell-tale breeze.

“There is a camp just ahead of us,” he announced. “There are white men in it.”

Old Timer strained his eyes into the forest. “I can see nothing,” he said.

“Neither can I,” admitted Tarzan; “but I have a nose.”

“You can smell them?” asked Kali.

“Certainly, and because my nose tells me that there are white men there I assume that it is a friendly camp; but we will have a look at it before we go too close. Wait here.”

He swung into the trees and was gone, leaving the man and the girl alone together; yet neither spoke what was in his heart. The constraint of yesterday still lay heavily upon him. He wanted to ask her forgiveness for having taken her into his arms, for having dared to kiss her. She wanted him to take her into his arms again and kiss her. But they stood there in silence like two strangers until Tarzan returned.

“They are all right,” announced the ape-man. “It is a company of soldiers with their white officers and one civilian. Come! They may prove the solution of all your difficulties.”

The soldiers were breaking camp as Tarzan and his companions arrived. The surprised shouts of the black soldiers attracted the attention of the white men—two officers and a civilian—who came forward to meet them. As his eyes fell upon the civilian, Old Timer voiced an exclamation of surprise.

“The Kid!” he exclaimed, and the girl brushed past him and ran forward, a glad cry upon her lips.

“Jerry! Jerry!” she cried as she threw herself into The Kid’s arms.

Old Time’s heart sank. Jerry! Jerry Jerome, his best friend! What cruel tricks fate can play.

When the greetings and the introductions were over, the strange combination of circumstances that had brought them together thus unexpectedly were explained as the story of each was unfolded.

“Not long ago,” the lieutenant in command of the expedition explained to Kali, “we heard rumors of the desertion of your men. We arrested some of them in their villages and got the whole story. Then I was ordered out to search for you. We had come as far as Bobolo’s yesterday when we got an inkling of your whereabouts from a girl named Nsenene. We started for the Betete village at once and met this young man wandering about, lost, just as we were going into camp here. Now you have assured the success of my mission by walking in on me this morning. There remains nothing now but to take you back to civilization.”

“There is one other thing that you can do while you are here,” said Old Timer.

“’And that?” inquired the lieutenant.

“There are two known Leopard Men in the village of Bobolo. Three of us have seen them in the temple of the Leopard God taking active parts in the rites. If you wish to arrest them it will be easy.”

“I certainly do,” replied the officer. “Do you know them by sight?”

“Absolutely,” stated Old Timer. “One of them is an old witch-doctor named Sobito, and the other is Bobolo himself.”

“Sobito!” exclaimed Tarzan. “Are you sure?”

“He is the same man you carried away from the temple, the man you called Sobito. I saw him drifting down the river in a canoe the morning after I escaped.”

“We shall arrest them both,” said the officer, “and now as the men are ready to march, we will be off.”

“I shall leave you here,” said the ape-man. “You are safe now,” he added, turning to the girl. “Go out of the jungle with these men and do not come back; it is no place for a white girl alone.”

“Do not go yet,” exclaimed the officer. “I shall need you to identify Sobito.”

“You will need no one to identify Sobito,” replied the ape-man, and swinging into a tree, he vanished from their sight.

“And that is that,” commented The Kid.

On the march toward Bobolo’s village the girl and The Kid walked close together, while Old Timer followed dejectedly behind. Finally The Kid turned and addressed him. “Come on up here, old man, and join us; I was just telling Jessie about a strange coincidence in something I said in Bobolo’s village last night. There is a girl there named Nsenene. You probably remember her, Old Timer. Well, she told me about this white girl who was a captive in the pygmy village; and when I showed interest in her and wanted to know where the village was so that I could try to get the girl away from them, the little rascal got jealous. I discovered that she had a crush on me; so I had to think quickly to explain my interest in the white girl, and the first thing that entered my head was to tell her that the girl was my sister. Wasn’t that a mighty strange coincidence?”

“Where’s the coincidence?” demanded Old Timer.

The Kid looked at him blankly. “Why, didn’t you know,” he exclaimed. “Jessie is my sister.”

Old Timer’s jaw dropped. “Your sister!” Once again the sun shone and the birds sang. “Why didn’t you tell me you were looking for your brother?” he demanded of Kali.

“Why didn’t you tell me that you knew Jerry Jerome?” she countered.

“I didn’t know that I knew him,” he explained. “I never knew The Kid’s name. He didn’t tell me and I never asked.”

“There was a reason why I couldn’t tell you,” said The Kid; “but it’s all right now. Jessie just told me.”

“You see,—” she hesitated.

“Hi,” prompted Old Timer.

The girl smiled and flushed slightly. “You see, Hi,” she commenced again, “Jerry thought that he had killed a man. I am going to tell you the whole story because you and he have been such close friends.

“Jerry was in love with a girl in our town. He learned one night that an older man, a man with a vile reputation, had enticed her to his apartment. Jerry went there and broke in. The man was furious, and in the fight that followed Jerry shot him. Then he took the girl home, swearing her to secrecy about her part in the affair. That same night he ran away, leaving a note saying that he had shot Sam Berger, but giving no reason.

“Berger did not die and refused to prosecute; so the case was dropped. We knew that Jerry had run away to save the girl from notoriety, more than from fear of punishment; but we did not know where he had gone. I didn’t know where to look for him for a long time.

“Then Berger was shot and killed by another girl, and in the meantime I got a clue from an old school friend of Jerry’s and knew that he had come to Africa. Now there was absolutely no reason why he should not return home; and I started out to look for him.”

“And you found him,” said Old Timer.

“I found something else,” said the girl, but he did not catch her meaning.

It was late when they arrived at the village of Bobolo, which they found in a state of excitement. The officer marched his men directly into the village and formed them so that they could command any situation that might arise.

At sight of The Kid and Old Timer and the girl Bobolo appeared frightened. He sought to escape from the village, but the soldiers stopped him, and then the officer informed him that he was under arrest. Bobolo did not ask why. He knew.

“Where is the witch-doctor called Sobito?” demanded the officer.

Bobolo trembled. “He is gone,” he said.

“Where?” demanded the officer.

“To Tumbai,” replied Bobolo. “A little while ago a demon came and carried him away. He dropped into the village from the sky and took Sobito up in his arms as though he had no weight at all. Then he cried, ‘Sobito is going back to the village of Tumbai!’, and he ran through the gateway and was gone into the forest before anyone could stop him.”

“Did anyone try?” inquired Old Timer with a grin.

“No,” admitted Bobolo. “Who could stop a spirit?”

The sun was sinking behind the western forest, its light playing upon the surging current of the great river that rolled past the village of Bobolo. A man and a woman stood looking out across the water that was plunging westward in its long journey to the sea down to the trading posts and the towns and the ships, which are the frail links that connect the dark forest with civilization.

“Tomorrow you will start,” said the man. “In six or eight weeks you will be home. Home!” There was a world of wistfulness in the simple, homely word. He sighed. “I am so glad for both of you.”

She came closer to him and stood directly in front of him, looking straight into his eyes. “You are coming with us,” she said.

“What makes you think so?” he asked.

“Because I love you, you will come.”


THE END


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