The pliant strands of a strong rope braided from jungle grasses swung in his powerful hands, the shadow of a grim smile played about his mouth.
Suddenly the rope shot downward; a running noose in its lower end settled about Rungula’s body, pinning his arms at his sides. A cry of surprise and terror burst from the chief’s lips as he felt himself pinioned; and as those near him turned, attracted by his cry, they saw him raised quickly from the ground to disappear in the foliage of the tree above as though hoisted by some supernatural power.
Rungula felt himself dragged to a sturdy branch, and then a mighty hand seized and steadied him. He was terrified, for he thought his end had come. Below him a terrified silence had fallen upon the village. Even the prisoner was forgotten in the excitement and fright that followed the mysterious disappearance of the chief.
Obroski stood looking about him in amazement. Surrounded by struggling warriors as he had been he had not seen the miracle of Rungula’s ascension. Now he saw every eye turned upward at the tree that towered above the chief’s hut. He wondered what had happened. He wondered what they were looking at. He could see nothing unusual. All that lingered in his memory to give him a clew was the sudden, affrighted cry of Rungula as the noose had tightened about him.
Rungula heard a voice speaking, speaking his own language. “Look at me!” it commanded.
Rungula turned his eyes toward the thing that held him. The light from the village fires filtered through the foliage to dimly reveal the features of a white man bending above him. Rungula gasped and shrank back. “Walumbe!” he muttered in terror.
“I am not the god of death,” replied Tarzan; “I am not Walumbe. But I can bring death just as quickly, for I am greater than Walumbe. I am Tarzan of the Apes!”
“What do you want?” asked Rungula through chattering teeth. “What are you going to do to me?”
“I tested you to see if you were a good man and your people good people. I made myself into two men, and one I sent where your warriors could capture him. I wanted to see what you would do to a stranger who had not harmed you. Now I know. For what you have done you should die. What have you to say?”
“You are here,” said Rungula, “and you are also down there.” He nodded toward the figure of Obroski standing in surprised silence amidst the warriors. “Therefore you must be a demon. What can I say to a demon? I can give you food and drink and weapons. I can give you girls who can cook and draw water and fetch wood and work all day in the fields—girls with broad hips and strong backs. All these things will I give you if you will not kill me—if you just go away and leave us alone.”
“I do not want your food nor your weapons nor your women. I want but one thing from you, Rungula, as the price of your life.”
“What is that, Master?”
“Your promise that you will never again make war upon white men, and that when they come through your country you will help them instead of killing them.”
“I promise, Master.”
“Then call down to your people, and tell them to open the gates and let the prisoner go out into the forest.”
Rungula spoke in a loud voice to his people, and they fell away from Obroski, leaving him standing alone; then warriors went to the village gates and swung them open.
Obroski heard the voice of the chief coming from high in a tree, and he was mystified. He also wondered at the strange action of the natives and suspected treachery. Why should they fall back and leave him standing alone when a few moments before they were trying to seize him and bind him to a tree? Why should they throw the gates wide open? He did not move. He waited, believing that he was being baited. All attempt at escape for some ulterior purpose.
Presently another voice came from the tree above the chief’s hut, addressing him in English. “Go out of the village into the forest,” it said. “They will not harm you now. I will join you in the forest.”
Obroski was mystified; but the quiet English voice reassured him, and he turned and walked down the village street toward the gateway.
Tarzan removed the rope from about Rungula, ran lightly through the tree to the rear of the hut and dropped to the ground. Keeping the huts between himself and the villagers, he moved swiftly to the opposite end of the village, scaled the palisade, and dropped into the clearing beyond. A moment later he was in the forest and circling back toward the point where Obroski was entering it.
The latter heard no slightest noise of his approach, for there was none. One instant he was entirely alone, and the next a voice spoke close behind him. “Follow me,” it said.
Obroski wheeled. In the darkness of the forest night he saw dimly only the figure of a man about his own height. “Who are you?” he asked.
“I am Tarzan of the Apes.”
Obroski was silent, astonished. He had heard of Tarzan of the Apes, but he had thought that it was no more than a legendary character—a fiction of the folklore of Africa. He wondered if this were some demented creature who imagined that it was Tarzan of the Apes. He wished that he could see the fellow’s face; that might give him a clew to the sanity of the man. He wondered what the stranger’s intentions might be.
Tarzan of the Apes was moving away into the forest. He turned once and repeated his command, “Follow me!”
“I haven’t thanked you yet for getting me out of that mess,” said Obroski as he moved after the retreating figure of the stranger. “It was certainly decent of you. I’d have been dead by now if it hadn’t been for you.”
The ape-man moved on in silence, and Obroski followed him. The silence preyed a little upon his nerves. It seemed to bear out his deduction that the man was not quite normal, not as other men. A normal man would have been asking and answering innumerable questions had he met a stranger for the first time under such exciting circumstances.
And Obroski’s deductions were not wholly inaccurate—Tarzan is not as other men; the training and the instincts of the wild beast have given him standards of behavior and a code of ethics peculiarly his own. For Tarzan there are times for silence and times for speech. The depths of the night, when hunting beasts are abroad, is no time to go gabbling through the jungle; nor did he ever care much for speech with strangers unless he could watch their eyes and the changing expressions upon their faces, which often told him more than their words were intended to convey.
So in silence they moved through the forest, Obroski keeping close behind the ape-man lest he lose sight of him in the darkness. Ahead of them a lion roared; and the American wondered if his companion would change his course or take refuge in a tree, but he did neither. He kept on in the direction they had been going.
Occasionally the voice of the lion sounded ahead of them, always closer. Obroski, unarmed and practically naked, felt utterly helpless and, not unaccountably, nervous. Nor was his nervousness allayed when a cry, half roar and half weird scream, burst from the throat of his companion.
After that he heard nothing from the lion for some time; then, seemingly just ahead of them, he heard throaty, coughing grunts. The lion! Obroski could scarcely restrain a violent urge to scale a tree, but he steeled himself and kept on after his guide.
Presently they came to an opening in the forest beside a river. The moon had risen. Its mellow light flooded the scene, casting deep shadows where tree and shrub dotted the grass carpeted clearing, dancing on the swirling ripples of the river.
But the beauty of the scene held his eye for but a brief instant as though through the shutter of a camera; then it was erased from his consciousness by a figure looming large ahead of them in the full light of the African moon. A great lion stood in the open watching them as they approached. Obroski saw the black mane ripple in the night wind, the sheen of the yellow body in the moonlight. Now beyond him, rose a lioness. She growled.
The stranger turned to Obroski. “Stay where you are,” he said. “I do not know this Sabor; she may be vicious.”
Obroski stopped, gladly. He, was relieved to discover that he had stopped near a tree. He wished that he had a rifle, so that he might save the life of the madman walking unconcernedly toward his doom.
Now he heard the voice of the man who called himself Tarzan of the Apes, but he understood no word that the man spoke: “Tarmangani yo. Jad-bal-ja tand bundolo. Sabor tand bundolo.”
The madman was talking to the great lion! Obroski trembled for him as he saw him drawing nearer and nearer to the beast.
The lioness rose and slunk forward. “Kreeg-ah Sabor!” exclaimed the man.
The lion turned and rushed upon the lioness, snarling; she crouched and leaped away. He stood over her growling for a moment; then he turned and walked forward to meet the man. Obroski’s heart stood still.
He saw the man lay a hand upon the head of the huge carnivore and then turn and look back at him. “You may come up now,” he said, “that Jad-bal-ja may get your scent and know that you are a friend. Afterward he will never harm you—unless I tell him to.”
Obroski was terrified. He wanted to run, to climb the tree beside which he stood, to do anything that would get him away from the lion and the lioness; but he feared still more to leave the man who had befriended him. Paralyzed by fright, he advanced; and Tarzan of the Apes, believing him courageous, was pleased.
Jad-bal-ja was growling in his throat. Tarzan spoke to him in a low voice, and he stopped. Obroski came and stood close to him, and the lion sniffed at his legs and body. Obroski felt the hot breath of the flesh eater on his skin.
“Put your hand on his head,” said Tarzan “If you are afraid do not show it.”
The American did as he was bid. Presently Jad-bal-ja rubbed his head against the body of the man; then Tarzan spoke again, and. the lion turned and walked away toward the lioness, lying down beside her.
Now, for the first time, Obroski looked at his strange companion under the light of the full moon. He voiced an exclamation of amazement he might have been looking into a mirror.
Tarzan smiled—one of his rare smiles. “Remarkable, isn’t it?” he said.
“It’s uncanny,” replied Obroski.
“I think that is why I saved you from the Bansutos—it was too much like seeing myself killed.”
“I’m sure you would have saved me anyway.”
The ape-man shrugged. “Why should I have? I did not know you.”
Tarzan stretched his body upon the soft grasses. “We shall lie up here for the night,” he said.
Obroski shot a quick glance in the direction of the two lions lying a few yards away, and Tarzan interpreted his thoughts.
“Don’t worry about them,” he said. “Jad-bal-ja will see that nothing harms you, but look out for the lioness when he is not around. He just picked her up the other day. She hasn’t made friends with me yet, and she probably never will. Now, if you care to, tell me what you are doing in this country.”
Briefly Obroski explained, and Tarzan listened until he had finished.
“If I had known you were one of that safari I probably would have let the Bansutos kill you.”
“Why? What have you got against us?”
“I saw your leader whipping his blacks,” replied Tarzan.
Obroski was silent for a time. He had come to realize that this man who called himself Tarzan of the Apes was a most remarkable man, and that his power for good or evil in this savage country might easily be considerable: He would be a good friend to have, and his enmity might prove fatal. He could ruin their chances of making a successful picture—he could ruin Orman.
Obroski did not like Orman. He had good reasons not to like him. Naomi Madison was one of these reasons: But there were other things to consider than a personal grudge. There was the money invested by the studio, the careers of his fellow players, and even Orman—Orman was a great director.
He explained all this to Tarzan—all except his hatred of Orman. “Orman,” he concluded, “was drunk when he whipped the blacks, he had been down with fever, he was terribly worried. Those who knew him best said it was most unlike him.”
Tarzan made no comment, and Obroski said no more. He lay looking up at the great full moon, thinking. He thought of Naomi and wondered. What was there about her that he loved? She was petty, inconsiderate, arrogant, spoiled. Her character could not compare with that of Rhonda Terry, for instance; and Rhonda was fully as beautiful.
At last he decided that it was the glamour of the Madison’s name and fame that had attracted him—stripped of these, there was little about her to inspire anything greater than an infatuation such as a man might feel for any—beautiful face and perfect body.
He thought of his companions of the safari, and wondered what they would think if they could see him now lying down to sleep with a wild man and two savage African lions. Smiling, he dozed and fell asleep: He did not see the lioness rise and cross the clearing with Jad-bal-ja pacing majestically behind her as they set forth upon the grim business of the hunt.