“Be quiet,” it said, “or I’ll wring your neck.”
“You had better not,” cautioned his companion. “God will be angry if you do not bring this one to him alive and unharmed. He has been hoping for such a she as this for a long time.”
“What does he want of her? He is so old now that he can searcely chew his food.”
“He will probably give her to Henry the Eighth.”
“He already has seven wives. I think that I shall hide her and keep her for myself.”
“You will take her to God,” said the other. “If you don’t, I will.”
“We’ll see about that!” cried the creature that held the girl.
He dropped her and sprang, growling, upon his fellow. As they closed, great fangs snapping, Rhonda leaped to her feet and sought to escape.
The whole thing seemed a hideous and grotesque nightmare, yet it was so real that she could not know whether or not she were dreaming.
As she bolted, the two ceased their quarrelling and pursued her. They easily overtook her, and once again she was a captive.
“You see what will happen,” said the beast that had wished to take her to God, “if we waste time quarrelling over her. I will not let you have her unless God gives her to you.”
The other grumbled and tucked the girl under his arm again. “Very well,” he said, “but Henry the Eighth won’t get her. I’m sick of that fellow. He thinks he is greater than God.”
With the agility of monkeys the two climbed up the tall trees and precarious ledges they had descended while Rhonda Terry closed her eyes to shut out the terror of the dizzy heights and sought to convince herself that she was dreaming.
But the reality was too poignant: Even the crass absurdity of the situation failed to convince her. She knew that she was not dreaming and that she was really in the power of two huge gorillas who spoke English with a marked insular accent. It was preposterous, but she knew that it was true.
To what fate were they bearing her? From their conversation she had an inkling of what lay in store for her. But who was Henry the Eighth? And who was God?
Up and up the beast bore her until at last they stood upon the summit of the escarpment. Below them, to the south, the river plunged over the edge of the escarpment to form Omwamwi Falls; to the north stretched a valley hemmed in by mountains—the valley of diamonds, perhaps.
The surprise, amounting almost to revulsion, that she had experienced when she first heard the two beasts speak a human language had had a strange effect upon her in that while she understood that they were speaking English it had not occurred to her that she could communicate with them in the same language the adventure seemed so improbable that perhaps she still doubted her own senses.
The first shock of capture had been neutralized by the harrowing ascent of the escarpment and the relief at gaining the top in safety. Now she had an instant in which to think clearly, and with it came the realization that she had the means of communicating with her captors.
“Who are you?” she demanded. “And why have you made me prisoner?”
The two turned suddenly upon her. She thought that their faces denoted surprise.
“She speaks English!” exclaimed one of them.
“Of course I speak English. But tell me what you want of me. You have no right to take me with you. I have not harmed you. I was only waiting for my own people. Let me go!”
“This will please God,” said one of her captors. “He has always said that if he could get hold of an English woman he could do much for the race.”
“Who is this thing you call God?” she demanded.
“He is not a thing—he is a man,” replied the one who had carried her up the escarpment. “He is very old—he is the oldest creature in the world and the wisest. He created us. But some day he will die, and then we shall have no god.”
“Henry the Eighth would like to be God,” said the other.
“He never will while Wolsey lives—Wolsey would make a far better god than he.”
“Henry the Eighth will see that he doesn’t live.”
Rhonda Terry closed her eyes and pinched herself. She must be dreaming! Henry the Eighth! Thomas Wolsey! How preposterous seemed these familiar allusions to sixteenth century characters from the mouths of hairy gorillas.
The two brutes had not paused at the summit of the escarpment, but had immediately commenced the descent into the valley. Neither of them, not even the one that had carried her up the steep ascent, showed the slightest sign of fatigue even by accelerated breathing.
The girl was walking now, though one of the brutes held her by an arm and jerked her roughly forward when her steps lagged.
“I cannot walk so fast,” she said finally. “I have not eaten for a long time, and I am weak.”
Without a word the creature gathered her under one arm and continued on down into the valley. Her position was uncomfortable, she was weak and frightened. Several times she lost consciousness.
How long that journey lasted she did not know. When she was conscious her mind was occupied by futile speculation as to the fate that lay ahead of her. She tried to visualize the God of these brutal creatures. What mercy, what pity might she expect at the hands of such a thing?—if, indeed, their god existed other than in their imaginations.
After what seemed a very long time the girl heard voices in the distance, growing louder as they proceeded; and soon after he who carried her set her upon her feet.
As she looked about her she saw that she stood at the bottom of a cliff before a city that was built partially at the foot of the cliff and partially carved from its face.
The approach to the city was bordered by great fields of bamboo, celery, fruits, and berries in which many gorillas were working with crude, handmade implements.
As they caught sight of the captive these workers left their fields and clustered about asking many questions and examining the girl with every indication of intelligent interest, but her captors hurried her along into the city.
Here again they were surrounded by curious crowds; but nowhere was any violence offered the captive, the attitude of the gorillas appearing far more friendly than that which she might have expected from human natives of this untracked wilderness.
That portion of the city that was built upon the level ground at the foot of the cliff consisted of circular huts of bamboo with thatched conical roofs, of rectangular buildings of sun dried bricks, and others of stone.
Near the foot of the cliff was a three-story building with towers and ramparts; roughly suggestive of medieval England; and farther up the cliff, upon a broad ledge, was another, even larger structure of similar architecture.
Rhonda’s captors led her directly to the farmer building, before the door of which squatted two enormous gorillas armed with crude weapons that resembled battle axes; and here they were stopped while the two guards examined Rhonda and questioned her captors.
Again and again the girl tried to convince herself that she was dreaming. All her past experience, all her acquired knowledge stipulated the utter absurdity of the fantastic experiences of the past few hours. There could be no such things as gorillas that spoke English, tilled fields, and lived in stone castles. And yet here were all these impossibilities before her eyes as concrete evidence of their existence.
She listened as one in a dream while her captors demanded entrance that they might take their prisoner before the king; she heard the guard demur, saying that the king could not be disturbed as he was engaged with the Privy Council.
“Then we’ll take her to God,” threatened one of her captors, “and when the king finds out what you have done you’ll be working in the quarry instead of sitting here in the shade.”
Finally a young gorilla was summoned and sent into the palace with a message. When he returned it was with the word that the king wished to have the prisoner brought before him at once.
Rhonda was conducted into a large room the floor of which was covered with dried grass. On a dais at one end of the room an enormous gorilla paced to and fro while a half dozen other gorillas squatted is the grass at the foot of the dais—enormous, shaggy beasts, all.
There were no chairs nor tables nor benches in the room, but from the center of the dais rose the bare trunk and leafless branches of a tree.
As the girl was brought into the room the gorilla on the dais stopped his restless pacing and scrutinized her. “Where did you find her, Buckingham?” he demanded.
“At the foot of the falls, Sire,” replied the beast that had captured her.
“What was she doing there?”
“She said that she was looking for her friends, who were to meet her at the falls.”
“She said! You mean that she speaks English?” demanded the king.
“Yes, I speak English,” said Rhonda; “and if I am not dreaming, and you are king, I demand that you send me back to the falls, so that I may find my people.”
“Dreaming? What put that into your head? You are not asleep, are you?”
“I do not know,” replied Rhonda. “Sometimes I am sure that I must be.”
“Well, you are not,” snapped the king. “And who put it into your head that there might be any doubt that I am king? That sounds like Buckingham.”
“Your majesty wrongs me,” said Buckingham stiffly. “It was I who insisted on bringing her to the king.”
“It is well you did; the wench pleases us. We, will keep her.”
“But, your majesty,” exclaimed the other of Rhonda’s two captors, “it is our duty to take her to God. We brought her here first that your majesty might see her; but we must take her on to God, who had been hoping for such a woman for years.”
“What, Cranmer! Are you turning against me too?”
“Cranmer is right,” said one of the great bulls squatting on the floor. “This woman should be taken to God. Do not forget, Sire, that you already have seven wives.”
“That is just like you, Wolsey,” snapped the king peevishly.
“You are always taking the part of God.”
“We must all remember,” said Wolsey, “that we owe everything to God. It was he who created us. He made us what we are. It is he who can destroy us.”
The king was pacing up and down the straw covered dais rapidly. His eyes were blazing, his lips drawn back in a snarl.
Suddenly he stopped by the tree and shook it angrily as though he would tear it from the masonry in which it was set. Then he climbed quickly up into a fork and glared down at them. For a moment he perched there, but only for a moment. With the agility of a small monkey he leaped to the floor of the dais. With his great fists he beat upon his hairy breast, and from his cavernous, lungs rose a terrific roar, that shook the building.
“I am king!” he screamed: “My word is law. Take the wench to the women’s quartets!”
The beast the king had addressed as Wolsey now leaped to his feet and commenced to beat his breast and scream.
“This is sacrilege,” he cried. “He who defies God shall die. That is the law. Repent, and send the girl to God!”
“Never!” shrieked the king. “She is mine.”
Both brutes, were now beating their breasts and roaring so loudly that their words could scarcely be distinguished; and the other bulls were moving restlessly, their hair bristling, their fangs bared.
Then Wolsey played his ace: “Send the girl to God,” he bellowed, “or suffer excommunication!”
But the king had now worked himself to such a frenzy that he was beyond reason. “The guard! The guard!” he screamed. “Suffolk, call the guard, and take Cardinal Wolsey to the tower! Buckingham, take the girl to the women’s quarters, or off goes your head.”
The two bulls were still beating their breasts and screaming at one another as Rhonda Terry was dragged from the apartment by the shaggy Buckingham.
Up a circular stone stairway the brute dragged her and along a corridor to a room at the rear of the: second floor. It was a large room in the corner of the building, and about its grass strewn floor squatted or lay a number of adult gorillas, while young ones of all ages played about or suckled at their mothers’ breasts.
Many of the beasts were slowly eating celery stalks; tender bamboo tips, or fruit; but all activity ceased as Buckingham dragged the American girl into their midst.
“What have you there, Buckingham?” growled an old she.
“A girl we captured at the falls,” replied Buckingham. “The king commanded that she be brought here, your majesty.” Then he turned to his captive. “This is Queen Catherine,” he said, “Catherine of Aragon.”
“What does he want of her?” demanded Catherine peevishly.
Buckingham shrugged his broad shoulders and glanced about the room at the six adult- females. “Your majesties should well be able to guess.”
“Is he thinking of taking that puny, hairless thing for a wife?” demanded another, sitting at a little distance from Catherine of Aragon.
“Of course that’s what he’s thinking of, Anne Boleyn,” snapped Catherine; “or he wouldn’t have sent her here.”
“Hasn’t he got enough wives already?” demanded another.
“That is for the king to decide,” said Buckingham as he quitted the room.
Now the great shes commenced to gather closer to the girl. They sniffed at her and felt of her clothing. The younger ones crowded in, pulling at her skirt. One, larger than the rest, grabbed her by the ankles and pulled her feet from under her; and, as she fell, it danced about the room, grimacing and screaming.
As she tried to rise it rushed toward her; and she struck it in the face, thinking it meant to injure her. Whereupon it ran screaming to Catherine of Aragon, and one of the other shes seized Rhonda by the shoulder and pushed her so violently that she was hurled against the wall.
“How dare you lay hands on the Prince of Wales!” cried the beast that had pushed her.
The Prince of Wales, Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn! If not asleep, Rhonda Terry was by this time positive that she had gone mad. What possible explanation could there be for such a mad burlesque in which gorillas acted the parts and spoke with the tongues of men?—what other than the fantasy of sleep or insanity? None.
She sat huddled against the wall where she had fallen and buried her face in her arms.