“I have seen many strange things in my life,” he said, “but this is by far the strangest. Sometimes I think that I must be dreaming.”
“That is what I thought at first,” replied the girl; “but this is no dream—it is a terrible, a frightful reality.”
“Including God?” he asked.
“Yes; even God is a reality. That thing is the god of these gorillas. They all fear him and most of them worship him. They say that he created them. I do not understand it—it is all like a hideous chimera.”
“What do you suppose he intends to do with us?”
“Oh, I don’t know; but it is something horrible,” she replied. “Down in the city they venture hideous guesses, but even they do not know. He brings young gorillas here, and they are never seen again.”
“How long have you been here?”
“I have been in God’s castle since yesterday, but I was in the palace of Henry the Eighth for more than a week. Don’t those names sound incongruous when applied to beasts?”
“I thought that nothing more could ever sound strange to me after I met Buckingham this morning and heard him speak English—a bull gorilla!”
“You met Buckingham? It was he who captured me and brought me to this city. Did he capture you too?”
Tarzan shook his head. “No. He had captured Naomi Madison.”
“Naomi! What became of her?”
“She is with Orman and West and one of the Arabs at the foot of the falls. I came. here to find you and take you to them; but it is commencing to look as though I had made a mess of it—getting captured myself.”
“But how did Naomi get away from Buckingham?” demanded the girl.
“I killed him.”
“You killed Buckingham!” She looked at him with wide, unbelieving eyes.
From the reactions of the others toward his various exploits Tarzan had already come to understand that Obroski’s friends had not held his courage in very high esteem, and so it amused him all the more that they should mistake him for this unquestioned coward.
The girl surveyed him in silence through level, eyes for several moments as though she were trying to read his soul and learn the measure of his imposture; then she shook her head.
“You’re not a bad kid, Stanley,” she said; “but you mustn’t tell naughty stories to your Aunt Rhonda.”
One of the ape-man’s rare smiles bared his strong, white teeth. “No one can fool you, can they?” he asked admiringly.
“Well, I’ll admit that they’d have to get up pretty early in the morning to put anything over on Rhonda Terry. But what I can’t understand is that make-up of yours—the scenery—where did you get it and why? I should think you’d freeze.”
“You will have to ask Rungula, chief of the Bansutos,” replied Tarzan.
“What has he to do with it?”
“He appropriated the Obroski wardrobe.”
“I commence to see the light. But if you were captured by the Bansutos, how did you escape?”
“If I told you you would not believe me. You do not believe that I killed Buckingham.”
“How could I, unless you sneaked up on him while he was asleep?. It just isn’t in the cards, Stanley, for any man to have killed that big gorilla unless he had a rifle—that’s it! You shot him.”
“And then threw my rifle away?” inquired the ape-man.
“M-m-m, that doesn’t sound reasonable, does it? No, I guess you’re just a plain damn liar, Stanley.”
“Don’t get sore. I really like you and always have; but I have seen too much of life to believe in miracles, and the idea of you killing Buckingham single-handed would be nothing short of a miracle.”
Tarzan turned away and commenced to examine the room in which they were confined. The flickering light of the torch in the adjoining room lighted it dimly. He found a square chamber the walls of which were faced with roughly hewn stone. The ceiling was of planking supported by huge beams. The far end of the room was so dark that he could not see the ceiling at that point; the last beam cast a heavy shadow there upon the ceiling. He thought he detected a steady current of air moving from the barred doorway of the other room to this far corner of their cell, suggesting an opening there; but he could find none, and abandoned the idea.
Having finished his inspection he came and sat down on the straw beside Rhonda. “You say you have been here a week?” he inquired.
“In the city—not right here,” she replied. “Why?”
“I was thinking—they must feed you, then?” he inquired.
“Yes; celery, bamboo tips, fruit, and nuts—it gets monotonous.”
“I was not thinking of what they fed you but of how. How is your food brought to you and when? I mean since you have been in this room.”
“When they brought me here yesterday they gave me enough food for the day; this morning they brought me other day’s supply. They bring it into that next room and shove it through the bars—no dishes or anything like that—they just shove it through onto the floor with their dirty, bare hands, or paws. All except the water—they bring water in that gourd there in the corner.”
“They don’t open the door, then, and come into the room?”
“That is too bad.”
“If they opened the door we might have a chance to escape,” explained the ape-man.
“Not a chance—the food is brought by a big bull gorilla. Oh, I forgot!” she exclaimed, laughing. “You’d probably break him in two and throw him in the waste basket like you did Buckingham.”
Tarzan laughed with her. “I keep forgetting that I am a coward,” he said. “You must be sure to remind me if any danger threatens us.”
“I guess you won’t have to be reminded, Stanley.” She was looking at him again closely. “But you have changed in some way,” she ventured finally. “I don’t know just how to explain it but you seem to have more assurance. And you sure put up a good front when you were talking to God. Say! Do you suppose what you’ve been through the past few weeks has affected your mind?”
Further conversation was interrupted by the return of God. He pulled a chair up in front of the barred door and sat down.
“Henry is a fool,” he announced. “He’s trying to work his followers up to a pitch that will make it possible for him to induce them to attack heaven and kill God. Henry wants to be God. But he gave them too much to drink; and now most of them are asleep in the palace courtyard, including Henry. They won’t bother me tonight; so I thought I’d come down and have a pleasant visit with you. There won’t be many more opportunities, for you will have to serve your purpose before something happens to prevent. I can’t take any chances.”
“What is this strange purpose we are to serve?” asked Rhonda.
“It is purely scientific; but it is a long story and I shall have to start at the beginning,” explained God.
“The beginning!” he repeated dreamily. “How long ago it was! It was while I was still an undergraduate at Oxford that I first had a glimmering of the light that finally dawned. Let me see—that must have been about 1855. No, it was before that—I graduated in ’55. That’s right, I was born in ’33 and I was twenty-two when I graduated.
“I had always been intrigued by Lamarck’s investigations and later by Darwin’s. They were on the right track, but they did not go far enough; then, shortly after my graduation, I was travelling in Austria when I met a priest at Brunn who was working along lines similar to mine. His name was Mendel. We exchanged ideas. He was the only man in the world who could appreciate me, but he could not go all the way with me. I got some help from him; but, doubtless, he got more from me; though I never heard anything more about him before I left England.
“In 1857 I felt that I had practically solved the mystery of heredity, and in that year I published a monograph on the subject. I will explain the essence of my discoveries in as simple language as possible, so that you may understand the purpose you are to serve.
“Briefly, there are two types of cells that we inherit from our parents—body cells and germ cells. These cells are composed of chromosomes containing genes—a separate gene for each mental and physical characteristic. The body cells, dividing, multiplying, changing, growing, determine the sort of individual we are to be; the germ cells, remaining practically unchanged from our conception, determine what characteristics our progeny will inherit, through us, from our progenitors and from us.
“I determined that heredity could be controlled through the transference of these genes from one individual to another. i learned that the genes never die; they are absolutely indestructible—the basis of all life on earth, the promise of immortality throughout all eternity.
“I was certain of all this, but I could carry on no experiments. Scientists scoffed at me, the public laughed at me, the authorities threatened to lock me up in a madhouse. The church wished to crucify me.
“I hid, and carried on my research in secret. I obtained genes from living subjects—young men and women whom I enticed to my laboratory on various pretexts. I drugged them and extracted germ cells from them. I had not discovered at that time, or, I should say, I had not perfected the technic of recovering body cells.
“In 1858 I managed, through bribery, to gain access to a number of tombs in Westminster Abbey; and from the corpses of former kings and queens of England and many a noble and lady I extracted the deathless genes.
“It was the rape of Henry the Eighth that caused my undoing. I was discovered in the act by one who had not been bribed. He did not turn me over to the authorities, but he commenced to blackmail me. Because of him I faced either financial ruin or a long term in prison.
“My fellow scientists had flouted me; the government would punish me; I saw that my only rewards for my labors for mankind were to be ingratitude and persecution. I grew to hate man, with his bigotry, his hypocrisy, and his ignorance. I still hate him.
“I fled England. My plans were already made. I came to Africa and employed a white guide to lead me to gorilla country. He brought me here; then I killed him, so that no one might learn of my whereabouts.
“There were hundreds of gorillas here, yes, thousands. I poisoned their food, I shot them with poisoned arrows; but I used a poison that only anesthetized them. Then I removed their germ cells and substituted human cells that I had ought with me from England in a culture medium that encouraged their multiplication.”
The strange creature seemed warmed by some mysterious inner fire as he discoursed on this, his favorite subject. The man and the girl listening to him almost forgot the incongruity of his cultured English diction and his hideous, repuslive appearance—far more hideous and repulsive than that of the gorillas; for he seemed neither beast nor man but rather some horrid hybrid born of an unholy union. Yet the mind within that repellant skull held them fascinated.
“For, years I watched then,” he continued, “with increasing disappointment. From generation to generation I could note no outward indication that the human germ cells had exerted the slightest influence upon the anthropoids; then I commenced to note indications of greater intelligence among them. Also, they quarrelled more, were more avaricious, more vindictive—they were revealing more and more the traits of man. I felt that I was approaching my goal.
“I captured some of the young and started to train them. Very shortly after this training commenced I heard them repeating English words among themselves—words that they had heard me speak. Of course they did not know the meaning of the words; but that was immaterial—they had revealed the truth to me. My gorillas had inherited the minds and vocal ozgans of their synthetic human progenitors.
“The exact reason why they inherited these human attributes and not others is still, a mystery that I have not solved. But I had proved the correctness of my theory. Now I set to work to educate my wards. It was not difficult. I sent these first out as missionaries and teachers.
“As the gorillas learned and came to me for further instruction, I taught them agriculture, architecture, and building—among other things. Under my direction they built this city, which I named London, upon the river that I have called Thames. We English always take England wherever we go.
“I gave them laws, I became their god, I gave them a royal family and a nobility. They owe everything to me, and now, some of them want to turn upon me and destroy me—yes, they have become very human. They have become ambitious, treacherous, cruel—they are almost men.”
“But you?” asked the girl. “You are not human. You, are part gorilla. How could you have been an Englishman?”
“I am an Englishman, nevertheless,” replied the creature. “Once I was a very handsome Englishman. But old age overtook me. I felt my powers failing. I saw the grave beckoning. I did not wish to die, for I felt that I had only commenced to learn the secrets of life.
“I sought some means to prolong my own and to bring back youth. At last I was successful. I discovered how to segregate body cells and transfer them from one individual to another. I used young gorillas of both sexes and transplanted their virile, youthful body cells to my own body.
“I achieved success in so far as staying the ravages of old age is concerned and renewing youth, but as the body cells of the gorillas multiplied within me I began to acquire the physical characteristics of gorillas. My skin turned black, hair grew upon all parts of my body, my hands changed, my teeth; some day I shall be, to all intent and purpose, a gorilla. Or rather I should have been had it not been for the fortunate circumstance that brought you to me.”
“I do not understand,” said Rhonda.
“You will. With the body cells from you and this young man I shall not only insure my youth, but I shall again take on the semblance of man.” His eyes burned with a mad fire.
The girl shuddered. “It is horrible!” she exclaimed.
The creature chuckled. “You will be serving a noble purpose—a far more noble purpose than as though you had merely fulfilled the prosaic biological destiny for which you were born.”
“But you will not have to kill us!” she exclaimed. “You take the germ cells from gorillas without killing them. When you have taken some from us, you will let us go?”
The creature rose and came close to the bars. His yellow fangs were bared in a fiendish grin. “You do not know all,” he said. A mad light shone in his blazing eyes. “I have not told you all that I have learned about rejuvenation. The new body cells are potent, but they work slowly. I have found that by eating the flesh and the glands of youth the speed of the metamorphosis is accelerated.
“I leave you now to meditate upon the great service that you are to render science!” He backed toward the far door of the other apartment. “But I will return. Later I shall eat you—eat you both. I shall eat the man first; and then, my beauty, I shall eat you! But before I eat you—ah, before I eat you!”
Chuckling, he backed through the doorway and closed the door after him.