Previously he had fully intended to break his promise to Tarzan and revenge himself for the affront that had been put upon his godhood, but now he was determined to set both the man and the girl free.
Tarzan cared nothing for the political aspects of the night’s adventure. He thought only of Rhonda. “We must find the girl,” he said to the gorilla god the moment that they had gained entrance to the palace. “Where could she be?”
“She is probably with the other women. Come with me—they are upstairs.”
At the top of the stairs stood Howard and Suffolk to do the bidding of their king; but when they saw their god ascending toward them and the lower hall and the stairs behind him filled with his followers and recalled that the king had fled, they experienced a change of heart. They received God on bended knee and assured him that they had driven Henry out of the palace and were just on their way downstairs to fall tooth and nail upon God’s enemies; and God knew that they lied, for it was he himself who had implanted the minds of men in their gorilla skulls.
“Where is the hairless she?” demanded the gorilla god.
“Henry took her with him,” replied Suffolk.
“Where did he go?”
“I do not know. He ran to the end of the corridor and disappeared.”
“Some one must know,” snapped Tarzan.
“Perhaps Catherine of Aragon knows,” suggested Howard.
“Where is she?” demanded the ape-man.
They led the way to the door of the harem. Suffolk swung the door open. “My Lord God!” he announced.
The shes, nervous and frightened, had been expecting to be dragged to their death by the mob. When they saw the gorilla god they fell on their faces before him.
“Have mercy, My Lord God!” cried Catherine of Aragon. “I am your faithful servant.”
“Then tell me where Henry is,” demanded the god.
“He fled with the hairless she,” replied the old queen.
The rage of a jealous female showed Catherine of Aragon how to have her revenge. “Come with me,” she said.
They followed her down the corridor to the room at the end and into the closet there. Then she lifted the trap door. “This shaft leads to a tunnel that runs under the city to the bank of the river beyond the wall—he and that hairless thing went this way.”
The keen scent of the ape-man detected the delicate aroma of the white girl. He knew that the king gorilla had carried her into this dark hole. Perhaps they were down there now, the king hiding from his enemies until it would be safe far him to return; or perhaps there was a tunnel running beyond the city as the old she said, and the gorilla had carried his captive off to some fastness in the mountains surrounding the valley.
But in any event the ape-man must go on now alone—he could trust none of the creatures about him to aid him in the pursuit and capture of one of their own kind. He had already removed his rope from around the neck of the gorilla god; now it lay coiled across one shoulder; at his hip swung his hunting knife. Tarzan of the Apes was prepared for any emergency.
Without a word, he swung down the pole into the black abyss below. The gorilla god breathed a sigh of relief when he had departed.
Following the scent spoor of those he sought, Tarzan traversed the tunnel that led from the bottom of the shaft to the river bank. He pushed the great stone away from the entrance and stepped out into the night. He stood erect, listening and sniffing the air. A scarcely perceptible air current was moving up toward the head of the valley. It bore no suspicion of the scent he had been following. All that this indicated was that his quarry was not directly south of him. The gorilla king might have gone to the east or the West or the north; but the river flowed deep and swift on the east, and only the north and west were left.
Tarzan bent close to the ground. Partly by scent, partly by touch he found the trail leading toward the north; or, more accurately, toward the northeast between the river and the cliffs. He moved off upon it; but the necessity for stopping often to verify the trail delayed him, so that he did not move quite as rapidly as the beast he pursued.
He was delayed again at the crossing of the river, for he passed the place at which the trail turned sharply to the right into the stream. He had to retrace his steps, searching carefully until he found it again. Had the wind been right, had the gorilla been moving directly upwind, Tarzan could have trailed him at a run.
The enforced delays caused no irritation or nervousness such as they would have in an ordinary man, for the patience of the hunting beast is infinite. Tarzan knew that eventually he would overhaul his quarry, and that while they were on the move the girl was comparatively safe.
Dawn broke as he crossed the river. Far ahead he heard the roaring of a hunting lion, and presently with it were mingled the snarls and screams of another beast—a gorilla. And the ape-man knew that Numa had attacked one of the great apes. He guessed that it was the gorilla king. But what of the girl? He heard no human voice mingling its screams with that of the anthropoid. He broke into a run.
Presently, from a little rise of rolling round, he saw Numa crouching upon his kill. It was light enough now for him to see that the lion was feeding upon the body of a gorilla. The girl was nowhere in sight.
Tarzan made a detour to avoid the feeding carnivore. He had no intention of risking an encounter with the king of beasts—an encounter that would certainly delay him and possibly end in death.
He passed at a considerable distance upwind from the lion; and when the beast caught his scent it did not rise from its kill.
Beyond the lion, near the edge of the wood, Tarzan picked up the trail of the girl again. He followed it across the second river. It turned south here, upwind; and now he was below her and could follow her scent spoor easily. At a trot he pressed on.
Now other scent spoor impinged upon his nostrils, mingling with those of the girl. They were strange scents—a mixture of mangani and tarmangani, of great ape and white man, of male and of female.
Tarzan increased his gait. That strange instinct that he shared with the other beasts of the forest warned him that danger lay ahead—danger for the girl and perhaps for himself. He moved swiftly and silently through the fringe of forest that bordered the river.
The strange scents became stronger in his nostrils. A babel of angry voices arose in the distance ahead. He was nearing them. He took to the trees now, to his native element; and he felt at once the sense of security and power that the trees always imparted to him. Here, as nowhere else quite in the same measure, was he indeed lord of the jungle.
Now he heard the angry, raging voice of a female. It was almost human, yet the, beast notes predominated; and he could recognize words spoken in the language of the great apes. Tarzan was mystified.
He was almost upon them now, and a moment later he looked down upon a strange scene. There were a score of monstrous creatures—part human, part gorilla. And there was a naked white man just disappearing among the trees with the girl he sought across one shoulder. Pursuing them was a white girl with golden hair streaming behind her. She was as naked as the other beasts gibbering and screaming in her wake.
The man bearing Rhonda Terry ran swiftly, gaining upon the golden haired devil behind him. They both out-stripped the other creatures that had started in pursuit, and presently these desisted and gave up the chase.
Tarzan, swinging through the trees, gained slowly on the strange pair; and so engrossed were they in the business of escape and pursuit that they did not glance up and discover him.
Now the ape-man caught up with the running girl and passed her. Her burst of speed had taken toll of her strength, and she was slowing down. The man had gained on her, too; and now considerable distance separated them.
Through the trees ahead of him Tarzan saw a stretch of open ground, beyond which rose rocky cliffs; then the forest ended. Swinging down to earth, he continued the pursuit; but he had lost a little distance now, and though he started to gain gradually on the fleeing man, he realized that the other would reach the cliffs ahead of him. He could hear the pursuing girl panting a short distance behind him.
Since he had first seen the naked man and woman and the grotesque monsters that they had left behind in the forest, Tarzan had recalled the story that the gorilla god had told him of the mutants that had escaped destruction and formed a tribe upon this side of the valley. These, then, were the terrible fruits of the old biologist’s profane experiment—children of the unnatural union of nature and science.
It was only the passing consciousness of a fact to which the ape-man now had no time to give thought. His every faculty was bent upon the effort of the moment—the over-taking of the man who carried Rhonda Terry. Tarzan marvelled at the man’s speed burdened as he was by the weight of his captive.
The cliffs were only a short distance ahead of him now. At their base were piled a tumbled mass of fragments that had fallen from above during times past. The cliffs themselves presented a series of irregular, broken ledges; and their face was pitted with the mouths of innumerable caves.
As the man reached the rubble at the foot of the cliffs, he leaped from rock to rock like a human chamois; and after him came the ape-man, but slower; for he was unaccustomed to such terrain—and behind him, the savage she.
Clambering from ledge to ledge the creature bore Rhonda Terry aloft; and Tarzan followed, and the golden haired girl came after. Far up the cliff face the man pushed Rhonda roughly into a cave mouth and turned to face his pursuer.
Tarzan of the Apes turned abruptly to the right then and ran along a narrow ascending ledge with the intention of gaining the ledge upon which the other stood without having to ascend directly into the face of his antagonist. The man guessed his purpose and started along his own ledge to circumvent him. Below them the girl was clambering upward.
“Go back!” shouted the man in the language of the great apes. “Go back! I kill!”
“Rhonda!” called the ape-man.
The girl crawled from the cave out onto the ledge. “Stanley!” she cried in astonishment.
“Climb up the cliff,” Tarzan directed. “You can follow the ledges up. I can keep him occupied until you get to the top. Then go south toward the lower end of the valley.”
“I’ll try,” she replied and started to climb from ledge to ledge.
The girl ascending from below saw her and shouted to the man. “Kreeg-ah!” she screamed. “The she is escaping!”
Now the man turned away from Tarzan and started in pursuit of Rhonda; and the ape-man, instead of following directly after him, clambered to a higher ledge, moving diagonally in the direction of the American girl.
Rhonda, spurred on by terror, was climbing much more rapidly than she herself could have conceived possible. The narrow ledges, the precarious footing would have appalled her at any other time; but now she ignored all danger and thought only of reaching the summit of the cliff before the strange white man overtook her.
And so it was that by a combination of her speed and Tarzan’s strategy the ape-man was able to head off her pursuer before he overtook her.
When the man realized that he had been intercepted he turned upon Tarzan with a savage, snarling growl, his handsome face transformed into that of a wild beast.
The ledge was narrow. It was obvious to Tarzan that the two could not do battle upon it without falling; and while at this point there was another ledge only a few feet below, it could only momentarily stay their descent—while they fought they must roll from ledge to ledge until one or both of them were badly injured or killed.
A quick glance showed him that the wild-girl was ascending toward them. Below and beyond her appeared a number of the grotesque hybrids that had again taken up the chase. Even if the ape-man were the one to survive the duel, all these creatures might easily be upon him. before it was concluded.
Reason dictated that he should attempt to avoid so useless an encounter in which he would presumably lose his life either in victory or defeat. These observations and deductions registered upon his brain with the speed of a camera shutter flashing one exposure rapidly after another. Then the decision was taken from him—the man-beast charged. With a bestial roar he charged.
The girl, ascending, screamed savage encouragement; the horrid mutants gibbered and shrieked. Above them all, Rhonda turned at the savage sounds and looked down. With parted lips, her hand pressed to her heart, she watched with dismay and horror.
Crouching, Tarzan met the charge. The man-beast fought without science but with great strength and feriocity. Whatever thin veneer of civilization his contacts with men had imparted to the ape-man vanished now. Here was a beast meeting a beast.
A low growl rumbled from the throat of the lord of the Jungle, snarling-muscles drew back his lip to expose strong, white teeth, the primitive weapons of the first-man.
Like charging bulls they came together, and like mad panthers each sought the other’s throat. Locked in feral embrace they swayed a moment upon the ledge; then they toppled over the brink.
At that moment Rhonda Terry surrendered the last vestige of hope. She had ascended the cliff to a point beyond which she could discover no foothold for further progress. The man whom she believed to be Stanley Obroski, whose newly discovered valor had become the sole support of whatever hope of escape she might have entertained, was already as good as dead; for if the fall did not kill him the creatures swarming up the cliff toward him would. Yet self-pity was submerged in the grief she felt for the fate of the man. Her original feeling of contempt for him had changed to one of admiration, and this had grown into an emotion that she could scarcely have analysed herself. It was something stronger than friendship; perhaps it was love. She did not want to see him die; yet, fascinated, her eyes clung to the scene below.
But Tarzan had no mind to die now. In ferocity, in strength, he was equal to his antagonist; in courage and intellect, he was his superior. It was by his own intelligent effort that the two had so quickly plunged from the ledge to another a few feet below; and as he had directed the fall, so he directed the manner of their alighting. The man-beast was underneath; Tarzan was on top.
The former struck upon the back of his head, as Tarzan had intended that he should; and one of the ape-man’s knees was at his stomach; so not only was he stunned into insensibility, but the wind was knocked out of him. He would not fight again for some considerable time.
Scarcely had they struck the lower ledge than Tarzan was upon his feet. He saw the monsters scrambling quickly toward him; he saw the wild-girl already reaching out to clutch and in the instant his plan was formed.
The girl was on the ledge below, reaching for one of his ankles to drag him down. He stooped quickly and seized her by the hair; then he swung her, shrieking and screaming, to his shoulder.
She kicked and scratched and tried to bite him; but he held her until he had carried her to a higher ledge; then he threw her down and made his rope fast about her body. She fought viciously, but her strength was no match for that of the ape-man.
The creatures scaling the cliff were almost upon them by the time that Tarzan had made the rope secure; then he ran nimbly upward from ledge to ledge dragging the girl after him; and in this way he was out of her reach, and she could not hinder him.
The highest ledge, that from which Rhonda watched wide-eyed the changing scenes of the drama being enacted below her was quite the widest of all. Opening on to it was the mouth of a cave. Above it the cliff rose, unscalable, to the summit.
To this ledge Tarzan dragged the now strangely silent wild-girl; and here he and Rhonda were cornered, their backs against a wall, with no avenue of escape in any direction.
The girl clambered the last few feet to the ledge; and when she stood erect, facing Tarzan, she no longer fought. The savage snarl had left her face. She smiled into the eyes of the ape-man, and she was very beautiful; but the man’s attention was now upon the snarling pack, the leaders of which were mounting rapidly toward this last ledge.
“Go back,” shouted Tarzan, “Or I kill your she!”
This was the plan that he had conceived to hold them off, using the girl as a hostage. It was a good plan; but, like many another good plan, it failed to function properly.
“They will not stop,” said the girl. “They do not care if you kill me. You have taken me. I belong to you. They will kill us all and eat us—if they can. Throw rocks down on them; drive them back; then I will show you how we can get away from them.”
Following her own advice, she picked up a bit of loose rock and hurled it at the nearest of the creatures. It struck him on the head, and he tumbled backward to a lower ledge. The girl laughed and screamed taunts and insults at her former companions.
Tarzan, realizing the efficacy of this mode of defense, gathered fragments of rock and threw them at the approaching monsters; then Rhonda joined in the barrage, and the three rained down a hail of missiles that drove their enemies to the shelter of the caves below.
“They won’t eat us for a while,” laughed the girl.
“You eat human flesh?” asked Tarzan.
“Not Malb’yat nor I,” she replied; “but they do—they eat anything.”
“Who is Malb’yat?”
“My he—you fought with him and took me from him. Now I am yours. I will fight for you. No one else shall have you!” She turned upon Rhonda with a snarl, and would have attacked her had not Tarzan seized her.
“Leave her alone,” he warned.
“You shall have no other she but me,” said the wild-girl.
“She is not mine,” explained the ape-man; “you must not harm her.”
The girl continued to scowl at Rhonda, but she quit her efforts to reach her. “I shall watch,” she said. “What is her name?”
“And what is yours?” she demanded.
“You may call me Stanley,” said Tarzan. He was amused, but not at all disconcerted, by the strange turn events had taken. He realized that their only chance of escape might be through this strange, beautiful, little savage, and he could not afford to antagonize her.
“Stanley,” she repeated, stumbling a little over the strange word. “My name is Balza.”
Tarzan thought that it fitted her well, for in the language of the great apes it meant golden girl. Ape names are always descriptive. His own meant white skin. Malb’yat was yellow head.
Balza stooped quickly and picked up a rock which she hurled at a head that had been cautiously poked from a cave mouth below them. She scored another hit and laughed gaily.
“We will keep them away until night,” she said; “then we will go. They will not follow us at night. They are afraid of the dark. If we went now they would follow us, and there are so many of them that we should all be killed.”
The girl interested Tarzan. Remembering what the gorilla god, had told him of these mutants, he had assumed that her perfct human body was dominated by the brain of a gorilla; but he had not failed to note that she had repeated the name he had given her—something no gorilla could have done.
“Do you speak English?” he asked in that language.
She looked at him in surprise. “Yes,” she replied; “but I didn’t imagine that you did.”
“Where did you learn it?” he asked.
“In London—before they drove me out.”
“Why did they drive you out?”
“Because I was not like them. My mother kept me hidden for years, but at last they found me out. They would have killed me had I remained.”
“And Malb’yat is like you?”
“No, Maib’yat is like the others. He cannot learn a single English word. I like you much better. I hope that you killed Malb’yat.”
“I didn’t, though,” said the ape-man. “I see him moving on the ledge down there where he has been lying.”
The girl looked; then she picked up a rock and flung it at the unfortunate Malb’yat. It missed him, and he crawled to shelter. “If he gets me back he’ll beat me,” she remarked.
“I should think he’d kill you,” said Tarzan.
“No—there is no one else like me: The others are ugly—I am beautiful. No, he will never kill me, but the shes would all like to.” She laughed gaily. “I suppose this one would like to kill me.” She nodded toward Rhonda.
The American girl had been a surprised and interested listener to that part of the conversation that had been carried on in English, but she had not spoken.
“I do not want to kill you,” she said. “There is no reason why we should not be friends.” Baiza looked at her in surprise; then she studied her carefully.
“Is she speaking the truth?” she asked Tarzan.
The ape-man nodded. “Yes.”
“Then we are friends,” said Balza to Rhonda. Her decisions in matters of love, friendship, or murder were equally impuslive.
For hours the three kept vigil upon the ledge, but only occasionally was it necessary to remind the monsters below them to keep their distance.