These factors did not in themselves constitute the basis for the growing differences between the two men, for Blake was a phlegmatically inclined young man of twenty-five who was rather amused at Stimbol’s egotism than otherwise. The first rift had occurred at railhead when, through Stimbol’s domineering manner and ill temper, the entire purpose of the expedition had been abandoned by necessity, and what was to have been a quasi scientific motion picture camera study of wild African life had resolved itself into an ordinary big game hunt.
At railhead, while preparations were going on to secure equipment and a safari, Stimbol had so offended and insulted the cameraman that he had left them and returned to the coast. Blake was disappointed, but he made up his mind to go on through and get what pictures he could with a still camera. He was not a man who enjoyed killing for the mere sport of taking life, and as originally planned there was to have been no shooting of game except for food and half a dozen trophies that Stimbol particularly wished to add to his collection.
There had since been one or two altercations relative to Stimbol’s treatment of the black porters, but these matters, Blake was hopeful, had been ironed out and Stimbol had promised to leave the handling of the safari to Blake and refrain from any further abuse of the men.
They had come into the interior even farther than they had planned, had had the poorest of luck in the matter of game and were about to turn back toward railhead. It seemed now to Blake that after all they were going to pull through without further difficulty and that he and Stimbol would return to America together, to all intent and purpose still friends; but just then a black porter caught his foot in an entangling creeper and stumbled, throwing his load to the ground.
Directly in front of the porter Stimbol and Blake were walking side by side and, as though guided by a malevolent power, the load crashed into Stimbol, hurling him to the ground. Stimbol and the porter scrambled to their feet amidst the laughter of the Negroes who had witnessed the accident. The porter was grinning. Stimbol was flushed with anger.
“You damned clumsy swine!” he cried, and before Blake could interfere or the porter protect himself the angry white man stepped quickly over the fallen load and struck the black a terrific blow in the face that felled him; and as he lay there, Stimbol kicked him in the side. But only once! Before he could repeat the outrage Blake seized him by the shoulder, wheeled him about and struck him precisely as he had struck the black.
Stimbol fell, rolled over on his side and reached for the automatic that hung at his hip, but quick as he was Blake was quicker. “Cut that!” said Blake, crisply, covering Stimbol with a .45. Stimbol’s hand dropped from the grip of his gun. “Get up!” ordered Blake, and when the other had risen: “Now listen to me, Stimbol—this is the end. You and I are through. Tomorrow morning we split the safari and equipment, and whichever way you go with your half. I’ll go in the opposite direction.”
Blake had returned his gun to its holster as he spoke, the black had risen and was nursing a bloody nose, the other blacks were looking sullenly. Blake motioned to the porter to pick up his load and presently the safari was again on the move—a sullen safari without laughter or song.
Blake made camp at the first available ground shortly before noon in order that the division of equipment, food and men could be made during the afternoon and the two safaris thus be enabled to make an early start the following morning.
Stimbol, sullen, would give no assistance, but, taking a couple of the askari, the armed natives who act as soldiers for the safari, started out from camp to hunt. He had proceeded scarcely a mile along a mould padded game trail which gave forth no sound in answer to their falling footsteps, when one of the natives in the lead held up his hand in warning as he halted in his tracks.
Stimbol advanced cautiously and the black pointed toward the left, through the foliage. Dimly, Stimbol saw a black mass moving slowly away from them.
“What is it?” he whispered.
“Gorilla,” replied the black.
Stimbol raised his rifle and fired at the retreating figure. The black was not surprised that he missed.
“Hell!” ejaculated the white. “Come on, get after him! I’ve got to have him. Gad! what a trophy he’ll make.”
The jungle was rather more open than usual and again and again they came within sight of the retreating gorilla. Each time Stimbol fired and each time he missed. Secretly the blacks were amused and pleased. They did not like Stimbol.
At a distance Tarzan of the Apes, hunting with the tribe of Toyat, heard the first shot and immediately took to the trees and was racing in the direction of the sound. He felt sure that the weapon had not been discharged by the Beduins, for he well knew and could differentiate between the reports of their muskets and those made by modern weapons.
Perhaps, he thought, there may be among them such a rifle, because such was not impossible, but more likely it meant white men, and in Tarzan’s country it was his business to know what strangers were there and why. Seldom they came even now, though once they had never come. It was those days that Tarzan regretted, for when the white man comes peace and happiness depart.
Racing through the trees, swinging from limb to limb, Tarzan of the Apes unerringly followed the direction of the sound of the succeeding shots; and as he approached more closely the scene of the pursuit of Bolgani the gorilla, he heard the crashing of underbrush and the voices of men.
Bolgani, fleeing with greater haste than caution, his mind and attention occupied by thoughts of escape from the hated Tarmangani and the terrifying thunder stick that roared each time the Tarmangani came within sight of him, abandoned his accustomed wariness and hurried through the jungle forgetful of what few other enemies might beset his path; and so it was that he failed to see Histah the snake draped in sinuous loops along an overhanging branch of a nearby patriarch of the forest.
The huge python, naturally short tempered and irritable, had been disturbed and annoyed by the crashing sounds of pursuit and escape and the roaring voice of the rifle. Ordinarily he would have permitted a full grown bull gorilla to pass unmolested, but in his present state of mind he might have attacked even Tantor himself.
His beady eyes glaring fixedly, he watched the approach of the shaggy Bolgani, and as the gorilla passed beneath the limb to which he clung Histah launched himself upon his prey.
As the great coils, powerful, relentless, silent, encircled Bolgani, he sought to tear the hideous folds from him. Great is the strength of Bolgani, but even greater is that of Histah the snake. A single hideous, almost human scream burst from the lips of Bolgani with the first realization of the disaster that had befallen him, and then he was on the ground tearing futilely at the steadily tightening bands of living steel that would crush the life from him, crush until his bones gave to the tremendous pressure, until only broken pulp remained within a sausage like thing that would slip between the distended jaws of the serpent.
It was upon this sight that Stimbol and Tarzan came simultaneously—Stimbol stumbling awkwardly through the underbrush, Tarzan of the Apes, demi-god of the forest, swinging gracefully through the foliage of the middle terraces.
They arrived simultaneously but Tarzan was the only one of the party whose presence was unsuspected by the others, for, as always, he had moved silently and with the utmost wariness because of the unknown nature of the conditions he might discover.
As he looked down upon the scene below his quick eye and his knowledge of the jungle revealed at a glance the full story of the tragedy that had overtaken Bolgani, and then he saw Stimbol raise his rifle, intent upon bagging two royal specimens with a single shot.
In the heart of Tarzan was no great love for Bolgani the gorilla. Since childhood the shaggy, giant man-beast had been the natural foe of the ape-man. His first mortal combat had been with Bolgani. For years he had feared him, or rather avoided him through caution, for of fear Tarzan was ignorant; and since he had emerged from childhood he had continued to avoid Bolgani for the simple reason that his own people, the great apes, avoided him.
But now when he saw the huge brute beset by two of the natural enemies of both the Mangani and the Bolgani there flared within his breast a sudden loyalty that burned away the personal prejudices of a lifetime.
He was directly above Stimbol, and with such celerity do the mind and muscles of the ape-man coordinate that even as the American raised his weapon to his shoulder Tarzan had dropped upon his back, felling him to the earth; and before Stimbol could discover what had happened to him, long before he could stumble, cursing, to his feet, Tarzan, who had been unarmed, had snatched the hunter’s knife from its scabbard and leaped full upon the writhing, struggling mass of python and gorilla. Stimbol came to his feet ready to kill but what he saw before him temporarily drove the desire for vengeance from his mind.
Naked but for a loin cloth, bronzed, black-haired, a giant white man battled with the dread python; and as Stimbol watched he shuddered as he became aware that the low, beast-like growls he heard came not alone from the savage lips of the gorilla but from the throat of the god-like man-thing that fought for him.
Steel fingers encircled the python just back of its head, while those of the free hand drove Stimbol’s hunting knife again and again into the coiling, writhing body of the serpent. With the projection of a new and more menacing enemy into the battle, Histah was forced partially to release his hold upon Bolgani with, at first, the intention of including Tarzan in the same embrace that be might crush them both at once; but soon he discovered that the hairless man-thing constituted a distinct menace to his life that would necessitate his undivided attention, and so he quickly uncoiled from about Bolgani and in a frenzy of rage and pain that whipped his great length into a lashing fury of destruction he sought to encircle the ape-man; but wheresoever his coils approached, the keen knife bit deep into tortured flesh.
Bolgani, the spark of life all but crushed from him, lay gasping upon the ground, unable to come to the aid of his preserver, while Stimbol, goggle-eyed with awe and terror, kept at a safe distance, momentarily forgetful both of his lust for trophies and his bent for revenge.
Thus was Tarzan pitted, single-handed, against one of the mightiest of Nature’s creations in a duel to the death, the result of which seemed to the watching American already a foregone conclusion, for what man born of woman could hope, unaided, to escape from the embrace of the deadly coils of a python?
Already Histah had encircled the torso and one leg of the ape-man, but his powers of constriction, lessened by the frightful wounds he had received, had as yet been unable to crush his adversary into helplessness, and Tarzan was now concentrating his attention and the heavy blade of the hunting knife upon a single portion of the weakening body in an attempt to cut Histah in two.
Man and serpent were red with blood; and crimson were the grasses and the brush for yards in all directions as, with a final effort, Histah closed his giant coils spasmodically about his victim at the instant that Tarzan with a mighty upward heavy lunge cut through the vertebrae of the great snake.
Lashing and writhing, the nether portion, headless, flopped aside while the ape-man, still fighting with what remained, exerting his superhuman strength to its ultimate utmost, slowly forced the coils from about his body and cast the dying Histah from him. Then, without a glance at Slimbol, be turned to Bolgani.
“You are hurt to death?” he asked in the language of the great apes.
“No,” replied the gorilla. “I am Bolgani! I kill, Tarmangani!”
“I am Tarzan of the Apes,” said the ape-man. “I saved you from Histah.”
“You did not come to kill Bolgani?” inquired the gorilla.
“No. Let us be friends.”
Bolgani frowned in an effort to concentrate upon this remarkable problem. Presently he spoke. “We will be friends,” he said. “The Tarmangani behind you will kill us both with his thunder stick. Let us kill him first.” Painfully he staggered to his feet.
“No,” remonstrated Tarzan. “I will send the Tarmangani away.”
“You? He will not go.”
“I am Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle,” replied the ape-man. “The word of Tarzan is law in the jungle.”
Stimbol, who bad been watching, was under the impression that the man and the beast were growling at one another and that a new duel impended. Had he guessed the truth and suspicioned that they considered him a common enemy he would have felt far less at ease. Now, his rifle regained, he started toward Tarzan just as the latter turned to address him.
“Stand to one side, young fellow,” said Stimbol, “while I finish that gorilla. After the experience you just had with the snake, I doubt if you want that fellow to jump you, too.” The American was none too sure of what the attitude of the white giant might be, for all too fresh in his mind was the startling and disconcerting manner of the wild man’s introduction; but he felt safe because he held a rifle, while the other was unarmed, and he guessed that the giant might be only too glad to be saved from the attentions of the gorilla, which, from Stimbol’s imagined knowledge of such beasts, appeared to him to be quite evidently threatening.
Tarzan halted directly between Bolgani and the hunter and eyed the latter appraisingly for a moment. “Lower your rifle,” he said, presently. “You are not going to shoot the gorilla.”
“The hell I’m not!” ejaculated Stimbol. “What do you suppose I’ve been chasing him through the jungle for?”
“Under a misapprehension,” replied Tarzan.
“What misapprehension?” demanded Stimbol.
“That you were going to shoot him. You are not.”
“Say, young man, do you know who I am?” demanded Stimbol.
“I am not interested,” replied Tarzan coldly.
“Well you’d better be. I’m Wilbur Stimbol of Stimbol and Company, brokers, New York!” That was a name to conjure with—in New York. Even in Paris and London it had opened many a door, bent many a knee. Seldom had it failed the purpose of this purse-arrogant man.
“What are you doing in my country?” demanded the ape-man, ignoring Stimbol’s egotistical statement of his identity.
“Your country? Who the hell are you?”
Tarzan turned toward the two blacks who had been standing a little in the rear of Stimbol and to one side. “I am Tarzan of the Apes,” he said to them in their own dialect. “What is this man doing in my country? How many are there in his party—how many white men?”
“Big Bwana,” replied one of the men with sincere deference, “we knew that you were Tarzan of the Apes when we saw you swing from the trees and slay the great snake. There is no other in all the jungle who could do that. This white man is a bad master. There is one other white man with him. The other is kind. They came to hunt Simba the lion and other big game. They have had no luck. Tomorrow they turn back.”
“Where is their camp?” demanded Tarzan.
The black who had spoken pointed. “It is not far,” he said.
The ape-man turned to Stimbol. “Go back to your camp,” he said. “I shall come there later this evening and talk with you and your companion. In the meantime hunt no more except for food in Tarzan’s country.”
There was something in the voice and manner of the stranger that had finally gone through Stimbol’s thick sensibilities and impressed him with a species of awe—a thing he had scarcely ever experienced in the past except in the presence of wealth that was grossly superior to his own. He did not reply. He just stood and watched the bronzed giant turn to the gorilla. He heard them growl at one another for a moment and then, to his vast surprise, he saw them move off through the jungle together, shoulder to shoulder. As the foliage closed about them he removed his helmet and wiped the sweat from his forehead with a silken handkerchief as he stood staring at the green branches that had parted to receive this strangely assorted pair.
Finally he turned to his men with an oath. “A whole day wasted!” he complained. “Who is this fellow? You seemed to know him.”
“He is Tarzan,” replied one of the blacks.
“Tarzan? Never heard of him,” snapped Stimbol.
“All who know the jungle, know Tarzan.”
“Humph!” sneered Stimbol. “No lousy wild man is going to tell Wilbur Stimbol where he can hunt and where he can’t.”
“Master,” said the black who had first spoken, “the word of Tarzan is the law of the jungle. Do not offend him.”
“I’m not paying you damn fools for advice,” snapped Stimbol. “If I say hunt, we hunt, and don’t you forget it.” But on their return to camp they saw no game, or at least Stimbol saw none. What the blacks saw was their own affair.