JERRY was smarting under self-censure. “I feel like a heel,” he said, “letting those two fellows take it while I hid. But I couldn’t leave you here alone, Corrie, or risk your capture.”
“Even if I hadn’t been here,” said Corrie, “the thing for you to do was just what you did. If you had been captured with them, you could not have done anything more for them than they can do for themselves. Now, perhaps, you and Tarzan and I can do something for them.”
“Thanks for putting it that way. Nevertheless, I—” He stopped, listening. “Someone is coming,” he said, and drew the girl back into the concealment of the underbrush.
From where they were hidden, they had a clear view back along the trail for a good fifty yards before it curved away from their line of sight. Presently they heard voices more distinctly. “Japs,” whispered Corrie. She took a handful of arrows from the quiver at her back and fitted one to her bow. Jerry grinned and followed her example.
A moment later, two Jap soldiers strolled carelessly into view. Their rifles were slung across their backs. They had nothing to fear in this direction—they thought. They had made a token gesture of obeying their officer’s instructions to search back along the trail for the three missing whites, whom they had been none too anxious to discover waiting in ambush for them. They would loaf slowly back to camp and report that they had made a thorough search.
Corrie leaned closer to Jerry and whispered, “You take the one on the left. I’ll take the other.” Jerry nodded and raised his bow.
“Let ’em come to within twenty feet,” he said. “When I say now, we’ll fire together.”
They waited. The Japs were approaching very slowly, jabbering as though they had something worthwhile to say.
“Monkey talk,” said Jerry.
“S-sh!” cautioned the girl. She stood with her bow drawn, the feathers of the arrow at her right ear. Jerry glanced at her from the corners of his eyes. Joan of Sumatra, he thought. The Japs were approaching the dead line.
“Now!” said Jerry. Two bow strings twanged simultaneously. Corrie’s target pitched forward with an arrow through the heart. Jerry’s aim had not been so true. His victim clutched at the shaft sunk deep in his throat.
Jerry jumped into the trail, and the wounded Jap tried to unsling his rifle. He had almost succeeded when Jerry struck him a terrific blow on the chin. He went down, and the pilot leaped upon him with drawn knife. Twice he drove the blade into the man’s heart. The fellow twitched convulsively and lay still.
Jerry looked up to see Corrie disentangling the slung rifle from the body of the other Jap. He saw her stand above her victim like an avenging goddess. Three tunes she drove the bayonet into the breast of the soldier. The American watched girl’s face. It was not distorted by rage or hate or vengeance. It was illumined by a divine light of exaltation.
She turned toward Jerry. “That is what I saw them do to my father. I feel happier now. I only wish that he had been alive.”
“You are magnificent,” said Jerry.
They took possession of the other rifle and the belts and ammunition of the dead men. Then Jerry dragged the bodies into the underbrush. Corrie helped him.
“You can cut a notch in your shootin’ iron, woman,” said Jerry, grinning. “You have killed your man.”
“I have not killed a man,” contradicted the girl. “I have killed a Jap.”
“’Haughty Juno’s unrelenting hate,’” quoted Jerry.
“You think a woman should not hate,” said Corrie. “You could never like a woman who hated.”
“I like you,” said Jerry gently, solemnly.
“And I like you, Jerry. You have been so very fine, all of you. You haven’t made me feel like a girl, but like a man among men.”
“God forbid!” exclaimed Jerry, and they both laughed.
“For you, Jerry, I shall stop hating—as soon as I have killed all the Japs in the world.”
Jerry smiled back at her. “A regular Avenging Angel,” he said. “Let’s see—who were The Avenging Angels?”
“I don’t know,” said Corrie. “I’ve never met any angels.”
“Now I remember,” said Jerry. “A long while ago there was an association of Mormons, the Danite Band. They were known as The Avenging Angels.”
“The Mormons are the people who have a lot of wives, aren’t they? Are you a Mormon?”
“Perish the thought. I’m not that courageous. Neither are the present day Mormons. Just imagine being married to a WAC sergeant, a welder, and a steamfitter!”
“And an Avenging Angel?” laughed Corrie.
He didn’t answer. He just looked at her, and Corrie wished that she had not said it. Or did she wish that she had not said it?
Tarzan, swinging through the trees overlooking the trail, stopped suddenly and froze into immobility. Ahead of him he saw a man squatting on a platform built in a tree that gave a view of the trail for some distance in the direction from which Tarzan had come. The man was heavily bearded and heavily armed. He was a white man. Evidently he was a sentry watching a trail along which an enemy might approach.
Tarzan moved cautiously away from the trail. Had he not been fully aware of the insensibility of civilized man he would have marvelled that the fellow had not noted his approach. The stupidest of the beasts would have heard him or smelled him or seen him.
Making a detour, he circled the sentry; and a minute or two later came to the edge of a small mountain meadow and looked down upon a rude and untidy camp. A score or so of men were lying around in the shade of trees. A bottle passed from hand to hand among them, or from mouth to mouth. Drinking with them were a number of women. Most of these appeared to be Eurasians. With a single exception, the men were heavily bearded. This was a young man who sat with them, taking an occasional pull at the bottle. The men carried pistols and knives, and each had a rifle close at hand. It was not a nice looking company.
Tarzan decided that the less he had to do with these people the better. And then the branch on which he sat snapped suddenly, and he fell to the ground within a hundred feet of them. His head struck something hard, and he lost consciousness.
When he came to he was lying beneath a tree, his wrists and ankles bound. Men and women were squatting or standing around him. When they saw that he had regained consciousness, one of the men spoke to him in Dutch. Tarzan understood him, but he shook his head as though he did not.
The fellow had asked him who he was and what he had been doing spying on them. Another tried French, which was the first spoken language of civilized man that he had learned; but he still shook his head. The young man tried English. Tarzan pretended that he did not understand; and addressed them in Swahili, the language of a Mohammedan Bantu people of Zanzibar and the East coast of Africa, knowing that they would not understand it.
“Sounds like Japanese,” said one of the men.
“It ain’t though,” said one who understood that language.
“Maybe it’s Chinese,” suggested another.
“He looks about as much like a Chink as you do,” said the first speaker.
“Maybe he’s a wild man. No clothes, bow and arrows. Fell out of a tree like a monkey.”
“He’s a damned spy.”
“What good’s a spy who can’t talk any civilized language?”
They thought this over, and it seemed to remove their suspicion that their prisoner might be a spy, at least for the moment. They had more important business to attend to, as was soon demonstrated.
“Oh, to hell with him,” said a bleary-eyed giant. “I’m getting dry.”
He walked back in the direction of the trees beneath which they had been lolling—in the direction of the trees and the bottle—and the others followed. All but the young man with the smooth face. He still squatted near Tarzan, his back toward his retreating companions. When they were at a safer distance and their attention held by the bottle, he spoke. He spoke in a low whisper and in English.
“I am sure that you are either an American or an Englishman,” he said. “Possibly one of the Americans from the bomber that was shot down some time ago. If you are, you can trust me. I am practically a prisoner here myself. But don’t let them see you talking to me. If you decide that you can trust me, you can make some sign that you understand me.
“You have fallen into the hands of a band of cutthroats. With few exceptions they are criminals who were released from jail and armed when the Japs invaded the island. Most of the women are also criminals who were serving jail sentences. The others are also from the bottom of the social barrel—the ultimate dregs.
“These people escaped to the hills as the Japs took over. They made no attempt to aid our armed forces. They thought only of their own skins. After my regiment surrendered, I managed to escape. I ran across this outfit; and supposing it to be a loyal guerrilla band, I joined it. Learning my background, they would have killed me had it not been that a couple of them are men I had befriended in times past. But they don’t trust me.
“You see, there are loyal guerrillas hiding in the hills who would kill these traitors as gladly as they’d kill Japs. And these fellows are afraid I’d get in touch with them and reveal the location of this camp.
“About the worst these people have done so far is to trade with the enemy, but they are going to turn you over to the Japs. They decided on that before you regained consciousness. They also thought that you were one of the American fliers. The Japs would pay a good price for you.
“These fellows distill a vile spirit which they call schnapps. What they don’t drink themselves they use to barter with the Japs and natives. They get juniper berries, ammunition, and rice, among other things, from the Japs. That the Japs let them have ammunition indicates that they consider them friendly. However, it is little more than an armed truce; as neither trusts the other to any great extent. Natives are the go-betweens who deliver the schnapps and bring the payment.”
Tarzan, knowing now that his fate had already been decided, realized that nothing would be gained by further attempts to deceive the young man. Also, he had gained a good impression of the man; and was inclined to believe that he was trustworthy. He glanced in the direction of the others. They were all intent upon a loudmouthed quarrel between two of their fellows, and were paying no attention to him and his companion.
“I am English,” he said.
The young man grinned.
“Thanks for trusting me,” he said. “My name is Tak van der Bos. I am a reserve officer.”
“My name is Clayton. Would you like to get away from these people?”
“Yes. But what good would it do? Where could I go? I’d certainly fall into the hands of the Japs eventually, if a tiger didn’t get me instead. If I knew where one of our guerrilla outfits was located, I’d sure take the chance. But I don’t.”
“There are five in my party,” said Tarzan. “We are trying to reach the southern end of the island. If we are lucky, we hope to commandeer a boat and try to reach Australia.”
“A rather ambitious plan,” said van der Bos. “It’s more than twelve hundred miles to the nearest point on the Australian continent. And it’s five hundred miles to the southern end of this island.”
“Yes,” said Tarzan. “We know, but we are going to take the chances. We all feel that it would be better to die trying it than to hide in the woods like a lot of hunted rabbits for the duration.”
Van der Bos was silent for a few moments, thinking. Presently he looked up. “It is the right thing to do,” he said. “I’d like to come with you. I think I can help you. I can find a boat much nearer than you plan on travelling. I know where there are friendly natives who will help us. But first we’ve got to get away from these fellows, and that will not be easy. There is only one trail into this little valley, and that is guarded day and night.”
“Yes, I saw him. In fact I passed close to him. I can pass him again as easily. But you are different. I do not think that you could though. If you can get me a knife tonight, I will get you past the sentry.”
“I’ll try. If they get drunk enough, it should be easy. Then I’ll cut your bonds, and we can have a go at it.”
“I can break these bonds whenever I wish,” said Tarzan.
Van der Bos did not comment on this statement.
This fellow, he thought, is very sure of himself. Maybe a little too sure. And the Dutchman began to wonder if he had been wise in saying that he would go with him. He knew, of course, that no man could break those bonds. Maybe the fellow couldn’t make good on his boast that he could pass the sentry, either.
“Do they watch you very carefully at night?” asked Tarzan.
“They don’t watch me at all. This is tiger country. Had you thought of that yourself?”
“Oh, yes. But we shall have to take that chance.”