IT WAS late when Tarzan reached the village. Bubonovitch, who was on guard, challenged him.
“Colonel Clayton,” responded Tarzan.
“Advance to be recognized, Colonel; but I know your voice anyway. And thank the Lord you’re back.”
Tarzan approached. “Something wrong, Sergeant?” he asked.
“I’ll say there’s something wrong. Corrie’s been abducted,” then he told Tarzan all that he knew about the matter.
“And you couldn’t find their trail?”
“There wasn’t any.”
“There has to be,” said Tarzan.
“I sure hope you’re right, Sir.”
“We can’t do anything until morning. We’ll start as soon as it’s light.”
Jerry was on guard when Tarzan awoke at daylight. The American, anxious to get the search under way, had already routed out the others. They called Lara from her house. She was the only one of the natives they felt they could trust. Van der Bos talked to her. He told her that a band of guerrillas would arrive in the village sometime during the day, and instructed her to tell them what had happened and ask them to remain until the searchers returned.
When Corrie was safely out of sight of the camp of the outlaws, Sarina awoke the woman whom she thought had been most overcome by drink and told her to relieve her as guard. She said nothing about the escape of the prisoner, assuming that the woman’s brain would be so befuddled that she would not notice. Sarina was right.
The guard was changed twice more before Hooft awoke. When he discovered that Corrie was missing, he was furious. He questioned all the women who had been on guard. Sarina insisted that Corrie had been there when she relinquished the post to another. The others insisted that the prisoner had not left while they were on duty. Hooft got nowhere. He had slept all day. It was now getting dark and too late to start a search. All he could do about it was to curse the women roundly and try to find solace in a schnapps bottle.
At about the same time that Tarzan and the others were starting out from the village to search for her the following morning, Corrie was impatiently watching the camp of the natives and the two Japs. She dared not descend until they had left. She watched them prepare and eat their breakfast leisurely, thinking that they would never finish. But at long last they did.
They came in her direction, and Corrie hid in the tree where the foliage was densest. At last they filed by, quite close; and Corrie recognized Iskandar, the leader of the natives who had once abducted her, and several of his band. When they were at a safe distance, Corrie descended to the ground and followed the trail up the cliff and into the forest. At last she was safe, for all her known enemies were behind her and she was on a familiar trail that led directly back to her friends.
Iskandar continued on with his party until they came within sight of the outlaws; then the two Japs hid, and the natives approached Hooft and his people. There was a brief parley between Iskandar and Hooft; then the native sent one of his men back to tell the Japs that the white men were friendly.
After the two Japs joined them, the schnapps bottles were passed around as the men discussed plans. The Japs were non-commissioned officers from the detachment of Capt. Tokujo Matsuo, and so were naturally anxious to recapture Corrie. So were Iskandar and Hooft, each of whom visualized some form of reward if they returned the girl to the Japanese officer.
Unfortunately for their plans they drank too much schnapps; and though they started out in the right direction, they never picked up Corrie’s spoor. When they reached the trail leading up into the forest, the trail that Corrie had taken, Sarina claimed to have discovered the spoor and led them on down the valley. Thus again the kindness of her dead father and mother intervened to save the girl.
Tarzan, Jerry, and the others marched rapidly to the abandoned camp of the outlaws. Tarzan examined the spoor that had confused and deceived his companions; then he led them out along the trail that the outlaws had taken. The others were dubious, but they followed.
“Them tracks is all pointin’ toward the camp,” said Rosetti. “We’re goin’ the wrong way, an’ just wastin’ tune.”
“They tell me you’re a great ball turret gunner, Shrimp,” said Tarzan; “but you’re a mighty poor tracker. The people we’re after passed along this trail last night in the same direction that we’re going.”
“Then they must o’ came back again, Colonel. All these footprints is pointin’ the other way.”
“The majority of them went in advance,” explained Tarzan; “then three men and a woman walked backward behind them, obliterating the spoor of those who had gone ahead. About every hundred yards, three other men and a woman relieved the spoor obliterators; because it is tiresome walking backward.”
“I don’t see how you tell that,” persisted Rosetti.
“When you walk forward your heels strike the ground first; then you push yourself forward with the balls of your feet, at the same time pushing the dirt back in the opposite direction. When you walk backward, the balls of your feet strike the ground first and you push yourself forward with your heels, still pushing the dirt in the direction opposite from that in which you are going. Examine the ground carefully, and you will see for yourself. If you follow the trail long enough, and are sufficiently observing, you will see that about every hundred yards there is a change in the sizes of the footprints, showing that new people took up the job.”
Not only Rosetti, but the others, fell to examining the spoor. “Cripes, but we’re dumb,” said Jerry.
“I should have knowed enough to keep my fool trap shut,” said Rosetti. “The colonel ain’t never wrong.”
“Don’t get that idea,” said Tarzan. “I don’t want to try to live up to anything like that. But remember, about this tracking, that I’ve been doing it all my life, ever since I was a child, and that innumerable times my life has depended upon my knowing what I was doing. Now I am going on ahead. We don’t want to run into that outfit without warning.”
An hour later the rest of the party emerged from the forest into the open valley and found Tarzan waiting for them. “Your outlaws passed down the valley a short time ago,” he told them. “I have also found Corrie’s trail. She was hours ahead of them and alone. Evidently she managed to escape from them. I am pretty sure that they did not discover her spoor, as theirs is often yards to the right of hers and never touches it.
“There were a number of men and women in the party, several natives, and two Jap soldiers. At least two of the men were short legged and wore working tabi; so I assume they were Japs. I am going on ahead, following Corrie’s trail. If she took the trail leading up into the forest, I’ll cut a single blaze on a tree near the trail. If she kept on down the valley, I’ll cut two blazes. If there are three, you will know that the outlaws took the same trail that Corrie took; otherwise, they took a different trail.” Tarzan turned then, and was off at the even trot that he could maintain for hours when he chose to keep to the ground, the gait for which Apache Indians are famous.
“I don’t know what good we are,” said Bubonovitch. “That guy doesn’t need us.”
“He lets us come along for the ride,” said Jerry.
“I think we are just in his way,” remarked van der Bos; “but he’s mighty patient about it.”
“I’m goin’ to practice swingin’ t’rough de trees,” said Shrimp.
“And jumping down on tigers?” asked Bubonovitch.
As Corrie followed what was to her now the homeward trail, she was happy and lighthearted. She was returning to Tak and Jerry and Tarzan and Bubonovitch and The Little Sergeant, of whom she had finally become very fond. In fact, she was very fond of all of them. Of course, she had known Tak all her life; but it was as though she had known the others always, also. She decided that she loved them all. She could scarcely wait to see them all again and tell them of her adventures. She had a little score to settle, too—a little score to settle with Amat. But she quickly put that out of her mind. She wished to think only of pleasant things.
So she was thinking of pleasant things, one of which was Jerry, when she suddenly became conscious of something moving through the underbrush parallel with the trail. It was something large. Corrie had her rifle ready, her finger on the trigger, as she peered into the tangle of foliage. What she saw drove every pleasant thought from her mind—just a little glimpse of black and yellow stripes. A tiger was stalking her. How utterly inadequate was the .25 caliber Jap rifle she was carrying! When she stopped, the tiger stopped. Now she could see his eyes—terrifying eyes—as he stood with lowered head returning her gaze. Would he attack? Why else would he be stalking her?
Corrie glanced about. Close beside her was a durian tree from which a stout liana depended. If the tiger charged, he would reach her before she could clamber out of danger. If she moved too quickly, he would charge. Any sudden movement on her part would doubtless mean as sudden death.
Very carefully, she leaned her rifle against the bole of the tree; then she grasped the liana. She watched the tiger. He had not moved. He still stood there watching her. Corrie drew herself up very slowly. Always she watched the tiger. The beast seemed fascinated. As she climbed, she saw his eyes following her. Suddenly he moved forward toward her.
Then Corrie scrambled upward as fast as she could go, and the tiger charged. But he was in an awkward position. He had to run half way around the tree and out into the trail before he could gather himself to spring up to seize her. He did spring, but he missed. And Corrie clawed her way upward to safety.
She sat there astride a limb, trembling, her heart pounding. And the tiger lay down in the trail at the foot of the tree. He was old and mangy. Because he was old, he had probably been unable to overhaul a meal for so long that he was reduced to hunting by day for anything that he might find. And having found something, he had evidently determined to wait right where he was until his prey either came down or fell out of the tree. Every once in a while he looked up at Corrie, bared his yellow fangs, and growled.
Corrie, though not given to any but the mildest of epithets, nevertheless swore at him. The creature had shattered her dream of getting back to her boys quickly. He just lay there, growling at her occasionally. An hour passed. Corrie was becoming frantic. Another hour, and still the stupid beast held tenaciously to his post. Corrie wondered which one of them would starve to death first.
Presently she was joined by some monkeys. They, too, scolded the tiger and probably swore at him in monkey language. Then Corrie had an idea. She knew that monkeys were imitative. She picked a durian fruit and threw it at the tiger. It struck him, much to Corrie’s surprise, and elicited a savage growl. She threw another, and missed. Then the monkeys got the idea. Here was sport. They and Corrie bombarded the great cat with durian fruit. It rose, growling, and tried to leap into the tree; but it only fell back, lost its balance, and rolled over on its back. A durian struck it full on the nose. Durians rained upon it. Finally it gave up and went crashing off into the jungle. But for a long while Corrie did not dare leave her sanctuary. And she was a wary and frightened girl when she finally slipped down and retrieved her rifle.
Every little sound startled her now as she hurried along the trail toward the village, but finally she became convinced that she had seen the last of Stripes.
A huge creature bulked large and black in a tree beneath which Corrie passed. She did not see it. It moved silently above and behind her, watching her. It was Oju, the young orangutan which Tarzan had fought. Corrie’s rifle kept him at a distance. Oju was afraid of the black sticks that made a loud noise. But he was patient. He could wait.
Presently other monstrous shapes appeared in the trees and in the trail in front of Corrie. She stopped. She had never seen so many orangutans together before. Corrie did not believe that they would harm her, but she was not certain. They grimaced at her, and some of them made threatening gestures, stamping on the ground and making little short rushes toward her. She kept her finger on the trigger of her rifle and backed away. She backed directly beneath Oju, who was now perched on a limb but a few feet above her head.
Ordinarily, the great apes avoid humans, going away when one appears. Corrie wondered why these did not go away. She thought that they would presently; so she waited, not daring to advance along the trail which some of them occupied. She thought that probably their numbers gave them courage to remain in the presence of a human being. It was not that, however. It was curiosity. They wanted to see what Oju was going to do. They did not have long to wait.
Oju looked down with bloodshot eyes, weighing the situation. He saw that this she tarmangani’s whole attention was held by the other apes. He dropped upon Corrie, hurling her to the ground; and at the same time he wrenched the rifle from her grasp. The girl’s finger being on the trigger at the time, the weapon was discharged. That terrified Oju, and he swung into a tree and off into the forest. But, having a one track mind, he neglected to loosen his grasp about Corrie’s body; so he took her with him.
The shot also frightened the other apes; and they, too, swung off into the forest, but not in the same direction that Oju had taken. Now, the trail was quiet and deserted; but Corrie was not there to take advantage of it. She was beating futilely with clenched fists on the monstrous, hairy body of her abductor. Eventually, this annoyed Oju; and he cuffed her on the side of the head. It was fortunate for Corrie that this was merely a gentle reminder that Oju objected to being beaten, even though the beating did not hurt him in the least; for it only rendered her unconscious, whereas, had Oju really exerted himself she would doubtless have been killed.
When Corrie regained consciousness, which she did very quickly, she thought at first that she was experiencing a horrible nightmare; but that was only for a moment before the complete return of reason. Now she was indeed horrified. The great, hairy beast was hurrying through the trees, constantly looking back over its shoulder as though something were pursuing it.
Corrie was armed with both a pistol and a parang, but the orangutan held her so that one of his great arms was clamped over both of the weapons in such a way that she could withdraw neither of them. And the creature was carrying her deeper and deeper into the forest, and toward what horrible fate?