JERRY was the first to see the approaching Japs, as he happened to be in a position that gave him a view of about a hundred feet of the trail just where it curved to the right toward the village directly in front of him. It was the three man point. They were advancing cautiously, watching the trail ahead of them. They were evidently so sure that their attack would be a surprise that they did not even consider the possibility of an ambush. They paid no attention to the jungle on either side of the trail. They passed the men lying in wait for the main body and stopped at the edge of the forest. The village lay below them. It appeared deserted. The guerrillas, concealed in and behind houses, saw them and waited.
Presently, Jerry saw the main body approaching. The colonel marched at the head of the column with drawn samurai sword. Behind him slogged Amat, and behind Amat a soldier walked with the tip of his bayonet aimed at a Sumatran kidney. Evidently, Amat had attempted to desert somewhere along the route. He did not appear happy. Shrimp saw him pass, and mentally cautioned his trigger finger to behave.
The trail was crowded with the men of the first company. They had closed up into a compact mass when the head of the column was halted behind the point at the edge of the forest. Then van Prins fired, and instantly a withering volley was poured into the ranks of the surprised enemy. Jerry hurled three grenades in quick succession down the back trail into the second company.
The Japs fired wildly into the jungle; then some who had not been hit turned and broke in retreat. A few leaped into the undergrowth with fixed bayonets in an effort to get into close quarters with the white men. Shrimp was enjoying a field day. He picked off Japs as fast as he could fire, until his rifle got so hot that it jammed.
Among those in the mad rush to escape were the colonel and Amat. Miraculously they had so far escaped unscathed. The colonel was shrieking in Japanese, which Amat could not understand; but he had glanced behind him, and was aware that the colonel had lethal designs upon him. As he fled, Amat screamed. He would have been deeply hurt had he known that the colonel was accusing him of having traitorously led them into ambush, and that it was for this reason that he wished to kill Amat.
Rosetti saw them just before they came abreast of him. “Nothing doing, yellow belly,” he yelled. “That guy is my meat. They don’t nobody else kill him if I can help it.” Then he shot the colonel with his pistol. He took another shot at Amat and missed. “Doggone!” said Rosetti, as the terrified native dove into the underbrush farther along the trail.
Wholly disorganized, the remainder of the Jap force fled back into the forest, leaving their dead and wounded. Van Prins detailed a number of men to act as rear guard, others to collect the enemy’s weapons and ammunition, and the remainder to carry the Jap wounded and their own into the village.
A moment later, a wounded Jap shot the Dutchman who was trying to help him. Shortly thereafter there were no wounded Japs.
Bubonovitch and Rosetti, who had jumped out into the trail to fire on the fleeing enemy, were helping gather up the abandoned Jap weapons and ammunition. Suddenly, Rosetti stopped and looked around. “Where’s the Cap’n?” he asked.
Jerry was nowhere in sight. The two men forced their way back into the underbrush where they had last seen him. They found him there, lying on his back, his shirt, over his left breast, blood soaked. Both men dropped to their knees beside him.
“He ain’t dead,” said Rosetti. “He’s breathing.”
“He mustn’t die,” said Bubonovitch.
“You said a mouthful, soldier,” said Rosetti.
Very tenderly, they picked him up and started back toward the village. The Dutchmen were carrying in three of their own dead and five wounded.
Tarzan saw the two sergeants carrying Jerry. He came and looked at the unconscious man. “Bad?” he asked.
“I’m afraid so, Sir,” said Bubonovitch. They passed on, leaving Tarzan behind.
As the men entered the village with their pathetic burdens, those who had been left behind came to meet them. The dead were laid in a row and covered with sleeping mats. The wounded were placed in the shade of trees. Among the guerrillas was a doctor. He had no medicines, no sulfanilamide, no anesthetics. He just did the best he could, and Corrie helped him. At the edge of the jungle, men were already digging the graves for the three dead. Native women were boiling water in which to sterilize bandages.
Bubonovitch and Rosetti were sitting beside Jerry when the doctor and Corrie finally reached him. When Corrie saw who it was, she went white and caught her breath in a sudden gasp. Both Bubonovitch and Rosetti were watching her. Her reaction told them more than any words could have; because words are sometimes spoken to deceive.
With the help of the two sergeants and Corrie, each trying to do something for the man they all loved, the doctor removed Jerry’s shirt and examined the wound carefully.
“Is it very bad?” asked Corrie.
“I don’t think so,” replied the doctor. “It certainly missed his heart, and I’m sure it missed his lungs, also. He hasn’t brought up any blood, has he, sergeant?”
“No,” said Bubonovitch.
“He’s suffering mostly from shock and partly from loss of blood. I think he’s going to be all right. Help me turn him over—very gently, now.”
There was a small round hole in Jerry’s back just to the right of his left shoulder blade. It had not bled much.
“He must have been born under a lucky star,” said the doctor. “We won’t have to probe, and that’s a good thing; because I have no instruments. The bullet bored straight through, clean as a whistle.” He washed the wounds with sterile water, and bandaged them loosely. “That’s all I can do,” he said. “One of you stay with him. When he comes to, keep him quiet.”
“I’ll stay,” said Corrie.
“You men can help me over here, if you will,” said the doctor.
“If you need us, Miss, just holler,” said Rosetti.
Corrie sat beside the wounded man and bathed his face with cool water. She didn’t know what else to do, but she knew she wanted to do something for him. Whatever mild rancor she had thought that she felt toward him had been expunged by the sight of his blood and his helplessness.
Presently he sighed and opened his eyes. He blinked them a few times, an expression of incredulity in them, as he saw the girl’s face close above his. Then he smiled; and reaching up, he pressed her hand.
“You’re going to be all right, Jerry,” she said.
“I am all right—now,” he said.
He had held her hand for but a second. Now she took his and stroked it. They just smiled at each other. All was right with the world.
Capt. van Prins was having litters built for the wounded. He came over to see Jerry. “How you feeling?” he asked.
“Good. I’ve decided to move out of here just as soon as possible. The Japs are almost sure to sneak back on us tonight, and this is no place to defend successfully. I know a place that is. We can make it in two marches. As soon as the litters are finished and our dead buried, we’ll move out of here. I’m going to burn the village as a lesson to the natives. These people have been collaborating with the enemy. They must be punished.”
“Oh, no!” cried Corrie. “That would be most unfair. You would be punishing the innocent with the guilty. Take Lara, for instance. She has helped us twice. She has told me that there are only two people here who wanted to help the Japs—the chief and Amat. It would be cruel to burn down the homes of those who are loyal. Remember—if it had not been for Lara, the Japs might have taken us by surprise.”
“I guess that you are right, Corrie,” said van Prins. “Anyway, you’ve given me a better idea.”
He walked away, and ten minutes later the chief was taken to one side of the village and shot by a firing squad.
The guerrillas gathered around the graves of their dead. The doctor said a short prayer, three volleys were fired, and the graves were filled. The wounded were lifted onto the litters, the rear guard marched into the village, the little company was ready to move.
Jerry objected to being carried, insisting that he could walk. Bubonovitch, Rosetti, and Corrie were trying to dissuade him when the doctor walked up. “What’s going on here?” he asked. They told him, “You stay on that litter young man,” he said to Jerry, and to Bubonovitch and Rosetti, “If he tries to get off of it, tie him down.”
Jerry grinned. “I’ll be good, Doc,” he said, “but I hate to have four men carrying me when I can walk just as well as not.”
Following the shooting of the chief, the natives were afraid. They did not know how many more might be shot. Lara came to Corrie just as van Prins came along. He recognized the girl.
“You can tell your people,” he said, “that largely because of you and the help you gave us we did not burn the village as we intended. We punished only the chief. He had been helping our enemies. When we come back, if Amat is here we will punish him also. The rest of you need never fear us if you do not help the enemy. We know that you have to treat them well, or be mistreated. We understand that, but do not help them any more than is absolutely necessary.” He took a quick look around the kampong. “Where is Tarzan?” he asked.
“That’s right,” said Bubonovitch. “Where is he?”
“Geeze,” said Rosetti. “He never come back to the village after the scrap. But he wasn’t wounded. He was all right when we seen him last, just before we brung the Cap’n out.”
“Don’t worry about him,” said Bubonovitch. “He can take care of himself and all the rest of us into the bargain.”
“I can leave some men here to tell him where we are going to camp,” said van Prins.
“You don’t even have to do that,” said Bubonovitch. “He’ll find us. Lara can tell him which way we went out. He’ll track us better than a bloodhound.”
“All right,” said van Prins, “let’s get going.”
When Tarzan had looked at the wounded American, the latter had seemed in a very bad way. Tarzan was sure the wound was fatal. His anger against the Japs flared, for he liked this young flier. Unnoticed by the others, he swung into the trees and was off on the trail of the enemy.
He caught up with them at a point where a captain and two lieutenants had rallied them—the only surviving officers of the two companies. High in the trees above them, a grim figure looked down upon them. It fitted an arrow to its bow. The twang of the bow string was drowned by the jabbering of the monkey-men, the shouted commands of their officers. The captain lurched forward upon his face, a bamboo shaft through his heart. As he fell upon it, the arrow was driven through his body, so that it protruded from his back.
For a moment the Japs were stunned to silence; then the shouting commenced again, as they fired into the jungle in all directions with rules and machine guns. Seventy-five feet above their bullets, Tarzan watched them, another bolt already to be shot.
This time he picked out one of the lieutenants. As he loosed the missile, he moved quietly to another position several hundred feet away. As their second officer fell, struck down mysteriously, the Japs commenced to show signs of panic. Now they fired wildly into the underbrush and into the trees.
When the last officer went down the Japs began to run along the trail in the direction of their main camp. They had had enough. But Tarzan had not. He followed them until all his arrows were gone, each one imbedded in the body of a Jap. The screaming wounded were tearing arrows from backs and bellies. The silent dead were left behind for the tigers and the wild dogs.
Tarzan unslung the rifle from across his back and emptied a clip into the broken ranks of the fleeing enemy; then he turned and swung back in the direction of the village. His American friend had been avenged.
He did not follow the trail. He did not even travel in the direction of the village for long. He ranged deep into the primeval forest, viewing ancient things that perhaps no other human eye had ever looked upon—patriarchs of the forest, moss covered and hoary with age, clothed in giant creepers, vines, and huge air plants, garlanded with orchids.
As the wind changed and a vagrant breeze blew into his face, he caught the scent of man. And presently he saw a little trail, such as men make. Dropping lower, he saw a snare, such as primitive hunters set for small game. He had come into the forest to be alone and get away from men. He was not antisocial; but occasionally he longed for solitude, or the restful companionship of beasts. Even the jabbering, scolding monkeys were often a welcome relief, for they were amusing. Few men were.
There were many monkeys here. They ran away from him at first, but when he spoke to them in their own language, they took courage and came closer. He even coaxed one little fellow to come and perch on his hand. It reminded him of little Nkima, boastful, belligerent, diminutive, arrant little coward, which loved Tarzan and which Tarzan loved. Africa! How far, far away it seemed.
He talked to the little monkey as he had talked to Nkima, and presently the little fellow’s courage increased, and he leaped to Tarzan’s shoulder. Like Nkima, he seemed to sense safety there; and there he rode as Tarzan swung through the trees.
The man’s curiosity had been aroused by the strange scent spoor, and so he followed it. It led him to a small lake in the waters of which, along the shore, were a number of rude shelters built of branches and leaves upon platforms that were supported a few feet above the water by crude piling that had been driven into the mud of the lake’s bottom.
The shelters were open on all sides. Their occupants were a people below average height, their skins a rich olive brown, their hair jet black. They were naked savages whom civilization had never touched. Fortunate people, thought Tarzan. Several men and women were in the water fishing with nets. The men carried bows and arrows.
The little monkey said that they were bad gomangani. “So manu,” he said—eat monkey. Then he commenced to scream at them and scold, feeling secure in doing so by virtue of distance and the presence of his big new friend. Tarzan smiled, it reminded him so much of Nkima.
The monkey made so much noise that some of the natives looked up. Tarzan made the universal sign of peace that has been debauched and befouled by a schizophrenic in a greasy raincoat, but the natives threatened him with their arrows. They jabbered and gesticulated at him, doubtless warning him away. The Lord of the Jungle was in full sympathy with them and admired their good judgment. Were they always successful in keeping white men at a distance they would continue to enjoy the peace and security of their idyllic existence.
He watched them for a few minutes, and then turned back into the forest to wander aimlessly, enjoying this brief interlude in the grim business of war. Keta, the little monkey, rode sometimes on the man’s shoulder. Sometimes he swung through the trees with him. He seemed to have attached himself permanently to the big tarmangani.