Had the story that I am about to tell you broken in the newspapers of two certain European powers, it might have precipitated another and a more terrible world war. But with that I am not particularly concerned. What interests me is that it is a good story that is partictularly well adapted to my requirements through the fact that Tarzan of the Apes was intimately connected with many of its most thrilling episodes.
I am not going to bore you with dry political history, so do not tax your intellect needlessly by attempting to decode such fictitious names as I may use in describing certain people and places, which, it seems to me, to the best interest of peace and disarmament, should remain incognito.
Take the story simply as another Tarzan story, in which, it is hoped, you will find entertainment and relaxation. If you find food for thought in it, so much the better.
Doubtless, very few of you saw, and still fewer will remember having seen, a news dispatch that appeared inconspicuously in the papers some time since, reporting a rumor that French Colonial Troops stationed in Somaliland, on the northeast coast of Africa, had invaded an ltalian African colony. Back of that news item is a story of conspiracy, intrigue, adventure and love a story of scoundrels and of fools, of brave men; of beautiful women, a story of the beasts of the forest and the jungle.
If there were few who saw the newspaper account of the invasion of Italian Somaliland upon the northeast coast of Africa, it is equally a fact that none of you saw a harrowing incident that occurred in the interior some time previous to this affair. That it could possibly have any connection whatsoever with European international intrigue, or with the fate of nations, seems not even remotely possible, for it was only a very little monkey fleeing through the tree tops and screaming in terror. It was little Nkima, and pursuing him was a large, rude monkey—a much larger monkey than Little Nkima.
Fortunately for the peace of Europe and the world, the speed of the pursuer was in no sense proportionate to his unpleasant disposition, and so Nkima escaped him; but for long after the larger monkey had given up the chase, the smaller one continued to flee through the tree tops, screeching at the top of his shrill little voice, for terror aud flight were the two major activities of little Nkima.
Perhaps it was fatigue, but more likely it was a caterpillar or a bird’s nest that eventually terminated Nkima’s flight and left him scolding and chattering upon a swaying bough, far above the floor of the jungle.
The world into which little Nkima had been born seemed a very terrible world, indeed, and he spent most of his waking hours scolding about it, in which respect he was quite as human as he was simian. It seemed to little Nkima that the world was populated with large, fierce creatures that liked monkey meat. There were Numa, the lion, and Sheeta, the panther, and Histah, the snake—a triumvirate that rendered unsafe his entire world from the loftiest tree top to the ground. And then there were the great apes, and the lesser apes, and the baboons, and countless species of monkeys, all of which God had made larger than He had made little Nkima, and all of which seemed to harbor a grudge against him.
Take, for example, the rude creature which had just been pursuing him. Little Nkima had done nothing more than throw a stick at him while he was asleep in the crotch of a tree, and just for that he had pursued little Nkima with unquestionable homicidal intent—I use the word without purposing any reflection upon Nkima. It had never occurred to Nkima, as it never seems to occur to some people, that, like beauty, a sense of humor may sometimes be fatal.
Brooding upon the injustices of life, little Nkima was very sad. But there was another and more poignant cause of sadness that depressed his little heart. Many, many moons ago his master had gone away and left him. True, he had left him in a nice, comfortable home with kind people who fed him, but little Nkima missed the great Tarmangani, whose naked shoulder was the one harbor of refuge from which he could with perfect impunity hurl insults at the world. For a long time now little Nkima had braved the dangers of the forest and the jungle in search of his beloved Tarzan.
Because hearts are measured by content of love and loyalty, rather than by diameters in inches, the heart of little Nkima was very large so large that the average human being could hide his own heart and himself, as well, behind it—and for a long time it had been just one great ache in his diminutive breast. But fortunately for the little Manu his mind was so ordered that it might easily be distracted even from a great sorrow. A butterfly or a luscious grub might suddenly claim his attention from the depths of brooding, which was well, since otherwise he might have grieved himself to death.
And now, therefore, as his melancholy thoughts returned to contemplation of his loss, their trend was suddenly altered by the shifting of a jungle breeze that brought to his keen ears a sound that was not primarily of the jungle sounds that were a part of his hereditary instincts. It was a discord. And what is it that brings discord into the jungle as well as into every elsewhere that it enters? Man. It was the voices of men that Nkima heard.
Silently the little monkey glided through the trees into the direction from which the sounds had come; and presently, as the sounds grew louder, there came also that which was the definite, final proof of the identity of the noise makers, as far as Nkima, or, for that matter, any other of the jungle folk, might be concerned—the scent spoor.
You have seen a dog, perhaps your own dog, half recognize you by sight; but was he ever entirely satisfied until the evidence of his eyes had been tested and approved by his sensitive nostrils?
And so it was with Nkima. His ears had suggested the presence of men, and now his nostrils definitely assured him that men were near. He did not think of them as men, but as great apes. There were Gomangani, Great Black Apes, Negroes, among them. This his nose told him. And there were Tarmangani, also. These, which to Nkima would be Great White Apes, were white men.
Eagerly his nostrils sought for the familiar scent spoor of his beloved Tarzan, but it was not there that he knew even before he came within sight of the strangers.
The camp upon which Nkima presently looked down from a nearby tree was well established. It had evidently been there for a matter of days and might be expected to remain still longer. It was no overnight affair. There were the tents of the white men and the beyts of Arabs neatly arranged with almost military precision and behind these the shelters of the Negroes, lightly constructed of such materials as Nature had provided upon the spot.
Within the open front of an Arab beyt sat several white bournoosed Beduins drinking their inevitable coffee; in the shade of a great tree before another tent four white men were engrossed in a game of cards; among the native shelters a group of stalwart Gaila warriors were playing at minkala. There were blacks of other tribes too—men of East Africa and of Central Africa, with a sprinkling of West Coast Negroes.
It might have puzzled an experienced African traveller or hunter to catalog this motley aggregation of races and colors. There were far too many blacks to justify a belief that all were porters, for with all the impedimenta of the camp ready for transportation there would have been but a small fraction of a load for each of them, even after more than enough had been included among the askari, who do not carry any loads beside their rifles and armmunition.
Then, too, there were more rifles than would have been needed to protect even a larger party. There seemed, indeed, to be a rifle for every man. But these were minor details which made no impression upon Nkima. All that impressed him was the fact that here were many strange Tarmangani and Gomangani in the country of his master; and as all strangers were, to Nkima, enemies, he was perturbed. Now more than ever he wished that he might find Tarzan.
A swarthy, turbaned East Indian sat cross-legged upon the ground before a tent, apparently sunk in meditation; but could one have seen his dark, sensuous eyes, he would have discovered that their gaze was far from introspective—they were bent constantly upon another tent that stood a little apart from its fellows—and when a girl emerged from this tent, Raghunath Jafar arose and approached her. He smiled an oily smile as he spoke to her, but the girl did not smile as she replied. She spoke civilly, but she did not pause, continuing her way toward the four men at cards.
As she approached their table they looked up; and upon the face of each was reflected some pleasurable emotion, but whether it was the same in each, the masks that we call faces, and which are trained to conceal our true thoughts, did not divulge. Evident it was, however, that the girl was popular.
“Hello, Zora!” cried a large, smooth-faced fellow. “Have a good nap?”
“Yes, Comrade,” replied the girl; “but I am tired of napping. This inactivity is getting on my nerves.”
“Mine, too,” agreed the man.
“How much longer will you wait for the American, Comrade Zveri?” asked Raghunath Jafar.
The big man shrugged. “I need him,” he replied. “We might easily carry on without him, but for the moral effect upon the world of having a rich and high-born American identified actively with the affair it is worth waiting.”
“Are you quite sure of this gringo, Zveri?” asked a swarthy young Mexican sitting next to the big, smooth-faced man, who was evidently the leader of the expedition.
”I met him in New York and again in San Francisco,” replied Zveri. “He has been very carefully checked and favorably recommended.”
“I am always suspicious of these fellows who owe everything they have to capitalism,” declared Romero. “it is in their blood—at heart they hate the proletariat, just as we hate them.”
“This fellow is different, Miguel,” insisted Zveri. “He has been won over so completely that he would betray his own father for the good of the cause—and already he is betraying his country.”
A slight, involuntary sneer, that passed unnoticed by the others, curled the lip of Zora Drinov as she heard this description of the remaining member of the party, who had not yet reached the rendezvous.
Miguel Romero, the Mexican, was still unconvinced. “I have no use for gringos of any sort,” he said.
Zveri shrugged his heavy shoulders. “Our personal animosities are of no importance,” he said, “as against the interests of the workers of the world. When Colt arrives we must accept him as one of us; nor must we forget that however much we may detest America and Americans nothing of any moment may be accomplished in the world of today without them and their fllthy wealth.”
“Wealth ground out of the blood and sweat of the working class,” growled Romero.
“Exactly,” agreed Raghunath Jafar, “but how appropriate that this same wealth should be used to undermine and overthrow capitalistic America and bring the workers eventually into their own.”
“That is precisely the way I feel about it,” said Zveri. “I would rather use American gold in furthering the cause than any other—and after that British.”
“But what do the puny resources of this single American mean to us?” demanded Zora. “A mere nothing compared to what America is already pouring into Soviet Russia. What is his treason compared with the treason of those others who are already doing more to hasten the day of world communism than the Third Internationale itself—it is nothing, not a drop in the bucket.”
“What do you mean, Zora?” asked Miguel.
“I mean the bankers, and manufacturers, and engineers of America, who are selling their own country and the world to us in the hope of adding more gold to their already bursting coffers. One of their most pious and lauded citizens is building great factories for us in Russia, where we may turn out tractors and tanks; their manufacturers are vying with one another to furnish us with engines for countless thousands of airplanes; their engineers are selling us their brains and their skill to build a great modern manufacturing city, in which ammunitions and engines of war may be produced. These are the traitors, these are the men who are hastening the day when Moscow shall dictate the policies of a world.”
“You speak as though you regretted it,” said a dry voice at her shoulder.
The girl turned quickly. “Oh, it is you, Sheykh Abu Batn?” she said, as she recognized the swart Arab who had strolled over from his coffee. “Our own good fortune does not blind me to the perfidiousness of the enemy, nor cause me to admire treason in anyone, even though I profit by it.”
“Does that include me?” demanded Romero, suspiciously.
Zora laughed. “You know better than that, Miguel,” she said. “You are of the working class—you are loyal to the workers of your own country—but these others are of the capitalistic class: their government is a capitalistic government that is so opposed to our beliefs that it has never recognized our government; yet, in their greed, these swine are selling out their own kind and their own country for a few more rotten dollars. I loathe them.”
Zveri laughed. “You are a good Red, Zora,” he cried; “you hate the enemy as much when he helps us as when he hinders.”
“But hating and talking accomplish so little,” said the girl. “I wish we might do something. Sitting here in idleness seems so futile.”
“And what would you have us do?” demanded Zveri, good naturedly.
“We might at least make a try for the gold of Opar,” she said. “if Kitembo is right, there should be enough there to finance a dozen expeditions such as you are planning, and we do not need this American—what do they call them, cake eaters?—to assist us in that venture.”
“I have been thinking along similar lines,” said Raghunath Jafar.
Zveri scowled. “Perhaps some of the rest of you would like to run this expedition,” he said, crustily. “I know what I am doing and I don’t have to discuss all my plans with anyone. When I have orders to give, I’ll give them. Kitembo has already received his, and preparations have been under way for several days for the expedition to Opar.”
“The rest of us are as much interested and are risking as much as you, Zveri,” snapped Romero. “We were to work together—not as master and slaves.”
“You’ll soon learn that I am master,” snarled Zveri in an ugly tone.
“Yes,” sneered Romero, “the czar was master, too, and Obregon. You know what happened to them?”
Zveri leaped to his feet and whipped out a revolver, but as he levelled it at Romero the girl struck his arm up and stepped between them. “Are you mad, Zveri?” she cried.
“Do not interfere, Zora; this is my affair and it might as well be settled now as later. I am chief here and I am not going to have any traitors in my camp. Stand aside.”
“No!” said the girl with finality. “Miguel was wrong and so were you, but to shed blood—our own blood—now would utterly ruin any chance we have of success. It would sow the seed of fear and suspicion and cost us the respect of the blacks, for they would know that there was dissension among us. Furthermore, Miguel is not armed; to shoot him would be cowardly murder that would lose you the respect of every decent man in the expedition.” She had spoken rapidly in Russian, a language that was understood by only Zveri and herself, of those who were present; then she turned again to Miguel aud addressed him in English. “You were wrong, Miguel,” she said gently. “There must be one responsible head, and Comrade Zveri was chosen for the responsibility. He regrets that he acted hastily. Tell him that you are sorry for what you said, and then the two of you shake hands and let us all forget the matter.”
For an instant Romero hesitated; then he extended his hand toward Zveri. “I am sorry,” he said.
The Russian took the proffered hand in his and bowed stiffly.
“Let us forget it, Comrade,” he said; but the scowl was still upon his face, though no darker than that which clouded the Mexican’s.
Little Nkima yawned and swung by his tail from a branch far overhead. His curiosity concerning these enemies was sated. They no longer afforded him entertainment, but he knew that his master should know about their presence; and that thought, entering his little head, recalled his sorrow and his great yearning for Tarzan, to the end that he was again imbued with a grim determination to continue his search for the ape-man. Perhaps in half an hour some trivial occurrence might again distract his attention, but for the moment it was his life work. Swinging through the forest, little Nkima held the fate of Europe in his pink palm, but he did not know it.
The afternoon was waning. In the distance a lion roared. An instinctive shiver ran up Nkima’s spine. In reality, however, he was not rnuch afraid, knowing, as he did, that no lion could reach him in the tree tops.
A young man marching near the head of a safari cocked his head and listened. “Not so very far away, Tony,” he said.
“No, sir; much too close,” replied the Filipino.
“You’ll have to learn to cut out that ‘sir’ stuff, Tony, before we join the others,” admonished the young man.
The Filipino grinned. “All right, Comrade,” he assented. “I got so used calling everybody ‘sir’ it hard for me to change.”
“I’m afraid you’re not a very good Red then, Tony.”
“Oh, yes I am,” insisted the Filipino emphatically. “Why else am I here? You think I like come this God forsaken country full of lion, ant, snake, fly, mosquito just for the walk? No, I come lay down my life for Philippine independence.”
“That’s noble of you all right, Tony,” said the other gravely; “but just how is it going to make the Philippines free?”
Antonio Mori scratched his head. “I don’t know,” he admitted; “but it make trouble for America.”
High among the tree tops a little monkey crossed their path. For a moment he paused and watched them; then he resumed his journey in the opposite direction.
A half hour later the lion roared again, and so disconcertingly close and unexpected rose the voice of thunder from the jungle beneath him that little Nkima nearly fell out of the tree through which he was passing. With a scream of terror he scampered as high aloft as he could go and there he sat, scolding angrily.
The lion, a magnificent full-maned male, stepped into the open beneath the tree in which the trembling Nkima clung. Once again he raised his mighty voice until the ground itself trembled to the great, rolling volume of his challenge. Nkima looked down upon him and suddenly ceased to scold. Instead he leaped about excitedly, chattering and grimacing. Numa, the lion, looked up; and then a strange thing occurred. The monkey ceased its chattering and voiced a low, peculiar sound. The eyes of the lion, that had been glaring balefully upward, took on a new and almost gentle expression. He arched his back and rubbed his side luxuriously against the bole of the tree, and from those savage jaws came a soft, purring sound. Then little Nkima dropped quickly downward through the foliage of the tree, gave a final nimble leap, and alighted upon the thick mane of the king of beasts.