As the column had been preparing to march, Zveri gave his final instructions to Dorsky. “I leave this matter entirely in your hands,” he said. “It must appear that he escaped, or, at worst, that he met an accidental death.”
“You need give the matter no further thought, Comrade,” replied Dorsky. “Long before you return, this stranger will have been removed.”
A long and difficult march lay before the invaders, their route lying across south-eastern Abyssinia into Italian Somaliland, along five hundred miles of rough and savage country.
It was Zveri’s intention to make no more than a demonstration in the Italian colony, merely sufficient to arouse the anger of the Italians still further against the French and to give the fascist dictator the excuse which Zveri believed was all that he awaited to carry his mad dream of Italian conquest across Europe.
Perhaps Zveri was a little mad, but then he was a disciple of mad men whose greed for power wrought distorted images in their minds, so that they could not differentiate between the rational and the bizarre; and then, too, Zveri had for so long dreamed his dream of empire that he saw now only his goal and none of the insurmountable obstacles that beset his path. He saw a new Roman emperor ruling Europe, and himself as Emperor of Africa making an alliance with his new European power against all the balance of the world. He pictured two splendid golden thrones; upon one of them sat the Emperor Peter I, and upon the other the Empress Zora; and so he dreamed through the long, hard marches toward the east.
He listened intently and sniffed the air, but he could detect no evidence of the teeming camp that he had seen when he had brought the girl back. He knew, however, that at least one night had passed; for the shadows that he could see through the tent opening indicated that the sun was high in the heavens, whereas it had been low in the west when last he saw it. Hearing voices, he realized that he was not alone, though he was confident that there must be comparatively few men in camp.
Deep in the jungle he heard an elephant trumpeting, and once, from far off, came faintly the roar of a lion. Tarzan strove again to snap the bonds that held him, but they would not yield. Then he turned his head so that he faced the opening in the tent, and from his lips burst a long, low cry; the cry of a beast in distress.
Dorsky, who was lolling in a chair before his own tent, leaped to his feet. The blacks, who had been talking animatedly, before their own shelters, went quickly quiet and seized their weapons.
“What was that?” Dorsky demanded of his black boy.
The fellow, wide-eyed and trembling, shook his head. “I do not know, Bwana,” he said. “Perhaps the man in the tent has died, for such a noise may well have come from the throat of a ghost.”
“Nonsense,” said Dorsky. “Come, we’ll have a look at him.” But the black held back, and the white man went on alone.
The sound, which had come apparently from the tent in which the captive lay, had had a peculiar effect upon Dorsky, causing the flesh of his scalp to creep and a strange foreboding to fill him; so that as he neared the tent, he went more slowly and held his revolver ready in his hand.
When he entered the tent, he saw the man lying where he had been left; but now his eyes were open, and when they met those of the Russian, the latter had a sensation similar to that which one feels when he comes eye to eye with a wild beast that has been caught in a trap.
“Well,” said Dorsky, “so you have come to, have you? What do you want?” The captive made no reply, but his eyes never left the other’s face. So steady was the unblinking gaze that Dorsky became uneasy beneath it. “You had better learn to talk,” he said gruffly, “if you know what is good for you.” Then it occurred to him that perhaps the man did not understand him so be turned in the entrance and called to some of the blacks, who had advanced, half in curiosity, half in fear, toward the tent of the prisoner. “One of you fellows come here,” he said.
At first no one seemed inclined to obey, but presently a stalwart warrior advanced. “See if this fellow can understand your language. Come in and tell him that I have a proposition to make to him and that he had better listen to it.”
“If this is indeed Tarzan of the Apes,” said the black, “he can understand me,” and he came warily to the entrance of the tent.
The black repeated the message in his own dialect, but by no sign did the ape-man indicate that he understood.
Dorsky lost his patience. “You damned ape,” he said. “You needn’t try to make a fool of me. I know perfectly well that you understand this fellow’s gibberish, and I know, too, that you are an Englishman and that you understand English. I’ll give you just five minutes to think this thing over, and then I am coming back. If you have not made up your mind to talk by that time, you can take the consequences.” Then he turned on his heels and left the tent.
Many and narrow were the escapes of Nkima as he swung through the giants of the forest. Could he have resisted temptation, he might have passed with reasonable safety, but that he could not do; and so he was forever getting himself into trouble by playing pranks upon strangers, who, if they possessed any sense of humor themselves, most certainly failed to appreciate little Nkima’s. Nkima could not forget that he was friend and confidant of Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, though he seemed often to forget that Tarzan was not there to protect him when he hurled taunts and insults at other monkeys less favored. That he came through alive speaks more eloquently for his speed than for his intelligence or courage. Much of the time he was fleeing in terror, emitting shrill screams of mental anguish; yet he never seemed to learn from experience, and having barely eluded one pursuer intent upon murdering him he would be quite prepared to insult or annoy the next creature he met, especially selecting, it would seem, those that were larger and stronger than himself.
Sometimes he fled in one direction, sometimes in another, so that he occupied much more time than was necessary in making his journey. Otherwise he would have reached his master in time to be of service to him at a moment that Tarzan needed a friend as badly, perhaps, as ever he had needed one before in his life.
And now, while far away in the forest Nkima fled from an old dog baboon, whom he had hit with a well-aimed stick, Michael Dorsky approached the tent where Nkima’s master lay bound and helpless. The five minutes were up, and Dorsky had come to demand Tarzan’s answer. He came alone, and as he entered the tent his simple plan of action was well formulated in his mind.
The expression upon the prisoner’s face had changed. He seemed to be listening intently. Dorsky listened then, too, but could hear nothing; for by comparison with the hearing of Tarzan of the Apes Michael Dorsky was deaf. What Tarzan heard filled him with quiet satisfaction.
“Now,” said Dorsky, “I have come to give you your last chance. Comrade Zveri has led two expeditions to Opar in search of the gold that we know is stored there. Both expeditions failed. It is well known that you know the location of the treasure vaults of Opar ind can lead us to them. Agree that you will do this when Comrade Zveri returns, and not only will you not be harmed, but you will be released as quickly as Comrade Zveri feels that it would be safe to have you at liberty. Refuse and you die.” He drew a long, slender stiletto from its sheath at his belt. “If you refuse to answer me, I shall accept that as evidence that you have not accepted my proposition.” And as the ape-man maintained his stony silence, the Russian held the thin blade low before his eyes. “Think well, ape,” he said, “and remember that when I slip this between your ribs there will be no sound. It will pierce your heart, and I shall leave it there until the blood has ceased to flow. Then I shall remove it and close the wound. Later in the day you will be found dead, and I shall tell the blacks that you died from the accidental gunshot. Thus your friends will never learn the truth. You will not be avenged, and you will have died uselessly.” He paused for a reply, his evil eyes glinting menacingly into the cold, grey eyes of the ape-man.
The dagger was very near Tarzan’s face now; and of a sudden, like a wild beast, he raised his body, and his jaws closed like a steel trap upon the wrist of the Russian. With a scream of pain, Dorsky drew back. The dagger dropped from his nerveless fingers. At the same instant Tarzan swung his legs around the feet of the would-be assassin; and as Dorsky rolled over on his back, he dragged Tarzan of the Apes on top of him.
The ape-man knew from the snapping of Dorsky’s wrist bones between his teeth that the man’s right hand was useless, and so he released it. Then to the Russian’s horror, the ape-man’s jaws sought his jugular as, from his throat, there rumbled the growl of a savage beast at bay.
Screaming for his men to come to his assistance, Dorsky tried to reach the revolver at his right hip with his left hand, but he soon saw that unless he could rid himself of Tarzan’s body he would be unable to do so.
Already he heard his men running toward the tent, shouting among themselves, and then he heard exclamations of surprise and screams of terror. The next instant the tent vanished from above them, and Dorsky saw a huge bull elephant towering above him and his savage antagonist.
Instantly Tarzan ceased his efforts to close his teeth on Dorsky’s throat and at the same time rolled quickly from the body of the Russian. As he did so, Dorsky’s hand found his revolver.
“Kill, Tantor!” shouted the ape-man. “Kill!”
The sinuous trunk of the pachyderm twined around the Russian. The little eyes of the elephant flamed red with hate, and he trumpeted shrilly as he raised Dorsky high above his head and, wheeling about, hurled him out into the camp; while the terrified blacks, casting affrighted glances over their shoulders, fled into the jungle. Then Tantor charged his victim. With his great tusks he gored him; and then, in a frenzy of rage, trumpeting and squealing, he trampled him until nothing remained of Michael Dorsky but a bloody pulp.
From the moment that Tantor had seized the Russian, Tarzan had sought ineffectually to stay the great brute’s fury, but Tantor was deaf to commands until he had wreaked his vengeance upon this creature that had dared to attack his friend. But when his rage had spent its force and nothing remained against which to vent it, he came quietly to Tarzan’s side and at a word from the ape-man lifted his brown body gently in his powerful trunk and bore him away into the forest.
Deep into the jungle to a hidden glade, Tantor carried his helpless friend, and there he placed him gently on soft grasses beneath the shade of a tree. Little more could the great bull do other than to stand guard. As a result of the excitement attending the killing of Dorsky and his concern for Tarzan, Tantor was nervous and irritable. He stood with upraised ears, alert for any menacing sound, waving his sensitive trunk to and fro, searching each vagrant air current for the scent of danger.
The pain of his wound annoyed Tarzan far less than the pangs of thirst.
To little monkeys watching him from the trees he called, “Come, Manu, and untie the thongs that bind my wrists.”
“We are afraid,” said an old monkey.
“I am Tarzan of the Apes,” said the man reassuringly. “Tarzan has been your friend always. He will not harm you.”
“We are afraid,” repeated the old monkey. “Tarzan deserted us. For many moons the jungle has not known Tarzan; but other Tarmangani and strange Gomangani came and with thundersticks they hunted little Manu and killed him. If Tarzan had still been our friend, he would have driven these strange men away.
“If I had been here, the strange men-things would not have harmed you,” said Tarzan. “Still would Tarzan have protected you. Now I am back, but I cannot destroy the strangers or drive them away until the thongs are taken from my wrists.”
“Who put them there?” asked the monkey.
“The strange Tarmangani,” replied Tarzan.
“Then they must be more powerful than Tarzan,” said Manu, “so what good would it do to set you free? If the strange Tarmangani found out that we had done it, they would be angry and come and kill us. Let Tarzan, who for many rains has been Lord of the Jungle, free himself.”
Seeing that it was futile to appeal to Manu, Tarzan, as a forlorn hope, voiced the long, plaintive, uncanny help call of the great apes. With slowly increasing crescendo it rose to a piercing shriek that drove far and wide through the silent jungle.
In all directions, beasts, great and small, paused as the weird note broke upon their sensitive eardrums. None was afraid, for the call told them that a great bull was in trouble and, therefore, doubtless harmless; but the jackals interpreted the sound to mean the possibility of flesh and trotted off through the jungle in the direction from which it had come; and Dango, the hyaena, heard and slunk on soft pads, hoping that he would find a helpless animal that would prove easy prey. And far away, and faintly, a little monkey heard the call, recognizing the voice of the caller. Swiftly, then, he flew through the jungle, impelled as he was upon rare occasions by a directness of thought and a tenacity of purpose that brooked no interruption.
Tarzan had sent Tantor to the river to fetch water in his trunk. From a distance he caught the scent of the jackals and the horrid scent of Dango, and he hoped that Tantor would return before they came creeping upon him. He felt no fear, only an instinctive urge toward self-preservation. The jackals he held in contempt, knowing that, though bound hand and foot, he still could keep the timid creatures away; but Dango was different, for once the filthy brute realized his helplessness, Tarzan knew that those powerful jaws would make quick work of him. He knew the merciless savagery of the beast; knew that in all the jungle there was none more terrible than Dango.
The jackals came first, standing at the edge of the little glade watching him. Then they circled slowly, coming nearer; but when he raised himself to a sitting position they ran yelping away. Three times they crept closer, trying to force their courage to the point of actual attack; and then a horrid, slinking form appeared upon the edge of the glade, and the jackals withdrew to a safe distance. Dango, the hyaena, had come.
Tarzan was still sitting up, and the beast stood eyeing him, filled with curiosity and with fear. He growled, and the man-thing facing him growled back; and then from above them came a great chattering, and Tarzan, looking up, saw little Nkima dancing upon the limb of a tree above him.
“Come down, Nkima,” he cried, “and untie the thongs that bind my wrists.”
“Dango! Dango!” shouted Nkima. “Little Nkima is afraid of Dango.”
“If you come now,” said Tarzan, “it will be safe; but if you wait too long, Dango will kill Tarzan; and then to whom may little Nkirna go for protection?”
“Nkima comes,” shouted the little monkev, and dropping quickly through the trees, he leaped lo Tarzan’s shoulder.
The hyaena bared his fangs and laughed his horrid laugh. Tarzan spoke. “Quick, the thongs, Nkima,” urged Tarzan and the little monkey, his fingers trembling with terror, went to work upon the leather thongs at Tarzan’s wrists.
Dango, his ugly head lowered, made a sudden rush; and from the deep lungs of the ape-man came a thunderous roar that might have done credit to Numa himself. With a yelp of terror the cowardly Dango turned and fled to the extremity of the glade, where he stood bristling and growling.
“Hurry, Nkima,” said Tarzan. “Dango will come again. Maybe once, maybe twice, maybe many times before he closes on me; but in the end he will realize that I am helpless, and then he will not stop or turn back.”
“Little Nkima’s fingers are sick,” said the Manu. “They are weak and they tremble. They will not untie the knot.”
“Nkima has sharp teeth,” Tarzan reminded him. “Why waste your time with sick fingers over knots that they cannot untie? Let your sharp teeth do the work.”
Instantly Nkima commenced to gnaw upon the strands. Silent perforce because his mouth was otherwise occupied, Nkima strove diligently and without interruption.
Dango, in the meantime, made two short rushes, each time coming a little closer, but each time turning back before the menace of the ape-man’s roars and savage growls, which by now had aroused the jungle.
Above them, in the tree tops, the monkeys chattered, scolded and screamed, and in the distance the voice of Numa rolled like far thunder, while from the river came the squealing and trumpeting of Tantor.
Little Nkima was gnawing frantically at the bonds, when Dango charged again, evidently convinced by this time that the great Tarmangani was helpless, for now, with a growl, he rushed in and closed upon the man.
With a sudden surge of the great muscles of his arms that sent little Nkima sprawling, Tarzan sought to tear his hands free that he might defend himself against the savage death that menaced him in those slavering jaws; and the thongs, almost parted by Nkima’s sharp teeth, gave to the terrific strain of the ape-man’s efforts.
As Dango leaped for the bronzed throat, Tarzan’s hand shot forward and seized the beast by the neck, but the impact of the heavy body carried him backward to the ground. Dango twisted, struggled and clawed in a vain effort to free himself from the death grip of the ape-man, but those steel fingers closed relentlessly upon his throat, until, gasping for breath, the great brute sank helplessly upon the body of its intended victim.
Until death was assured, Tarzan did not relinquish his grasp; but when at last there could be no doubt, he hurled the carcass from him and, sitting up, fell quickly to the thongs that secured his ankles.
During the brief battle, Nkima had taken refuge among the topmost branches of a lofty tree, where he leaped about, screaming frantically at the battling beasts beneath him. Not until he was quite sure that Dango was dead did he descend. Warily he approached the body, lest, perchance, he had been mistaken; but again convinced by closer scrutiny, he leaped upon it and struck it viciously, again and again, and then he stood upon it shrieking his defiance at the world with all the assurance and bravado of one who has overcome a dangerous enemy.
Tantor, startled by the help cry of his friend, had turned back from the river without taking water. Trees bent beneath his mad rush as, ignoring winding trails, he struck straight through the jungle toward the little glade in answer to the call of the ape-man; and now, infuriated by the sounds of battle, he came charging into view, a titanic engine of rage and vengeance.
Tantor’s eyesight is none too good, and it seemed that in his mad charge he must trample the ape-man, who lay directly in his path; but when Tarzan spoke to him the great beast came to a sudden stop at his side and, pivoting, wheeled about in his tracks, his ears forward, his trunk raised, trumpeting a savage warning as he searched for the creature that had been meancing his friend.
“Quiet, Tantor; it was Dango. He is dead,” said the ape-man. As the eyes of the elephant finally located the carcass of the hyaena he charged and trampled it, as he had trampled Dorsky, to a bloody pulp; as Nkima fled, shrieking, to the trees.
His ankles freed of their bonds, Tarzan was upon his feet; and, when Tantor had vented his rage upon the body of Dango, he called the elephant to him. Tantor came then quietly to his side and stood with his trunk touching the ape-man’s body, his rage quieted and his nerves soothed by the reassuring calm of the ape-man.
And now Nkima came, making an agile leap from a swaying bow to the back of Tantor and then to the shoulder of Tarzan, where, with his little arms about the ape-man’s neck, he pressed his cheek close against the bronzed cheek of the great Tarmangani, who was his master and his god.
Thus the three friends stood in the silent communion that only beasts know, as the shadows lengthened and the sun set behind the forest.