Tarzan the Magnificent

Chapter 5

The Black Panther

Edgar Rice Burroughs

TARZAN AND LORD were confined in a room on the second floor of the palace of Woora. It was a small room with a single window heavily barred with wooden bars. The door was thick and solid, and secured upon the outside with heavy bars.

When the guard had closed and bolted the door and departed, Tarzan walked to the window and looked out. The moon had risen and the light clouds that had overcast the sky earlier in the night had disappeared.

In the soft glow of the night light, the ape-man saw a walled compound directly beneath the window; and in the shadow of the wall something that was unrecognizable by sight, yet Tarzan knew what it was from the scent that rose to his nostrils. He took hold of the bars and tested them; then he turned back and faced Lord.

“If you had asked me,” he said, “I should have told you that I was not a Kaji; then you wouldn’t have been in this mess.”

Lord shook his head. “It was only an excuse to kill me,” he said. “Woora has been waiting for one. He is afraid of me. The men are more important here than they are in the Kaji country. We are allowed to bear arms and be warriors. That is because Woora knows that we cannot escape, as the only route to the outer world lies through the country of the Kaji. They would make slaves of us or kill us.

“Woora has heard that some of the men have banded together for the purpose of escaping. The plan included assassinating Woora and stealing the great emerald, which is supposed to be the source of his magic power. With this emerald, which Mafka craves more than anything in the world, we hoped to bribe our way through and out of the Kaji country.

“Woora believes that I am the instigator of the plot, and so he wants to destroy me. Of course, he could do that at any time he wishes, but he is a wily old devil and is trying to hide the fact that he has any suspicions. In this way he hopes to trap all of the plotters eventually, killing them one by one on one pretext or another.”

“How can you know so much of his plans?” demanded the ape-man.

“Even in this land of horror and iniquity there is sometimes love,” replied Lord, “and there is always lust. A woman close to Woora is honestly in love with one of us. Woora has talked too much to her—that is all. He is supposed to be above temptations of the flesh, but he is not.

“But now everything is spoiled. The others will be afraid. They will stay on until they die.”

“You are an Englishman, aren’t you?” asked Tarzan.

Lord nodded. “Yes,” he said; “I was an Englishman, but God only knows what I am now. I’ve been here twenty years —here and in Kaji. The Kaji caught me originally; then the Zuli got me in one of their raids.”

“I thought Woora killed the Kaji he caught,” said the apeman. “He was going to have me killed because he thought I was a Kaji, or at least I assumed he was from what I heard after we reached the city.”

“Yes, he kills them all now because we have all the men we need; but in those days there were not enough men. We can only support a limited number of people. There’s plenty of meat, for game is plentiful; but fruits and vegetables are scarce. As it is, we breed more than enough to keep up the population—in fact, too many. Most of the babies are killed. Then, too, the women are pretty white. That is what they have been breeding for for God knows how many generations; so there isn’t much need for new white blood. It’s very rare now that a baby is born with Negroid characteristics, but of course occasionally there is a throwback.”

“Why do they want to be white?” asked Tarzan.

“The Lord only knows. They never see anyone but themselves and never will. The original reason is lost in the past—dead with those who conceived it. Unless, perhaps, Woora and Mafka know. It is said they have been here forever—that they are deathless; but of course that is not true.

“I have a theory about them that is based upon various snatches of information that I have picked up during the past twenty years. They are identical twins who came from Columbia many years ago bringing with them the great emerald, which they probably stole. How they came into possession of the Gonfal of the Kaji, I don’t know. Doubtless they murdered someone who was trying to get out of the country with it.

“That they have uncanny occult powers there is no doubt, and the very fact that they believe these dependent upon the great diamond of the Kaji and the emerald of the Zuli may very probably have caused this to be true; so if either Mafka or Woora were deprived of his stone his power would be lost. But killing them would make it surer. We were taking no chances; we were going to kill Woora. But now, as far as I am concerned, the dream is over. I’ll go to the lions; you’ll be tortured to death.”

“Why the difference?” asked Tarzan.

“I’ll furnish sport for Woora in the lion yard, but he won’t risk you. They might tear you to pieces, head and all; and Woora wants your brain. I’m sure of that.”

“Why does he want it?”

“You had him guessing; I could see that, and he figures that any one who can do that must have a pretty good brain; so he wants it.”

“But why?” insisted the ape-man.

“To eat.”

“Oh, I see,” said Tarzan. “He believes that if one eats the part in which another excels one acquires a measure of this excellence. I have seen it before, often. A warrior eats the heart of a brave enemy to increase his own courage, or the soles of the feet of a swift runner to accelerate his own speed, or the palms of the hands of a clever artisan.”

“It is all rot,” said Lord.

“I do not know,” admitted Tarzan. “I have lived in Africa all my life, and there are many things that I have learned not to deny simply because I do not understand them. But there is one thing that I guess.”

“What is that?”

“That Woora will not eat my brain; nor will you go to the lions if you care to escape.”

“Escape!” scoffed Lord. “There is no escape.”

“Perhaps not,” admitted the ape-man. “I said only that I guessed; I did not say that I knew.”

“How can we escape?” demanded Lord. “Look at that door; see the bars on that window, and below the window

“The panther,” Tarzan concluded for him.

“How did you know a panther was there?” Lord’s tone bespoke incredulity.

“The scent of Sheeta is strong,” replied the ape-man. “I noticed it the instant I came into this room, and when I went to the window I knew that he was in the compound beneath—a male panther.”

Lord shook his head. “Well, I don’t know how you did it; but you’re right.”

Tarzan walked to the window and examined the bars and the casing in which they were set.

“Stupid,” he said.

“What is stupid?” asked Lord.

“Whoever designed this. Look.” He seized two of the bars close to the sill and surged backward with all his strength and all his weight. There was a rending of wood as the entire window frame was torn from its seat; then he laid the frame with all its bars upon the floor of the room.

Lord whistled. “Man!” he exclaimed. “You’re strong as a bull; but don’t forget the panther, and the noise’ll probably bring the guard.”

“We’ll be ready for them,” Tarzan assured him. He had seized the window frame again, and a moment later he had torn it apart. The bars fell from their sockets. Tarzan picked up two of them and handed one to Lord. “These will make fair weapons,” he said.

They waited in silence for a while, but no guard came. Apparently only the panther had been disturbed. He was growling now; and when they went to the window, they saw him standing in the center of the compound looking up at them. He was a large beast and coal black.

Tarzan turned to his companion. “Could you get away if we got outside the city?” he asked. “Or has Woora the same power to direct the movements of his victims at a distance that Mafka has?”

“There’s the rub,” admitted Lord. “That’s the reason we’d planned on killing him.”

“How does he stand with the Zuli? Are they loyal to him?”

“The only hold he has upon them is based on terror. They fear and hate him.”

“The women, too?”

“Yes, every one.”

“What would happen here if he were dead?” asked Tarzan.

“The blacks and whites who are prisoners and slaves would combine with the women in an attempt to fight our way out into the outer world. The blacks and whites (they are all men) want to get back to their own homes. The women, the true Zuli, have heard so much about the world they have never seen that they want to get out, too. They know from what the whites have told them that they would be rich from the proceeds of the sale of the great emerald; and while they have no first-hand knowledge of money, they have learned enough from the white men here to understand that it will get them everything their hearts desire—especially more white men. Here, each of the whites is married to anywhere from seven to a dozen Zuli women because there are so few of us; so the height of the ambition of every Zuli is to have a husband of her own.”

“Why don’t they kill Woora themselves, then?”

“Fear of his supernatural powers. Not only would they not kill him themselves, they would protect his life from others; but when he was once dead, then it would be different.”

“Where is he?” asked Tarzan. “Where does he sleep?”

“In a room directly behind his throne,” replied Lord. “But why? Why do you ask? You’re not—?”

“I am going to kill him. There is no other way.”

Lord shook his head. “It can’t be done. Man, he is almost as powerful as God and almost as omniscient. But anyway, why are you doing it?”

“One of my countrymen is a prisoner among the Kaji. With the help of the Zuli, I can set him free with all the rest of the Kaji prisoners. I am not so sure that I could do it alone. It would be difficult to get into Mafka’s presence. He is more afraid and more careful than Woora.”

“You haven’t got into Woora’s presence yet, except with your hands tied behind you,” Lord reminded him.

“Is there any way to get into his room except from the throne-room?”

“There is a way, but you can’t get in. Woora’s room has a window looking onto this compound below us. The panther is there to guard Woora as well as to keep prisoners from escaping. You would have to pass through the compound to get to the window.”

“That is not so good,” mused the ape-man. “I’d have to make too much noise. I’d certainly arouse Woora by breaking the bars at his window.”

“There are no bars there.”

“But the panther! What’s to keep him from entering and killing Woora?”

“Woora has even greater power over the panther than he has over us humans. He can control the beast’s every act.”

“You are sure there are no bars at the window?” demanded Tarzan.

“Absolutely sure, and the window is always open so that Woora can call the panther to him if he is ever in danger of attack.”

“Excellent! I’ll go in by the window.”

“You insist on forgetting the panther.”

“I have not forgotten him. Tell me something of Woora’s habits. Who is with him? When does he arise? Where does he eat? When does he first go into the throne-room?”

“No one is with him in his sleeping room, ever. No one, as far as we know, has ever been in it, other than himself. His breakfast is handed in to him through a small opening near the floor on the side of the room opposite the throne-room. He gets up shortly after sunrise and eats immediately thereafter. He has a suite of three rooms. What he does there, only the Devil knows. Sometimes he has one of the women warriors come into one of his rooms. They never tell what they see there, or what happens. They are too terrified. What would be perhaps an hour after his breakfast, he comes into the throne-room. By this time many of the Zuli have congregated there. Charges are heard, punishments are meted out, the business of the day is attended to. That is, hunting parties and raiding parties are sent out; directions are given for the planting, cultivation, or harvesting of crops. Reports and complaints are listened to by Woora. Then he goes back to his apartments and remains there until the evening meal which he takes in the throne-room. That is his day, unless something unforeseen occurs such as the examination of a captive brought in unexpectedly, as you were.”

“Good!” exclaimed the ape-man. “Everything can be made to conform to my plan.”

“Except the panther,” said Lord.

“Perhaps you are right,” conceded Tarzan; “we’ll see.” He stepped to the window. The panther had quieted down and was lying once more in the shade of the compound wall. Tarzan listened. Presently he turned to his companion. “He is asleep,” he said; then he threw a leg over the sill.

“You are not going down there!” Lord exclaimed.

“Why not? It is the only avenue to Woora, and the panther sleeps.”

“He will not be asleep for long.”

“I do not expect him to be. I only ask him to stay asleep until I am squarely on my feet below there.”

“It is suicide,” said Lord, “and nothing to be gained by it.”

“Maybe, but let’s wait and see.” He threw the other leg over the sill; then he turned upon his belly. In his right hand was one of the heavy bars he had taken from the window. Cautiously, silently, he slipped down until he hung from the sill by one hand.

Lord watched him, breathless. He saw the fingers slip gradually from their hold on the sill; then he looked out. The man had alighted erect and then turned like lightning to face the panther, but the beast had not moved. It still slept.

Tarzan crept toward it, silent as the shadow of Usha the wind. The ape-man had covered half the distance to the panther when the beast awoke; then, before it could gather its wits the man leaped toward it.

In the window above, Lord held his breath. He could not but admire the courage of his fellow prisoner, but he thought him foolhardy. Just then the panther charged.

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