Tarzan the Magnificent

Chapter 8

The Leopard Pit

Edgar Rice Burroughs


THE APE—MAN AWOKE with a start. The moon was shining full upon his face. Instantly he knew that he had slept too long. He sensed that something was amiss. He felt for the emerald; and when he did not feel it, he looked for it. It was gone. He leaped to his feet and approached the sleeping men. A quick glance confirmed his first suspicion—Lord was gone!

He considered the men. There were fifty of them. Without the emerald he had no power over them; he could not control them. They would be enemies. He turned away and circled the camp until he picked up the scent-spoor of the thief. It was where he had expected to find it—leading down the valley of the Mafa toward the valley of the Neubari.

He did not know how much start Lord had. It might be as much as two hours; but had it been two weeks, it would have been the same. No man could escape the Lord of the Jungle.

Through the night he followed, the scent-spoor strong in his nostrils. The trail gave the city of the Kaji a wide berth. The terrain was open and sloped gently, the moon was bright. Tarzan moved swiftly, far more swiftly than Lord.

He had been following the Englishman for perhaps an hour when he discerned far ahead a faint, greenish light. It was moving a little to the right of a direct line; and Tarzan knew that, having passed the city of the Kaji, Lord was swinging back onto the direct trail. By cutting straight across, the ape-man would gain considerable distance. As he did so, he increased his speed, moving swiftly, with long, easy strides.

He was gaining rapidly when suddenly the ground gave way beneath his feet and he was precipitated into a black hole. He fell on loose earth and slender branches that formed a cushion, breaking the fall; so that he was not injured.

When he regained his feet he found that it was difficult to move about among the branches that gave when he stepped on them or entangled his feet if he endeavored to avoid them. Looking up, he saw the mouth of the pit out of reach above him. He guessed its purpose. It was probably a leopard pit, used by the Kaji to capture the fierce cats alive. And he realized, too, the purpose of the loose earth and branches that had broken his fall; they gave no firm footing from which a leopard could spring to freedom. He looked up again at the pit’s rim. It was far above his head. He doubted that a cat could have leaped out of it if there had been no branches on the floor; he was sure that he could not.

There was nothing to do but wait. If this were a new pit, and it looked new, the Kaji would be along within a day or so; then he would be killed or captured. This was about all he had to expect. No leopard would fall in upon him now that the mouth of the pit was no longer concealed by the covering he had broken through.

He thought of Lord and of the harm he could do were he to reach the outside world in possession of the great emerald of the Zuli, but he did not concern himself greatly on account of his failure to overtake the Englishman. What was, was. He had done his best. He never repined; he never worried. He merely awaited the next event in life, composed in the knowledge that whatever it was he would meet it with natural resources beyond those of ordinary men. He was not egotistical; he was merely quite sure of himself.

The night wore on, and he took advantage of it to add to his sleep. His nerves, uncontaminated by dissipation, were not even slightly unstrung by his predicament or by the imminence of capture or death. He slept.

The sun was high in the heavens when he awoke. He listened intently for the sound that had awakened him. It was the sound of footfalls carried to him from a distance through the medium of the earth. They came closer. He heard voices. So, they were coming! They would be surprised when they saw the leopard they had trapped.

They came closer, and he heard them exclaim with satisfaction when they discovered that the covering of the pit had been broken through; then they were at the pit’s edge looking down at him. He saw the faces of several warrior women and some men. They were filled with astonishment.

“A fine leopard!” exclaimed one.

“Mafka will be glad to have another recruit.”

“But how did he get here? How could he pass the guards at the entrance to the valley?”

“Let’s get him up here. Hey, you! Catch this rope and tie it around under your arms.” A rope was tossed down to him.

“Hold it,” said the ape-man, “and I’ll climb out.” He had long since decided to go into captivity without a struggle for two reasons. One was that resistance would doubtless mean certain death; the other, that captivity would bring him closer to Mafka, possibly simplify the rescue of Wood and his friends. It did not occur to Tarzan to take into consideration the fact that he might not be able to affect his own escape. He was not wont to consider any proposition from a premise of failure. Perhaps this in itself accounted to some extent for the fact that he seldom failed in what he attempted.

Those above held the rope while the ape-man swarmed up it with the agility of a monkey. When he stood upon solid ground, he was faced with several spear-points. There were eight women and four men. All were white. The women were armed; the men carried a heavy net.

The women appraised him boldly. “Who are you?” demanded one of them.

“A hunter,” replied Tarzan.

“What are you doing here?”

“I was on my way down in search of the Neubari when I fell into your pit.”

“You were going out?”

“Yes.”

“But how did you get in? There is only one entrance to the country of the Kaji, and that is guarded. How did you get past our warriors?”

Tarzan shrugged. “Evidently I did not come in that way,” he said.

“There is no other way, I tell you,” insisted the warrior.

“But I came in another way. I entered the mountains several marches from here to hunt; that is the reason I came down from the east. I hunted in the back country, coming down from the north. The going was rough. I was looking for an easier way to the Neubari. Now that I am out of the pit, I’ll go on my way.”

“Not so fast,” said the woman who had first addressed him and who had done most of the talking since. “You are coming with us. You are a prisoner.”

“All right,” conceded the ape-man. “Have it your own way—you are eight spears, and I am only one knife.”

Presently, Tarzan was not even a knife; for they took it away from him. They did not bind his hands behind him, evidencing their contempt for the prowess of men. Some of them marched ahead, some behind Tarzan and the four other men, as they started back toward the city that could be seen in the near distance. At any time the ape-man could have made a break for escape had he wished to, and with the chances greatly in his favor because of his great speed; but it pleased him to go to the city of the Kaji.

His captors talked incessantly among themselves. They discussed other women who were not with them, always disparagingly; they complained of the difficulties they experienced in the dressing of their hair; they compared the cut and fit and quality of the pelts that formed their loincloths; and each of them expatiated upon the merits of some exceptionally rare skin she hoped to acquire in the future.

The four men marching with Tarzan sought to engage him in conversation. One was a Swede, one a Pole, one a German, and one an Englishman. All spoke the strange tongue of the Kaji—a mixture of many tongues. Tarzan could understand them, but he had difficulty in making them understand him unless he spoke in the native tongue of the one he chanced to be talking to or spoke in French, which he had learned from d’Arnot before he acquired a knowledge of English. The Swede alone understood no French, but he spoke broken English, a language the German understood but not the Pole. Thus a general conversation was rendered difficult. He found it easier to talk to the Englishman, whose French was sketchy, in their common language.

He heard this man addressed as Troll, and recalled that Stanley Wood had told him that this was the name of one of their white hunters. The man was short and stalky, with heavy, stooped shoulders and long arms that gave him a gorillaesque appearance. He was powerfully muscled. Tarzan moved closer to him.

“You were with Wood and van Eyk?” he asked.

The man looked up at Tarzan in surprise. “You know them?” he asked.

“I know Wood. They recaptured him?”

Troll nodded. “You can’t get away from this damned place. Mafka always drags you back, if he doesn’t kill you. Wood nearly got away. A fellow—” He paused. “Say, are you Clayton?”

“Yes.”

“Wood told me about you. I ought to have known you right away from his description of you.”

“Is he still alive?”

“Yes. Mafka hasn’t killed him yet, but he’s mighty sore. No one ever came so near escaping before. I guess it made the old duffer shake in his pants—only he don’t wear pants. A big expedition of whites could make it hot for him—say a battalion of Tommies. God—almighty! How I’d like to see ’em come marchin’ in.”

“How about the Gonfal?” inquired Tarzan. “Couldn’t he stop them, just as he does others, with the power of the great diamond?”

“No one knows, but we think not. Because if he could, why is he so scared of one of us escaping?”

“Do you think Mafka intends to kill Wood?”

“We’re pretty sure of it. He’s not only sore about his almost getting away, but he’s sorer still because Wood has a crush on Gonfala, the Queen; and it looks like Gonfala was sort of soft on Wood. That’d be too bad, too; because she’s a Negress.”

“Wood told me she was white.”

“She’s whiter than you, but look at these dames here. Ain’t they white? They look white, but they all got Negro blood in ’em. But don’t never remind ’em of it. You remember Kipling’s, ‘She knifed me one night ’cause I wished she was white’? Well that’s it; that’s the answer. They want to be white. God only knows why; nobody ever sees ’em but us; and we don’t care what color they are. They could be green as far as I’m concerned. I’m married to six of ’em. They make me do all the work while they sit around an’ gabble about hair and loincloths. God almighty! I hate the sight of hair an’ loincloths. When they ain’t doin’ that they’re knockin’ hell out o’ some dame that ain’t there.

“I got an old woman back in England. I thought she was bad. I run away from her, an’ look what I go into! Six of em.”

Troll kept up a running fire of conversation all the way to the city. He had more troubles than the exchange desk in a department store.

The city of Kaji was walled with blocks of limestone quarried from the cliff against which it was built. The buildings within the enclosure were of limestone also. They were of one and two stories, except the palace of Mafka, which rose against the cliff to a height of four stories.

The palace and the city gave evidence of having been long in the building, some parts of the palace and some of the buildings below it being far more weather-worn than others. There were black men and white and warrior women in the streets. A few children, all girls, played in the sunshine; milch goats were everywhere under foot. These things and many others the ape-man observed as he was conducted along the main street toward the palace of Mafka.

He heard the women discussing him and appraising him as farmers might discuss a prize bull. One of them remarked that he should bring a good price. But he moved on, apparently totally oblivious of them all.

The interior of the palace reminded him of that of Woora, except that there was more and richer stuff here. Mafka was nearer the source of supply. Here was the loot of many safaris. Tarzan wondered how Woora had obtained anything.

The four men had been dismissed within the city; only the eight women accompanied Tarzan into the palace. They had been halted at the heavily guarded entrance and had waited there while word was carried into the interior; then with a number of the guard as escort, they had been led into the palace.

Down a long corridor to another guarded doorway they proceeded; then they were ushered into a large chamber. At the far end, a figure crouched upon a throne. At sight of him, Tarzan was almost surprised into a show of emotion—it was Woora!

Beside him, on another throne-chair, sat a beautiful girl. Tarzan assumed that this must be Gonfala, the Queen. But Woora! He had seen the man killed before his own eyes. Did magic go as far as this, that it could resurrect the dead?

As he was led forward and halted before the thrones he waited for Woora to recognize him, to show the resentment he must feel because he had been thwarted and the great emerald stolen from him; but the man gave no indication that he ever had seen Tarzan before.

He listened to the report of the leader of the party that had captured the ape-man, but all the time his eyes were upon the prisoner. They seemed to be boring through him, yet there was no sign of recognition. When the report had been completed, the magician shook his head impatiently. He appeared baffled and troubled.

“Who are you?” he demanded.

“I am an Englishman. I was hunting.”

“For what?”

“Food.”

While the magician questioned Tarzan he kept a hand upon an immense diamond that rested on a stand beside him. It was the Gonfal, the great diamond of the Kaji, that endowed its possessor with the same mysterious powers that were inherent in the great emerald of the Zuli.

The girl upon the second throne-chair sat silent and sullen, her eyes always on the ape-man. She wore breastplates of virgin gold and a stomacher covered with gold sequins. Her skirt was of the skins of unborn leopards, soft and clinging. Dainty sandals shod her, and upon her upper arms and her wrists and her ankles were many bands of copper and gold. A light crown rested upon her blond head. She was the symbol of power; but Tarzan knew that the real power lay in the grotesque and hideous figure at her side, clothed only in an old and dirty loincloth.

Finally the man motioned impatiently. “Take him away,” he commanded.

“Am I not to choose wives for him?” demanded Gonfala. “The women would pay well for this one.”

“Not yet,” replied her companion. “There are reasons why I should observe him for a while. It will probably be better to destroy him than give him to the women. Take him away!”

The guard took the ape-man to an upper floor and put him in a large chamber. There they left him alone, bolting the door behind them as they departed. The apartment was absolutely bare except for two benches. Several small windows in the wall overlooking the city gave light and ventilation. In the opposite wall was an enormous fireplace in which, apparently, no fire had ever been built.

Tarzan investigated his prison. He found the windows too high above the ground to offer an avenue of escape without the aid of a rope, and he had no rope. The fireplace was the only other feature of the apartment that might arouse any interest whatsoever. It was unusually large, so deep that it resembled a cave; and when he stepped into it he did not have to stoop. He wondered why such an enormous fireplace should be built and then never used.

Entering it, he looked up the flue, thinking that here he might find a way out if the flue were built in size proportionate to the fire chamber. However, he was doomed to disappointment; not the faintest glimmer of light shone down to indicate an opening that led to the outside.

Could it be possible that the fireplace had been built merely as an architectural adornment to the chamber—that it was false? This seemed highly improbable, since the room had no other embellishment; nor was the fireplace itself of any architectural beauty, being nothing more than an opening in the wall.

What then could its purpose have been? The question intrigued the active imagination of the Lord of the Jungle. It was, of course, possible that there was a flue but that it had been closed; and this would have been the obvious explanation had the fireplace shown any indication of ever having been used. However, it did not; there was not the slightest discoloration of the interior—no fire had ever burned within it.

Tarzan reached upward as far as he could but felt no ceiling; then he ran his fingers up the rear wall of the fire chamber. Just at his finger tips he felt a ledge. Raising himself on his toes, he gripped the ledge firmly with the fingers of both hands; then he raised himself slowly upward. Even when his arms were straight and he had raised himself as far as he could his head touched no ceiling. He inclined his body slowly forward until at length he lay prone upon the ledge. The recess, then, was at least several feet deep.

He drew his legs up and then rose slowly to his feet. He raised a hand above his head, and a foot above he felt the stone of a ceiling—there was plenty of headroom. Laterally, the opening was about three feet wide.

He reached ahead to discover its depth, but his hand touched nothing; then he moved forward slowly a few steps—still nothing. Moving cautiously, he groped his way forward. Soon he was convinced of what he had suspected—he was in a corridor, and the secret of the “fireplace” was partially revealed. But where did the corridor lead?

It was very dark. He might be on the verge of a pitfall without suspecting it. If there were branching corridors he might become hopelessly lost in a minute or two; so he kept his left hand constantly in contact with the wall on that side; he moved slowly, feeling forward with each foot before he threw his weight upon it, and his right hand was always extended before him.

Thus he moved along for a considerable distance, the corridor turning gradually to the left until he was moving at right angles to his original course. Presently he saw a faint light ahead, coming apparently from the floor of the corridor. When he approached it more closely, he saw that it came from an opening in the floor. He stopped at the brink of the opening and looked down. Some seven feet below he saw stone flagging—it was the floor of a fireplace. Evidently this secret passage led from one false fireplace to another.

He listened intently but could hear nothing other than what might have been very soft breathing—almost too faint a sound to register even upon the keen ears of the ape-man; but his nostrils caught the faint aroma of a woman.

For a moment Tarzan hesitated; then he dropped softly to the floor of the fireplace. He made no sound. Before him lay a chamber of barbarous luxury. At a window in the opposite wall, looking down upon the city, stood a golden-haired girl, her back toward the fireplace.

Tarzan did not have to see her face to know that it was Gonfala.


Tarzan the Magnificent - Contents    |     Chapter 9 - The End of the Corridor


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