VAN EYK dropped his lion with the second shot, and a few minutes later he heard the three shots fired by Gonfala. Wood, having had no luck and attracted by the report of van Eyk’s gun, joined him. He was still apprehensive concerning Gonfala’s safety; and now that van Eyk had his trophy, he suggested that they send the carcass back to camp while they joined Gonfala. Van Eyk agreed, and they set out in the direction from which they had heard the shots.
They searched for two hours without result, often calling her name and occasionally discharging their rifles; then, more by chance than design, they stumbled upon the little swale where Gonfala had come upon her lion. There it lay upon the body of the dead gunbearer, but Gonfala was nowhere to be seen.
The ground was hard and stony, giving no indication to the untrained eyes of the white men that others beside Gonfala and her gunbearer had been there; so they assumed that, having no one to cut off or carry the head of the lion back to camp, the girl had returned there herself alone; and that, having come from another direction, they had missed her. They were, therefore, not unduly apprehensive until after they reached the camp and discovered that she had not returned.
By that time it was late in the afternoon; but Wood insisted upon taking up the search at once, and van Eyk seconded the suggestion. They divided the safari into three sections. Van Eyk and Wood each heading one set out on slightly diverging trails in the general direction that Gonfala had taken in the morning, while the third, under a headman, was ordered to remain in camp, keeping a large fire burning and occasionally discharging a rifle to guide Gonfala if she should return toward camp without meeting either Wood or van Eyk. And all during the night Gonfala and her captors heard the faint report of rifles far to the south.
It was around noon of the following day that, exhausted and disheartened, Wood and van Eyk returned to camp.
“I’m afraid it’s no use, old man,” said the latter, sympathetically; “if she’d been alive she’d have heard our rifles and replied.”
“I can’t believe that she’s dead,” said Wood; “I won’t believe it!”
Van Eyk shook his head. “I know it’s tough, but you’ve got to face facts and reason. She couldn’t be alive in this lion country now.”
“But she had two guns,” insisted Wood. “You saw that she took the gun and ammunition from the gunbearer after he was killed. If she’d been attacked by a lion, she’d have fired at least once; and we never heard a shot.”
“She might have been taken unaware—stalked after dark and struck down before she knew a lion was near. You’ve seen ’em charge; you know it’s all over in a second if you aren’t ready for ’em.”
Wood nodded. “Yes, I know. I suppose you’re right, but I won’t give up—not yet.”
“Well, Stan, I’ve got to get back home. If I thought there was the slightest chance I’d stay, but I know there’s not. You’d better come along and try to forget it as soon as you can. You might never, here; but back home it’ll be different.”
“There’s no use, Van; you go along. I’m going to stay.”
“But what can you do alone?”
“I won’t try to do anything alone. I’m going back and find Tarzan; he’ll help me. If any one can find her or where she was killed it’s he.”
Ten days later Wood plodded wearily into the camp that he had not left except in daily fruitless searches for his Gonfala. He had not gone back to enlist Tarzan’s aid; but had, instead, sent a long letter to the ape-man by a runner. Every day for ten days he had combed the country for miles around, and each day he had become more convinced that Gonfala was not dead. He had found no trace of a human kill by lions, no shred of clothing, no sign of the two guns or the ammunition that Gonfala had had with her; though he had found plenty of lion kills—zebra, antelope, wildebeest. But he had found something else that gave support to his belief that Gonfala might be alive—the camp of Spike and Troll. It lay only a short distance north from his own camp. Gonfala must have pressed close to it the morning that she started out to hunt. What type of men had camped there, he could not know; but he assumed that they were natives; for there were no signs of white men—no empty tins, no discarded scrap of clothing, no indications that a tent had been pitched.
Perhaps, then, Gonfala’s fate had been worse than the merciful death the king of beasts would have accorded her. That thought goaded him to desperation, and filled his mind with red imaginings of vengeance. Such were his thoughts as he threw himself upon his cot in hopeless bafflement to reproach himself as he had a thousand thousand times for having permitted Gonfala to hunt alone that day—how long ago it seemed, how many ages of bitter suffering!
A figure darkened the doorway of the tent, and Wood turned to look. Wood sprang to his feet. “Tarzan! God, I thought you’d never come.”
“I came as soon as I got your letter. You have been searching, of course; what have you found?”
Wood told him of his failure to find any evidence that Gonfala had fallen prey to lions but that he had found a camp in which there had been men recently.
“That is interesting,” commented Tarzan. “It is too late now to investigate that today; tomorrow I’ll have a look at it.”
Early the next morning Wood and the ape-man were at the camp from which Spike and Troll had been attracted by the campfire that had led them to the discovery of the presence of Gonfala. Tarzan examined the ground and the surroundings minutely. His lifetime of experience, his trained powers of observation, his sensitive nostrils revealed facts that were a sealed book to the American. The charred wood in the dead fires, the crushed grass, the refuse each told him something.
“It was a poor camp,” he said finally. “Perhaps ten or a dozen men camped here. They had very little food and their packs were few. They did have packs, and that indicates that there were white men—perhaps one, perhaps two; the rest were natives. Their food was poor. That would suggest that they had no firearms, for this is a good game country; so perhaps there were no white men at all. Yet I am sure there were. They had only the meat of an old boar to eat. Some of the bones were split and the marrow extracted. That suggests natives. Other bones were not split, and that suggests white men.”
“How do you know they had packs?” asked Wood, who could see no evidence to suggest anything more than that some one had been there and built fires and eaten food. He could see the discarded bones of their repast.
“If you look carefully you will see where they lay on the ground. It has been ten days at least; and the signs are faint, but they are there. The grasses are pressed down and the marks of the cords that bound the packs are still visible.”
“I see nothing,” admitted Wood after close scrutiny.
Tarzan smiled one of his rare smiles. “Now we shall see which way they went,” he said. “The spoor of so many men should be plain.”
They followed toward the north the freshest spoor that led from the camp, only to lose it where a great herd of grazing game had obliterated it; then Tarzan picked it up again beyond. Eventually it led to the spot where the bodies of the gunbearer and the lion had lain.
“Your theory seems to have been correct,” said the apeman. “Gonfala, apparently, was captured by this party.”
“That was eleven days ago,” mused Wood despairingly. “There is no telling where they are now, or what they have done to her. We must lose no time in following.”
“Not we,” replied Tarzan. “You will return to your camp and start tomorrow for my place. When I have definitely located Gonfala, if I cannot rescue her without help” (Again he smiled) “I’ll send word by a runner, and you can come with an escort of Waziri.”
“But can’t I go along with you?” demanded Wood.
“I can travel much faster alone. You will do as I say. That is all.”
And that was all. Wood stood watching the magnificent figure of the ape-man until it disappeared beyond a rise in the rolling plain; then he turned dejectedly back toward camp. He knew that Tarzan was right, that a man whose senses were dulled by generations of non-use would prove only a drag on the alert ape-man.
For two days Tarzan followed the trail in a northerly direction; then an unseasonable rain obliterated it forever. He was now in the country of the Bantangos, a warlike tribe of cannibals and hereditary enemies of his Waziri. He knew that if the captors of Gonfala had come this way it might be because they were themselves Bantangos, and so he determined to investigate thoroughly before searching farther. If they had not been Bantangos, it was very possible that they had been captured by this tribe; for he knew that they were a small and poorly equipped company.
In any event it seemed best to have a look into the village of the chief, to which, unquestionably, important captives would have been taken; but where the village lay, the apeman did not know. To the east of him a range of low hills stretched way into the north, and to these he made his way. As he ascended them he commenced to glimpse villages to the west and north, and finally from the summit of one of the higher hills he obtained a view of a considerable extent of country containing many villages. The majority of these were mean and small—just a handful of huts surrounded by flimsy palisades of poles.
The valley in which the villages lay was dotted with trees, and on the west abutted upon a forest. It was a scene of peace and loveliness that lent a certain picturesqueness to even the squalid kraals of the Bantangos and belied the savagery and bestiality of the inhabitants. The beauty of the aspect was not lost upon the ape-man, whose appreciation of the loveliness or grandeur of nature, undulled by familiarity, was one of the chief sources of his joy of living. In contemplating the death that he knew must come to him as to all living things his keenest regret lay in the fact that he would never again be able to look upon the hills and valleys and forests of his beloved Africa; and so today, as he lay like a great lion low upon the summit of a hill, stalking his prey, he was still sensible of the natural beauties that lay spread before him. Nor was he unmindful of a large village that lay toward the center of the valley, the largest, by far, of any of the villages. This, he knew, must be the village of the chief of the Bantangos.
The moonless night descended, a black shroud that enveloped the forest, the trees, and the villages, concealing them from the eyes of the watcher; then the Lord of the Jungle arose, stretching himself. So like a lion’s were all his movements that one might have expected the roar of the hunting beast to rumble from his great chest. Silently he moved down toward the village of the chief. Little lights shone now about the valley, marking the various villages by their cooking fires. Toward the fires of the largest strode an English lord, naked but for a G string.
From the hills he was quitting a lion roared. He too was coming down to the villages where the natives had gathered their little flocks within the flimsy enclosures of their kraals. The ape-man stopped and raised his face toward the heavens. From his deep chest rose the savage, answering challenge of the bull-ape. The savages in the villages fell silent, looking questioningly at one another, wide eyed in terror. The warriors seized their weapons, the women huddled their children closer.
“A demon,” whispered one.
“Once before I heard that cry,” said the chief of the Bantangos. “It is the cry of the devil-god of the Waziri.”
“Why would he come here?” demanded a warrior. “The rains have come many times since we raided in the country of the Waziri.”
“If it is not he,” said the chief, “then it is another devil-god.”
“When I was a boy,” said an old man, “I went once with a raiding party far toward the place where the sun sleeps, to a great forest where the hairy tree-men live. They make a loud cry like that, a cry that stops the heart and turns the skin cold. Perhaps it is one of the hairy tree-men. We were gone a long time. The rains were just over when we left our village; they came again before we returned. I was a great warrior. I killed many warriors on that raid. I ate their hearts; that is what makes me so brave.” No one paid any attention to him, but he rambled on. The others were listening intently for a repetition of the weird cry or for any sound that might presage the approach of an enemy.
Tarzan approached the palisade that surrounded the village of the chief. A tree within the enclosure spread its branches across the top. The ape-man came close and investigated. Through the interstices between the poles that formed the palisade he watched the natives. Gradually their tense nerves relaxed as there was no repetition of the cry that had alarmed them; and they returned to their normal pursuits, the women to their cooking, the men to the immemorial custom of the lords of creation—to doing nothing.
Tarzan wished to scale the palisade and gain the branches of the tree that spread above him; but he wished to do it without attracting the attention of the Bantangos, and because of the frail construction of the palisade, he knew that that would be impossible during the quiet that prevailed within the village at the supper hour. He must wait. Perhaps the opportunity he sought would present itself later. With the patience of the wild beast that stalks its prey, the apeman waited. He could, if necessary, wait an hour, a day, a week. Time meant as little to him as it had to the apes that raised him, his contacts with civilization not having as yet enslaved him to the fetish of time.
Nothing that he could see within the restricted limits of his vision, a section of the village visible between two huts just within the palisade, indicated that the Bantangos held white prisoners; but he knew that if such were the case they might be confined within a hut; and it was this, among other things, that he must know before continuing his search elsewhere.
The evening meal concluded, the blacks lapsed into somnolence. The quiet of the African night was broken only by the occasional roars of the hunting lion, coming closer and closer, a sound so familiar that it aroused the interest of neither the blacks within the village nor the watcher without.
An hour passed. The lion ceased his roaring, evidence that he was now approaching his prey and stalking. The blacks stirred with awakening interest with the passing of the phenomenon of digestion and became motivated by the same primitive urge that fills El Morocco and other late spots with dancers after the theater. A dusky maestro gathered his players with their primitive instruments, and the dancing began. It was the moment for which Tarzan had been awaiting. Amidst the din of the drums and the shouts of the dancers he swarmed to the top of the palisade and swung into the tree above.
From a convenient limb he surveyed the scene below. He could see the chief’s hut now and the chief himself. The old fellow sat upon a stool watching the dancers, but in neither the chief nor the dancers did the ape-man discover a focus for his interest—that was riveted upon something that lay at the chief’s feet—the Great Emerald of the Zuli.
There could be no mistake. There could be but one such stone, and its presence here induced a train of deductive reasoning in the alert mind of the ape-man that led to definite conclusions—that Spike and Troll had been in the vicinity and that it was logical to assume that it must have been they who abducted Gonfala. Were they here now, in this village of the Bantangos? Tarzan doubted it; there was nothing to indicate that there were any prisoners in the village, but he must know definitely; so he waited on with the infinite patience that was one of the heritages of his upbringing.
The night wore on; and at last the dancers tired, and the village street was deserted. Sounds of slumber arose from the dark huts, unlovely sounds, fitting bed-fellows of unlovely odors. Here and there a child fretted or an infant wailed. Beyond the palisade a lion coughed.
The ape-man dropped silently into the empty street. Like a shadow he passed from hut to hut, his keen nostrils searching out the scents that would tell him, as surely as might his eyes could he have seen within, whether a white lay prisoner there. No one heard him; not even a sleeping cur was disturbed. When he had made the rounds he knew that those he sought were not there, but he must know more. He returned to the chief’s hut. On the ground before it, like worthless trash, lay the Great Emerald of the Zuli. Its weird green light cast a soft radiance over the bronzed body of the jungle lord, tinged the chief’s but palely green, accentuated the blackness of the low entrance way.
The ape-man paused a moment, listening; then he stooped and entered the hut. He listened to the breathing of the inmates. By their breathing he located the women and the children and the one man—that one would be the chief. To his side he stepped and kneeled, stooping low. Steel thewed fingers closed lightly upon the throat of the sleeper. The touch awakened him.
“Make no sound,” whispered the ape-man, “if you would live.”
“Who are you?” demanded the chief in a whisper. “What do you want?”
“I am the devil-god,” replied Tarzan. “Where are the two white men and the white woman?”
“I have seen no white woman,” replied the chief.
“Do not speak lies—I have seen the green stone.”
“The two white men left it behind them when they ran away,” insisted the chief, “but there was no white woman with them. The sun has risen from his bed as many times as I have fingers on my two hands and toes on one foot since the white men were here.”
“Why did they run away?” demanded the ape-man.
“We were at their camp. A lion came and attacked us; the white men ran away, leaving the green stone behind.”
A woman awoke and sat up. “Who speaks?” she demanded.
“Tell her to be quiet,” cautioned Tarzan.
“Shut up,” snapped the chief at the woman, “if you do not wish to die—it is the devil-god!”
The woman stifled a scream and lay down, burying her face in the dirty reeds that formed her bed.
“Which way did the white men go?” asked the ape-man.
“They came from the north. When they ran away they went into the forest to the west. We did not follow them. The lion had killed two of my warriors and mauled others.”
“Were there many in the safari of the white men?”
“Only six, beside themselves. It was a poor safari. They had little food and no guns. They were very poor.” His tone was contemptuous. “I have told you all I know. I did not harm the white men or their men. Now go away. I know no more.”
“You stole the green stone from them,” accused Tarzan.
“No. They were frightened and ran away, forgetting it; but they took the white stone with them.”
“The white stone?”
“Yes, the white stone. One of them held it in his hands and told us to put down our weapons and go away. He said it was big medicine and that it would kill us if we did not go away; but we stayed, and it did not kill us.”
In the darkness the ape-man smiled. “Has a white woman passed through your country lately? If you lie to me I shall come back and kill you.”
“I have never seen a white woman,” replied the chief. “If one had passed through my country I should know it.”
Tarzan slipped from the hut as silently as he had come. As he went, he gathered up the Great Emerald and swung into the tree that overhung the palisade. The chief breathed a choking sigh of relief and broke into a cold sweat.
Strong in the nostrils of the ape-man was the scent of Numa the lion. He knew that the great cat was stalking close to the palisade. He had no quarrel with Numa this night and no wish to tempt a hungry hunting lion; so he made himself comfortable in the tree above the cannibal village to wait until Numa had taken himself elsewhere.